“Hi, I’m a 16yo girl, and recently with all the media storms all over Tumblr, and also just life in general and the people around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sexuality. I think I’m at least bisexual, but I keep seeing labels that are wider just, in general, that include trans people? Is there a better label that just ‘bisexual’, is what I’m really asking.”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Hello! I want to say, for the record, that I am thrilled to hear that the world around you has challenged you to think about your sexuality, and to wonder and explore and dig into the feelings you have, both about yourself and toward other humans. I say this because I think there are a lot of people out there who are afraid that, by being open about the existence of many sexualities and genders, we might be confusing or influencing young people to be something that they aren’t. Newsflash! Being open about sexuality and gender allows people to actually think about who they are! Which is great and awesome and wonderful. So. Thank you for allowing me that brief moment on my soapbox.
*steps off soapbox*
For starters, the term bisexual does, for many, 100% include trans and nonbinary people! Let’s dig in a little deeper:
When I came to understand the word bisexual I also thought that the term – based on the prefix ‘bi’ – meant that I was saying I was attracted to men and women. I should also mention that it was 1998 when I first used that word to describe myself, and so that is what I meant, because in 1998 I didn’t have any understanding of gender outside of the binary. I knew there were men and I knew there were women, and I felt attractions toward them both! I held onto that understanding of the term for many years (and went on a whole journey with my own labels, which you can hear about here), and over time I learned more about gender identity, the gender binary, and the many genders that exist both within and outside of that (false) structure.
Armed with a new understanding of gender identity, I also realized that I was attracted, like you are, to people of all genders, rather than just the two I’d been taught about as a kid. And, through that whole process of rediscovery, I learned a lot about both the term “pansexual,” and how the term “bisexual” is understood by many (bisexuals included).
Pansexual is a term used by many to mean that they are (like you!) attracted (romantically or sexually) to all genders. If you like that word, then it can be your word, for sure! But but but. You must also understand that the word bisexual is used, by many, to express the very same sentiment. Certainly, there are people who identify as bisexual that may use that term to explain their attraction to two genders, but there are very many who use this term in keeping with Robyn Ochs definition, in which she states:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
This is how I understand the identity, and expresses what I mean when I tell someone that I am bisexual. I am attracted to people of all genders.
Now, let’s stop here for a very important second: Words are words. Which is to say that, the way I use a word may carry different meaning then the way that you use a word. The underlying piece of this whole conversation is that, if you are choosing a word or identity label for yourself, YOU have to feel comfortable with that word! It also means that, no matter how many people I talk to, and regardless of the fact that I identify as bisexual myself, that does NOT make me an authority. Words can mean many things to many people! That is why we should always leave room when we hear that someone identifies in a particular way, because their relationship with that word may be different than our own.
My advice to you is: keep asking, keep learning, keep reading. There are a multitude of identities out there, and an endless supply of words to choose from… but at the end of the day your truth will never be contained within just one word. The term bisexual is absolutely inclusive of all genders (many also view the ‘bi’ in bisexual to be an expression of “self” and “other,” meaning they can be attracted to someone of their own gender, as well as someone who is a gender other than their own), and there are many other words, or combinations of words, that can also help you express yourself and your identity.
I hope this helped, or at least confused you enough to keep asking more.
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In this week's advice episode I answer a viewer-submitted question! I talk about using the term "bisexual," why identities can be complicated and ever-changing, my own, continuing, coming-out process, and more!
“Is it okay to call myself gay when I am bisexual? Gay has become such an umbrella term that it feels much easier, but I will stop if I’m not allowed to.”
-Question Submitted by buckybarnesfanatic
Okay, okay, okay, okay. There is a LOT going on here, so let’s take this apart a tiny bit, shall we?
You are ALLOWED to call yourself a giraffe if that is what you want to call yourself. Words, and especially identity words, are incredibly complicated things, and you have to pick the one that fits the way that you feel, period. That might mean not even PICKING a word! It might mean using several words in combination. It might mean telling someone your entire history with identity categories when they ask you how you identify, which I will refer to as the “Kristin Russo Method.”
Let me employ the Kristin Russo Method for a moment and tell you my own relationship with identity terms. Perhaps it will help!
I came out when I was 17 and when I did, I came out as bisexual. That word made sense to me because I knew as sure as hell I was crushin’ on girls and I also knew that I would one million percent still like to make out with a boy (especially if he looked like Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise, but that is another story for another day and also really makes clear just how old I am!!). That was as far as my reasoning went in 1998, because at that point I was clueless about gender being complicated and not operating on a binary. Are you still reading?! GREAT. So, I came out as bisexual and rocked out with my identity term UNTIL my mom was like UGH KRISTIN IF YOU ARE BISEXUAL WHY CANT YOU JUST BE WITH A BOY and I was like UGH MOM FORGET EVERYTHING I SAID I AM ACTUALLY A LESBIAN.
I legit just claimed that word as my identity only to quiet my mom. Then, I dated girls for a long time and the word stuck (even though it never felt quite right). Sometime later, I went to grad school and learned the word ‘queer,’ and was like oh THIS is lovely, this feels just like a warm coat on a chilly night, gimme that queer identity marker to roll all around in. Kaboom.
BUT THEN (and, dearest buckybarnes, this is really where I am circling back to you), just two years ago, I started really thinking about how I had tossed that word ‘bisexual’ right to the curb without a second thought. The reason I started to mull it all over again was because I was learning more and more about how bisexual people are completely fucking erased in oh-so-many communities! I experienced queer people saying rude, dismissive shit about bisexual people just as much as non-queer people! Oh, and then there was this whole report released by HRC!!! It really got me BUBBLING, let me tell you.
All of those thoughts were enough to make me unpack my own identity all over again, at the ripe old age of 34. I wanted to take back the word bisexual for myself, I wanted people to hear it and see it and have to think about it more and more, and I felt like my own experience could add to that conversation.
So, buckybarnes, here’s the thing. You’re right. Saying you’re “gay” is an easy answer to give to people. And, while you are honest-to-god allowed to do whatever you want (refer to earlier comments on giraffes), I do want to tell you that sometimes the easy answer actually makes things way more complicated for you (and me, and others) in the long run. I just want you to think about that as you go on your own journey with these words and with yourself and your heart and your attractions and feelings… because I wish I’d thought about that before I tossed ‘bisexual’ to the curb all those years ago.
No matter what you do or what you decide, identifying as bisexual doesn’t mean that you have to always give the same answer, and it doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes just say “Yeah, I’m gay,” and call it a day. I have those days, too (in fact, here’s a little anecdote about me pretending I had a boyfriend at the passport office!), and that’s a-ok. You may, find, though, that having people ask you more questions or wonder about the complicated nature of who you are is sometimes way, way more powerful than the alternative.
Have the best night.
“I came out as a lesbian at school last year, but have since realized that I’m actually bisexual. I want to be out as my true self, but part of me feels like I shouldn’t bother coming out as bi because people might not believe me. What should I do?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
Many people think of sexuality as something that is entirely unchanging. Once someone has “discovered” their sexuality, that’s supposed to be the end of the story. This narrative is often used by other lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as well—the “born this way” argument—because on face value it seems to make arguments for civil rights more effective. But this narrative leaves out people whose experience of sexuality is fluid and constantly shifting, or people whose “discovery of self” did not happen linearly (I’ve always loved this post by Riese at Autostraddle that shares her own experience of identifying as bi/queer/a lesbian). These experiences of sexuality are not actually uncommon, much as they are underrepresented. It is not rare for someone who is bi to later come out as gay, and vice versa. None of that means that a person’s “first” sexual identity is somehow invalid, or was a lie, and it definitely doesn’t mean that all bi people are really gay (or straight). It means that in a world where we allow people very few options of how to fall in love or experience attraction—and in a society where conversations about sexuality, romance, and attraction rarely occur in any depth—that it can be hard for people to understand an experience of sexuality—especially a changing one—that does not match their own.
I empathize with your struggle, though, and while I definitely understand your desire to be true to yourself, I want to first state that it is absolutely no one’s right to know your sexuality. You are under no obligation or deadline to come out again, or to do so in the same way as you did before.
If you feel hesitant to come out because you are afraid of how people will respond, you might consider running a “hypothetical” scenario past a few friends to gauge how they respond to the idea of someone’s sexual identity changing or shifting. If they respond well to the idea in the abstract, hopefully their response to you will be supportive as well.
Because everyone’s experience of sexuality is so varied, I can’t give you the specific words to have a conversation with your friends about your identity. But if you do decide to come out to them, thinking about how you would articulate your experience of sexuality for yourself (and whether any of it resonates with what I said above) could help you figure out how and what you want to share out loud.
If, on the other hand, your friends respond negatively to a hypothetically posed question, you can try talking through whatever their reservations or opinions are. If they think that bisexuality isn’t real, and that people only identify as bi to “get attention,” the issue probably isn’t going to be solved with a single conversation (although telling them that any attention bi women receive is rarely positive and that the entire concept is rooted in sexism might be a good place to start). You can challenge them on those opinions, but it might not be safe for you to come out to that person (or people) right now. If someone’s response is something more along the lines of confusion about how or why someone’s identity might change, or if they’re skeptical but not openly hostile, you might have better luck coming out to them. However, it’s never your responsibility to explain your identity, or to ever act as educator to someone regarding sexuality. Especially if you feel uncomfortable or potentially unsafe. How you came to realize you’re bi, what being bi means to you, and why you want to identify as such are all no one’s business but your own.
Click through to read more about Red and our other Second Opinions Panelists!
“Dear Kristin and Dannielle, I am pretty young ( under 15 ) and I’m pretty sure I’m bisexual. I’ve had crushes on girls and guys, but I haven’t told my family anything about it. I think my parents will say ‘You’re to young to know that.’ How do I fix this? Is there some way I can prove it to them? Please help.”
- Question submitted by Anonymous
Dearest most loveliest Anonymous,
First, I want to apologize. I want to apologize that we all live in a world where others (even our own parents!) don’t often believe that we know ourselves, know our own feelings, and speak truth about our identities. This is true no matter how old we are, but when we are young… it’s even worse. I know this. I’ve lived this. I can’t tell you the amount of times I hear people speak about young people as though they have no awareness of their own feelings. I know that you have real, true feelings, and I know and believe that those feelings are valid and important.
Next, I want to tell you the most important thing you need to know: You do not need to prove those feelings, or your identity, to anyone. You can express who you are in whatever way you think makes sense, but if your parents do not believe you, it does not invalidate the realness of you.
Now, I am going to try to help you with ‘what to do,’ though I think this looks different for all of us. If you know that you live in a safe environment – one where you don’t have to worry that your parents will disown you or be abusive in any way to you once you come out to them – then you should think about what you want them to know. A lot of times, when we know that we are bisexual or gay or trans or queer, keeping our identity to ourself feels horrible. It feels like every tiny thing we do, even going to the fridge and eating a cheesestick, is a lie. If this is how you are feeling, then I suggest you write a letter to your parents. Tell them what you’ve told us: that you have had crushes on boys and girls and that you identify as bisexual, that you were hesitant to tell them because you were scared they wouldn’t believe you, and that you realized that they didn’t need to believe you… because you’d still be exactly who you are without that belief. Tell them you would love to have their support. Tell them that you love them. Maybe, if you’re really feeling it, tuck that letter in a copy of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.
Lastly: Even if your identity shifts and changes over the years, it will never take away who you are right now. Right now you are an under-15-year-old who has feelings toward more than one gender. No one can ever take that away from you, and we are here to tell you that we believe and support you one million fucking percent.
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