"Bi any other name": The art of labelling


Picture © Charlotte Dingle

I am a straight lesbian. Had I heard this term before I adopted it? No. But it seems I’m not the first person to have thought of it. A quick Google search took me to UrbanDictionary.com, where the second definition is listed as “A word used for a girl who is bisexual but doesn’t feel comfortable being called ‘Bi’”* Which is exactly how I use it. I like men, and I like women; but for some reason I don’t particularly like the terms “bi” and “bisexual”.

UrbanDictionary.com tells me a lot of things. We all know the official definition for “bisexual”, but what real people think is apparently a different matter. The first definition is “The ability to reach down someone’s pants and be satisfied with whatever you find.”** I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s not the kind of thing I want to associate with myself. Every bisexual (or similar-meaning term) has been told they’re greedy, nymphomaniacs, perverts, or other such things. Because apparently that’s what comes to mind when someone says they’re bisexual – that we will touch anyone and automatically want to have sex. That we’re easy. Sex-obsessed. That we’re perverts who may even assault people to satisfy our greediness. Perhaps it’s because of the “-sexual” part of the word – after all, rarely do we say “heterosexual” and “homosexual”. We say “straight”, “lesbian” and “gay”. The implication is that these are the people who fall in love with other people; bisexuals are the ones who are sexually oriented. And that association makes me sad.

So perhaps we use a different word. Perhaps we aren’t only attracted to cis men and women and want to acknowledge those of us who don’t fall into those categories. Perhaps we want to imply that it’s not really to do with gender for us. We tell people we’re pansexual. But this one has its own pitfalls – some see it as an even greedier form of bisexuality, that we now will screw anything that moves. I have even heard it said that this includes children and animals. And then there’s the psychological definition, apparently owing to Freud, that all human behaviour is based on sexual urges. And what if we don’t believe that? What if we actually know anything about psychology after Freud and his odd ideas? Maybe we don’t want to say “pansexual” either.

Then there are those of us who identify simply as “queer”. The idea, as far as I’m aware, is to imply not being straight, but not necessarily gay/lesbian, whilst avoiding the terms “bisexual” and “pansexual”. But speak to anyone outside of the LGBTQI community and chances are they’ll say “queer” means “gay”. So if I as a woman identify as queer… then I’m not interested in men. And I’m probably also “manly/butch” as per their idea of what a lesbian is, into BDSM, covered in tattoos and body mods head to toe, and generally anything but normal. Which might be fine if I were that way, but if I’m not then maybe I don’t want to imply that. There’s also the fact that as “queer” was originally an insult, it can be seen to be on par with a certain 6-letter “N” word that some of the black community want to reclaim. Some of us would rather not go there.

"Do we tell people instead that we just don't want to be labelled?"

“Do we tell people instead that we just don’t want to be labelled?”

So we drop the labels and preconceptions altogether and tell people instead that we just don’t want to be labelled. Perhaps then they won’t have any assumptions. A perfectly reasonable thing to say. But then they think differently of us again – that if we’re unlabelled, we are open to suggestion. Confused. Hippies. All sorts of other things. Maybe if they were to hook up with us we might decide later on that we’re not actually into it and change our minds entirely. After all, everyone who is sure of themselves has a label, right?

In the end we lose the will to live and give up entirely. Choose the word we like the best, stick with it and end up giving the same explanation over and over again to anyone who holds those stereotypes. Sometimes I think we should all have recordings of ourselves giving a summarised definition of our chosen terms, just to save us the energy of repeating the same speech. I choose “straight lesbian” particularly because it’s not often used, so I’m likely to be challenged on its meaning and can explain my problems with the preconceptions above. Others may choose to stick to the tried-and-tested, but in my experience, they are almost always met with self-assured prejudice. A long time ago I casually mentioned to my mother that I was bisexual. Polite and accepting as she is usually, her reply was something along the lines that bisexuality doesn’t really exist and is only a period of confusion before coming to a final decision of gay or straight. My mother who I’m certain would have been perfectly fine if I’d told her I was gay; who talks all the time about environmental issues, human rights violations, general ‘hippie’ stuff and currently has pink and purple in her hair and a secret tattoo; my mother who married a black man in the 80s despite being from a small town full of white people (naturally, I’m also what they call “biracial”. Don’t even get me started on that one…). One of the most open and accepting people I know, and yet even she doesn’t seem to accept bisexuality for what it really is.

It’s a great shame, really, that we are subject to others’ preconceived ideas of what each of these terms mean. But the more we take them back, re-explain them and invent our own, the less people will hear of outdated ideas like the greedy cheating bisexual. The best thing we can do for ourselves and for others, whatever their orientation, is to correct and explain where necessary. Even if doing so does require carrying that recording around.
* http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=straight+lesbian&defid=5289081
** http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bisexual&defid=597732

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Tamora Cross

Tamora (or more commonly, just Tami) is a 23-year-old girlchild who firmly believes in coffee, cats, and more cats. She lives with three charmingly handsome men of the feline variety, and has somehow acquired a dog who thinks he is a cat. Frequently found in a different pair of coloured contact lenses to the previous day, a baggy jumper and probably something with Hello Kitty on it, she likes changing her hair, sewing, DDR, drinking red wine and singing in Japanese or French. Not all at the same time though. Obviously.

3 Responses to "Bi any other name": The art of labelling

  • Elle says:

    I also hate the word bi – it sounds like we always have to have a male partner and a female partner at the same time.

  • janis hetherington says:

    Bi has always been used as an indecisive word for anything other than MONO. can you be Bi-theistic?? apparently not,you are then either a pagan or worse !! Bi-polar has become very fashionable because of celebs like Stephen Fry..but what does it really mean. I always called myself Tri-sexual simply because I’ll ‘try’ most things except have sex on a Mono -cycle. Now that would be difficult but saddled with a Bicycle?? a doddle.If I didn’t need bi-focals I’d settle for a Monocle anytime ( if I could still find one) after all it’s only one of my eyes that’s a bit dodgy.SO BI IS NOW THE NON PC WORD and should be confined forever to the Bi-ology dept of Biophysics.

  • Le Flâneur says:

    What a conundrum.

    If an ‘individual’ is finding difficulty seeking out a definition or label that defines their existence, maybe it’s easier to consider their ‘brand’ of individuality as a unique and indefinable quantity. Just live by your feelings and desires, don’t waste valuable heartbeats attempting to explain your reasons. Don’t live your life wearing pre-designed stereotyped ‘personalities’, don’t describe yourself using common clichés such as Gay, Straight, Bi, Hetero, Homo et cetera.

    Let your heart describe your feelings and passions. Ditch your ‘community groups’ and ‘forums’, dump friends who proudly wear gender labels on badges, ribbons and t-shirts. Forget Gay Pride and the Gay/Lesbian/Bi scenes, gender identity ‘clubs’ are a mental disease, but it is curable. Throw your mental crutches off a bridge, you’re a one person freedom fighter, an individual force of nature. Seduce whoever you’re attracted to, if they respond positively to your advances, rip each other’s clothes off and get down to business.

    Release yourself from these self-imposed cages of the mind, use your libertarian free will and live a life dictated by your passions, not self-conscious actions controlled by the fear of making mistakes. Be bold and be yourself, you quite simply cannot be anyone else.

    Join Le Flaneur on Facebook and experience the mischievous charm of an open mind indulging in a libertarian adventure.

    Open your mind to be mentally seduced by Le Flaneur.


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