“Why label it? Keep private lives private. It’s none of anybody’s business.”
I talk about bisexuality a lot. It’s relevant to my work and current research as well as personally important. It makes my family uncomfortable. Why do I have to bring it up? Why talk about it? Why do we even need the word bisexual, who needs labels, can’t people just live their private lives privately and leave the normal folk out of it?
This argument has lost a great deal of its power against mainstream monogamous gay and lesbian couples. They form meaningful long term relationships, get married, have kids. While homophobia remains pervasive, the particular argument that it doesn’t need to be discussed–keep the x-rated stuff in the bedroom thanks–has been delegitimized. Homosexuality is (again largely, not universally) recognized as a full social experience with the kind of reach that can’t simply be confined to the bedroom. It is just as patently absurd to ask a gay man not to mention his partner in casual conversation as it would be to tell a straight man not to bring up his girlfriend in the same context. Most of the contexts in which we mention partners are not sexual. If they were, no one would ever ever meet their in-laws.
Bisexuality, on the other hand, remains sexualized. Asking us to remain in the closet because private lives should be private is only reasonable given one or more of several false and very offensive assumptions:
1 We do not have the full, rich social experience of relationships such as straight or gay people do. We have only frivolous/deviant sexual ones.
2 If we have a long-term monogamous relationship with a person of another gender, we are heterosexual. If we have a long-term monogamous relationship with a person of our own gender, we are homosexual. If we are polyamorous, it is held up as proof that we can’t commit/are promiscuous.
2a If we end a relationship with a person of one gender, and the next one that develops is with a person of a different gender, we “left him for a woman/left her for a man!” This is said even if months of being single elapse between. Inevitably, people will argue that the former relationship ended because we were “really straight/really gay” all along.
2b If we end a relationship with a person of one gender and the next relationship that develops is with a person who shares that gender, we’re told we’re definitely only interested in that gender.
3 Any casual statement that hints at attraction to a gender other than that of our current partner reveals intent to leave or cheat on that partner. This includes, but is not limited to, such normal everyday activities as referring to exes in conversation, commenting on the attractiveness of actors/actresses, and having an authentic response to the constant barrage of gendered and sexualized messages in advertising, tv and film plots, and pretty much everything else.
Finally, bi people often date straight or gay people. Society assumes people are attracted to only one gender. “Why use a label” means “don’t come out even to your partners.” Keep it in the bedroom, in a locked box under the bed and never, ever share who you are even with those you love.
Eschewing labels is only a useful strategy for people who have no need of labels; that is, about whom incorrect assumptions are not made. If we do not name ourselves, others will not stop pushing these assumptions about our behavior and moral character. The only effect not identifying as bi would have is to prevent us talking about the stigmas we face and the effects they have.
Coming out isn’t making public what should be private. It isn’t sexual at all. Sexuality pervades nearly every aspect of life. Relationships are our conversation, gossip, stress; they’re fundamental to film plots and nearly every song; they significantly impact our social standing. People make assumptions: that whoever they meet is straight, generally, or that they’re monosexually attracted to whatever gender their current partner is. It’s possible to let these assumptions slide, and sometimes safer (I’m not attacking people who choose not to come out; that’s no one’s call but their own). The assumptions aren’t made with intent to harm. There’s no intent to them at all. But they do complicate the landscape that we have to navigate every day. So nah, I’m gonna keep talking about it.