What should I tell people about my sexuality?
August 8, 2008 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I don't like labeling my sexuality, but other people seem to want me to do so. How do I deflect them?

I'm a 24 year old female who's been in a happy long term relationship with a male for six years. Everything is hunky-dory, couplewise. I didn't have a ton of sexual experience before him--I was very shy in high school--and he's the only person I've had sex with. Good sex, too!

Despite this, I'm positive that my sexuality falls somewhere in the queer spectrum. I'm attracted to both men and women, but more, I'm attracted to people as individuals. Erotica of all sorts of couplings is good fun for me. I've had sex dreams about people of all kinds of different genders. Honestly, when looking at people's actual bodies (nude beaches, anyone?) I'm hard pressed to see any major differences between men or women physically. I mean, they're just bodies, you know? I should note that my SO and I are happily monogamous, and monogamy is important to me. I have no intentions to explore my thoughts about women--any more than I intend to explore my thoughts about other men. SO is comfortable with my sexuality.

But other people, especially men, don't seem to be. Sometimes I check people out and talk about men or women being attractive. The girls I know are fine with this, but the men will usually immediately ask if I'm bi. I don't like identifying myself as bisexual because men, even men I've been friends with for awhile, often seem to take that as an invitation to ask me to make out with girls in front of them. Or to make comments that are just lascivious. Yuck. It's not about you, dudes. Also, if I call myself bisexual, people get up in arms about the fact that I haven't been with a woman. Or they assume my relationship is poly. Any time I've tried to tell people that I'm queer, it's necessitated a long conversation defining the term. And a couple men have just concluded that it all just means that I'm plain old bi. Or straight. Take your pick.

What's more, my sister is queer, and runs with a queer crowd. I enjoy hanging out with them and feel generally good and comfy in queer culture--except my sister, particularly, seems to want to label me as straight. She'll say things like "You can wear these Tevas because you're straight, so you won't look like a lesbian." When I tell her that I don't consider myself straight, she tells me that since I'm with a man, I'm straight. Maybe she thinks I'm being a poseur? I'll admit that this could be somewhat my fault--when I was younger, I was defensive of my own sexuality. I had short hair growing up and was called a dyke through most of middle and high school. For a long time I would just obstinately declare that I liked only men, mostly as a reaction to this. This could be the source of my aversion to any labeling.

Am I being neurotic? I entertain the idea that I am, but I really dislike all of these danged labels--they don't feel like they're me. Mefites, do you have any tips on what to say when I'm pressed to define myself--something that's honest, but that men won't take as a come-on? And, if it comes up with my sister again, how do I talk to her about it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Best answer: Just say "I'm me." People have an obsessive need to put other people in boxes, so that they can be understood, without realizing that life doesn't work as a series of binary switches - people are incredibly complex, layered, and nuanced, and should be considered as such. But they never are.

Just be who you are, and let everyone else do what they'll do - as long as you're happy with yourself, and how you identify yourself (and you sound like you are!), the rest is just noise.
posted by pdb at 10:38 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


If you are in a committed relationship, that is your public sexuality, so I'm with your sister. Anything else is too much information for people you don't know- it's none of their business, and the only reason they're taking it there is because you're going there first. You don't have to prove your sexuality to other people, and speaking on behalf of other people, there are better topics for social gatherings then your sexual preferences (like, any other topic). Stop talking about this with other people, and you won't have to deal with talking about this with other people.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:40 AM on August 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


It sounds like you are trying to categorize yourself, but are uncomfortable when others try to categorize you.

When you are defining yourself, you are, by the act itself, kind of catagorizing yourself. Remember, you do not need to answer the question in the first place. Or, you can be clear that you do not believe you fit into any category. Their confusion is not for your to worry about.

(And those male friends that want you to make out with women? Maybe think about redefining who you would like to have as a friend.)
posted by Vaike at 10:44 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Tell them that you're "sexually open minded"? It works for me.
posted by Solomon at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Any time someone starts driving you down this path of conversation (say after you admit that you're attracted to some women as well) try just smiling and repeating, "Does it matter?" to pretty much anything they say on the subject after that. I think this sends a clear message that you don't care to discuss it with them and that it is indeed none of their business.

[Shootin' from the hip]
posted by JakeLL at 10:49 AM on August 8, 2008


ThePinkSuperhero, these aren't people I don't know--sometimes these comments come from casual friends. And it's not like I'm sitting around monologuing about my sexuality. I mean, if the topic at hand is the attractiveness of a mutual acquaintance or a celebrity, the idea that I'm not allowed to participate because it's "too much information" for other people seems rather . . . closeted. I'm not ashamed of my feelings about these things.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:51 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: When sexuality comes up in a conversation, I am also hard pressed to define myself. And yet, in this culture, that becomes necessary sometimes. For instance, when someone assumes, "well, you're straight so _________.

I tell people I'm queer. I used to label as lesbian. I've been married to my best friend, a gay man, for 8+ years. We are not sexually intimate but we are married for all other intents and purposes. I no longer want anything to do with sexual intimacy (never held much interest for me in the first place). I'm not a lesbian, I'm not straight, so I'm queer. Full stop.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


If you're asked directly, try "I am a woman of mystery."
posted by PatoPata at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


Best answer: Rather than use terms that are either too broad in their scope or generally not understood by the populace as a whole, why don't you explain yourself with plain English:

"I've only been in romantic, psychical relationships with men but I do find women attractive. However, that isn't something I am going to explore right now because I am in a monogamous relationship with a man and that monogamy is very important to me."

As to why you can't wear a certain type of shoes because of the genitalia of the person you are currently dating is a whole other issue...one that I don't really have a good answer for.
posted by mmascolino at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


psychical? arrrrgghhh Physical.
posted by mmascolino at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2008


Best answer: There's not a lot you can do, short of sleeping with women, to 'prove' your sexuality to anyone. Yeah it doesn’t always feel great to be pegged as a sexuality that you don't feel accurately defines you but you can't really change what other people think. You are on the surface a straight person; this is one of the great life long challenges of Bi/Omni/Pan/etc as long you are in a monogamous relationship people will think you are attracted to that gender only, and you’ll feel a little left out of the gay/straight crowd during that time. I’ve a lot of personal experience in this matter, I’ve seen people who’ve had a few dozen partners of various genders get married and instantly become straight/gay in the eyes of those around them. It’s kinda the way it works. Its very hard to keep up the bisexual street-cred.
posted by French Fry at 11:10 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Wow, I could have written this question word per word. 24 year old female here too, been with my guy six years, only person I've ever had sex with, same kind of basis for attraction to people, dreams about both genders, etc. Get annoyed by people who try to say you're not queer if you haven't been with a woman, yup. Get annoyed by guys who act pervy about it, yup. Hell, I even wear Tevas. I'm wearing them right now! No sister, though.

Anyway, when people ask me if I'm bi, I say yes because I am. I don't like having to label it either, and it seems obvious to me when I say I find women attractive, but people want to be clear I think. I've been fortunate, I guess, that it doesn't sound like it's an issue for me as often as it is for you.

Anyone who tries to dictate your sexuality to you by arguing with you is not only full of shit, but they need to mind their own business. The few times this has happened to me, reasoning with the person has not been effective. In my experience, these kinds of people have a need to feel like they're an authority on something, for their own self-esteem, so they are unlikely to back down. Sometimes they are ignorant or bigoted, and from your response, it seems like you're dealing with those types as well. For what it's worth, when being polite and reasoning has proved utterly ineffective and they're being an asshole about it, I've said things like, "Well, gee, you know what, you're right. Thank you. Before we had this talk, I had no clue what I masturbate about." It always shuts them up.

With more reasonable people who try to pull the "but you've never had sex with a girl" bullshit, you should ask them if they believe heterosexual people aren't heterosexual until they've had vaginal sex.
posted by Nattie at 11:16 AM on August 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


Best answer: look em straight in the eye and say "I prefer to remain an enigma". seriously. you don't need to label yourself to assuage someone else's confusions.
posted by supermedusa at 11:22 AM on August 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


You're into chicks and dudes. You can resist labeling all you want, but you're bisexual - you just don't like the trappings of that word (i.e. frat-party style chick makeouts).
posted by downing street memo at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I think you're bringing a lot of this problem on yourself. Here's why: you're commenting on how you think another women is attractive in front of straight men. If you don't want to answer questions about your sexuality then stop doing that. A lot of guys think that's really hot. So you saying that and then backing away from any questions just makes them curious and think you're a tease.

Next, you might have mentioned the fact that you're bi to some lesbian women. Lesbians have often been through all kinds of crap from other people questioning them, i.e. "well how do you know you don't like men, maybe you just haven't met the right guy" etc. So it's a hard fought thing to claim to be lesbian. You saying 'bi' could be a cop out to them - wanting to have it both ways, being a sexy lesbian and wanting to just have the safety of being straight. Or wanting to cash in on the allure of the sexy woman on woman action without the burden of being gay.

Bisexual people too go through all kinds of crap. So you not wanting to claim one or the other is for many people a politically charged thing that frustrates them. People fight so that people can say they're attracted to this o that, so you being non-committal is kind of a slap in the face of that.

Personally I think the labels are important. For example: I'm gay, so if I know you as Bi, I'm going to behave around you differently than if I think you're straight. That's just how it is, and that's how everyone is - you too. We all respond to what you say are "labels". So how you define yourself is going to help people to know how to respond to you on an interpersonal level. You saying "don't label me" is confusing and makes people uncomfortable with you and makes them think you're uncomfortable with yourself.

"Labels" are just words that one uses to describe themselves so that other people can relate and get to know them. If you don't want people to know about a part of your sexuality that you're uncomfortable discussing then just say you're straight and don't say stuff that confuses the idea of straight.

If however, you don't want to censor yourself and just be 'bi' then say you're bi and if people give you a hard time then tell them to fuck off. If someone says "well how do you know you're 'bi' when....blah blah?" Say "I'm attracted to both men and women. You know, the definition of bisexual.
posted by Craig at 11:29 AM on August 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Best answer: what to say when I'm pressed to define myself

"No."
posted by Greg Nog at 11:30 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe she thinks I'm being a poseur?

That's because you are a poseur. In fact, you are a huge poseur. And you know why? It's because you want to have your sexuality be a major part of your identity but you don't want to have to experience the social repercussions for your choice. You want to identify yourself but you don't want others to identify you which, I'm sorry, is ridiculous. Your identity has social consquences; until you accept that, no matter how you label yourself, you are, for all intends and purposes, are a poseur.

Your problems with identifying as bi and dealing with dudes who are idiots has little to do with your bisexuality but more to do with your choice in male friends. And, again, this is a social consquence of your sexual identification. If you want to identify heavily with your sexuality, then when your sexuality does come up (and if you're talking about the attractiveness of a celebrity or a passerby, your sexuality does not have to come up in that conversation), you can label yourself as bi, or straight, or queer, or merely say "it depends on the winds". And if the person you are talking about then says something rude or something that makes you uncomfortable, stand up for yourself and for your identity. Own it, act like you own it, and be comfortable with it.
posted by Stynxno at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2008 [9 favorites]


Best answer: I'm pretty much the same as you, also 24 year old female, have been in monogamous relationships with men, not having slept with a woman, experienced the same reactions. Your friends are assholes dude. How dare they make you feel like you have to explain yourself? You are not their preconceptions. Tell them to fuck right off.

(If you're in less than slightly casual company, no one needs to know anything about you. Commenting on who you find attractive isn't necessary to social interactions.)

FWIW, I am bisexual but the way I put it to other people is that it's not a case of liking men and women. It's a case of liking everything. I'm not picky. No one ever bothers to push me for anything further.
posted by saturnine at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I knew someone who used to say she was "Bipartisan" which I always thought was a funny asnwer to keep people guessing.
posted by Ponderance at 12:12 PM on August 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Some really good advice from everyone so far, and it's been particularly nice hearing from other queer/ bi people. I think, generally, it might be time to do some reading on biphobia.

For those of you who said things along the lines of "you want to categorize yourself but you don't want others to do the same," well, sure, if the categories they pick for me aren't accurate, that's true. I mean, if you're gay, and people want to insist you're straight, or if you're trans, and people call you the wrong pronoun, you're not the one who's in the wrong--they are. I was under the assumption that the same was true for bisexuals and other non-gender-normative folks, too. I guess I'm surprised that people think I'm wrong about who I am. Oh well!

In any case, keep the advice on addressing the haters coming; what you guys have come up with has been very helpful so far.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2008


Best answer: I'm in a l/t relationship with a man, so I get pegged as straight by default. This doesn't bother me, but when the subject does come up, I identify myself as queer.

More recently, I've embraced the "bisexual" label specifically because I feel that it's important to me, politically, to align myself with that particular group that is increasingly marginalized in queer culture because of the general "oooh, being bi is soooo trendy" stereotype.

The only reason I would prefer the term "queer" over "bisexual" is because it is more gender-fluid and doesn't limit gender to binary male OR female expression. But that's splitting a lot of hairs for people outside of the GLBTQ community, so "bisexual" works just fine.

And really, bisexuality needs its advocates just as much as gays and lesbians do. We're here! We're also queer! Yes, really! We are!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:31 PM on August 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


Best answer: People are definitely idiots who care too much about labels, etc., etc., but I think the bigger problem here is that what you "are" is different from what you've done. When that's the case, some people are going to think you're a poseur, and some people are going to think you're confused, and they're going to continue thinking that no matter how well you explain yourself.

When dealing with those people, you really only have two choices:
1. conform--just call yourself straight, and try to keep a low profile with regards to discussing attractiveness of women
2. ignore them; stop caring that they think you're posing/confused

It sucks that these people are forcing you to make such a choice, but that's the way it is. I'm not sure what I'd do in your situation--my instinct would be to censor myself around new people or people who I already know to be stupid, because life's just too short to deal with stupid people. That's what I (and lots of people) do with regards to religion, politics, etc. But that's an easy suggestion for someone who's not you to make; maybe your sexuality is too personal for that, in which case I don't know what to do.

I guess the main thing I'm saying is: don't get your hopes up about finding some concise, possibly witty magic-bullet explanation. That fundamental difference between your identity and your experience isn't going to go away, and some people you just have to give up on.
posted by equalpants at 12:56 PM on August 8, 2008


I knew pretty early on that I was attracted to both men and women, but I didn't start to identify myself as bisexual until after high school. This was because of the "ooh being bi is soooo trendy" thing, grapefruitmoon mentioned. I didn't want to be one of those girls who kisses other girls just to hook a guy. That's not me. I didn't identify at all with the girls around me who called themselves bi. I wanted no part of it.

Luckily, after high school, I had a great group of friends who don't give a shit who I'm attracted to/who I'm dating, and would never get up in arms about if I've actually touched a woman, or ask me to kiss their friend, 'just cuz'. It was then that I realised that I am quite literally bisexual, and who the fuck cares what other people think that means. It is only by chance that I appear to be so straight.

Honestly, it sounds like you need some new friends.
posted by sunshinesky at 1:03 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're trying to have it both ways. You want to define yourself, yet you don't want any stigma associated with the definition. You're trying to controll the second part, seeing if you can migitate the stigma by finding a more convenient label. Regardless of the label you choose, if you told the shallow frat-guy or the judgmental lesbians the full-on story without a condensed label, you still wouldn't get a reaction you desire. There's only so much that precise communication can do to mitigate undesirable reactions.

Self-expression comes at a price, and you are demanding acceptance.
posted by philosophistry at 1:05 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


While I can understand the feeling that your sexuality is no one's business but your own, that doesn't seem to be where you're coming from. It seems more that you resent being labeled as boring old straight when there's more going on underneath, and you want people to know about your special tastes but don't want the crap that comes along with that.

The fact that you think women are sexy and are open to a theoretical same-sex sexual encounter doesn't actually make you much different from most women, who overall are more fluid along that old chestnut of the Kinsey scale. For instance, I also find women attractive, have had sexy dreams about them as well, and am down with the multi-gender porn, but I have only ever been with men. And I identify as heterosexual, because when it comes down to it, I think the label is about much more than who I would theoretically bang. In my mind, it is deeply tied to how one approaches romantic relationships, and yes, what partners one actually chooses to have outside the confines of one's fantasies or speculation. And I have only ever been interested in relationships/partnerships with men. As far as I am concerned, sexual curiosity is not strong enough to warrant the claim to the label bisexual or even queer. I think it smacks strongly of privileged co-opting to claim to be part of a minority group that has certainly had to suffer far more than a couple of sleazy suggestions from drunken friends in the attempt to live peacefully with one's sexuality. That you're (seemingly) not aware of this could be part of the problems you've been having.
posted by tigerbelly at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


Best answer: You can stand under my Queer Umbrella.

I think you can say you're bisexual, a 5 on the Kinsey, queer, pansexual, anything you like. Nobody has a right to sanction your identity. It's fluid, and your own, and does not depend on what kind of relationships you've had. Labels and descriptors are only as confining as you allow them to be.

There are good reasons to tell people about your bisexuality - one of mine is that there are some girls who will get too much in my space for my platonic comfort. I need to know if they are actually flirting, of just being rowdy affectionate sisters. Making sure they have the pertinent information about which team I play for is important.

I'm in your position, too. I identify as bisexual without having slept with a woman. I like more men than women, but there's no mistaking arousal, is there? If I ever get flack from people about how I'm not "really" bi, which thank God I don't, I just explain that I'm good at attracting men, and staying in relationships, and don't like as many girls as I do boys, and was never socialized to understand how to get girls, so I just didn't have time before I fell in love with a man.

I do suggest that it's valuable to the queer community to go ahead and identify as queer, and not just an ally to queers.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'm in a l/t relationship with a man, so I get pegged as straight by default. This doesn't bother me, but when the subject does come up, I identify myself as queer.

More recently, I've embraced the "bisexual" label specifically because I feel that it's important to me, politically, to align myself with that particular group that is increasingly marginalized in queer culture because of the general "oooh, being bi is soooo trendy" stereotype.

The only reason I would prefer the term "queer" over "bisexual" is because it is more gender-fluid and doesn't limit gender to binary male OR female expression. But that's splitting a lot of hairs for people outside of the GLBTQ community, so "bisexual" works just fine.

And really, bisexuality needs its advocates just as much as gays and lesbians do. We're here! We're also queer! Yes, really! We are!


Quoted for reasons of Me too! Me too! Meee tooo! Me too, me too, (this is getting weird) me too, me too!
posted by desuetude at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2008


Best answer: Here's why: you're commenting on how you think another women is attractive in front of straight men. If you don't want to answer questions about your sexuality then stop doing that. A lot of guys think that's really hot. So you saying that and then backing away from any questions just makes them curious and think you're a tease.

This brings to mind the frustrating aspects of a living in a heteronormative culture with a healthy dollop of biphobia. And a whiff of "she's asking for it." If she doesn't want to state that she's Definitely Gay, Bisexual, Or Lesbian she should stay the hell in the closet?

PhoBWanKenobi, when I was younger and less comfortable with calling myself queer, I would describe my sexual preference as "gender nonspecific," which apparently didn't seem as threatening.
posted by desuetude at 1:39 PM on August 8, 2008


As far as I am concerned, sexual curiosity is not strong enough to warrant the claim to the label bisexual or even queer.

It's not just curiosity, it's interest, and if I were single, I'd almost certainly be pursuing both men and women both sexually and romantically. And I don't think they're special tastes. They're . . . tastes! I'm not being vocal about them to make myself seem more interesting any more than lesbians talking about finding girls attractive do so for that reason. In fact, it's precisely those connotations to bisexuality that I've found distasteful in the past--but, in reading some of these posts, I'm realizing I should probably be embracing that label and dispelling stereotypes, rather than trying to avoid the stigma of both.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:40 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't like labeling my sexuality, but other people seem to want me to do so. How do I deflect them?

I don't have the immediate experience of others here -- no one cares, in fact, about my sexuality, let alone labeling it -- but I believe you are addressing three different situations.

1. Your sister. Arguably you're the source of this problem, as you recognize, by emphasizing your identity as you did when you were younger. Arguably she's only trying to signal to herself and to her other lesbian friends that you are different, so that what she's really fumbling around with is a variant of non-lesbian. In any event, once you figure out what you want her to say to you, or how you want her to speak about it in front of others, ask her nicely, and be consistent.

2. Others. If I understand this, the issue usually arises when you remark on someone else's appearance. You could stop doing that, and nip the problem in the bud, but you presumably do not want to. I think it's foolish to be coy ("enigma") or to respond vitriolically ("stop with the labeling"); understand that people are either interested in you or just curious. I think it's fair to just say, "I think everyone enjoys a good-looking __," and leave it at that.

3. Yourself. Honestly, I get the sense that you are fumbling around with your own label for yourself, despite your protests to the contrary. You want a label, but you just don't like the alternatives, and you're thinking about inventing your own through this indirect, participatory process.

This is natural enough. But it's going to be difficult for you to avoid these problematic interactions if you continue to wrestle with your own identity and to externalize it by making question-begging remarks to others. For them, it's not going to be evident what "It's just me" means.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:10 PM on August 8, 2008


Best answer: I am yet another bisexual young woman who everyone assumes is straight. I have been with both men and women, so I am "actively bisexual", but I still can see where you're coming from. I only recently started seeing a woman, and before then, I always felt a bit like people wouldn't believe me if I told them I wasn't straight, and would brush me off because I didn't have any experience (I believe feelings and attractions are as legitimate as experiences when it comes to defining personal sexuality). I've always embraced the bisexual label (in my head, anyway; I'm only out to a fairly small group of people).

If you really just don't want to say "I'm bisexual," you could always say "I'm attracted to people" which is what I think of bisexual as meaning. Labels like pansexual and queer seem to take too much explaining and the average person has no idea what they mean.

I don't get too much questioning about my sexuality, but I also don't make many comments that would prompt any questions. In general, I'm pretty quiet about things that have to do with sex and sexuality, especially my own.

Bisexuals catch a lot of flak from both gay and straight people. It's rather annoying.
posted by quirks at 2:48 PM on August 8, 2008


You're heterosexual- bacause that's the walk you walk. Talk about all of the pretty girls you like. If you're not doing any of them, you're straight.

What is with this constant need for so many people on this website to avoid being labeled something traditional?
posted by Zambrano at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2008


So, Zambrano, when you were a virgin you weren't heterosexual?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:17 PM on August 8, 2008 [9 favorites]


Best answer: If someone asks you about your sexual preferences, I'd simply reply with "I'm monogamous". It both points out they are being rude and tells them they don't have a shot.
posted by Justinian at 3:26 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't like labeling my sexuality, but other people seem to want me to do so. How do I deflect them?

When someone asks me a personal question I'm not comfortable answering, I simply answer with the most boring lie possible. It communicates nothing, doesn't come across as a rude refusal to answer, avoids questions probing for more detail, and discourages gossip.

In your case, you could say "I am a heterosexual female in a long-term monogamous relationship". And it's not even a lie.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:41 PM on August 8, 2008


You're heterosexual- bacause that's the walk you walk. Talk about all of the pretty girls you like. If you're not doing any of them, you're straight.

Are you "doing anyone" RIGHT NOW? This very moment? Are you absolutely positive of your sexual orientation without this sort of active confirmation? How? Presumably there are people to whom you are attracted who won't fuck you. While this may say something about you, it's not a definition of your sexual orientation.
posted by desuetude at 4:33 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: What's wrong with bi? Doesn't that about cover it? Just because your guy friends are bores about it doesn't mean it's the wrong label.

Speaking as someone pretty much mostly straight, I've never figured out the animosity my gay friends seem to have towards the "bi" label. Bizarre.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:17 PM on August 8, 2008


Best answer: Given your description of how you comment on the attractiveness of others of both genders, I think you will catch some flax regardless of a label (if any) you give yourself. I identify as bisexual, but it took me awhile to do so at first because of a lot of concerns similar to yours. I decided that people having an inaccurate assumption about what being bisexual meant didn't mean I shouldn't use the label. Similar to identifying as a feminist---I wasn't going to reject the label because some people think this means I hate men.

I'm not saying this is the best choice for you--- but I thought a similar experience might help you when considering the issue of labels.
posted by lacedback at 5:45 PM on August 8, 2008


And what is it with people insisting that if you've never been with a girl you're only "bi-curious" and yet if you've never been with a guy you're not labeled "straight-curious"? Heteronormativity ftw.

That wasn't me insisting, but I don't think this reaction -- or some others upthread -- is very fair. I can imagine the following scheme for thinking about preference:

1. If you haven't done anything, who knows. Probabilistically, hetero, but unfair to label or treat one way or the other.
2. If you have had hetero relationships, and never have had any gay relationships, you are labeled hetero. Or vice-versa.
3. If you have both, you're bi, at least if you think you might continue in both veins.

I gather those labeling the OP -- not me, I reiterate -- are doing so based on #2, and they may draw additional comfort from the fact that she says she's not planning on exploring her thoughts about women. This makes likening the case to something in category #1, as in the case of a virgin, misleading. Many virgins desperately wish to do something to change their states of being.

And I don't see why there's much heteronormativity involved; it's just a comfort with labeling people, and a preference for basing it on what they do, rather than on what they think. Ultimately, what people do with their sexuality turns out to be pretty important, and if you add to that how a person PLANS to use their sexuality, it's probably the way most people label one another. If you're into that sort of thing. As I said earlier, I could care less.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:38 PM on August 8, 2008


Best answer: I'm in a l/t relationship with a man, so I get pegged as straight by default. This doesn't bother me, but when the subject does come up, I identify myself as queer.

More recently, I've embraced the "bisexual" label specifically because I feel that it's important to me, politically, to align myself with that particular group that is increasingly marginalized in queer culture because of the general "oooh, being bi is soooo trendy" stereotype.

The only reason I would prefer the term "queer" over "bisexual" is because it is more gender-fluid and doesn't limit gender to binary male OR female expression. But that's splitting a lot of hairs for people outside of the GLBTQ community, so "bisexual" works just fine.

And really, bisexuality needs its advocates just as much as gays and lesbians do. We're here! We're also queer! Yes, really! We are!


I'm married to someone who could have written this, word for word.

My first take on this is that on the one hand who the fuck's business is this? Your sexuality is a concern to you and your partner(s), and no one else.

But on the other hand, people do ask, and people do make assumptions, and I think that (when it is safe and appropriate to do so) being out as "queer" or "bisexual" or whatever is a good thing, because it forces people to acknowledge that sexuality is not binary and life is complicated.

So to some people my partner is "just" a heterosexual woman, but to others, in safer, more open spaces, she is out as a person of a more complicated sexuality. The funny thing is that (as you can see from the answers here), you have a lot of company in this — there are a lot of people who are in a relationship because they love the other person, not because they are easily pigeon-holed into a narrow slot. You have identity (what label currently fits you the best) and practice (with whom you are sleeping with at the moment), and they may overlap or they may conflict. And things change — this year you identify as X but are doing A, B, and C in bed, and next year things are different.

Sexuality for some people is really fixed. That's me — I've liked what I like ever since I can remember. But for some other people, it's really fluid — maybe they like individuals, not types, or maybe their needs shift over time. For those people, labels don't help, although "queer" and "bisexual" and terms like that allow for a lot more slippage than some other terms.
posted by Forktine at 9:34 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I don't define myself by whom I fuck" is my standard answer to the rude question of my sexuality.
posted by saucysault at 9:47 PM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Best answer: The most important thing you mention is your relationship with your sister, a permanent fixture in your life, so that's the focus of my answer.

It's great you've got encouragement here to be who you are and that is essential, but you also should take what tiger belly wrote seriously:

I think it smacks strongly of privileged co-opting to claim to be part of a minority group that has certainly had to suffer far more than a couple of sleazy suggestions from drunken friends in the attempt to live peacefully with one's sexuality. That you're (seemingly) not aware of this could be part of the problems you've been having.

That is likely the root of your problems with your sister. As an out lesbian, even in an increasingly gay-accepting society, she faces a passel of issues both large and small that you just don't have to consider, hence her comment about Tevas. There are plenty of people who will still actively discriminate against her, and even the most out people I've known tend to be circumspect when dealing with people in positions of power whose friendliness they haven't sussed out. Even if she lives in a place where it's illegal to discriminate against gay people seeking housing or employment or loans or what have you, she's perfectly aware that powerful people discriminate all the time in ways very difficult to legally prove. She's also perfectly aware of the social ostracism that can result when more conservative people choose not to acknowledge her identity as valid. There's no legislation for that. And social acceptance is a far more powerful tool in daily life than abstract legal remedies.

Basically, she has to take precautions and be conscious and shoulder burdens that you don't have to at this moment in your life. Quite simply, you have privileges she doesn't. Sincerely acknowledging that to her and being sensitive about it when discussing sexuality issues will let her know that you are not merely co-opting the flavor and fun of sexual fluidity. Gay people have plenty of "allies" who disappear when the party's over and there's heavy lifting to be done. Too, gay people are generally far more aware of who is politically and commercially gay-friendly, and they vote and spend and live accordingly. They are attuned. If you are as well she will appreciate that you get the more serious issues at hand involving sexual orientation.

Basically, the only way I know to convince your sister that you're not a poser is by not being one. In other words, by devoting thought and energy and tangible action to gay issues as they affect all gay people, not just you personally -- and doing it because you sincerely care, not merely to build up your cred.
posted by melissa may at 9:50 PM on August 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Best answer: Hello, slightly older version of me! Change the numbers and this would have been my question.

I'm with a wonderful guy now. My most intense (unrequited) crush was with a woman. I like them both but (due to various circumstances) have only slept with a man.

I found pansexual to be a great label (if I needed one) - I find "bisexual" troubling because it doesn't include genderqueer people. I don't think I've had active interest in specfic genderqueer people, mainly because I haven't met many, but it's definitely possible.

I, like you, like people. Gender doesn't come into it. However, I've had people tell me that just "liking people" wasn't possible - I MUST! have a preference for a gender. Uh, no. I like a person for who they are, not what equipment they have.

Try pansexual, or try "not you, if you're wondering".
posted by divabat at 12:28 AM on August 9, 2008


I like to say "I play for whichever team is winning" or "I am an equal opportunity fuck" - although maybe you could familiarise yourself with the Kinsey Scale and call yourself a Number 1.

Really the only time your sexuality comes up is when you mention it, so if you don't like the reaction either don't bring it up or learn to deal with it. Assumed heterosexuality might be annoying for you, but imagine what it's like for "active" bisexual and homosexual people for whom a heteronormative society actively works against them.

This is not to diminish the fact that you recognise an attraction to women - which is why I place you as a Number 1, per Kinsey: Predominently Heterosexual, only Incidentally Homosexual. It's all very well to claim that if you were single you would pursue both sexes, but you are in a long, monogamous relationship with the only person you've ever had sex with - so the claim doesn't ring false, but it does ring hollow.
posted by crossoverman at 12:42 AM on August 9, 2008


So, Zambrano, when you were a virgin you weren't heterosexual?

I think what Zambrano was trying to say was, for example, Idaho senator Larry Craig can self-identify as heterosexual but other people might not agree with this in light of him pleading guilty to engaging in lewd conduct in a public toilet.

So how do you define someone's sexuality when there are differences between what they want, what they say they want, how they act, and how other people perceive them?

Well, one way is by their actions alone. This provides a simple solution in situations like Craig's: if you have sex with both women and men, you are bisexual.

Obviously evaluating actions only has its problems - people will dispute it more than self-identification, and it relies on knowing a person's actions. But in situations like Craig's, it makes sense to take the facts into account.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:45 AM on August 9, 2008


Best answer: melissa may, I think you make good points eloquently, but I think it's important for the sister to also be respectful, too. There are advantages to being "really" gay or lesbian, too -- like random people not assuming that you aren't queer enough to be queer, or quizzing you on whether you've passed the qualifying rounds of sexual activity, or positing that that you're misguided/lying//teasing/poseur. Bisexuals who identify as such get this all the time; not even using that (not great, but it's what we've got) specific identifying term exacerbates the effect.

I don't mean this in a "we have it worse" pissing contest. Egads, no. I particularly agree with this: Sincerely acknowledging that to her and being sensitive about it when discussing sexuality issues will let her know that you are not merely co-opting the flavor and fun of sexual fluidity.You don't have to come out to every single person on the street daily, but no letting nastygrams in mixed company slide because you're passing.
posted by desuetude at 7:19 AM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Best answer: You're asking how to name an identity a lot of the world won't acknowledge and tries to forces you out of with its assumptions, and I think some people in this thread are really missing answering your question by telling you "don't name yourself."

I'll tell you the opposite, as another queer female who's too often assumed to be straight when seen/associated with male partners. Labels have meaning, as long as something we consider important is invisible to other people -- actively denied by other people -- without those labels.

I'd suggest googling "biphobia" for some history and context about why lesbians have felt like excluding and denying bisexuality (and I agree with divabat that bisexual isn't the best term either, but it still has usefulness because that's what many/most bi people have called themselves for a few decades).

I hope you can talk to your sister about why it feels so important to her to label you as straight (even more important than respecting your own identity!). Here is somebody you've trusted all or most of your life; I don't have siblings but I can imagine it would be especially weird to have my own sister keep saying my identity doesn't exist.
posted by kalapierson at 6:31 AM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


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