It’s Time For The Media To Embrace The B Word

8/10/2017

Aaron Carter, Image By Victoria Pickering

Aaron Carter came out over the weekend in a touching note, which he shared on Twitter, to his fans explaining his attraction to both men and women.
“There’s something I’d like to say that I feel is important for myself and my identity that has been weighing on my chest for nearly half of my life.” Aaron explained. “This doesn’t bring me shame, just a weight and burden I have held onto for a long time that I would like lifted off of me. I grew up in this entertainment industry at a very young age and when I was around 13-years-old I started to find boys and girls attractive. There were years that went by that I thought about it, but it wasn’t until I was 17-years old, after a few relationships with girls, I had an experience with a male that I had an attraction to who I also worked with and grew up with.”
It was a beautiful note that spoke to the experiences of many bi people growing up. My attractions for men and women came around the ages of 11-13 and I thought everyone had those same attractions. I assumed, naively so, that everyone chooses to be attracted to only one gender for the rest of their lives. Or, a la Harry Potter sorting hat, I would be placed into the straight or gay house.
This was in part due to my lack of language around bisexuality. I didn’t know that a label existed that encompassed my attractions. It was, in part, to the lack of bi visibility in media — both fictional characterization and real life bi people.
When Aaron came out on Twitter, I already knew the media response would erase bisexuality from the narrative. Aaron never used the word bisexual in his initial statement, instead choosing to share his interest in multiple genders, and some LGBT media specifically made note of that. Most media publications did not use the word bisexual, neither to describe Aaron’s attractions nor to present it in the realm of likely possibilities. LGBT publications proved especially good at doing journalistic gymnastics to avoid using the B word — yet another instance of bisexuality being erased.
It’s a double standard. If a celebrity were to come out and say they’re exclusively attracted to the same gender, no journalist would hesitate using gay to describe them. Yet when celebrities either publicly state their attractions to multiple genders or exhibit it in snapshots of their private life, they won’t be called bi unless they use the word themselves. And even when they do use the word bisexual to describe themselves, many times their bisexuality is ignored or erased.
The only time people suddenly don’t do labels is when they’re on the bi spectrum and that’s rooted in biphobia. Aaron hasn’t used the word bi, but still his stated attraction to men and women is bisexuality. It becomes a game of semantics: I understand the need of agency around identity labels as it is a cornerstone for the LGBT community. Allowing us to name ourselves as we see ourselves is important. Yet this passionate response to not labeling, at the very least, Aaron’s attractions as bisexual, reeks of biphobia.
I’ve argued that for folks on the bi spectrum, labels are still necessary. They’re needed for visibility, to find community, and as an activist, most importantly, for the data collection needed for studies that will help to end our disparities. Aaron might find home in a label other than bisexuality, such as one of the multiple label identities in the bisexual spectrum (pansexual, queer, fluid, omnisexual, etc). Those labels on the spectrum are valid and beautiful. Yet with our limited insight to his attractions, in which he simply states he’s interested in men and women, bisexuality is a logical response.
Even when given the choice for various non-monosexual identity labels, the majority of respondents choose bisexuality. It’s also not changing with the younger generation, as some will mistakenly counterpoint. The largest LGB youth study, in which 10,000 youth were surveyed, found that 38% of youth identified as bisexual with 7% identifying as pansexual and 4% identifying as queer.
There’s a level of avoiding bisexuality as a label, especially from gays and lesbians, in hopes that the celebrity will eventually come out as gay or lesbian. This happens because so many people think of bisexuality as a phase and there is a weird attempt to claim the bi individual as one of their own. In both cases bisexuality is being treated as if it weren’t queer enough and is not a welcome part of the LGB community, a community that we’ve been a part of since the beginning.
In a post coming out interview, Aaron uses the word bisexual to describe his sexual orientation.
“I’m a single guy again, recently came out as bisexual, so that’s who I am. And I’m just taking it one minute, and one day, and one comment at a time,” Aaron said. Aaron’s girlfriend and him parted ways shortly before his coming out, some speculating his bisexuality is what caused the split.  “All I can say is that I’m really looking forward to the future right now, and whether I choose to be with a man or a woman is my decision, and no one else’s.”
It took less than a day from Aaron’s original coming out note to him claiming his bisexuality in an interview. But it shouldn’t have taken him to say the B word for journalists to call bisexuality bisexuality.
It’s past time we acknowledge bisexuality as frequently as we acknowledge gay or lesbian. Especially when bi people make up the largest portion of the LGB community, our continued erasure is dishonest. Bisexual is not a dirty word and the media’s continued refusal to use it only perpetuates the perception that it is.

Eliel Cruz

Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion, (bi)sexuality, media, and culture at Bisexual.org, The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. His work has also been published in the Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, Washington Post, Soujourners, DETAILS Magazine, Quartz, Rolling Stone, and various other international platforms.