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Q: “I’m attracted to more than one gender, but am not sure what label to use. “Queer” resonates with me, but am I contributing to bisexual erasure if I don’t ID as bisexual?”
I identify as both queer and bisexual because they ring true to different parts of my experience as a woman with feelings for other humans and also the world. I have always been bisexual but didn’t know how to express it. Choosing queerness gave me a context in which to live out my whole self, including my sexual and romantic desire for multiple genders. It’s been a long journey, and everyone has the right to their own individual version of that process. If the word bisexual doesn’t feel right in your mouth, don’t feel pressured to claim it for yourself. However, I also encourage you to look up bisexual resources, communities and history, as you may find things that resonate with your experience in some ways. Whatever label you choose (or don’t), the most important thing is that you accept yourself and others with an open heart.
Personally, it’s not important to me to have a label at all. If you find a word that you feel comfortable with, I encourage you to use it all you want, but only you can make that call. When I refer to a group of people who identify somewhere in-between, I tend to use the word “bisexual,” but when it comes to myself.. I’ve never had a preferred term. Pansexual? Fluid? Omnisexual? My sexual orientation has never been super easy to pin down, and it changes over time. I really struggled with this for years, but I found that I felt a lot better once I stopped pressuring myself to slap a label on it.
I suppose since coming out, queer has felt like more of a home than bisexual. I suspect my aversion to the term “bisexual” is largely influenced by the biphobia that pervades both heterosexual and LBGTQ culture. My attractions to multiple genders seem to be a cause to doubt my “true intentions” – the typical “you can’t up your mind/you’re greedy” etc is a rather annoying (and ignorant) hurdle to deal with. Since my attraction is an ever changing spectrum, I feel best under an umbrella term that says “non-heterosexual” but doesn’t limit me to a static identity. Queer makes more sense to me; personally, it feels more fluid than any other label.
The power in choosing bi/queer/gay or whatever label you want to be identified as (it really does fluctuate depending on context) is you take back your own agency. Instead of relying on societal views and boxes, you get to choose. You have the assurance of labelling (or not labelling) yourself – rather than being defined by others. I’ve realized I will never make every single person in my life happy, so I deserve to focus on creating happiness for myself. Queer is a starting point of that for me.
Although I identify as both queer and bi, I’ve found that “bi” is the most useful label when I want to succinctly communicate my identity to strangers. When people hear that term, they know to place me in the realm of “not straight” and typically get the gist of where I fall politically. “Queer” comes with a lot less understanding and more questions — and honestly, I just don’t have the time or interest to repeatedly explain myself. I think if you choose to publicly declare a label because that word most accurately reflects how you feel deep down inside, that’s great! But if you’d rather call yourself something else for the sake of expedience, practicality or feelings of political allegiance? Well, that’s great too. You can be queer, bi, both or neither. You can say one thing today and another thing tomorrow. It’s fine! Really.
I initially came out as bisexual when I was 17. However, as soon as I discovered the word “queer,” I latched on to that. Queer encapsulates everything I feel about fluidity, politics, and disrupting heteronormativity and gendernormativity in the way that I experience my own sexuality and who I’m attracted to. It just works for me. A downside, however, is that other folks think queer equals gay/lesbian, adding to bi erasure. I also used to have the wrong idea about bisexuality, believing “bi” identity meant subscribing to the gender binary. I now know that most all bisexuals do not believe in upholding the gender binary.
Most bisexuals, like me, are attracted to people regardless of gender identity and could potentially be attracted to someone at many different places on the gender spectrum (or, really, the huge-non-linear-gender-amoeba). Bi means “two.” It doesn’t have to mean “attracted to two genders (male and female).” It can mean “attracted to people of my own gender and people of other genders”, or “the ability to move along a continuum of multiple genders” as it is currently defined by the Bisexual Resource Center. So, these days, I still identify primarily as queer, but I am put myself back in the bisexual category, too. There are so many of us — possibly more than queer people who straight up ID as lesbian — but we are still a minority in terms of representation. If calling myself “bi” and helping to educate others about bi myths can help, I’m OK with that. So these days, when asked about my sexual orientation, I often say, “I’m queer/bi/pan.” It’s a little over-specific, but I feel like it’s important to be out as bisexual and queer.
I’ve had a long and winding road to get to where I’m at today in terms of identity (which is queer and bisexual both, mostly), and so I get why this question is so hard to figure out! A lot of times nothing feels right, or more accurately (for me) everything feels like someone else is gonna tell me it’s wrong. I think it’s important to remember that there isn’t a panel or committee that’s going to assess the way you ID and tell you whether you’re doing it right. And there also doesn’t need to be one identity that covers all your bases. As other people have pointed out, you can certainly ID as both — like I do! And many others do! — and it doesn’t have to be always, or at the same time, or in the same way.
I think it’s helpful to think about what the words you’re considering mean, both to you and to others. I know I tend to use them differently — “queer” is usually what I say when I just want to signal that I’m not straight, without going into any particular detail. I tend to use “bisexual,” sometimes along with “queer,” in situations where my specific identity matters (which is sometimes a situation where I feel like bi erasure is occurring, and where my presence as an out bisexual person might change the course of the interaction). It wouldn’t make sense for me and the way I talk about my identity to use only one word.
It’s awesome that you’re concerned about contributing to bi erasure, because that’s definitely something that occurs. In my experience, it’s certainly possible to throw bisexuals under the bus by strenuously refusing to identify as bisexual, and actively distancing yourself from that community — “Sure, I date [genders], but I’m not, like, bisexual or anything.” It’s important to be on watch for avoiding that, and to not define your sexual orientation in opposition to another group’s or as inherently better than another group’s. But at the same time, you don’t owe it to anyone to adjust your identity just for the sake of visibility if it’s not something that actually fits for you.
In terms of what will resonate personally with you most, and what you want to call yourself inside your own head, that’s a different conversation. What do the words queer or bisexual mean to you? If you’re feeling drawn to queer over bisexual in a noticeable way, what happens when you sit with that feeling and think about it? Do you think internalized biphobic attitudes are influencing your feelings? How do different words make you feel about yourself when you try them out? Ultimately, you’re the only person who knows what works best for you, and as long as your choice of labels doesn’t generalize about others’ identity or experiences, you’re the only one whose approval of them you need.
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