Friday, August 29, 2008

Who Is a Bisexual?

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Who Isn't?

There was a popular question in association with determining citizenship under the Law of Return: "Who is a Jew?" Lately, I've been thinking about bisexuality.

Who is a bisexual? Am I? Or do I just want to be, like some heterosexual women I've known, who I've always thought wanted to seem "cool" when they talked about how, any number of times, they might have been with a woman, if circumstances had been different. Well, maybe they were sincere. And maybe I am, too, when I say that I feel more queer than lesbian.

By "queer," I mean I feel mostly lesbian, i.e., attracted to women, rather than men, and sometimes I feel gender-ambiguous and rarely, but every so often, I feel attracted to men...but usually, it's because I love them as friends first, not just because they pass me on the street.

When I was 15, I told my middle, older sister that I thought I might be bisexual. Freshman year of college, I told my R.A. that I thought I might be bisexual. In both cases, it was because I thought it sounded better than "lesbian."

Why dredge this up now? I mean, I've been in a monogamous relationship with Pat for 16 years, and dated women exclusively for a few years prior to that, and lived with a woman monogamously for two years and eight months prior to that. And I spent college, high school and junior high tortured most of the time at my self-awareness of my attraction to girls and women, and its implications for complicating my I've been working toward reconciliation around my sexual orientation for more than 30 years. Why question this facet of my identity now?

For several reasons:

A number of years ago, we were on a Shabbat (Sabbath) retreat with fellow congregants of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) synagogue and one of the female congregants said, "I can imagine sleeping with anyone I ever love." That resonated with me. I related to her point. When I adore friends, often, I can imagine being intimate them as well...with the exception of heterosexual, female friends and gay, male friends, all of whom I figure are so disinterested in women, it feels self-defeating to imagine being with them.

Also, I was looking at a Facebook profile of a friend and saw that the "Interested in..." field read, "Women, Men." I've known him since 2000, but I always assumed he was gay. Suddenly, I felt unsophisticated myself. I mean, if so-and-so identifies as bisexual, all of us ought to have the capacity, I thought.

Another reason: Recently, I was talking with a female, same-sex couple and one said that she asked the other pointe blanc when they first met, "Are you gay?"

The woman responded, "No," but didn't offer that indeed she was attracted to women, and also to men, and identified as bisexual, not as gay....She did not offer the explanation then, anyhow. And so initially, the one, who inquired was disappointed, as she inferred that "No" meant that the woman identified as heterosexual. It's a miracle that people ever get together!

Last weekend, and this might have been the final prompt for making me think about my sexual orientation, my mother said, "[Your one-and-only-ever boyfriend from high school and college] is getting married again....I almost didn't tell you. Are you upset?" His first wife came out as lesbian after three kids and 18 years of marriage, not having been self-aware prior apparently.

Yes, I was upset, and was embarrassed that she would ask such a dyed-in-the-wool lesbian as I whether or not I was upset. It was my fault for having told her while I was in India last year that if, God forbid, Pat died before I did, and [the ex-boyfriend] were still alive and single, I could imagine living with him toward the end of my life. I wrote a not wholly-honest blog entry the other night and I cringe re-reading it, as it is so obviously self-conscious, and I can hear what I was holding back as I was writing. Yes, learning that my one ex-boyfriend was re-marrying was difficult and even somehow painful, though I knew I needed to be happy for him, so I channeled my disappointment into a blog entry on Pat's virtues.

This entry is not meant to be disloyal to Pat. She is the love of my life and I will be monogamous with her forever -- please, God, let us live for many, many more healthy years. It's just that I've been thinking about bisexuality and how it is legitimate and even partly my identity when I'm my least rigid in my thinking.

It's unsettling to me to claim any bit of a bisexual orientation because being a lesbian is easier. I think, to ward off the sadness that was coming my way with the news my mom delivered about the ex-boyfriend's upcoming wedding, I tried to distract both of us by saying to my mom, "You know, when I told you that I could imagine living with [the ex-boyfriend] at the end of our lives, if Pat were no longer here, I didn't mention, too, that I wondered if I'd have found his ex-wife attractive.

"Oh, oh," my mother said, surprised and trying not to sound weirded out.

I've written about this before, and it's time to go to bed, so I'll write fast: I feel most bisexual when I ride the subway. About six or seven years ago, I was on my way to an EAGLE dinner (EAGLE is IBM's GLBT employee resource group), where I was to meet Pat and many of our friends. On the subway-ride down to the Village from 53rd and Madison, there was an attractive man -- a few degrees less macho than the "Marlboro man" and with no cowboy hat, but still, mustachioed and virile-looking. I looked at him several times and vice versa.

Leaving the train, I waved at him -- a very girly sort of wave and then panicked, praying that he wouldn't leave the train with me. I kept thinking about it as I passed stores in the Village, including one with gay, pornographic magazines in the window. When I reached the restaurant, Pat wasn't yet there and I told one of my female friends what had happened, and how weird, but fun, it had been. It was around the time I was trying to get pregnant (unsuccessfully, ultimately) by an anonymous donor through IUI and she brushed it off as part of that. Maybe....

Finally, I suppose I wrote all of this tonight per se because of a colleague's posting in our GLBT and GLBT-friendly online community discussion behind our firewall; he simply linked to a terrific article on bisexuality and it inspired me to think more about my own level of bisexuality.


Herman said...

Thanks for sharing your self and feelings today at the EAGLE db.

Re: bisexuality, I went the other way.

I used to think of myself as bisexual rationalizing in fear that if someone questioned my sexuality I could honestly state that I [also] liked girls. Once I accepted my being gay and came out, I no longer associate with being bisexual.

It's interesting how the truth changes even our own perception.

Sarah Siegel said...

Everyone's story is different, yet has moments in common, it seems. Interesting to hear your experience.

Probably, it's not a picnic for any sexual minority, though it feels like one right now, as I write this comment while staying at a lovely, gay-owned B&B in Maine, where the guests all are gay or lesbian....I guess that's because for once, we're not a sexual minority.