I’m attracted to women and men. It’s been a relatively short period of time since I’ve been able to avow this. Yet, I would have described people who were attracted to people of their own sex, and people of the opposite sex, as bisexual. Until I came across the word queer. Often thought to be derogatory, queer is a term which accepts sexuality to be fluid, and therefore goes beyond the two more acceptable options in society of ‘straight’ or ‘gay/lesbian’. Queer is inclusive of LBGT identities, [often included at the end of this acronym – i.e. LBGTQ] and, for those who use it to identify, it goes beyond the normative gender assumptions of male and female, embracing genderqueer identities and sexual preferences of every description.
The common theoretical dispute with the term bisexual is that it assumes and reinforces the idea of ‘two distinct genders’, men and women. For some, this might not seem like a problem, who might respond to the above with something like ‘well, there are just men and women, no?’. Well, no. The counter argument would suggest that men/masculinity and women/femininity are socially constructed identities, so if a woman wanted to identify as a man, or thought that she was a man, and, for example wore (what were traditionally though to be) men’s clothing, this would present a problem for the rigid categories of what it was to be a ‘man’ and what it was to be a ‘woman’. Thus, the term bisexual is said to exclude genderqueer identities and reinforce a heteronormative ideology of ‘men’ and ‘women’ as stable constructs. The term queer seemingly sidesteps this assumed position that bisexuality is said to reinforce, i.e. the polarities of cis-men and cis-women (cis denoting identifying with gender assigned at birth).
Theoretically speaking, queer appeals to me much more, as it seems to go beyond dialectics and binaries in a way bisexual does not. However, practically speaking, over the last few months I’ve found myself identifying, both to myself and to others, as bisexual, not as queer. There are some potential reasons for this. It could be because it’s a more familiar term to me: it’s in my vocabulary. It’s also just easy short-hand by which to let people know I’m not ‘straight’ or ‘gay’, but attracted to both women and men. And further more, because of my rather parochial life, I haven’t met many genderqueer people, and thus, haven’t had to ask myself all too often if I am attracted to those who are not ‘cis-gendered’. i.e. an ignorance born out of lack of experience.
In order to help me think about things, I’ve been looking for a memoir written by a bisexual man. I haven’t found one yet. So, in lieu of this, and as an attempt to explore how I would like to identify as someone who is attracted to people of the opposite sex, and people of the same sex, I’ve decided to read Steven Angelides A History of Bisexuality. I have a tendency to intellectualise my desires, but it feels important to think about and look for language by which to speak about what it means to be me, with my desires, in the world. Straight and gay aren’t appropriate. The double bind of course is that language both gives and takes away in this respect. And perhaps this difficulty of language is connected to the difficulty that people have with the idea of bisexuality.