What do you do with a new bisexual (maybe), earlaay in the maaarning...
May 23, 2007 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I identify as a lesbian. Friends have recently begun discussing the fact that they think that that I'm bisexual. I honestly don't know if they're right. Help me find good essays/books/etc, preferably online, that deal with some of these issues...

I just need to read some things to help me get my head straight, and things that preferably deal with a female gay-to-bi emotional transition. The reason I'm asking, instead of googling, is for suggestions of the good ones; I'm anon because of real-life friends being on mefi.

Bonus points if it has a nice bit on societal pressures to be straight, especially from guys (I generally hate the word, but discussions about 'heteronormativity' would be nice).

Being reasonably technical is ok, but anything at the level of Judith Butler's "Gender Trouble" is a way too much.

Personal experiences are welcome, but my friends are not the problem. They might be overstepping, but have good intentions, and trust me, I aired my grievances with their behaviour about this.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
if you ever feel compelled to have sex with a man, you might be bi. or you might just be a curious lesbian. if you have sex with a man and enjoy it, and want to do it again, you probably are bi, not a lesbian.

whether your friends are right or not is sort of irrelevant, though--i mean, it's comforting to fit into a nice little identity category, but few humans do, especially sexually. sexuality can be very fluid--i think this is something you're going to have to ride out and discover for yourself. it's nothing your friends can tell you (although their insights might be illuminating, they will rarely be definitive).

i don't know of any literature to recommend, but i would recommend not worrying about your sexual identification for a while. there's no deadline for this sort of thing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:41 PM on May 23, 2007

I can't seem to locate it right now, but there's a lot of material supporting that sexuality is more of a continuum than it is three distinct types (homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual). They'd tell you, then, it's really a question of where on the scale you fall. You identify as a lesbian, but maybe you're a little more towards the 'center' of the continuum.

(As a probably-unneeded analogy, it's a lot like the political spectrum, really: I identify as a liberal, but on certain issues, I move in a little bit towards the center. So many people reject the 'model' that sexuality is the same way.)

I just found what I was referring to, the Kinsey scale. (Although I'm not entirely fond of it: I think an infinite continuum is more accurate than the eight stages he has. But I digress.)

If you follow his logic, though, you can paint this 'struggle' as more of an issue of where on the spectrum you fall, an acknowledge that, like most people, there's probably some traces of both, however small.

As far as links, Wikipedia's actually pretty useful on these topics. If nothing else, it's got a lot of external links nowadays, so it's a good starting point.
posted by fogster at 1:42 PM on May 23, 2007

Labels are constricting, but if you dabble in penis on occasion then I would call you bi, and not derisively.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:47 PM on May 23, 2007

I'm confused? Are you saying you're unsure whether or not you ever find men sexually attractive? If so, I'm baffled. Is it really possible to not know whether or not you're turned on?

Or am I oversimplifying the definition of "bi-sexual"? Because to me, the answer to your first question is beyond simple: if you're only attracted to one gender, and that gender is you own, you're gay. If you're attracted to both genders, you're bi.

It has very little to do with who you actually have sex with. When I was a virgin, I was still straight. I got turned on by women and not by men. And I could force myself to have sex with a man, but if I did so, I wouldn't be bi. If I started desiring men, I would be.

I guess it could be a gray area if you were ALMOST never attracted to men, but if once in a blue moon you found yourself lusting after one. Even in that case, it seems pretty simple: you're basically gay, but once in a while, you have a bi fantasy.
posted by grumblebee at 1:54 PM on May 23, 2007

I can't offer any advice other than this - say "I'm a N" (where N is the number on the Kinsey scale that YOU feel you best fit into). In my case, I tell people I'm a 5. That's what I've found to be the case. I download gay porn, but I also look at women (and also men) when I'm out and about.

Only you can decide what you what you are. If that's a 6, then it's a 6. If it's a 2.75, then it's a 2.75.

Ask yourself this. What do I think about when I masturbate/fantasise/whatever?

Email's in profile if you wanna talk more.
posted by Solomon at 1:58 PM on May 23, 2007

You don't mention *why* your friends have suggested you're bi. Is it because you sit around with them talking about how hot Guy A and Guy B are? Because if that's the reason, then you're probably bi. :) But if it's because they just don't think you dress lesbian, then, well I think you know where I'm going with this.

If you're curious, and you meet a guy with whom there is mutual attraction, go on a date. See what happens. You don't need to label yourself or mentally place yourself into any category. Find out what feels right for you.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:03 PM on May 23, 2007

I just need to read some things to help me get my head straight


Sweetie, it's not your head that matters, it's your feelings. In your question, you talk about "societal pressures to be straight." Are these "pressures" affecting your head or your heart? Are they from friends or from strangers? Or is this part of a need to "process" things...? Hmmm...

If I can quote the immortal lyrics of Tracey Ullman:

Why should it matter to us
If they don't approve

It's what you feel and how you choose to act that matters. Ain't gonna find that in no book-larnin'. :-)
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:19 PM on May 23, 2007

You're better off talking to people than reading books -- whoever's got the gumption to publish usually has an agenda to push (or worse, a chip on the shoulder).

One of the really annoying things I found about seeking out help with bisexuality is how people react to "oh, well, you must be X" or "if you're even thinking about it, you can't possibly be Y." I've seen one too many women get ostracized by their lesbian friends when a sister mentions an interest in penis.

There's the well-intentioned but not helpful at all "ignore people who use labels; call yourself a Z instead." These are the people I tend to hang around, because at least they're easy-going enough they can convince themselves I'm already similar to them.

So who's left? Your friends and your family. They know you best, sometimes better than you know yourself. Keep talking to them, trust yourself, and try things out. You could also, y'know, try chaste dating and see how you like it. Dip your foot into the pool, as it were, before taking the plunge. There's more to sexual attraction than just the mechanical engineering of genitals.
posted by Mozai at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2007

Upon reflection, I shouldn't assume you aren't looking for the agendas. I should assume you're smart enough to filter the wheat from the chaff in those sorts of books. Apologizes.
posted by Mozai at 2:39 PM on May 23, 2007

I'm a straight man who got some value out of Kate Bornstein's "Gender Outlaw."
posted by rhizome at 2:46 PM on May 23, 2007

from The Guide To Getting it On:
Interesting and easy to read (amusing but mostly-irrelevant highlight: if Dr. Boink was interviewing George Bush, he could phrase his questions to make George W's answers appear like he invaded Iraq because he wanted to give Saddam a blow job.)

Compulsory Heterosexuality by Adrienne Rich:
Wordy and kinda lesbian-separatist.

A lot of bisexual people I know are in heterosexual relationships. When I brought that up as a topic of discussion, people pointed out that it's generally lot easier to find an opposite-sex partner, so even if someone is on the gay end of the spectrum and there's not enormous societal pressure on them to act straight--it's likely-ish that they'll end up with an opposite-sex partner. It might be "heteronormativity" or desire for "heterosexual privilege" but it's also partly statistics.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:49 PM on May 23, 2007

If identifying yourself as a lesbian is important to you, identify yourself as a lesbian. You think no one who considers themselves a Catholic ever eats meat on a Friday?

Books are not going to help you understand yourself better.

If you like having boys inside of you a lot, and might consider having a boyfriend at some point, then your behavior is pretty consistent with being bi.

Standard disclaimer: I am not queer (in the sense of living a non-conformist sexual lifestyle), but "have many queer friends" (okay, okay, so I went to Sarah Lawrence). It seems to me that so long as you have a large enough group of friends who appreciate you for being you, anonymous, then labels are pretty meaningless.

The key is, you must not let them take away your magic lesbian pass that lets you into all the keen lesbian parties. So long as you can hold onto that they can call you an elephant garlic donut steak if that makes them happy.

As far as "societal pressures coming from guys" for you to be straight, this pretty much has to do with whether you are hot, and believe me the pressure is not coming from society, but from further south. I've run into my fair share of dashingly handsome and achingly beautiful lesbians, and I respected their feelings (much in the same way I'd respect a straight chick who just, you know, didn't want to have sex with me). That hasn't stopped me from wishing.

Oh, here's something to think about: if you've ever seen a guy and thought, "gee, too bad he isn't a woman" then you're totally a lesbian but just have the occasional cross-gender attraction.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:57 PM on May 23, 2007

As a late-20s bisexual who spent some of her teen years identifying as lesbian, and I think pretty actively suppressing or denying attractions to boys... I can definitely speak to the power of the "bi closet" and biphobia in the lesbian community.

I think right now, we're finally at the point where biphobia is dissolving enough that it won't be an issue at all for the next generation of queers. People my age and older are, I think, the last holdouts... almost everyone younger is going to be much more fluid with (and less attached to) defining gender and sexuality in fixed terms.

So: it's a great time to be asking these questions, culturally, and it's only going to get better. The labels are going to matter less and less, and the irrational fears and misconceptions are slowly going to disappear.

Like other posters, I'm not totally clear on whether you're feeling some newly blossoming boy-lust and looking for context and resources, or whether your friends are reading "bisexuality" into your words/thoughts/etc. when you're not sure you have those feelings... or whether it's something else. If you want to clarify, remember an anonymous poster can always email the mod jessamyn and she'll be happy to post a follow-up for you.
posted by allterrainbrain at 3:27 PM on May 23, 2007

A book I really enjoyed when I read a lot of queer theory was Vice Versa: bisexuality and the eroticism of everyday life by Marjorie Garber (1996). You should be able to get it from your library (or have them ILLO it for you; if you are desperate I'll lend you my copy if you email me). In the end after struggling with labels other people put I me I have a stock reply to the question "What is your sexuality?" I tell everyone I do not define myself by the gender of the people I sleep with. I guess because I know so many people that have gone through the continum of sexuality and very relatively few (even straight) that are the same sexuality at age 15, 25 or 50 that I instinctively mistrust any blanket statements about identity. I confess that I am sometimes shy about being forthcoming about swinging both ways around some [older people] in the queer community that think any bisexual is just a sexual tourist. There is definately ostracism from both the straight and queer communities towards bisexuals. And a lot of guys do seem to think lesbianism is a (sexy) phase on the way to the the altar of penis worship. Perhaps you need to meet more men that identify as bisexual and thus would be a little more understanding of your lesbianism as a valid identity?
posted by saucysault at 4:16 PM on May 23, 2007


If I can quote the immortal lyrics of Tracey Ullman

Just a brief aside to a very interesting thread to mention that the song They Don't Know whose lyrics Robert Angelo deftly quoted were actually written by the lovely and awesome Kirsty MacColl.

posted by kuppajava at 4:26 PM on May 23, 2007

While I agree with the previous comments re: the limitations of book learning about one's sexuality, I also know from experience how listening to someone talk or reading what they have written can be tremendously useful in building context and eventual understanding.

I'm a fan of both Bi Any Other Name and Apples and Oranges. The first one is a terrific anthology, the second one is the memoir of a self-identified lesbian who ended up leaving her partner and being in a relationship with a man.

You can find some handouts at lani ka'ahumanu's site (she's an editor of Bi Any Other Name)

There's a good essay entitled "Bi Bi, Baby" that was posted on LJ.

If you haven't found them already, there have been similar and related questions raised on Ask MeFi previously.

I've bounced around on various scales and grids so often that I just stopped trying to figure it out. Whomever I end up with is going to have to be ok with me, so I take that to be the more fundamental measure. YMMV.
posted by metabrilliant at 5:06 PM on May 23, 2007

What, are your lesbian pals having to come around to slap the cock out of your mouth when you're left to your own devices? A little context is necessary here.
posted by klangklangston at 5:37 PM on May 23, 2007

Yes, I'm not sure I understand either. It seems like a pretty straightforward thing to me. Answer the following multiple choice question:

I, a female, am sexually attracted to other females and [(am) or (am not)] also sexually attracted to males.

If you circled AM NOT, you are a lesbian. If you circles AM, you are bisexual.
posted by Justinian at 6:29 PM on May 23, 2007

The Kinsey scale is kind of interesting, but more useful is something like this: You can be x percent attracted to your own gender (gay), and y percent attracted to the opposite gender (het)--but these percentages have nothing to do with each other and do NOT need to add to 100. You can be 70% attracted to women and also 70% attracted to men. You can be 5 percent attracted to women and 2.5 percent attracted to men. If you're in collage, you've probably met some people who are 100% attracted to women and 100% attracted to men and who haven't actually seen their (own) dorm.

Anyway, I'm a bit confused about "societal pressure to be straight (from guys)". Many guys now days (in my area at least) actually prefer "lesbians"...meaning anyone who will go for a threesome....so the pressure isn't so much to be straight, as it is to just sleep with them. If they pester you too much, tell them that they're rude and boring, and that you prefer something that doesn't revolve around "but whyyyyy won't you sleep with meeee?" (Note that if you do sleep with them, it often gets worse, since it becomes "but whyyyyy won't you sleep with me agaaaaaain?")
posted by anaelith at 6:49 PM on May 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

When I moved to California, I had short shoulder length hair. When I met many of my friends, it was about an inch long. I looked like an extremely butch lesbian.

Many of my friends became convinced that I was bisexual. I found, and still find this to be very funny, because I've had crushes on boys since I was in kindergarten.

Ask your friends: Why? It might be something silly or stupid, a weird comment, or an unusual hair style.
posted by stoneegg21 at 6:53 PM on May 23, 2007

Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life by Marjorie Garber might be of use, mentioned above under its original title of Vice Versa. And the new Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics by Jennifer Baumgardner has gotten some interesting reviews. Agree with the Apples and Oranges recommend.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:59 PM on May 23, 2007

I think most of my bi-library has been referenced above.

I'm not sure what you're asking, though. Are your friends questioning your orientation (they think you want to date men) or the accuracy of your self-identification (you've dated men and should therefore say bi, not lesbian)?

If the latter -- yes, you can identify as lesbian even if you are involved with men. (But please don't eschew the bi label just because it's so abused.) Personally, I do find that as I get older, I feel more comfortable just leaving it at "queer," though I will clarify bisexuality freely.

Further complications abound because these labels mean different things within the community than outside. So yes, lesbian means something pretty straightforward to a lot of straight folks, but it covers a much more diverse range of sexuality within the lesbian community.

Bi-identity issues to ponder: Are you interested in men, in general? In some men? In one particular man? These are all shades of gray that are not necessarily addressed with a blanket "do you like just boys or just girls or both."

As for men, they'll be more comfortable if you identify as bi than lesbian, of course. If you wind up in a long-term relationship with a man, the assumption will likely eventually be that you "are straight now." Me, I set people straight (heh heh) with the clarification that I'm not straight, I'm monogamous. (Which prompts a whole other discussion of whether bi folks can be monogamous. But that's another kettle of fish.)

/early-30s female who always identified as bi, dated straight girls, straight boys, gay girls, gay boys...
posted by desuetude at 7:37 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

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