“The moon has phases; bisexuality does not.” This was the post that made me realise my timeline had reached peak bi-ness. Since starting to write about bisexuality I’d made a concerted effort to follow bi positive social media accounts and organisations, with the result that now, scrolling had become just variations of the same affirmations over shades of purple. A thousand different ways to say that bisexuality was real, a distinct identity, and a valid one at that. Sentiments I wholeheartedly endorse. But then I thought, “Wait…my bisexuality does have phases.”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment. Bisexuality is somewhat the runt of the LGBTQ litter; too often ignored by members of the community as well as the wider world, it’s very nature renders it more easily invisible. No wonder us tired bi’s are beginning to shout about it. But in the attempts to have bisexuality recognised as an identity in it’s own right- not part-gay, not part-straight- I have seen all manner of things assigned an arbitrary bi-ness. Finger guns, rolled jeans, certain ways of sitting, certain ways of greeting; at times these have all been co-opted into this process of building an identity from the ground up. This construction is both honourable and understandable. But is it actually as progressive as it first seems? And indeed, does it accurately reflect bi people’s lived experience?
Queer people are ‘born this way.’ That is the mantra that has governed 50 years of the gay rights movement. Within this phrase we find the assertion that sexuality is innate and immutable- not a choice. This has the benefit (in theory) of protecting queer people from persecution; ‘born this way’ is a defence against claims of sexual immorality. It wouldn’t be fair to punish people for traits they had no say over, would it? It has been a vital defence in our movement, but I find it increasingly outdated. We secede to the arguments of homophobes and the religious right if we insist that we are- and only ever are- born this way. We fight for our rights on their terms. By justifying our existence as purely inherited we are conceding that there might be something immoral in choosing to be queer.
(Similarly, conversion therapy is an undoubted evil- not just because it doesn’t work. We do not need to protect ourselves from it on any grounds other than it is an unnecessary and ineffective trauma and THAT THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING QUEER. No one gets to try and change my queerness, whether its origin is innate, a phase, a fashion or just a drunken experiment. It is mine and it is morally neutral.)
Whilst ‘born this way’ is undoubtedly true for many people, it doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. That is not my experience of sexuality. My sexuality grows, my same-sex attraction waxes and wanes (like the moon almost, eh?) just like my opposite sex attraction. It develops in maturity and nuance as do the rest of my desires and character. I wasn’t born this way. I was born theseways. I- like all of us- contain multitudes.
The temptation of consistent identity is strong. As someone who feels comfortable publicly identifying as bisexual in my early thirties, it is of course appealing to retroactively find queerness throughout my entire biography. For almost a decade of adulthood I identified as ‘straight;’ was I lying to myself, my partners and the world that whole time? Was I denying my true desires?
But I don’t believe there is an answer to that question. Not an easy, definitive one at least. If I was living in a form of denial then I barely registered it and it came with no attendant trauma. If I prevented myself from acting on certain impulses then I did not do so through shame or guilt. My same-sex attraction rose to the forefront of my consciousness and developed into action in a seemingly organic manner. I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had felt this way earlier in life. But that is mortality at my shoulder, not deep regret.
It is impossible to recognise a phase when you are living deep inside it. It is merely your present. With that in mind, I want to say that my sexuality isn’t a phase…but so what if it was? My passions would be no less deeply felt if they were something I experienced in my 30’s but not my 40’s, before re-emerging in a orgy of hedonism at 75. The lines between identities are porous and we must allow for movement between them. If I end up with a same-sex partner for the rest of my life I do not know what my future self will define as, but it does nothing to diminish the validity of my current definition. I was born these ways- and I haven’t encountered them all yet.
As a movement, our noble attempts to cement bisexuality as an immutable brute fact are actually counterintuitive. What we really are striving for is fluidity. But true fluidity denies all labels. Surely that is the desired (perhaps utopian) end point of the micro-categorisation of the self? To just be. Whilst we are not anywhere near that promised land yet, I don’t think it is something we should be scared of. It’s something we should embrace.
I cannot claim to know if I was always bisexual, so by that logic I cannot claim to know that I will always be this way. It is the phase I am in now that is important- that is who I am- and it is every bit as valid if it turns out to be just that; a phase.
Written by Joe Von Malachowski