August 10, 2016
By Rianna Lee
I’m a firm believer that people are born with their sexual identity. It could be gay, straight, or somewhere in between, but it’s something that can’t be changed. Unfortunately, if you have even a doubt in your mind that you could be attracted to the same sex, our heteronormative society sends you on this mystical journey to find yourself in this complex, complicated world of sexuality. Call it what you want – bisexuality, “experimenting,” or whatever else – but bisexuality can be a waystation for some people who are coming into their sexuality. The key thing to understand, however, is that it does not delegitimize bisexuality as a true sexual identity.
Humans are complex animals; we can see black and white, but we also see all sorts of shades of gray in the middle, too. The complexity of two extremes with a large gray area in the middle is all too familiar to those who struggle or have struggled with their sexual identity. The exact definition of bisexuality, just so we’re all on the same page, is the romantic or sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females.
So, does this means that anyone who is ever attracted to or experiments sexually with guys and girls is bisexual? What if it’s only one time, and it’s not their forte? What if it happens on more than one occasion, but it never becomes a relationship? What if it becomes a relationship, but then it ends and one person decides they don’t want to date the same sex again?
All legitimate questions. The answer? There isn’t one.
Take English singer-songwriter Jessie J, for example. In 2011, she mentioned a previous relationship she’d had with a woman, and discussed her bisexuality openly. Three years later, she tweeted she only loved and wanted to date men. Many argue that she did the LGBT community a great disservice by suggesting that bisexuality and being LGBT are just feelings that can come and go. Hint: they’re not.
If Jessie J truly identifies as straight, but she had a same sex relationship before realizing girls aren’t her cup of tea, how can we be angry with her? I can personally vouch that discovering and uncovering your sexual identity – even if you come to find that you are, indeed, straight – is a rocky journey, with many bumps and wrong turns along the way. The only difference is her journey is on public display, and everyone else’s isn’t.
I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that labels frustrate me. Sure, labels help us understand the world and the people around us, but the labels that society manufactures and sticks on others are not always concrete instruction guides for who people truly are. “Bisexual” is just another one of those labels we might dish out to people who struggle with accepting that relationships with the opposite sex aren’t the only ones to be had. The truth is, some (if not most) people, such as myself, identify as bisexual and stick with it.
But don’t get me wrong, I’ll also be the first one to admit that being “in the middle” is difficult, and sometimes I still struggle with who I am. I was a closeted bisexual until about four years ago, and I started coming out to people a little more than two years ago. Since then, I’ve experienced every form of bisexual erasure – the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or re-explain evidence of bisexuality – there is. You might actually be surprised that many of these snarky comments and loaded questions came from members of the LGBT community – a community that tries to erase my identity even though I am one of them (the B stands for Bisexual, c’mon people!). When I dated guys: “Are you really bi or do you just kiss girls to get attention?” When I started dating my girlfriend: “So… are you gay now?” And the eye rolls ensue…
Supermodel and actress Cara Delevingne is a celebrity example of bisexuality being a true and steadfast sexual identity. In 2015, she talked very candidly about her relationship with her girlfriend, musician St. Vincent, for the first time: “I think that being in love with my girlfriend is a big part of why I’m feeling so happy with who I am these days… And for those words to come out of my mouth is actually a miracle.” She also opened up about her depression, her broken relationship with her mother, and how it affects the way she views relationships.
Following the article, many people were upset with the way that the interviewer handled the discussion surrounding Cara’s bisexuality. Some believed the language in the interview dismissed bisexuality as a phase, and blamed Cara’s bisexuality specifically on childhood trauma and her relationship with her mother. An online petition gained traction, asking the magazine to acknowledge that homo- or bisexuality doesn’t fade over time. Cara spoke out about the whole thing to the New York Times, saying that while she was flattered by the protest, she found “nothing malicious” in the article itself. But she also wanted everyone to be clear, “My sexuality is not a phase. I am who I am.”
Today, Cara Delevingne is happier than ever with her girlfriend. More than a year after her controversial Vogue interview, Cara shot a cover and interviewed again with the magazine, which just hit shelves on August 4th. “I’m completely in love… before I didn’t know what love was – real love,” she gushed about St. Vincent, whom she has been dating for over a year now.
And… SURPRISE! She’s still bisexual – despite news outlets erasing her identity by saying she has “finally embraced her sexuality.” Um, did they not get the memo that she has been embracing her sexuality for years?! Perhaps they got confused when Cara said, “I’m obviously in love, so if people want to say I’m gay, that’s great… But we’re all liquid – we change, we grow.” Key words: “If people want to say…” I’m a girl dating a girl. People, mostly my close friends, call me gay all the time. But being in a same-sex relationship doesn’t change the fact that I’m bisexual, and it doesn’t make my attraction to men just disappear.
It seems almost as if when someone tries to come out as bisexual, or even just as having feelings or attraction toward someone of the same sex, we – and when I say “we,” I mean society as a whole, but the LGBT community as well – start pushing them into boxes screaming, “Gay or straight! Pick one!” If they’re straight, we deem them to be attention-seeking liars. When they’re just plain old bisexual, we continue to push them in one direction or the other. Sure, sexuality would be so much easier if it was just black and white (believe me – sometimes I wish it was). But like almost everything else in this world, there is a huge gray area.
So, can we just accept that bisexuality is a true and unwavering sexual identity for many, just as it is a stepping stone for discovering that you’re gay or straight for others? We can start by not labeling people the moment they begin the difficult and winding journey to discovering their identity. Ideally, if anyone’s going to have a label, it should be prescribed by the person in question, not someone else – but we all know that’s just not how society works. Let’s start smaller, by accepting that labels can and do change but identities do not – and we are in no place to shame people for breaking away from what they thought they were to discover who they really are.
Rianna is a summer intern for the Thomas Merton Center and a senior at Duquesne University, studying international relations and sociology. She is interested in law and public policy surrounding gender and women’s rights.