by: Raechel T
Every campus organization at the University of Minnesota has the opportunity to advertize by painting a block on the bridge that connects our East Bank campus to the West Bank campus. Most blocks just have the names of the organizations, with directions to their website, and meeting times, but some get more creative. Obviously, the queer groups’ images are always eye-catching and fabulous. I was specifically excited by the painting done for Biversity, the organization for bisexual students: an image of a unicorn, Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster are displayed next to the words “We Do Exist!”
This made me giggle, but also spoke to me in a very real way. As a person who has dated, loved, and been physically intimate with men, women, and various genders in between, I have experienced the challenges of living in a society that prefers binaries. In fact, it’s my disdain of binaries that makes me reject the label of “bisexual”—-as noted above, I’ve dated more than just “men” and “women.” But I don’t need the label to understand the issues: whether I identify as “queer” (which I do) or “bisexual,” most people would prefer an easier explanation.
As a queer woman who is in a long-term, committed relationship with a cisgender male, I have always felt a certain kinship with actress Anna Paquin. In 2010, Paquin came out as bi in a public service announcement. When the PSA was released, she was dating her True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer, to whom she is now married (and expecting a baby). I remember hearing that and thinking it was really great that she felt it important to make salient an identity that is rendered invisible through her current relationship. As Paquin recently said in an interview with Zooey magazine, “If you’re going to talk about some cause in a way that’s meaningful, you should identify why it means something to you.”
In the same interview, Paquin states, “It’s not being greedy or numerous other ignorant things I’ve heard at this point. For a bisexual, it’s not about gender. That’s not the deciding factor for who they’re attracted to.”
I appreciate Paquin’s attempt to refute the “numerous…ignorant things” that are said about bisexuals (and there are plenty), but my personal experience as person attracted to more than one sex differs from hers: it is about gender. It’s not about sex, but it’s definitely about gender, and the performance of gender. As a woman with deep attachments to a working-class femme identity, I am consistently attracted to masculinity. Whether that masculinity takes shape in a cisgender man, a woman, or a transman, makes no difference. But this disparity in how Paquin and I understand our sexuality just highlights that there is no one way to be a queer person.
It’s this truth—that being queer looks really different for everyone—that I tend to forget in my daily life. I struggle with a bit of internalized “heterophobia,” if you will. I feel so whole in queer spaces—sharing inside jokes about The L Word, using in-group terms (no, I don’t feel like explaining flagging to straight people, thank you very much), dancing whenever possible—queers are my people. And I’d be lying if I said I’ve never, consciously or not, avoided disclosing the fact that I’m in a heterosexual relationship.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on this, and have come to realize that I’m doing a disservice to everyone by acting as though my straight relationship somehow makes me less “authentically queer.” In addition to the fact that those ideas run counter to anti-essentialist understandings of queer identity, my negotiation of this has been deeply hurtful to my partner. We have an amazing relationship—he is the love of my life!—and acting as though I was embarrassed of it is something I regret immensely.
Diminishing the importance of my relationship is also disrespectful to my queer community. Although there are certainly times that queerworlds should be inhabited only by queer folks, to assume that my queer family couldn’t handle my straight partner doesn’t give them the credit they deserve. It’s been a long process trying to figure out how to be a queer person in a straight relationship, but slowly and surely I’m working through it, and am very grateful to have both my queer community and my wonderful partner. Sometimes he joins me in queer spaces, and sometimes he doesn’t. Fortunately I finally realized that no matter what, I’m always queer, and he’s always my partner.
What people like Anna Paquin and I do have to acknowledge is that although we suffer from “invisibility” we also carry with us a huge amount of privilege. Passing as straight gives queers and bisexuals in seemingly heterosexual relationships access to a whole host of things to which same-gender-loving queers do not have access. Marriage, of course, is one of those, and my awareness of passing-as-straight privilege is a one of the (many) reasons that my partner and I decided not to get formally hitched (but we are going to have a pretty epic “commitment party”!).
I’m not trying to judge Paquin for getting married, or for being a breeder—I don’t think she’s setting back the fight for queer rights by participating in wedlock or procreation. (And, because, really, if we’re talking about using privilege, we should probably start with addressing Whiteness and class status, which probably help her out a lot more than her ability to get turned on by penis). On the contrary, I think it’s really great that Paquin has made the decision to remain so vocal about her sexuality, regardless of her current relationship. Doing so helps refute one of those other annoying assumptions about bisexuals: “It’s just a phase.”
Sure Paquin ended up with a man, but she still identifies as bi, which means that her past relationships with women weren’t “experiments.” Remaining steadfastly “bisexual” (or queer) tells the world that sexual fluidity is a real, lasting, important part of our being, regardless of who we’re currently fucking and loving.
Raechel T is a PhD Candidate in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include: critical media studies, queer studies, rhetoric, critical pedagogy, and the labor movement. She’s a long-time labor activist and a full-time cat lady. You can read more of Raechel’s thoughts at rebelgrrlacademy.wordpress.com, and you can follow her adventures with vegan food and healthy living at rebelgrrlkitchen.wordpress.com.