Label maker

Some good comments on the post about bisexuality and the words we use to describe ourselves. Mrs. Fever said…

The problem with labels is that they are labels. Words attached to packages in stark lettering that can only be deciphered through the lenses of each individual’s experience. Which sticker “fits” according to our own self view has little to do with others’ interpretations. How we interpret what’s inside another’s Self, based on the label they slap on themselves, varies far too greatly for labels to be unifying. After all, one person’s tuna surprise is another person’s cat food.

I get that. I do. But the thing is, we need to label things around us. It’s what our little monkey brains do, whether we want to or not. I think we fail, though, when we try and make labels to describe ourselves that carry the entire genome of who we are and what makes us us.

Sexuality is hardly the only thing that struggles with this. Politics, for example (at least in the United States), is similarly problematic. You are either a Republican, a Democrat, an independent unaffiliated voter, or you associate with one of several marginal parties (Green, Socialist, etc.). But that’s not all there is to it. All Republicans are not created the same. Nor are all Democrats. And an independant might still always vote for one party or another.

There are these people who cut hair and we call them “barbers.” However, within barbers there are those who cut hair with their left hands. And within that group of lefties, some have red hair. And within those ginger leftie barbers, some have facial hair. And drive a Prius. And are Geminis. It’s entirely possible those left-handed, ginger, hirsute, eco-freindly and astrology-obsessed hair cutters really want to stand out as distinctly unique among the other barbers and come up with their own word (which I can’t possible even imagine because my example is so silly). But if they did and, when asked what profession they were in, answered with it they’d probably get some rapid eye blinking in reply. “You mean like a barber?”

Which is not to say that these very specifically distinct people don’t deserve their own identity. As I said in the original post, I love that we live in a time when there is so much diversity in our understanding of sexuality. When I was a boy, there was none of that. Barely two buckets you could put yourself in. Now, you can roll your own. But, I appreciate Suggestive’s point on this:

I found bisexual the easiest language to pass along a simple message. “I am not straight.”

I would only change that to include, “…or gay.” “Bisexual” means I’m living on something other than either end of a bipolar, black and white world. Somewhere in the middle gray space in between.

No, bisexual is not a perfect word. But it is one most people will have some understanding of when hearing it and that’s not nothing. We need labels because by creating that word we also create an identity that is greater than ourselves. An identity that requires acknowledgment by others. However, I think we need to see these labels as not the end of the conversation. They don’t need to perfectly summarize all that we are. They should be seen as a jumping off point for further discussion. No matter how well we categorize and label, at the end of the day, we are all unique and deserving of respect. Any label is nothing more than a broad categorization.

I’ve struggled with this before. I’ve even thought of myself as not “bisexual.” I’ve honestly hated that word most of my life and have only recently decided to reach an understating with it. If I want to have a conversation about myself or sexualities other than those dominant in the popular culture, I need to start somewhere.

That’s all “bisexual” is to me. A starting point that says I’m not straight. Or gay. I’m different. Let’s talk about it.

10 thoughts on “Label maker

  1. The term “bisexual” is very much like the BDSM term “switch”. Both represent binary interests. In the BDSM online community (the real life one is considerably more adult), your status is highest if you are a “dom” or “sub”. You have clearly identified yourself as “one” role. Switches, on the other hand (I’m one, by the way), are considered unworthy of respect since they can play either role.

    The same seems true for bisexuals. The hetero community considers a bisexual male as “gay”, and the gay community similarly can think of them as sorta straight. Hetero males, maybe bisexual ones too, like bisexual women. Their enjoyment of both sexes, after all, opens up new vistas for a straight man.

    I spent a decade with a bisexual, submissive female. Over that decade, I was her only sexual partner. Why? Because bisexuals can be monogamous. Just because she could enjoy sex with both men and women didn’t mean she had to. I think a lot of people forget that “bisexual” is a preference label that says the bisexual person can enjoy sex with people of both sexes, not that they do.

    My point is that there are a lot of politics associated with “gay” and “bisexual” labels. The problem is that the gay community has organized to fight negative treatment. Bisexuals haven’t. It’s politically correct to refer to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) community. That’s a start, but the fact remains that bisexuals have no political lobby; gays and straights do.

    1. Well said gentlemen! Labels and classifications are necessary, but should not be the end of a conversation or how you form your judgment of a person as a sexual being. I think switches and people that are on neither end of the sexual spectrum have very similar difficulties. I am a female sub in a monogamous D/s relationship and I identify as heterosexual. However, I don’t think sexuality is so black and white. It is a spectrum. Just because I haven’t had desire to be with a female sexually, does not mean that I don’t appreciate the female form. Similarly, just because I have switch tendencies (I have openly asked my Sir to let me try topping Him), does not mean that I get to act on them. We are all unique in our emotions and situations. We need to support people in our community in truly developing their sexual identity (including those who are switch or bisexual spectrum) and embracing themselves. We are all kinky (different in one way or another), so why judge or stifle the growth of another? It is sad that the “safe” place where we come to be ourselves is sometimes the most judgmental. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    2. I find as a bisexual that the standards that people hold are sometimes incredibly frustrating. If, as a bisexual woman I’m dating a man, I have a certain amount of straight privilege, and that’s a legitimate thing for some to point out (if not to try and hold over my head). However, to be told at the same time that I’m letting down the LGBT cause and pointed towards the door by the LGBT community is incredibly disheartening and frustrating (let’s not talk about the multiple times I’ve seen someone get told that if they were really bisexual, they’d have a same sex partner. I don’t want to have to scrape my eyebrows off the ceiling yet again).

      I don’t want to take my male partner into LGBT only spaces, and they deserve safe spaces, but it would be nice if I could have more spaces that weren’t gender-essentialist & usually run by men who think it’s cool to tell female dominants how they should run their relationships.

      I actually generally say I’m queer to just answer the question and leave it alone, but when I talk LGBT politics, I say bisexual to most accurately represent that I am in a position where I’m both gay and straight and yet neither as far as acceptance by both groups. I know pansexual is the hot new thing, but I think it might be my own personal version of “moist” regardless of connotations.

  2. One of the orientation choices on Fetlife is heteroflexible. Good god! What does that mean? Does it mean that I’m a female hetero and married to a het male and I happen to have a kissing session with a woman I don’t know in the big, communal hot tub in Marin County? And what if it made me wet and I wanted to do it some more?

    I’ve had a fantasy that all kinds of people would be blindfolded and have the opportunity to kiss without knowing that person’s gender (well,at first) or orientation. Kiss lots of different people. Would some or all of us find this erotic? Are we locked in too tightly to our label? Can eroticism, arousal, and desire simply start with touch and then continue–without prejudice?

    1. Re: Heteroflexibility 🙂

      It’s interesting how people self-identify. I wonder how much of it has to do with (a) hereronormativity {Since ‘hetero’ is part of the ‘heteroflexible’ label, does that somehow make it more acceptable? As opposed to ‘bisexual’ being somehow “more gay”?}, and (b) the outdated, pervading notion that “Good Girls Don’t.”

      I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who identifies as bisexual (by ‘conversation’ I mean, I listened while she went off on a pissed-off tangent) about how – particularly in group sex or swing environments – women have a tendency to identify as heteroflexible, even when their behavior repeatedly demonstrates bisexuality. The woman I was talking to (listening to) refuses to have anything to do with other women who identify as heteroflexible because, in her opinion, it is a cop-out.

      1. {Since ‘hetero’ is part of the ‘heteroflexible’ label, does that somehow make it more acceptable? As opposed to ‘bisexual’ being somehow “more gay”?}

        I think it’s that exactly.

  3. What about “queer”? That’s a Fetlife term too that I personally find offensive (hint, hint, rabbit), but wonder if some still see it as relevant?

    1. I’ve always liked queer now that it’s been reappropriated and all. According to Wikipedia, “Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual or cisgender.” Yep, that’s me. You, too.

      There’s a link up above to a post where I said I thought it was a better word than bisexual. Not sure that’s where I am now, but I was then.

  4. The problem with labels is that it can push us away from our true self. Many people are trying to mold themselves into well known labels. When they do that, they can’t see and understand the true nature of their personality. Labels maybe make it easier to communicate but it is that way only because everybody do it.

    It is because of the education we received. If we all were educated since childhood to not put things in boxes then we all would have better understanding of the world. We would have a better chance to understand the nature of reality.

    In this age we must use labels to communicate, otherwise people won’t understand us. But we have to keep our mind open and free and educate our children this way to create a better future.

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