Original article published Here
“Wait, are you bi?” Ellery* asked, “I thought you were straight.”
It’s not unusual for people to assume I’m straight. Straight is the norm; the default in our society. Friends have assumed it about me. Partners (even the queer ones) have assumed it about me. I’ve even assumed it about myself at times. Still, it’s not nice to hear it from someone you’ve been on a date with. Worse still, I had assumed the same about her.
“I’m not straight, and I’m not gay. I don’t have to – I can’t – pinpoint that middle ground for you.”
Ellery and I had met on Tinder. The date had been good, but not great – she described it as “normal”. She kissed me on the cheek when we said goodbye and I blew off our second date. We only met up again because I decided to interview ex-Tinder dates for a cliché story about love and connection in the digital age. I had expected it to be awkward, but with Ellery it wasn’t awkward at all. I was surprised that she had read me as straight, though, and ashamed that I had done the same to her. Heteronormative assumptions are frustrating – I wish we lived in a world without them – but the reality is they keep me safe.
While I’m not straight, I benefit from straight privilege. Especially now, dating a white man. I am protected by people assuming I’m straight – it saves me from invasive questions, violence, slurs. I also have the advantage of being connected to my boyfriend’s patriarchal power. It’s not real power, sure, but through him I can access ways of being heard that aren’t so easily available to most lesbian women. Despite being aware of these privileges (and more), I still find the assumptions painfully frustrating. I’m ashamed of myself for assuming the same about someone else.
“I never had a ‘coming out’,” I confessed, “I tried to avoid putting a label on my sexuality, but now I just say I’m bisexual because it’s so much easier–”
“Me too!” Ellery enthused, “I hate saying it to people but I have to because it makes more sense.”
“Bisexual” doesn’t resonate with me. It doesn’t adequately encompass love, hope, desire, chance. It feels empty, based on past experiences I may or may not have. It feels susceptible to scrutiny (“but which gender do you prefer?”) and unaligned with the flux of my actual heart.
Bi, meaning two, also upholds a gender binary. It excludes the full scope of humanity that I will encounter and fall in love with in my lifetime. And that’s what it’s about for me – love. Desire is a shifting beast, and my attempts to label it feel fraudulent. Perhaps it’s just lexical madness, but it eats at me.
I usually connect quickly with other “bi” women. Sometimes it feels as though we’re circling one another, teasing out a secret desire, and understanding one another better for it. Sometimes it’s an unloading: word-vomit confessions interlaced with near-rhythmic “yeahs” and “me toos”. Ellery and I are the word-vomiting type, and through this we find understanding in one another.
I’ve done this dance with others: I’ve found my kin who simply “Don’t identify as anything”, and feel glee whenever a new one pops up. To us, the lack of label feels liberating.
To others, it feels like shame. An ex-lover of mine had come out so many times and in so many ways that they could never understand. They thought my avoidance was built on fear of coming out.
The label “bisexual” is important to many people, and I’ve searched for the one that might be important to me, too. I could call myself pansexual, meaning an attraction to all genders, but I loathe the idea of the long explanation to follow (“No, I’m not attracted to saucepans. No, I don’t want to f— everyone.”).
Creating common language is hard, and it’s only through our discursive dance, our circling of one another, that we can dismantle our assumptions and uncover the feelings we don’t have words for yet.
I could call myself queer (and sometimes do), but that feels appropriative of those with more vocal identities. There have even been times when I have thought I was asexual or demisexual. Nothing neatly captures my experiences, and that’s OK. Chances are I’ll never figure out what fits, or be able to define my sexuality in any hard and fast way.
I often feel excluded from the queer community. In part because my sexuality just doesn’t make up an enormous part of my identity, and in part because I feel like a fraud – especially when I’m in a straight relationship. Yet my craving to connect with other women who don’t sit neatly on the spectrum indicates a deeper longing. I long to be included, to be understood.
I long for a society that doesn’t assume my sexuality. I long to never have to label myself. I long to never have to come out. I long to fall in love with whoever, and have no awkward conversations with distant aunts over Christmas dinner about it.
Assumptions are alienating. Ellery and I have done this twice now: first assuming straightness, and then assuming a false, neat, binary of desire. Creating common language is hard, and it’s only through our discursive dance, our circling of one another, that we can dismantle our assumptions and uncover the feelings we don’t have words for yet.
I’m not straight, and I’m not gay. I don’t have to – I can’t – pinpoint that middle ground for you. But assumptions are just assumptions. I’ll try not to make them in the future.
*Names have been changed