Monday, 17 September 2012

Myths around Bisexuality

I'm back! But instead of bringing you the second half of my road to blogging, I have some thoughts after reading this article.

This is an excellent, well expressed post about some of the myths regarding bisexuals, particular in how society views their relationships with other people. It inspired me to delve into how some of the myths I encountered during my adolescence got in the way of identifying as a bisexual.

Myth 1 - Lots of girls get crushes on other girls, it doesn't mean anything.

Some context here. For the entirety of my high school years, I had basically no socialisation with boys. I went to an all-girls school, and outside of school... I was a Girl Guide. Not a lot of boys there! Which was not to say I didn't have heterosexual romantic feelings, it's just that they were usually directed towards men who were:

a) Fictional
b) Actors/Musicians who were decades older than me
c) All of the above. Elanor+Aragorn 4 eva!

I didn't angst over this state of affairs too much. For one thing, those brief times I did interact with boys my age I was rarely impressed. I didn't see the problem with waiting until university, where the maturity gap wouldn't be quite so wide and it would be easier to find people who shared some of my interests. But in making these resolutions I was ignoring something that was staring me right in the face; I did have crushes on real people, who I interacted with frequently and who shared my interests. Those people just happened to be girls.

Having crushes on girls didn't prompt an identity crisis for me, because I didn't believe they "counted". I thought it was a phase. I thought it was teenage hormones, latching onto girls because they were the only option. I didn't take them seriously, and I certainly never said anything to the objects of my affection. And looking back, that attitude makes me really, really mad.

Lots of girls get crushes on other girls - true. But who says it doesn't mean anything? How did that get decided? What standard are they using so that straight teenage crushes count and queer teenage crushes don't?

Let's examine the idea that it's a phase, that same-sex feelings are common in adolescent girls but as they mature these feelings go away. Is there any data to support this idea? That's not a rhetorical question by the way, I sincerely want to know. This sounds like a perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophecy, where same-sex crushes are indulged in one context and frowned upon in another, and so, surprise surprise, they are expressed in the first situation and not in the second. 

However, let's assume that this is true, and that most same-sex relationships will not last beyond adolescence. So what? How many people do you know that marry someone they dated in high school? It happens, but it's rare. Almost all romantic relationships come with an expiration date, but that doesn't mean they're not real while they're happening. And as for my muddled idea that I didn't have real crushes, I just had hormones latching onto convenient and compatible targets - memo to my younger self, that's what a crush is! 

Obviously this is a myth that affects all queer women, whether they go on to identify as bisexual or as a lesbian. But I think it's particularly easy for bisexual teenagers to absorb, because having heterosexual and homosexual crushes fits more easily into the narrative that you're really straight, you just have a bit of adolescent confusion thrown in. Having bought in to this fiction myself, I'm not just angry at those who reinforce this idea. I'm also sad - sad that society's blinders led me to value feelings for fictional men over the girls that were right there in front of me.

Myth 2 - Bisexual people like men and women equally, or else they don't see gender as a factor when choosing romantic partners.

This statement probably doesn't belong in the myth category actually. It's true in some cases, it's just not the whole story. The problem is when the statement gets turned around, when it becomes "if you're not attracted to men and women in a 50/50 ratio, or if you're attracted to men and women in different ways, then you're not a real bisexual".

This one tripped me up for a while. At a time when I was using my unmonitored, unlimited internet connection to gleefully educate myself on polyamory, BDSM, fetishes, queer theory and slash fanfiction, I still had this incredibly narrow idea about what bisexuality was.

And because I didn't identify as bisexual, I spent over a year trying to nut out what my sexuality was. So if I was attracted to men and women in a 4:1 ratio, did that make me Kinsey 1? What did it mean that my attraction to men felt more physical, and my attraction to women felt more emotional? Was I deluding myself that I was even attracted to women at all? Did my teenage years mess up my ability to relate to men? Should I call myself "straight with exceptions"? Did that even make sense?

And in the middle of all this, I stumbled across one website that cleared almost everything up.

I kind of don't want to tell you what that website is. It's embarrassing, okay? It's embarrassing that such a life-changing moment of self revelation should come from such a mundane source. Alright, stop twisting my arm. For the sake of honesty in blogging, I shall spill the beans.

It was the Wikipedia page on Bisexuality.

Bisexuality doesn't have to mean 50/50. It doesn't have to mean "I don't care about gender". Bisexuality isn't just Kinsey 3, it can the whole middle of the Kinsey scale. I had found myself reflected in the lines of a Wikipedia article, and it felt really good. And you know what? Once I had claimed the label bisexual, once I stopped interrogating my feeling to see if they "counted" or not, my sexuality did actually settle into something that looked a lot more like "traditional" bisexuality. But the important thing wasn't that my sexuality measured up to some external standard, but that it felt authentic, and that I could just relax and trust my feelings. 

And once I was comfortable within myself about who I was, I was free to go out into the world and gather... well, let's just call them "citations" as to my bisexuality. From several sources even. Although I wouldn't exactly call them reputable *wink wink, nudge nudge*

Both of these stories are quite personal, but I hope they illustrate a wider point. Myths about bisexuals aren't just annoying for people who have to constantly refute the way other people see them, they can also hurt the way bisexuals see themselves. Adolescence is a confusing enough time without throwing a whole lot of misinformation in there too. Sexuality is complicated enough without other people telling you what counts and what doesn't. And thank FSM for Wikipedia, without which I never may have found myself.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, glad it provided you the inspiration for this post -- which is, in turn, inspiring me...

    Great points about why this mythbusting is so important. Thinking about the Wikipedia reference: this is why it's so vital that Google has dropped its block on the Big Bad B Word, so people searching for information about who they are will (after the algorithm catches up) see something other than a blank screen as they type.