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I play a game with myself sometimes.
I'll be clicking around the Internet, reading up on facts about opossums or whatever, when I'll stumble upon a photo or two of a hot dude. Instead of just appreciating the view and moving on, I'll look at it for a second and wait for a little zip of attraction to uncurl in my stomach.
"Cool," I'll think, resuming my scroll. "Still attracted to dudes, then."
It's not limited to photos of guys, though. I do this with people all over the gender spectrum. It's idiotic, I know it is, because I tend to be more attracted to people's personalities than their muscular forearms as a rule, but once in a while it's like I have to administer a "bisexual" test to myself just to make sure I still pass.
Even when hooking up with people, I occasionally catch myself thinking, "Yep! Still into this! Nice job, brain and/or body." It's weird, and I don't like it, but I just can't help it.
Unlike most of my weird habits, I know, more or less, when this one started. In my junior year of college, I took a class that was premised on reading scientific studies about (and usually performed by) LGBTQ people and then discussing the societal implications of said studies. In theory, it was pretty cool. In practice, my professor was fond of making inexplicable PowerPoint fan-videos of RuPaul (awesome) and advising bisexual kids not to come out to their parents until they were "sure" (not so).
Fittingly, one of the studies we reviewed was by Lisa Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Utah who's performed one of the few longitudinal examinations of cis women's sexuality. Essentially, Diamond found that during the decade-long course of her study, many of the women she interviewed reported "switching" their sexual identity -- from straight to gay, for example -- at least once. A few did so twice, citing deep emotional connections with their partners that drove them to identify as being primarily attracted to that partner's gender.
When I first learned about this, I was excited. I still am, honestly. Though I don't think anyone should need scientific backing to legitimize their own identity, it is nice to be able to point to the experience of others' sexual fluidity as evidence that one's own experiences aren't unprecedented. Sexual identity isn't a fixed point, and the more evidence we have of that, the better.
Still, though. On a strictly personal level, Diamond's study kind of freaked me out.
This is not to say that I'm not completely onboard or disbelieving at all when other people shift their sexual identities. As far as I'm concerned, you identify how you identify, and people who try to say otherwise are jerkwads.
But when it comes to my own queerness, the idea of waking up one day and finding myself unable to be attracted to an entire slice of the gender pie -- no matter which slice it is -- frankly terrifies me. I can't even picture how it would happen. I vaguely imagine it being like Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense," maybe, except for being a surprise!ghost I'd just be a surprise!lesbian.
I've known I was attracted to people all over the gender spectrum at least since puberty. It's not that being bisexual (or queer, as I tend to prefer calling myself these days) is the entire basis of my identity, but I won't lie -- it's a significant factor. It's as familiar to me as my freckles or my ever-present mysterious bruises; losing it wouldn't make me less intelligent, talented or interesting, but I would feel less like me.
A big part of this terror, too, comes from the biphobia that is still rampant among both straight and queer people. I'm sure you've all heard those bisexual stereotypes -- we're flaky, we're slutty, we're just going through "a phase." Just last week, Richard Cohen padded a hugely racist op-ed in the Washington Times with the casual suggestion that Mayor Bill de Blasio's marriage was somehow less legitimate because his wife Chirlane McCray "used to be a lesbian."
After a while, it gets to you. Most bisexual people I know are constantly being forced to evaluate their sexualities for the sake of other people's comfort. People ask me all the time whether, if I had to choose, I would pick being attracted to men or women. Even though I know it's a stupid question -- where am I, Nightmare Island? -- I guess it follows that I would start asking myself the same thing.
I think those stereotypes are bullshit, obviously. It's not like the Bisexual Police show up on your doorstep once a month to ask if you've fulfilled your equal-opportunity hookup quota. But the thing is, I am non-monogamous, and I am pretty slutty. Though I'm fine with both of those, I don't particularly want to give people the satisfaction of checking off the "going through a phase" box too.
It's not like I spent hours sweating over the fact that I tend to be more attracted to people with belly pooches these days rather than my heretofore established "blows over in a strong wind" aesthetic preferences. In theory, I should be able to face the idea that I could edge more toward one side of the sexuality pendulum (or, as I like to interpretive-dance-it at people, the sexuality hand blender) with a similar amount of nonchalance. But I just can't shake the suspicion that one day I'll get beaned in the head with a dodgeball and suddenly find myself having to reconstruct my identity all over again from scratch. And that scares the hell out of me.
So please excuse the next time you show me a photo of Danai Gurira and my eyes get all glazed for a second. I'm just checking to see if my bisexuality has chosen that particular moment to run its course.
Kate is self-administering the Bisexual Test on Twitter: @katchatters