Hello, buttercups! Is it spring where you are yet? I’m dying for warm weather and vegetables fresh from the garden, but I know Colorado has a few more snowstorms up its sleeve for me. If you’re still braving the cold, I hope you can find time to snuggle under a blanket with someone you love (whether that’s your sweetie, your cat, or yourself), a cup of tea, and maybe even my new book! Ask A Queer Chick: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life for Girls Who Dig Girls is available online or at a bookstore near you, and it will help you be happier, taller, have shinier teeth, and shoot laser beams out of your eyes! (Results not typical.)
I'm 23. I've been in a relationship with a cis guy for five years, and I'm super happy. I've identified as straight for a long time, but in the last year I started thinking more seriously that I might be bisexual. This is something I've wondered on and off since I was a teen, largely due to my interest in boobs and lesbian-related pornography. (I've never had any experience with a woman IRL.) I'm not in an open relationship, and I really like my partner, so I may never experience same-sex or other kinds of interactions, as I'd like to stay with this dude for as long as I can.
I think what it comes down to is that I'm romantically into men (or have never experienced otherwise), but sexually open-minded. I also believe it's totally possible for me to fall in love with someone regardless of gender identity, but for me, in the past, it's been men of various kinds. Trying to imagine calling myself "bi" didn't feel right, and I decided I was OK with calling myself straight, until a friend brought up that I could identify as queer. I'm trying to decide if this suits me, and sort through all the issues that come up for me when thinking about identifying as queer.
I've been an ally for much of my life, and many of my friends are LGBTQ+, so elements of the queer community are familiar to me. But now that I'm thinking about personally identifying as queer, I start to feel differently about things.
For example: If I'm not more politically active for LGBTQ+ rights, am I somehow a shitty queer person? Am I still operating with my (maybe previous) straight-cis privilege?
If I've never slept with a woman or done non-straight-sex things, what if I'm just going off fantasy? I mean, I'm also a believer in "I'm attracted to whom I'm attracted to," regardless of their gender. I guess I'm wondering how sure I should be, because honestly, I'm like 80% sure.
Also, I'm afraid of coming out to my parents. We're super close and I am an only child, so not telling them would feel like hiding something about myself. My cousin is gay, and my parents are supportive, and they know many of my close friends they know are gay. My parents are mostly Democratic. They're very open-minded. But I also have a history of mental illness and I'm afraid of my parents thinking that my struggles, and now on top of that my (maybe) being queer, is somehow a sign of their failures as parents, OR feeling I'm a stereotype of the "bipolar queer artist."
I also have a history of being too focused on what my labels are and getting a little too into my labels (used to be vegan, FWIW, and stopped much for those reasons), but I do feel often enough that I'm probably a 3 on the Kinsey Scale, at least. And if I didn't have to tell anyone, I'd probably call myself queer. But the idea of it also being public raises all the aforementioned fears of mine.
You probably already know that I have a LOT of feelings about queer and bi visibility, and about the importance of remembering that folks with non-monosexual orientations don’t become straight or gay just because they’re in a monogamous relationship. My default position is that, if you feel comfortable and safe being out as attracted to more than one gender, embracing that publicly is doing a good thing for the world.
You don’t have to become more politically active just because you’re out—there are plenty of LGBTQ folks who are more focused on our lives, relationships, careers, and hobbies than on The Cause. Should we all be doing more to make the world a better place? Sure, probably. But so should straight and cis people. Your orientation and your political engagement are separate issues that might affect but don’t invalidate each other. In other words, you may find that if and when you come out, the reactions you receive make you want to work harder for queer liberation and bi visibility. Or you might not, and that’s fine, too. You might also decide that you’re happier staying closeted and continuing to work for LGBTQ rights in the guise of an ally. There’s nothing wrong with any of these decisions.
You absolutely have a claim to bi/queer identity if you want it. I think the ongoing insistence that queer people have to be SO SO SURE before they come out is one of the insidious ways that social “acceptance” can function as erasure and discrimination. If you, as a woman in a long-term relationship with a man, identified as straight, no one would demand to know whether you were a hundred percent certain you would never be attracted to a woman. But same-sex attraction is so stigmatized and so erased that we’ve created a social narrative where you have to be incredibly secure in your identity, and have overcome hardships in its name, in order to claim it.
This is ridiculous! If you were pretty sure you just liked dudes, you’d call yourself straight. Since you’re pretty sure you don’t just like dudes, it’s fully fair game to call yourself bisexual or queer. You can be queer even if you never in your life put your mouth on another lady’s mouth.
As for your folks: Having a straight kid with no mental illness is not proof of being a “good” parent, and having a queer kid with mental illness is not an indictment of their parenting skills. If they see it that way, it’s because despite their surface-level progressivism they actually see queerness and mental illness as less legitimate than other ways of being a person. Hopefully, you can encourage them to work on that. If you choose to come out to them, tell them they didn’t make you queer, they couldn’t have made you straight, and they shouldn’t want to, because there’s nothing wrong with your orientation or your identity. Also, queerness is not, nor is it caused by, mental illness.
If you find that your attachment to the label you choose is having a detrimental effect on your life, feel free to eschew labels altogether, but realize that the problem there is not queerness—it’s focusing on one aspect of who you are at the expense of recognizing yourself as a complex, well-rounded person. A complex, well-rounded person who just happens to be queer.
Online dating sucks for females in general, but you add bisexuality to the mix and you're screwed. Literally, that is all people want to do to you. Bisexuality apparently is societal code for DTF anyone and now. I'm in my 40s and would legitimately like to have a relationship with someone finally after 10 years alone, and gender is not one of my filters. I have kids, I have put 15 years between me and my last latex party, and I’m done with being the curiosity component of someone's bi-curious jaunt into maybe-land.
I'm not looking for a hookup in the least, but if I indicate that I'm a bisexual I only get responses from horny3ways699 and down2pound, etc. My other option is to create two different profiles (which I have done), one that IDs me as lesbian and one as hetero. It feels like I'm lying but it seems the only legitimate solution for finding real people interested in relationships. My question, since I have fabricated this lie out of the gate—how and when do I bring it up later? First date seems a little inappropriate, but by date number 3 or 4, it feels like a confession instead of an identity. It could be the only good solution is for society to change, but why don't you give it a go while I sit here and hold my breath. Thanks!
Dammit, society, get your shit together and stop treating bisexual women as coin-operated menage a trois vending machines. Threesomes are a niche interest, not a compulsory event at the Bisexual Olympics. (One time I wrote an article about how bisexual women do not want to have three-ways with random dudes, and I heard from a bunch of angry straight men saying “You’re a liar, every bi lady wants me and my girlfriend!” Weirdly, however, I didn't hear from a single bi woman saying, “Actually, I love being propositioned by people who know nothing about me except my orientation.” Do with that info what you will.)
While we bi chicks wait for options besides “invisible” and “fetishized” to present themselves, I think you’re doing essentially the right thing. Your online profiles don’t need to include an orientation that’s not accurate, but I don’t see anything wrong with creating one “woman seeking woman” profile and one “woman seeking man,” since both are (potentially) true. Don’t lie about your identity, just be clear about who you are and what you’re looking for—a lasting relationship, not just a hookup.
Once you’ve made a date with a relationship-seeking, non-objectifying lady or dude, go ahead and disclose that you’re an equal opportunity romantic employer, but that you’re done with experimenting and interested in monogamy. Hopefully, the effort it takes to put on a nice shirt and meet you in a moderately priced Thai restaurant will weed out most of the people who are just looking for the fastest, most convenient lay regardless of compatibility or character.
Unfortunately, it won’t necessarily weed out the biphobes, people who have absorbed the bi-person-as-cheater message from our culture and believe that having multiple-gender attractions is a sign of immaturity or untrustworthiness. If you find yourself on a date with such a person, “accidentally” dump your drink into their lap, then bail while they’re distracted. There’s nothing inappropriate about being bisexual, and you don’t need people who feel differently in your life or in your bed.
I work in a high school that identifies as progressive and liberal. And sometimes, we are. But we're also learning and sometimes we stumble.
We have a student—let's call him Jim. Jim is trans and in the process of transitioning from female to male. Jim identifies as male but when you look at him, you would not think that. Make-up, flashy dresses, heels, etc. Very traditionally feminine.
Our "liberal" and "open-minded" community struggles with Jim. We have other trans students who are easier for people to understand: males transitioning to female (and vice versa) who look like the gender to which they're transitioning. We offer a very supportive place for several transitioning students who fit that binary model. We're struggling with Jim's transition because it doesn't look like anything we've seen. I want to be on the right side of things here: supportive, willing to learn, non-judgmental. I know we (my little community) all do, but we need some help. Here's the sitch:
I know it is not my place to question the authenticity of Jim's transgender identity, but there are times when he comes across as inauthentic and attention-seeking. It feels uncomplicated to me that if Jim wants to be addressed with male pronouns, we do that. But Jim has also asked that with certain of his family members, we still continue to use female pronouns. These family members know about Jim wanting to transition but Jim doesn't want to upset them. This feels more complicated to me. It elicits questions like: What does it mean to be male? How can the coming out process be tailored to each individual without asking too much from those in supporting positions? What do we do about kids who may be using a gender transition to mask another issue that they are struggling with?
In Jim's case, he is very feminine and sometimes dresses in male-inspired clothing tailored to be feminine. Jim has not expressed an interest in taking hormones. In every quantifiable (external) way, Jim remains the same kind of person he always has been here. Except that he now would prefer to be "he," but only around this and that family member, definitely not at this event; and at that event, please just use "they" as a pronoun. It's quite difficult to keep it all straight.
So my question is this: How do we support young people who are playing with and exploring gender identity and who clearly need support but are still working out who they are? Jim starts to feel oppressed pretty quickly if you do not use the correct pronoun in the correct situation. No one wants to contribute to the oppression of Jim, but I also believe Jim has responsibility in this, too. What is Jim's responsibility here? We don't want to force him to decide who he is before he's ready, but we also want him to be accountable. We all can be accountable, and we'll all probably make mistakes. How do we help Jim see that our mistakes are not a reluctance to support his transition, but rather difficulty keeping track of which pronoun to use where? And how can we help Jim to embrace who he is? How can we support his process of coming out? In a more general sense, how do we address the ownership a lot of teens are now taking over their identities when it gets complicated and messy like this?
Thank you for considering my question! And please instruct me. Don't be too nice, if necessary. If I am off base here with my questions or assumptions, I'd love to know.
I know this is a frustrating situation for you, but I have to say, I totally love Jim. He’s embraced the idea that gender does not have to be binary, definitive, or permanent, and he’s trying to figure out his own particular constellation of gender/presentation/pronoun. Is he inauthentic and attention-seeking? Indubitably, but it’s because he’s in high school, not because he’s trans. Cis teenagers are equally inauthentic and attention-seeking, because they are trying to figure out who the fuck they are, and they are under great pressure (from themselves, if not from anyone else, but probably also from their parents and peers and teachers) to be more sure of their own identities than is even developmentally feasible. Lots of kids you know are probably trying to figure out their gender identities in similar ways to Jim; he’s just being more honest about it, and I adore him for that.
I’m glad you’re trying to support Jim—you can be an ally to him, and an example to the rest of your school’s community, by continuing to remind yourself and others that his gender does not depend on how he dresses or whether he plans to take hormones. Transitioning does not mean that Jim changes his appearance in order to become male; it means that he claims and affirms the identity he already has. Some trans people feel that their internal and external selves are out of alignment until they undergo hormone replacement or surgery, but for others these steps are unnecessary. This doesn’t mean that the transition is “fake” or that it’s a façade for a separate issue.
Presenting in a feminine way and wearing feminine clothing does not invalidate Jim’s trans identity; boys can wear dresses and makeup. Eschewing hormones does not invalidate his trans identity. Using different pronouns at different times does not invalidate his trans identity. I understand being frustrated that it’s difficult to keep track of which pronoun to use when, but please remember that it doesn’t make his identity any less legitimate than that of a binary-presenting one-pronoun-using cis or trans kid. Trans people are often under pressure to “prove” their genders by performing them to the max, following stereotypes that are far from mandatory for cis people. Don’t replicate this pattern—remind your colleagues that whatever Jim’s responsibilities are, they absolutely do not include living up to anyone else’s ideals of what a boy should be.
As for keeping track of which pronouns to use, rather than waiting to be corrected I suggest that you be proactive about asking Jim what he prefers. Saying “Hey, what’s your pronoun today?” isn’t really that much more work than saying, “How are you?” If you know that you’ll be interacting with one of his relatives, check with him about what he wants you to call him. He shouldn’t expect you to use a pronoun he hasn’t communicated, but if he has let you know what he needs, it’s your responsibility to keep track of it—and to ask if you forget. And don’t pressure Jim to “pick” a pronoun if he doesn’t want to—he may always change his pronouns based on the situation, or he may decide that one is a good fit in the future, but either is legitimate (and if he does eventually have a more permanent pronoun, it doesn’t invalidate his identity as he currently experiences it).
Also, if he wants to make it easier for people to support his fluidity without constantly engaging in pronoun discussions (which many trans and nonbinary people come to find exhausting), you might suggest that he get ahold of a necklace like this. That way, he can provide people with up-to-the-minute pronoun news without expending too much emotional energy, because let’s be honest: He’s a teenager. His emotions are getting enough of a workout as it is.
Got questions? Send them my way: askaqueerchick at gmail dot com!
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, an adorable baby girl, and two very spoiled cats. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, was published by Plume in February 2016.