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FROM THE FUCKBUCKET: Do I have to identify as bisexual if I enjoy sex with men, but am otherwise totally a lesbian?

Do I have to identify as bisexual if I enjoy sex with men, but am otherwise totally, totally a lesbian?

With a sharpie in your hand, you can be anything you want.

It is one of the wonders of the modern age that more and more people are accepting of the whole idea of self-identification and sexuality as fluid and pretty damn subjective.

However, there will still be (many) people who will want to call you bisexual if you are a woman who has sex with both men and women. I wonder if an underlying question here is, do I have to call myself what other people insist on calling me?

The answer to that questions is: no, you don’t have to identify as anything to anybody if you don’t want to. There is no set classification system for sexual orientation by which everyone is assessed and filed, and in the UK there is not currently any state-mandated registration process by which you renew your lesbian credentials every other year and get a tag to put on your car.

People do judge, however, so it may feel unfair that people will not call you what you call yourself, if they know things about the sex that you have. Sexual behavior is, after all, not the only defining factor in sexual orientation, right? There are men who have sex with other men, and identify as straight. There are women who make out with other women in clubs who identify as straight. There are people who have never kissed anyone at all, who nonetheless have a strong sense of sexual identify.

Then there is also the matter of sexual versus romantic attraction. If you get it on with both men and women, but are only romantically attracted or desire beyond-casual relationships with women, maybe it just makes more sense to you to set up your tent in the lesbian camp.

And yet… labels are an important part of human conventions of communication. They are a shorthand of sorts, when people talk about themselves. Labels do change over time, but glacially, so I think that any talk about the inadequacy of labels to capture the beautiful shifting spectra of human sexuality has to acknowledge that many labels do tend to capture useful meanings and identities for most people. The question then becomes, what are people using these labels for? To what end?

The people who want you to identify openly as bisexual probably want to know this as part of a risk factor analysis, either for sexual health or for political reliability. An analysis based solely on stereotypes and not ACTUAL BEHAVIOR is flawed, because people do all kinds of things and lesbian-identified women who have never even smiled at a man in their life can be just as flaky and politically questionable as the next person. These are stereotypes being perpetuated about bisexual women—that we are disease vectors, that we don’t have our sexual/gender politics correct, that we are fickle—and that sucks.

In this context, perhaps you could reframe this as using people’s response to your life experience—“I sleep with men occasionally/sometimes”—as a filter for judgmental jerks. If they are the kind of people who want nothing to do with you because of that, then they are probably not the kind of people you want to sleep with or hang out with anyway. So there’s that.

But that’s not quite the end of it. Because the bisexual label does carry such stigma with it, both in the queer and straight “worlds,” I would encourage you to consider what misconceptions you may have internalized about it. Like, why would it be a problem if you identified as bisexual? What is that label telling people about you that isn’t true OR that you don’t want to tell them? How will that affect your access, to potential partners or to the lesbian community as a whole? What do you worry that people will assume about you?

In other words, you don’t have to take on the label of "bisexual", but what do you worry would happen if you did?

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Getting clarity around sex and sexuality is part of what I'm trying to do in my work, both in writing and theatre/performance. If you think this is important work to be doing, please think about becoming a patron of mine over on Patreon. Your per-piece pledge goes into the pool of funds that supports my work in a very real way. Thanks for considering it, dear reader!

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