A few weeks ago, my neighbor called me a “fucking dyke bitch.”
It was a Sunday morning, the sun was shining on my block, and I’d awkwardly waved to him like I did every time I passed him drinking on his stoop. He’d snarled it to his friends, not even pretending to care that I’d hear him. I stopped, confused and horrified, and actually looked behind me to see if he was talking to someone else. Nope. All me.
In fact, he continued to opine, “Fucking bitch clearly just needs a little dick in her life.” I was appalled, to say the least. Bobby and I had been on relatively good terms since I’d moved in eight months ago, and the idea that there was apparently a raging homophobe lurking beneath his placid, belchy demeanor was bad enough. Worse, though, was my first thought: “But I do fuck guys!”
Right about the same time, I’d finally given up the ghost and succumbed to the stereotypical 2012 San Francisco Queer Girl Haircut: Pete Wentz in the front, Sinead O’Connor on the back and sides. I felt a little silly (and cold), but my queer housemates loved it. When I first walked in the living room, awkwardly scratching at my newly shorn scalp, everyone fell silent.
“Jesus,” one of them said. “You actually look like a real queer!”
“You were kind of a Plain Jane before,” said another, “But now…”
“Huh,” I said. “Well, uh. Thanks?”
Before I moved to San Francisco, I definitely indulged in the same kind of moony preconceptions as every other baby gay I know. With its pot-smoking, ass-flashing culture, the San Francisco of my head canon was essentially like college-plus -- including, of course, the freewheeling sexual escapades that had bloomed like a fungus in every dorm shower.
I’m pretty much attracted to folks all over the sexuality/gender spectrum, so I couldn’t wait to start fogging up my stupid hipster glasses all over Valencia Street. I certainly didn’t anticipate having to essentially flash my “sex-credentials” every time I met someone new. But as someone setting up a permanent tent in Camp Bisexual, I feel like an 18-year-old clutching a fake ID every time I try to bring someone home.
As I met more people and settled into the job that brought me out here, I found myself settling into a strange, liminal space. At my casual, liberal workplace, I found myself slipping on a weird, hyper-butch persona like a bomber jacket.
There were other people at my job that weren’t straight, of course, but I was both the only one under 35 and the only one who was single, making my personal life all the more aberrant to the very heterosexual happily-families framework almost everyone else was sporting. And honestly, I kind of liked being the person to remind them that not everybody’s relationships looked like theirs.
While my new co-workers gushed about their boyfriends over lunch, I shrugged, grinning and already defensive.
“My ex-girlfriend kinda looks like Adam Lambert,” I offered.
They laughed, startled, but I’d given them (and myself) a bit of an out: being the token gay is easy. Bisexuality is a lot harder.
Meanwhile, at home, my housemates gave me the Questioning Eyebrow time I brought home a cis dude in those first few months. Since they also make up my main social sphere, it led to some semi-awkward party scenes.
This is not to say, of course, that I spend my Friday nights weeping and clutching printouts of "X-Men: First Class" fan fiction while my queer friends gad around gossiping about me in Vagina-town.
It’s more that I worry that my identity is being called into question every time I have a one-night stand.
A lot gets said about bisexual invisibility, and they’re completely valid points. Between Cynthia Nixon calling bisexuality a “choice,” Dan Savage incessantly implying that we’re just all kind of confused, and some dude on Gawker essentially condemning all of us purely slutty bimos, it’s no wonder that bisexuals have the worst mental health problems, including higher rates of depression and anxiety.
And don’t get me started on poor bi guys. I believe you, bi boys! I don’t think you’re gay, straight, or lying!
Even one of my housemates interrupted me the last time I talked about the couple I’m dating, who present as male and female (one each).
“I mean, I feel weird calling them a heterosexual couple, because they both identify as queer,” I began. Jack shook her head.
“No. They’re a straight couple.”
“But they -- Alison actually prefers women, and Craig has totally dated guys?” I tried.
“But when they go out together, they’re not running the risk of getting jumped. They’re presenting as straight, so they can have access to straight privilege.” Jack shrugged. “So. Not queer.”
Then, seeming to realize that she’d hypothetically de-queered my future self, she added, “Not that I’m like…the authority, or anything.”
I had to admit, though, she had a point.
Don’t get me wrong: It is completely frustrating to be told that your orientation is probably a fallacy, fueled in full by a bizarre combination of boredom, BBC shows, and an overactive imagination. However, there’s an advantage to bisexuality being largely ignored by the media and your parents alike: the ability, for better or for worse, to “pass.”
Neighbor Bobby called me a “fucking dyke bitch” because of who my housemates are and whom they present themselves to be. On my own, at least when my hair is on the shaggy side, I am unlikely to be the victim of an anti-gay hate crime.
The same way many women have trained themselves to sidle past catcalls with downcast eyes, I find myself wielding my apparent heterosexuality as a defensive mechanism against people who might take the fact that I love women as a personal offense.
My harmless freckles and wide, smiley face are just as much protection for me as my pepper spray is. Even at my job, I totally maintained the fiction of my heterosexuality for a whole 10 minutes before my giant mouth ruined the façade. If, perish the thought, I worked at a more conservative establishment, I could keep it up for years on end.
Small wonder, then, that many people in the queer community distrust bisexuals. Being queer isn’t solely about whom you fuck, and people who have the capacity to employ heterosexual privilege at will might as well be heterosexual, period.
For bisexuals, there seem to be only two choices. You can bob along in the current of presumption, letting your queer and straight friends alike claim you for their clubs. Sure, you’re unlikely to be persecuted for your sexual preferences, but it also fucking sucks to effectively disclaim what, for some people, is a fundamental aspect of their person and history.
Or you can offer up your personal naked-life to renewed perusal every time you want to claim your sexuality as part of your identity. Which, for me, is pretty much every moment I’m not actually asleep.
By publicly identifying as bisexual (and not letting anyone in my acquaintance forget it), I continually invite third-party scrutiny. I even find myself playing a bizarre game of sex-ESPN with myself every time I mentally recap my weekend.
Makeouts and over-the-jeans action with the woman from Borderlands? Ten-love to the gays! Drunken threesome with a straight girl and a gay one after surprisingly affection-heavy missionary with my best dude friend? We’re in overtime, folks!
And if I’m playing that with myself, isn’t it totally reasonable to assume that everyone else is, too? This is made even murkier by the confusion as to the general consensus as to what “counts.” \
If I pursue romantic relationships with women but only fuck guys as expressions of libido, frosting and revenge, where does that put me on the Kinsey scale? I’d guess my straight friends would call that bi. My queer ones would probably disagree.
We all take our presented identities on and off like coats. I’m certainly not gonna show up to Thanksgiving dinner in a sequined unitard swearing like Ricky Gervais. But to be the continuous champion of your identity to your peers is an exhausting prospect on the best of days.
It doesn’t just make things confusing to co-workers, housemates and potential hook-ups. It sometimes even starts to confuse me. When I wake up sweating in the middle of the night, am I gay, straight, or just angry that I’ve interrupted a dream about Benedict Cumberbatch? It’s impossible to tell. Sometimes, even I wish that I could just pick a side already.