6 December 2008 by Jennifer
I hereby launch my latest badge design – “Not everyone is bisexual”.
I’m quite entertained by the different angles of meaning on this one, so I thought I’d write an article about it and explain what I was thinking.
There’s a classic situation in which this tends to come up:
Person A: I’m bisexual!
Person B: Oh – I think everyone‘s bisexual really.
To person B, this presumably seems like quite an accepting and bi-friendly thing to say – and to some of the people in the role of A, it feels that way too.
But on the other hand, I’ve heard a few possible objections to it.
Some people in the role of A have said that it feels like a trivialisation of the importance of what they’ve just said. It’s as if B replied “So what, big deal – isn’t everyone?”.
I must say I don’t remember it ever “landing that way” for me personally. Even if, in fact, B is mistaken that “everyone’s bisexual” (in whatever way they mean), it stands to reason that in order to hold that view, they must have been including themself. So in a sense they’ve just reciprocally come out, which tends in my experience to lead on to some quite entertaining conversations :-)
But I can understand some people’s exasperation with B’s response, too. If, to you as A, bisexuality is a major factor in your life experience so far, whereas you have a pretty good sense (because you know them) that B only means “I once slightly fancied a boy/girl, from a distance”, then there’s still a kind of miscommunication going on. Because then what you really mean isn’t just “I’m bi” or “I identify as bi” – it’s “This is important to me”. And B’s response, while acknowledging “oh so you’re bi then, OK”, falls short of “I understand it’s important to you”.
Another objection is about respecting the identity and experience of people who don’t think they’re bi.
OK, it’s possible that all humans may have been born with some notional bisexual potential, but not all adults experience themselves as being in any meaningful sense bisexual. There are people who have given a fair trial to either cross-gender or same-gender emotional/sexual connection (as the case may be), and found it “does nothing for them”. So in what sense are those people bi? Only, I would suggest, in a sense so theoretical as to be irrelevant in ordinary life.
There are also people who have deliberately chosen a non-bi identity and shaped their lives accordingly.
Those are the two political arguments I’ve heard made against “everyone is bisexual”: that it erases the experience of the people who don’t identify as bi, and that it erases the importance of it for those who do. I think these are valid objections.
So one meaning of the badge is a disagreement in principle with the assertion “Everyone is bisexual”.
The second context I had in mind was a relatively straightforward practical social use.
Although bi people are usually in the majority there, that’s no justification for assuming that everyone there is bi. But sometimes someone forgets that, and a non-bi-identified person is misread as bi, or ignored in some statement of “we bi people… blah blah blah”.
In a sense, the bi-majority environment mutates the mainstream default whereby queer people are usually the ones who have to “come out”. But that’s not quite right, because the aim and ideal of those spaces is not for people to assume bi as the default: it’s for everyone to keep in mind that they don’t know other people’s identity unless they’ve been told.
So one possible use for the badge is as a reminder in majority-bi space. It could be worn by a non-bi person – who may well feel a self-interest in making the reminder – but it could be worn by anyone else too.
An interesting attribute of the saying in badge form is that it doesn’t directly “out” the person wearing it. It makes a statement, but the statement isn’t a label of the wearer.
In a majority-bi environment, there’s no mystery why someone would wear it (whether bi or not): it’s useful in maintaining a space comfortable for everyone. But out in the rest of the world, its full ambiguity kicks in.
In a way, I think it invites the reader to question the relationship of the wearer to the badge. Are they or aren’t they? If they are, why don’t they just wear a badge saying “Bi person”? If they aren’t, why are they wearing the badge at all?
Perhaps the implicit statement could be simply “I invite you to consider bisexuality”.
It occurred to me to consider whether someone biphobic might seize on this badge as a way of saying “Me? Bi? No way!!” I don’t like the idea of that.
But on further reflection I began to doubt that it would really work. Even if they meant it that way, they still couldn’t prevent other thoughts going through people’s minds sometimes, and raising people’s awareness of bisexuality in the process.
It could equally well be read as a form of solidarity – “Not everyone is bisexual… but I’m not saying I’m not”.
My favourite thing about this badge, though, is what kind of world it implies, especially when worn outside of spaces officially declared bi-friendly.
There’s a reading of it which implicitly calls into existence a world where, OK, not everyone is bi – but so many people are, you need to make a point of remembering that it isn’t everyone! Somehow I find that oblique reversal of normal default assumptions immensely amusing.
Beside being funny (to some), it’s probably more true than it might at first appear. I’m thinking here partly of the number of people I’ve come out to who’ve responded with some version of “oh I’m a bit bi too”. There’s a lot of it about – it’s just that most people don’t make anything of it, or they think they don’t qualify as a “real” bi person because their attractions aren’t exactly 50/50 split between men and women.
So all in all, I think this might be quite a thought-provoking, conversation-starting and generally entertaining badge to go around wearing, especially out in the world in general. If you try it, feel free to send me anecdotes :-)