Queer identity: More questions than answers

A SYTYCB entry

Revised from a longer post I wrote this year during Pride month on my personal blog.

I didn’t realize it would be so hard to be queer after I got married. Seems like it should have been obvious, right? Marry a heterosexual cisman, turn in queer club card, do not pass go, still collect hundreds of dollars of apparently-straight privilege.

But is that how it has to be?

I had a boyfriend years ago who once told a friend I was bisexual. His friend responded by asking, “Is she actively bisexual?” Actively? What does that mean? At this very moment?

I never even really identified as bisexual. Mostly, I identified as queer, which allowed me to position myself as “not heterosexual” while not succumbing to a word with the prefix “bi,” referring to a binary conception of gender in which I do not believe.

Actually, it wasn’t until deep into my current relationship that I started identifying as bisexual sometimes (although “queer” is still my preference). “Bisexual” just seems like a more specific identity than “queer,” allowing me to stake a claim in the queer community that can perhaps more quickly be reconciled with my current relationship status. But the truth is, it’s not like I walk around with a “bisexual” sticker on my forehead, and not a lot of people ask me how I identify. So it only seems to come up when I bring it up.

I’ve been partnered with a cismale for four years, and last year we publicly committed to each other through that complicated ritual commonly known as a wedding. Our relationship is monogamous, so I am not “actively” bisexual, since I am not pursuing sexual liaisons with anyone besides my partner. What would it mean for me to be somehow more “meaningfully” queer/bisexual? Without opening up our relationship or engaging in some form of non-monogamy, what would it mean for me to have a claim to queer identity?

The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid has seven categories for assessing sexual orientation: attraction, sexual behavior, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle preference, and self identification. It is only in the “sexual behavior” category that change has occurred for me. So my identity inside really hasn’t change much, but the most visible marker that communicates my identity to other people has certainly changed (particularly since I’m femme). What I’m trying to figure out is, what effect does this have on my life, and on my membership in queer community?

I want to take a minute to discuss privilege, which, not so coincidentally, I also wrote about last year on pride weekend. Since I benefit from all kinds of heterosexual privilege in my life, in what ways is this protest/celebration my parade, and in what ways is it not? I try to keep myself from taking up too much space, and I try to stay sensitive to the times when I should step back and take a position as an ally rather than claiming queer celebration as my own. But maybe I’m wrong to step back, because it feels wrong when I do that, because queer is my own.

I’ve met a few people recently at queer events whom I really liked, and they likely thought I was queer (which I am), simply through context and association, and maybe also discussion of our life histories. But then later, they find out about my current situation. Do they still believe me that I’m queer? Do they feel I lied to them or led them on? Did I somehow owe it to them to be super-clear and upfront about my orientation and relationship status, even though they didn’t ask? Am I doing something wrong? Or not? Or should I just drop all this self-doubt and get over it?

Bisexual invisibility is a very tricky issue, because it is a privilege and a pain at the same time. I benefit from an extraordinary amount of material and cultural hetero-privilege. At the same time, I feel invisible within my queer community because I don’t know if people think I’m legit, or if I can ever be legit, or if I am taking up too much space, or if I’m needlessly shooting myself down with internalized biphobia or some other crap. It’s all very confusing and complicated. I have a feeling that there really aren’t clear answers, but I have a bunch of questions, and I would love to know what you think.

Mimi Arbeit is currently a doctoral student in child development, with a focus on adolescent sexuality and sexual health (read more in her Academic Feminist interview). In her research, she asks questions such as, “what are the features of positive, healthy sexuality for teens?” and “how do college students understand consent?” She is also involved in community-based projects in Boston and throughout Massachusetts to promote and strengthen sexuality education in public schools. She has over a decade of experience in teaching sex ed with young people aged 10 to 40 years old and designing and implementing queer feminist sex ed curricula and programming. She started her own blog four years ago at sexedtransforms.blogspot.com, which includes a series on wedding planning while queer and feminist, in addition to many other personal and professional explorations of feminism. She tweets @mimiarbeit.

Read more about Mimi

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