As an English teacher and a writer, I am in favor of the precise use of language in order to ensure that our messages are clearly sent and received. It’s true that we can’t always guarantee either the former or the latter, but it’s important to try. In support of clarity, I’m normally behind the use of labels as a point of reference. Yes, many times definitions-especially that of the wordbisexual-are open to debate, but we need to know what we’re debating. I also feel it’s important to be clear about what we stand for and to own it, notwithstanding the capacity for changing our minds.
A few weeks ago I was encouraged by my colleagues here at Bi Social Network to take a test at kleingridonline.com. The test uses the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, developed by Dr Fritz Klein in 1993. Based on Kinsey’s scale, the Klein Grid is supposed to provide a spectrum on which to measure sexual orientation rather than on discreet points. The Klein Grid asks you to rate yourself based on sexual attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle preference and self identification. At the end of the test you get to see “how straight” and “how gay” you are. These are the exact terms the site uses.
Then while relaxing over the Thanksgiving weekend, I did a little channel surfing and found myself watching part of a repeat of Bi the Way, the documentary that came out a couple of years ago featuring two young women crossing the USA in search of bisexuals. I had tuned in just at the moment where Mike Szymanski was commenting on the reluctance of twenty-somethings to identify themselves as bisexual, preferring instead to avoid labels.
Finally, I ran across my copy of researcher Lisa Diamond’s Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire a few days later. I flipped through the first two chapters again to get a sense of how she attempted to come to a definition of straight, lesbian and bisexual. Her own literature review seemed to find no consistent definitions of the terms and she herself came up with the phrase female same-sex sexuality to use throughout her work. After all, as a researcher she needed an operational definition to use.
Usually, I have normally been very adamant about not just using but embracing the term bisexual. I use it because I want to be very clear about my attractions to women and men, and I want to be clear about how I see and approach the world. It will probably be no surprise to you that I was initially less than thrilled to encounter people who did not want to label or identify themselves. I will admit that I saw a certain failure to own an important yet often trivialized part of their persons.
But things began to shift for me when I ran across Diamond’s book again. On first reading, I was annoyed about what I thought was her inability to use a set definition of terms for sexual orientation. On second and more readings, I see that Diamond really had nothing solid to go on. She was lost in a sea of linguistic imprecision that her predecessors had also gotten stuck in. There are no easy definitions of lesbian, gay and bisexual. Trying to find one for each seems as easy a grabbing an eel in the ocean.
Even kleingridonline.com summarizes the test results using a percentage of gay and straight, which to me defeats the whole purpose of using words like bisexual.
Something seemed to be missing and I was having trouble putting my finger on it. Perhaps I have been trying to put clarity on a situation that is far from clear. I may have been looking for definitions that do not yet exist. I have trying to force something essentially non-dual into the dualistic thinking and terms that we are all-too-used to. In fact, I now think the twenty-somethings have it right when they avoiding calling themselves bisexual because the word brings no clarity especially in a world where most people want 0 or 1, yes or no. I can understand how people would be confused.
Instead I’m going to use the word coined by our own creative director, Adrienne Williams, bisexualist. To me bisexualists are people who while being ethical do their own thing emotionally and sexually. Bisexualists are open to the all the possibilities for love and human intimacy. Bisexualists stand for integration and inclusion in personal relationships. Being a bisexualist is a state of mind. It doesn’t matter to bisexualists either how many men or how many women they’ve gone out with. That’s not the point. It’s about how we engage with the world and how we embrace the world.
Being a bisexualist has nothing to do with the color of your skin, your gender, your income, your profession or even your taste in music. Forget the definitions of who you’re supposed to love and how: Think and feel for yourselves. Explore responsibly wherever your heart is taking you. In the words of the Isley Brothers’ classic,
“It’s your thing, do what you wanna do,
I can’t tell you
Who to sock it to.”