I’ve been meaning to write this for a while because it’s something that really bothers me. I was having a conversation about my recent semi-coming-out with someone who identifies as lesbian, in which I confirmed that I was queer. She tried to clarify: “so you like girls and guys”. An interesting choice of words, given one of the reasons I feel most comfortable with the word “queer” is it doesn’t implicitly support a gender binary. But me being queer translated to the most accessible reference in her head: bisexual. For people who haven’t studied gender, I suppose, the closest and most accessible way to understand “queer” is being bisexual – the hotly debated “only Other option” in between gay and straight.
People choose to identify as queer for a lot of reasons. For me, it’s because I’m attracted to individuals who may fall all over the gender spectrum. It means I’m not explaining a part of myself to people using a word that has “sexual” in it, alluding to something much more private than a politicized identity. Something about the word “sexual” just conjures up all those hypersexualized images of Joe Francis-inspired girl-on-girl makeouts in tv-order commercials (not intended to slut-shame, merely to point out that this is the PREDOMINANT way we see lesbians and bisexuals in the media). It’s because when I want to talk about this one part of myself, I’m not inclined to explain (or justify) my entire history, particular affinities, and future possibilities – I can just leave it at “complex”.
BUT, most people outside of my campus women’s center “bubble” don’t even know what Queer means. How do you explain THAT? Not that it’s necessarily easy to come out to someone, but it’s a different kind of problem when the person hasn’t HEARD OF what you’re trying to come out as. Sure this can be an opportunity to educate them, but when you’re abouttocry you’re not always prepped to do a Queer 101. I can’t tell you how many times I attempted (okay, three times) to tell my friend (who is gay anyway, and a kick-ass queer ally) – just because I didn’t have the vocabulary for it myself yet. I kept wanting to tell him I was bisexual, but each time it just didn’t feel exactly right. Trust me, if I’d known queer was an option, I’d’ve been using it way before college.
The point is, I’ve always viewed sexuality as LINEAR, with gay at one endpoint and straight at another. Everything between is wiggle room, or grey area, or Other. It doesn’t matter what you identify as, people will always match you to the best-fit category in their head, and load you up with all those stereotypes and expectations. If you don’t ALWAYS and ONLY like “boys” and you don’t ALWAYS and ONLY like “girls” (loosely defined), you’re Other. And the best-fit category for queer-other seems to be bisexual.
By the way, a google search sadly confirmed I didn’t come up with this clever title all by myself. It’s part of an anthology I heard about called “Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out”, edited by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu. Anyone owe me a belated Hanukkah present? 🙂