As a cisgender male, I am in a committed relationship with a cisgender female and that is largely what people see. And from that view, the assumption comes that I am therefore heterosexual. That's the byproduct of a heteronormative society and part of what is known as bi-erasure. While I get why this happens, I'm often frustrated by the way it mutes my full identity as bisexual. That I am attracted to more than one sex is an important piece of my identity; though not the defining piece (I'm not sure, for me, that there is a defining piece of my identity--except maybe learner). It's added infinite value in my life by acknowledging it and allowing it to shape the adult I've become and just because I have chosen to commit to a life-long relationship, doesn't mean it is any less of my identity. It doesn't change a fundamental aspect of who I am; just like having a second child doesn't mean you cease loving the first child or if love dogs, you stop loving all dogs because you now have one.
This muting may not seem like much but there are some ways to better understand it for those that aren't in the know. Here are a few analogies worth considering:
- We hang out regularly and while you do your best to ask me about the full range of personal and professional life, I only focus on your personal life. When you offer up your something about your professional life, I either do not acknowledge what you have said or return to talking about your personal life.
- You and I are at a significant event for one of your two children (play, sports, competition, performance, etc). The other child is present with us but I don't bother to acknowledge, interact with, or respond to that child. My entire attention is focused on the child performing.
- You are driving a car and I am directing you to our destination. But I will only allow for use to take right turns; thus we can reach our destination but only by essentially circling around it into to arrive at it.
Each of these analogies captures an absence of acknowledgment and appreciation for the fullness of the other person's life. By using, "perceived as heterosexual," I give those paying attention the opportunity to question their own assumptions and the opportunity to speak up. It also signifies to some that there is indeed an ally in their midst, even if, on paper, I may not appear to be.
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Of course, one could ask why I don't just acknowledge my bisexuality right up front; aren't I muting it by saying perceived as? Explaining bisexuality is tricky to explain. People get heterosexuality; they get homosexuality (regardless of how they feel about it or at least they pit it as an opposite to heterosexuality), but bisexuality seems impossible to compute for many folks. I remember telling one family member that was the case and of course, the reaction was a follow-up question as to whether I would stay committed to my partner. I wish that was the easiest question I'd gotten on the subject, but alas, U.S. culture is great with either/or thinking but not so much with both/and thinking. So to roll out the conversational grenade that is bisexuality is usually not necessarily useful in that particular moment when I'm using the term, "perceived as..." and I know it enough to not go down that road but to leave room for it, should someone at a later point want to better understand.
I wrote this post, not to complain or to speak of any injustice that I am facing but rather just as a means of helping others to think not just about the language we use (or don't use), but maybe to help others (and myself for that matter) to think about how our perceptions of those we are close to might mute or ignore aspects of them that are in fact an important part of their identity. In doing so, do we further alienate or harm those in our lives? For some, probably not and yet for others, I'm guessing it has some negative effect.
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