Good Bi Love: Is It Right To Label People As Bi? Part 2

12/11/2017

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Last week in Good Bi Love, I explored the question, “Is it right to encourage others to label themselves as bisexual when they have romantic and/or sexual attractions that aren’t limited to one gender?”

I reached out to you because I wasn’t sure of the best approach. Of course, we can’t force someone to embrace a sexual label unless they, themselves, want to. But at the same time, there are potentially great benefits to both that specific individual as well as the bi community if more “mostly straight” or “straight” folks embraced the bi label.

Before answering the question, I want to say thank you to everyone who emailed me. A few interesting themes I hadn’t considered emerged in your responses, and here they are.

1. Encouragement is fine — but be careful how you say it

A number of you focused on how there is no blanket or generic response that you can say to someone to encourage them to explore queer labels. Approaches should vary case-by-case, as each person’s experience with their own sexuality is unique. Nevertheless, a general notion did emerge: encouragement is fine, but be careful in how you say it. Don’t be too pushy. Don’t invalidate their experience. Don’t force them to label themselves as anything they’re not comfortable with. The goal is to provide another option. An option that may help this person embrace who he or she is as a person. An option that may connect them with a community and a group of awesome queer people.

2. Don’t project your own experience onto others

One man reached out to me, explaining to me why he doesn’t feel right claiming the bi label. He discussed how his attractions to men are limited. He goes months without finding a man attractive, whereas every day he finds himself attracted to women. He acknowledged that sexuality is a spectrum, but he said he really doesn’t feel comfortable embracing the bi label when he’s attracted to men 1% of the time. “It doesn’t seem right to call yourself a sports fan when you only watch one game a year,” he told me.

Now my gut response was to scream “internalized homophobia!” “Explore more!” “If you embraced the bi label you’d realize that you’d like being intimate with men more than once every couple years!”

But the man continued that his limited attraction isn’t because of society’s pressure to be straight. Neither is it due to any internalized bi or homophobia. That’s just how his attractions manifest themselves.

So he’s not denying his attractions to men or anything like that. I just assumed he was because in the past, I was. For me, the bi label allowed me to explore my sexuality more and embrace my attractions to men. For this man, it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. It doesn’t feel right for him to claim the bi label. He feels like he’d be co-opting an identity that doesn’t really fit him.

3. Be inclusive of bi+ individuals who also have internalized biphobia

Someone responded to my question with yet another question of their own: “How can bi+ communities be welcoming of people who have absorbed biphobia but they, themselves, are also bi?” That is the million dollar question right there. I think a lot of this has to do with helping folks realize that living freely and honestly with themselves and others is the best choice. It’s also knowing that if they have internalized biphobia, we need to be delicate in how we approach. If we come off too strong, they’ll be put off by every non-straight label.

4. It’s a spectrum. It’s a spectrum. It’s a spectrum.

Reminding the world, bi folks, the way that you express your sexuality, is indeed a spectrum. There’s no one right way to be bi. Just like there’s no one right way to be gay. You can be a gay, leather bear who is in an open-relationship and mocks the idea of marriage. Or you can be a married gay man with children who would rather die than step foot into a circuit party. Both are gay. Both are accepted. So too, can you be a bi man who’s predominantly attracted to women, as well as a bi gender-non-conforming individual who’s attracted to all genders equally. All different forms of sexuality are welcomed and embraced in the LGBTQ community.

Zachary Zane
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.