Peter Salanki (CC license 2.0)

Why I Stopped Letting People Call Me Gay

At first I was just glad to finally be visibly queer, but soon realized I was signing off on my own bi erasure.

When I first came out as bisexual I didn’t much mind how often I was identified by others as gay. More often than not, I wouldn’t even bother to correct the error, even relishing in it to some degree.

Finally, after running from it for years, my queer side was being expressed, seen, and reflected back to me. It felt like progress. In a way it was, and when it came from recent acquaintances it was even more understandable, since I disappeared into same-sex relationships in the years following my coming out and the assumption could perhaps be expected.

bisexual pride
Katy Blackwood/CC license 4.0

But then I began noticing it wasn’t just coming from those who had no way of knowing better, but also from friends whom I had more than once told I was bisexual. I was starting to wonder if I was simply not believed when I told them I was bi. It wouldn’t be a first.

One of the women I dated after coming out, who considered herself an ally and whose brother is gay, had to be convinced that male bisexuality was possible, not just female sexual fluidity which she did grant was a thing. So too did a guy I dated later that year. They were both convinced when I explained as simply as I could.

“From an early age, I got crushes on both boys and girls that felt the same, even before I knew what sexuality was,” I explained. “As I got older, those emotions never went away, and I also found I was sexually attracted to people regardless of gender. It has always been that way, it’s never going to change, and I’m not that worried about convincing you or anyone else of either of those two facts.”

Not everyone was as understanding, even in the light of my explanation.

I was told by a gay man that I didn’t belong at Pride. I was told by many I was incapable of having committed relationships. I was told I was “confused.” I was called “greedy” by the first guy I started seeing, who, as it turns out, was not simply avoiding straight sex because of his incredible restraint, but rather because both our orientations were legitimate and valid.

bisexual man
Tim Evanson/CC License 2.0)

Suddenly letting people call me gay didn’t feel like my queerness being seen, it felt like my bisexuality getting erased. And each time I let it pass without opening my mouth was a me signing off on having my true self be misrepresented. After doing that to myself for so many years, much to my detriment, I was not looking to outsource that job right as I had finally found the courage to live my truth.

There’s a reason that despite nearly half of LGBTQ people self-identifying as bisexual, we are more likely to stay closeted compared to our gay and lesbian counterparts.

bi pride
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Bisexuality challenges traditional notions about sexuality, which can be threatening even to other members of the LGBTQ community. This, plus patriarchal thinking, leads to the stereotypical invalidation you hear that characterizes bisexual women as simply performing lesbianism for the titillation of men, and bisexual men as secretly gay.

But as anyone who openly identifies as bi or pansexual—for the record, I equally identify as bi, pansexual, and queer—can likely tell you, there are far more of us out there than anyone realizes. I continue to be surprised by the number of people who tell me that privately they consider themselves bi or pansexual, but publicly identify as gay or straight. Considering the ubiquitousness of biphobia, it’s no wonder so many people round themselves off to gay or straight. Perhaps if not for being in more or less the dead center of the spectrum, plus my natural stubbornness, I might have also been inclined to call myself one or the other for expediency. Then again, I’m glad that isn’t the case.

Fortunately, the reliance on strict adherence to labels, and an inability to accept nuance or complexity in human sexuality, appears to be fading away, as younger generations increasingly see such staunchly defined framing as limiting and unrealistic.

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This matches my own experiences, as I’ve noticed many younger queer people seem almost surprised to hear that biphobia is something I, and other non monosexuals, continue to deal with on a surprisingly regular basis.

One way to help stop that from happening? Being truly visible, not just during Bi Visibility Week, but in every moment where you’re able to be seen despite attempts to erase you, be they internal or external.

Journalist, editor, and artist.