Pick a side, and other bisexual misunderstandings
By: Liza Cole
I started identifying as bisexual at 18 because I realised those butterflies weren’t from me just really wanting to be friends with that girl in my class. Since I was in a monogamous heterosexual relationship at the time, and would be for another 2 years, it didn’t prompt much external change, other than a pronoun expansion here and there.
Following the breakdown of said relationship, and a series of forays abroad, I managed to have sexual encounters with both cis men and cis women. Upon arriving home and sharing the news with my nearest and dearest, one of the questions I received often was, “so what do you like more, men or women?”
The implications of this question are profound and far-reaching, and ultimately come from a failure to appreciate the complexity of gender and bisexuality.
For one, this question itself is impossible to answer in absolutes, and seemed especially misguided in light of my recent experiences. The quality of a sexual partner is dependent on a myriad of factors external to their genitalia. Sure, that one guy was great at head, but who’s to say that every other man is the same? Maybe if I was turned on more that night, my experience with her would’ve been better. Would I then mark it against my other experiences and calculate an average? What’s the rubric here?
One’s experience with certain genders is also heavily influenced by circumstance and availability. If I had slept with 99 women and one man, I would be statistically more likely to have had more positive experiences with women. But those partners aren’t necessarily amassed, because I don’t want to sleep with men 99 times out of 100. Maybe I’m just bad at flirting with them.
I don’t think I, or any other bisexual person for that matter, will be able to amass enough experiences to even come close to determining which gender is preferable as a sexual partner with any accuracy.
The transphobic undertones of this question are also impossible to ignore. It erases trans and non-binary individuals, and the question itself trades on the idea that every person within a certain gender operates within the same romantic and sexual patterns, which is just untrue.
It was so bizarre to me that I was asked this question as soon as my experience diverged from the heterosexual norm; as if sex with one woman meant sex with all women. While commonalities can absolutely emerge, it by no means draws hard and fast lines on how all cis men and cis women behave as partners.
The notion that genitals have a direct relation to sexual performance is not only supremely transphobic, it’s a great disservice to the diversity and variety of all human beings. The very reason we seek out new people is that they have new things to teach and offer to us. I have sex with people, not perfect caricatures of a certain intersection of genitals and gender expression.
The idea of a gender preference in queer individuals has also seemed extremely bi-phobic to me. It honestly just feels like another attempt for mono-attracted individuals to push us towards one side of the spectrum, so they won’t be burdened with nuance.
If I preferred the company of women, I’d be your neighbourhood gay, and if I were only into men, you could write off my same-sex attraction as a minute stain on my overall straightness.
One of the most perplexing things to me is when mono-attracted people try to align my experiences with their own to make it more digestible, when the very virtue of diversity is complexity.
It also works to treat bisexuality, pansexuality and queerness as a numbers game. The dreaded “30% gay and 70% straight” identifier is another example of mono-attracted individuals thrusting their own identities onto our own to make it easier to understand. In reality, it’s a much more nuanced and cumulative experience. I am 100% queer; don’t cut me up unto segments of your own identity.
It’s this reductionist and binary thinking that has caused me to shrink away from identifying as bi, in lieu of queer. Before I realised I was bi, the chief barrier between same-sex and opposite-sex attraction was genitals.
Now that that’s no longer an issue, it’s got me thinking about what even constitutes a gender outside of identity.
We all fulfil such unique sexual roles that the only common thread I can draw between experiences is my partner’s gender. Each partner is a sexual personality in their own right, which isn’t inherently tied to what’s between their legs or how they present themselves.
Asking queer individuals to pick a side is reductionist, binary, transphobic and nothing short of an impossible task. All I ask is that you embrace the complexity of gender and sexuality and stop attempting to nail it down into equivalencies. We don’t identify with you for the very reason that we don’t fit in your framework; please stop trying to shove us back in there.
Liza is a 21 year old student and writer based in Shanghai. When she’s not writing about being a queer, mixed-raced woman living abroad, she scrolls through memes and contemplates death