As an openly bisexual woman, currently in a monogamous relationship with a woman (Six years! Woo!) I watched with great interest as both British Olympic diver Tom Daley and actress Maria Bello came out as currently being in relationships with partners of the same sex, while also maintaining that they have been attracted to those of the opposite sex.
Bisexuality is a troubling state for many to grasp, simply because it wages war on the very idea of totality. I'm very lucky to have never endured the level of torment and hatred many LGBT people across time and space have. Instead, my experience has been one of near invisibility. When you can pass, you can cease to exist. I've had people very close to me say that every bisexual person they know, including myself, is simply biding their time until they come out fully, entering in to a same-sex relationship while not ready to come out as gay, that it's simply an easy "in-between" phase.
However, there's also the notion, recently levelled at celebrities like Anna Paquin and Lady Gaga, that those in opposite-sex relationships who identify as bisexual are just doing it for attention. Or the old, harmful stereotypes that you're messy, undecided or slutty. You just want it all and aren't prepared to settle. How dare you?!
I used to struggle with calling myself bisexual because it didn't feel like it summed up every nuance of my reality. It's a shorthand way to say that I am attracted to individuals of the opposite and the same sex, but really no label can really sum up the intricacies and fluidity of the human experience. It's a beautiful thing that attraction, be that one spectacular night or a lifetime of devotion, often doesn't discriminate along the lines of sex or gender.
When Daley and Bello made their announcements I thought it was kind of cool that they didn't hide that they have been attracted to both sexes at different times and are currently in relationships with individuals of the same sex. It spoke firmly to my experience and, I'm sure, to countless others.
Why then, is it actually quite difficult to come out as bisexual? Why do we stutter around the subject, qualifying ourselves with percentages or lengthy detailed explanations about how fluid we are (as I did earlier) and why does society have such a hard time getting to grips with the idea of bisexuality as a legitimate sexual preference?
Well, let's deal with the idea of labelling our sexuality. In a perfect world, none of us would ever have to label ourselves because it wouldn't really matter, right? It wouldn't become a point of preoccupation for people to need to establish which category they can put you in based on your sexuality, gender, race, class status, job, diet... whatever. But that's not the world we live in. Instead, in the 21st century we have inherited a legacy that still places an incredible amount of importance on labelling. We want to know who is like us and who isn't, and we want an easy way to do that... so we do it through words.
I was the 13-year-old kid with long black hair, trench coat and Nine Inch Nails playing on my Walkman but who would resist the label "goth" vehemently. Not because I didn't want to be associated with goths but because it just didn't feel like it captured me in my entirety (brat!). But as I've grown older and entered more into the world of identity politics, one thing has become clear to me: We do not live in an ideal world, where labels don't matter; instead, the world in which we live will label you anyway, especially if you fall outside of societal "norms," and will use this identity to distance you from that abstract SOCIETY and tell you that you're not worthy to be a part of it, to have a voice, or to be represented.
So, despite the lengthy qualifications of the past, I call myself bisexual because I believe it to be important to unite under an identity that others would seek to use as a pejorative. To assume this identity is to bring it back into the light, to use it as a catalyst to action. To tell those that would seek to label you different or even, very sadly, wrong, that you are proud of who you are and while it may not be the entirety of who you are it shapes your reality and that's not and never will be something to be ashamed of.
Coming together under an identity, be that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Feminist... doesn't have to mean that we're all the same, that our backgrounds match and there are no differences between us. Instead, it can serve to unite people under certain common experiences and allow for community to take center stage and the ability to fight for recognition and a voice within the society to which you contribute. It's not a totalizing attempt to deny the differences between us but a way to unite through our similarities.
People often don't like the concept that there could be a whole section of society that defies their idea of the world; they want to know one way or the other, "What are you? I need to know where I can fit you in my taxonomy of life." But the truth is, you're quite different from the person you live next door to, even if you're both straight. And you're different from the person you sit next to in work every day, even if you're both gay.
There's a lot more that separates us than who we choose to sleep with, live with and build any kind of relationship with. But so long as there are countries in the world that condone beating or killing their LGBT citizens, or people who feel it's acceptable to publicly condemn LGBT people to an eternity of hellfire because they believe a religion tells them to and those for whom one sexual preference or another simply doesn't exist, then we have to find excitement and unity in our similarities to begin to intercept and change those views for the better.