My friend, who I hadn't seen in years, asked me this question in no less than five minutes into our reunion. I was looking forward to catching up on everything that's happened, but the question was a punch in the gut. I was no longer excited to see her. Our transition from teenage years to young adults hadn't changed her misconceptions on bisexuality. Like her misconceptions, my identity hadn't changed.
She isn't alone in her thinking. There are many straight and gay people who really don't know what it's like to be a bisexual person in a "hetero or homo" world. Bisexual people's identities are usually forgotten, ignored, or simply erased for the more palpable binary.
I've been out as bi for about 10 years. I knew what I was before I even knew there was a term for it. Growing up I only heard gay or straight and I actually believed you had to choose between your attractions. But my attractions never changed, I didn't have to choose. My sexuality is just wonderfully fluid.
The thing is, many people see bisexuality as transitory. For them, it's a pit stop to gayville or as some like to say, "bi now, gay later." And yes, that's true for some people.
Coming out is a hard thing to do when you are raised in a society that expects you to function in heteronormative boxes. When you come out, you're telling the world their assumption of your heterosexuality is false. For some, coming out as bi is a step toward acceptance of your queer identity.
It's really not only for your family and friends, but also for yourself to grab onto what little hope you have that maybe one day you can actually fall in love and marry someone of the opposite sex. Though for these people, eventually they come out as lesbian or gay and their friends and family see their bisexuality as some sort of "phase." They even believe that bisexuality may in fact only be a term used for those trying to brace the impact of coming out. Here's the problem--my sexuality isn't a phase.
Coming out is difficult and if you need to use bisexuality as a transition, go ahead. I would rather you come out as bisexual than live closeted and deal with your queer identity alone. But for the rest, we must realize that while some people use bisexuality as a stepping stone to coming out, for most of us, it's not a pit stop -- it's our destination.
It's somewhat ironic that gay and lesbian people say the same thing to bisexual people that they heard when they came out. How many times did people hear from their parents it's "just a phase" or "you'll grow out of it." It's extremely patronizing and eliminates your right to self-identify. And there are a lot of us that self-identify as bi. According a 2007 survey in which 768 self-identified lesbian, gays, and bisexuals participated, approximately half of LGB people identified as bisexual. That's a lot of people to be going through a "phase."
It's really not a phase then, but why do so many gays and lesbians make fun of it?
I think a lot has to do with the fact many just don't understand it. Just like straight people don't understand gays and lesbians, they can't relate to something they're not personally experiencing. But if we keep creating new standards for sexuality, and heck even gender, we're only limiting the fluidity of it. Because whether you understand it or not, we exist and we're part of the community.
The entire assumption that someone's sexuality is a phase is essentially saying that no matter how a person chooses to identify on a spectrum, they haven't fully arrived. It's that the assumed end destination of being gay or lesbian is the goal and that until we've reached that goal, we have yet to achieve our queer identity. That understanding is linear and limiting and it's invalidating of a legitimate sexuality. Fluid sexualities are not "lesser" than those who choose to identify in the binary. They're just fluid and complex with a larger capability for love.
My friend eventually apologized and just rolled her eyes as I chided her for being so careless with my sexuality. Just like she didn't want me to mistake her Hispanic heritage, I didn't want her to mistake my sexual identity. We still talk. Last time I saw her I asked her "Are you still full blown Ecuadorian?"
ELIEL CRUZ is a writer on issues related to bisexuality. You can find Eliel at Facebook.com/elielcruzwrites