Good Bi Love: Is It Right To Label Someone Else As Bi?

12/4/2017
I’ve been struggling recently when it comes to the bi label. Not how it pertains to me. No, no, I’m proudly and unequivocally bisexual, and will identify as bi for the rest of my life. But how do we apply it to other people, specifically people who fit Robyn Och’s definition of bisexual to a T, yet they themselves, eschew the bi label.
More often than not, these individuals are men, who are predominantly attracted to women, but do find themselves sexually intimate with men from time to time. Men, who I believe in a world without homophobia/biphobia, would allow themselves to be more intimate with other men.
What initially got me thinking about this was Professor Ritch C. Savin-Williams article in Time Magazine, where he spoke about the rise of a new sexual identity: “The mostly straight male.” Now, I’m not going to go into why I vehemently disagree that the “mostly straight male” is a “distinct sexual identity,” because I already did here. But in short, I believe these men are bi, however are too afraid to embrace their same-sex attractions, partly because they want to retain their privilege as a “straight male” and partly because of internalized biphobia.
Then this week, after Barbie posted a picture on Instagram with another female doll, both of whom were wearing a shirt that read, “LOVE WINS,” I saw a piece titled, Did Barbie just come out as bi on Instagram?
I’d like to reiterate that Barbie is indeed a fictional character, and children have been identifying her as straight as well as gay and bi ever since Barbie came out. Kids are doing this without realizing it — well before they even know what sexual identity means. Barbie doesn’t speak, so it’s up to the children to decide who they smush Barbie’s face against. Is she kissing Ken, another Barbie, or a dragon doll?
These two articles made me think about how desperately we want to label other people as bi. There are a few reasons why so many bi activists, myself very much included, want to label everyone who is attracted to more than one gender as bi.
First off, power in numbers. If more of us proudly identified as bi, we’d become more visible. We’d have a larger and more supportive community. It would be less acceptable to discriminate against bi folks. We’d have less negative mental health outcomes, and so on and so forth.
Second, it might be beneficial for these men (and women/GNC) to embrace the bi label. Before I embraced the bisexual label, I was depressed, anxious, confused, filled with self-loathing. Since coming out and claiming the bi label, I feel liberated. That’s why I do what I do. I want others, who feel comfortable doing so, to embrace the bi label, because it is good for them, as individuals. Additionally, research has illustrated time and time again the negative health ramifications associated with remaining in the closet. So I want everyone to come out proudly, to embrace who they are, and to live their best lives.
As you can tell, my intentions are nothing but good. So too, I believe, are the rest of the bi community’s.
Here’s the rub, some of these folks aren’t closeted the way we stereotypically think of someone being in the closet. They aren’t hiding their same-sex attractions of inhibiting themselves from engaging in sexual activity with folks of the same gender. They’re just doing these things, while saying they’re straight or “mostly straight.” They’re also not really telling their friends, family, or women they date about the full range of their sexual behaviors.
I did this for a while. I claimed the straight label while getting blown by guys left and right in college. But this led to cognitive dissonance, which in turn, led to anxiety. In simpler words, I couldn’t actually believe I was straight, because a straight man doesn’t go around asking guys to suck him off. That sounded pretty damn gay… So I felt anxious and phony claiming the straight label.
And for me, only once I embraced the bi label, was I able to start freely hooking up with and then actually start dating men. I’d be willing to be the same would be true for these “mostly straight men.” These men who currently don’t want to date men, but just want to receive oral.
I bet if this group claimed the bi label, their same-sex sexual behavior would skyrocket. I’d also bet a large percentage of them would actually start dating men too.
I acknowledge that my hypotheses about these men is somewhat egocentric because I’m assuming that these men’s sexual identity journey would mirror mine. Nevertheless, I still think this would be the case.
Alright! Now this leaves me (us) on a sticky wicket. What is our role? As activists, bis, and queers ourselves? We want to help, but is going around telling everyone that they should claim the bi label the right thing to do?
Maybe?…If your approach isn’t aggressive but rather encourages them to really reflect on their own sexual identity? Or it allows them to choose the label in their own time, while reminding them that the bi label is there for them, it fits them perfectly, and is pretty awesome?
Frankly, I’m not sure. I believe that everyone has the right to label themselves as they best see fit. I don’t think it’s right for someone to force a label on someone else. So what’s the best approach?
If you have any thoughts, please reach out to me at [email protected], because I think this is something that isn’t discussed enough. Next week, I’d like to come back to this question and talk about some of your responses.

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.