Thursday, April 03, 2014

Binaries and Dichotomies

From many single and looking gay men I’ve heard the same phrase. I could go for women, but women are gross. I don’t take it as any kind of disparaging remark. There's humor embedded in this statement, but there are many conflicting emotions evident in such a seemingly flippant statement. It’s more a recognition that we live in a society where heterosexuality is dominant. It is so dominant that even those entirely without interest in the opposite sex may briefly consider it. Gay men are no stranger to female company, but they recognize that familiarity is not the same thing as desire.

I’m different. Women are a viable option to me, as are men. Who I choose depends entirely upon the personality and compatibility of whomever crosses my path. Among gay men I’ve been labeled instantly based on a variety of first impressions and opinions. A few have said that bisexuality is the preferred state, the perfect balance. I wish that sentiment was more commonplace, but people tend to project their feelings and anxieties very easily should the subject of bisexuality be raised. My sexual orientation is greeted alternately with fear, mistrust, acceptance, envy, and many other expressions too numerous to be included here.

If bisexuality is confusing to me, it must be utterly perplexing to others without firsthand experience. I can be just as guilty as anyone else. The other day I learned some very happy news. A friend of mine has gotten engaged to a man. She self-identified as queer the first time we met. I always assumed she was a lesbian, which seemed to be confirmed by her pursuit of another woman. It’s obvious I have to work on myself more to guard against automatic assumptions.

I was shocked, frankly, to learn the gender of her soon-to-be husband. Our minds easily form binaries and dichotomies. Among many, one sees a mostly surface acceptance of bisexuality that only goes so far. Because of this, it is likely that each of us will be from time to time be taken aback and surprised on occasion.

I wasn’t going to ask her point blank precisely how she identified, but upon our first meeting she talked almost exclusively about the women she found appealing. If I’d expanded my mind a little more, I’d have not rushed to judgment. There have been times in my own life when I talked constantly about my attraction to men. Certain people have labeled me gay based only very slight evidence. At times I correct them, and at times I don't. Being thought of as fully homosexual puts down many a guard and I can share information freely about one particular part of myself.

Bisexuality is a stealth identity in many ways. To prevent myself from being perceived the wrong way, I usually out myself preemptively to my audience. Most of the times I have held my tongue, I am viewed as straight. It’s easier that way, but I’m shortchanging myself in the process. I’ll concede nevertheless that I’m at times less upfront than I probably should be. If I am not always 100% truthful, it has been to avoid scaring off potential female and male suitors. I’ve learned to be very strategic with my choice in language.

A lesbian friend of mine once ended up in bed with a close male friend, her best friend, in fact. The experience made her question much about herself. Though it was an event likely to never be repeated, she found that she'd actually enjoyed the experience. Her preference towards women had not changed and she doubted she'd ever be with a man again, but she’d recognized that sexuality doesn’t fit easily into two mutually exclusive categories.

In my writing, I make an effort to use gender neutral pronouns. He or she, him or her. This effort is designed to show equality between men and women, but the way it comes across on the page can be awkward and stilted when recited aloud. When writing about my bisexuality, I find I must use the same artificial distinction. Men or women. It takes extra mental exertion to concede that there is a third way between two apparent extremes.

Many of my favorite artists and writers found men and women both appealing. In their life stories, I've seen some of myself, or at least enough commonality to not feel alone. Unlike many men, I never had to condition myself to seek woman as mentors, nor those who inspired me who happened to be female. For many straight men, taking the accomplishments of women into account takes considerable, constant effort. It was very different for me. When I first entered feminist discourse, it fit like a glove. I had a head start of sorts.

I recognize once again that I am unusual. Many men have not been taught to value women’s voices and their contributions to society. I’ve always felt a natural kinship with women, the sort that many queer men do if they're honest with themselves. I rarely have to remind myself to value the worthwhile work of women. Don't get me wrong. I’m not patting myself on the back. Sometimes even I forget to give credit where it is due, but I’m nonetheless heads and shoulders above many other men. When every man can reach this benchmark, we'll see considerable progress.

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