Friday 22 July 2011

I'm bi and monogamous

AnnalyticaPosted by Annalytica

This is the second post in the Hand in My Pocket series. For the first post, see "I'm queer and vanilla". For the perspective of someone who is bi and poly, see this post by Sebastienne.

In the Lashings version of “Hand in my Pocket”, we list some of the labels we use to describe ourselves which might be regarded as contradictory. We also invite the audience to share their own labels on the Board of Contradictions. The song and the board pretty much just put the labels out there, as a way of drawing people’s attention to the fact that yes, people who are both of those things do exist. Here on the blog I’d like to explore some of my own lines from that song in more detail - what do the labels mean to me, and why might people think they are contradictory, and how is it possible for those things to co-exist in one person? And why, when labels are associated with so many problematic stereotypes, are we so keen to use them?

"Most bisexual people I've met are just a bit indecisive, or haven't met the right person yet."

"I don't see how someone who is happily married can call themselves bisexual."

"Is being bisexual a bit like quantum mechanics? Like, when you're single you're in both states at once, but then when you start a relationship you become one or the other?"

These are all things people I know (and even like!) have said to me about bisexuality. They carry the implication that bisexuality is a temporary state, to be shed in favour of a more stable identity once you meet the right person and settle down into committed monogamy. No longer in a state of undecided flux, the now happily monogamous former bisexual should start defining their sexuality by the gender of their partner, since they are no longer "really" bisexual.

The converse is that if someone is really bisexual, then they can't be happily monogamous. They will either be forever dissatisfied, or will cheat on their partner, or (best case scenario) seek consensually open relationships. Possibly the most bizarre thing anyone has said to me about bisexuality (yes, even more bizarre than the quantum mechanics quotation!) is:
"My friend is seeing this guy, and he's married."
"Does she know he's married?"
"She doesn't care: she's bisexual!"
I was too dumb-struck after this exchange to ask whether my friend knew what the word "bisexual" means. I can only suppose that in his mind it means recklessly promiscuous.

I identify as bisexual because I'm attracted to people of different genders. I identify as monogamous because I choose to act on my attraction to only one person, my partner. I didn't stop being bisexual when I started a monogamous relationship. Some monogamous people say they stop being attracted to anyone else when they're in a relationship, but that doesn't happen to me. I'm still romantically and sexually attracted to other people, of the same and different genders from my partner, but I choose not to act on that attraction, just as gay and straight people can choose not to act on attraction. So, why is it so hard for people to grasp the idea that it is possible to be both bi and monogamous?  On the surface, it shouldn't be all that complicated. Like Plaidder says in The Song of the Promiscuous Bisexuals,
Let's say you like brunets, but you also like blonds.
Well, a poor girl can't have *everything* that she wants;
So you date a blond now, a brunet the next time.
You don't date *both at once*--unless you're just that kind.
Except it's not so simple. Because, as far as I know, nobody identifies as brunet-sexual. There are not brunet-sexual communities, and I don't get on stage and sing songs about how attractive I find brunets. The thing that makes bi monogamy hard to understand is not the idea of being attracted to lots of different kinds of people, and choosing to settle down with one. Lots of people do that. No, the confusing thing is why, having chosen one partner, you would then want to continue making a big deal about the fact that you're attracted to other people. Why label it and tell everyone about it? If you're not looking for a new partner, why does anyone need to know who you find attractive?

For me, the answer is about visibility. I don't feel the need to make a big deal about being attracted to brunets because I know that nobody would be particularly shocked or confused to discover that my partner is blond and my exes have brown and black hair respectively. That's not something I need to come out about. But bisexuality does shock people, and so we need to keep telling people about it until they get used to it and it stops seeming shocking.

Before I came out, I had barely met anyone that I knew to be bi. That made it very difficult for me to be honest about it, because I didn't know if I would be accepted. I steered clear of LGBT groups because I assumed they'd all be gay and I wouldn't fit in. I had no idea there was such a thing as a bi community. So the label certainly has its uses - if there had been more people going around shouting about being bi when I was growing up I'd have been a lot more comfortable about my own sexuality. When I make a big deal out of being bi, it's not for the benefit of potential partners, but for other bi people struggling to come out. Hopefully if I've already responded to some of the daft comments like the ones at the start of this post, then there'll be fewer such comments made to the people who come out after me.


  1. Great post, interesting to try to understand why people are confused by this when it seems so obvious to me as a bi woman. :)