One of the first times up-and-coming rapper Azealia Banks was featured in a major publication, it was in the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times. At the end of the article, journalist John Ortved discusses her sexuality, writing, "Ms. Banks considers herself bisexual, but, she said: 'I'm not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don't live on other people's terms.'"
It's interesting that the article describes her as someone who "considers herself" bisexual, rather than just as someone who is bisexual. Aren't we all the things that we consider ourselves to be when it comes to our sexuality? And if we're not what we consider ourselves, then what are we, and who gets to decide what we are?
Subsequent articles about Ms. Banks often mention her bisexuality but are also quick to point out that she's in a relationship with a man. Bisexuality, of course, can't be seen. It can only be stated. If someone is in a relationship with someone of the same gender, that person is assumed to be one type of monosexual (specifically, gay), and if they're in a relationship with someone of a different gender, they're assumed to be the other type of monosexual (i.e., straight). There's no visual clue that a person is bi, unless that person is in a polyamorous relationship with two people at the same time, one of the same gender and one of a different gender, which is an extremely rare configuration.
But if someone says they are bi, then you know that they are, regardless of the gender of their partner.
Bisexuality represents the difference between being and doing. You can be bi -- in the sense that that is the word that you use to describe your sexuality -- regardless of what (or who) you're doing. Monosexuality conflates the ideas of being and doing, and trains people to just look at doing (who a person is in a relationship with) and see being (how a person identifies their sexuality).
Bisexuality confronts that mindset and challenges it, saying, "I am who I am because I say so, and what I do gives you virtually no information about my sexuality." One of the stereotypes about bisexuals is that we're duplicitous, and the reason that that stereotype exists is because, in a sense, we are: we're exposing the duplicity of human nature; we're a living symbol of the fact that sexuality is way more complicated than you think -- and way simpler than you could imagine. Both of those things are true, and we live that truth.
Which brings me back to Ms. Banks. Comments about her have something in common with comments I've read about virtually every other artist or celebrity who comes out as bi: "What if she's just saying that for attention?"
The implication is that no one would actually say they're bi, because of a further implication, which is that no one really is bi. This stereotype is based on the idea that if someone says they are bi, they're lying, and they're just trying to get attention drawn to themselves. But my question is: why would anyone do that? Why wouldn't being bi be the truth? It's curious to me that, when an artist comes out as gay, they're never accused of seeking attention. Why not?
I'm fascinated by the fact that, even though Ms. Banks is a musician, the original location of attention on her was in an article about fashion, about her appearance. We're told to look at her, to think about what she looks like, to analyze what she's wearing and what her personal style is. Is she coming out as bi for attention? Or could it be that, in the course of us paying attention to her, looking at her, examining her visually, she is feeling compelled to say what so many of us bisexuals say every day and every time we come out: "You can look all you want, but there are things you'll never see, because what you see is not always what you're going to get"?
After all, it doesn't matter how much attention The New York Times pays to her appearance. Ms. Banks is a rapper; what we know about her ultimately will come from her words, from her speech performance. If she says she's bi, she's bi. We are supposed to pay attention. She's an artist who focuses on the art of speaking. Everything she says, she's saying for attention. And that doesn't make what she's saying any less true.