If you don’t really know me you may not know that I identify as queer.
People are often surprised when I tell them I date women, too, because I can “pass” as being straight. I don’t have the stereotypical markers of queerness that some people look for in queer women: tattoos, short hair, rainbows and Xena (hey Haydee!), flannel shirt, etc. (trust me, I tried the faux-hawk thing and it didn’t work for me!).
I identify as “femme” and I own and love it. My femme-ness doesn’t make me any less queer, radical, or feminist, because I am exercising agency to define what queerness and womanhood feel and look like for me. By the way, stereotypes that expect lesbian women to be butch, and gay men to be feminine further perpetuate heteronormativity and erase the necessary distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation. A topic for a longer blog post.
As you can imagine, my ability to “pass” as straight and being seen as traditionally feminine give me access to certain privileges (cis- and hetero-). And it makes being queer a little tricky at times, too. I frequently find myself correcting people when they incorrectly assume my sexual orientation, explaining myself in queer spaces, and feeling defensive when my sexuality is challenged. Femme invisibility is real and I experience biphobia and internalized biphobia often. It’s been a journey learning the language and tools to empower myself to explore them.
Coming out, for me and many others, is a constant act — every time I meet someone new, every time someone makes an assumption or questions my identity, I assess whether I want to come out. Do I feel safe? Do I trust this person enough? Do I want to engage in a longer dialogue? Is this going to require emotional labor and am I willing to perform it? Do I need this person to know all of me? Then, I run through my usual coming out repertoire, some variation of “actually, I’m queer” “I date women, too” “I’m not straight.”
In honor of Bisexual Visibility Week, I figured I should share some of the frequently asked questions I get from folks and also my internal dialogues I tend to keep to myself. Over the past few weeks, I collected questions through my website, social media, and in-person channels. Here’s what I got:
Q: What does being “bisexual” mean?
Like most identities, being “bisexual” or “bi” can mean different things to different people. The conventional definition of being “bisexual” is to be sexually attracted to both men and women. Some folks use “bisexual” as an umbrella term to describe being attracted to people beyond one gender.
Q: Are you attracted to women or men more? Or is it 50/50?
On sunny days, women. On rainy days, men. Just kidding. It depends on the person I meet. Duh, people. Look at this handy chart below.
Q: What’s the difference between “bisexual” and “queer?”
“Queer” is often described as an umbrella term, but again, it means different things to different people. For me, it means being outside of the heterosexist norm — I also see it as a movement, a community, with a hint of radical flavor and a heavy dose of fearlessness. I sometimes like to identify as “bisexual,” not because I believe there are only two genders, but because I think bisexual invisibility / erasure is all too real. I like to claim the identity to increase visibility for folks who don’t fit into the L/G categories and to take up space. I find the term “bi” to be limiting in acknowledging gender as a much broader spectrum, so I prefer to identify as “queer.”
Q: How about “pansexual?”
I identified as pansexual for a year or so in high school, but it never stuck with me. I see more and more folks identifying as pansexual, meaning you’re attracted all (“pan-”) people, irrespective of their sex / gender identity. I’ve also met folks who identify as fluid, heteroflexible/homoflexible, or choosing to not label themselves at all.
Q: When did you know you were bi/queer?
I didn’t have the language to describe myself as queer until I was in high school. Growing up in South Korea, the concept of queerness wasn’t even on my radar, but in retrospect, a lot of my childhood experiences that made me feel “different” make sense. Like, as a child, I was obsessed with naked dolls (or are all girls like that? I don’t know) and I always got chills (the good kind) whenever my girl friends touched my hair. I had my first official crush on a girl when I was a freshman in high school. I was *head over heels* and oh so confused.
Q: What’s the biggest difference dating a man vs. a woman?
Again, this depends on the person I’m dating. But the biggest difference, for me, has been the ability to empathize with my lived experiences as a woman. I mean, it’s kind of an obvious statement, but it does make a difference when the person you are dating can deeply empathize with you. I have met some pretty cool dudes who have been able to listen to my needs and sympathize, but there’s definitely a difference in living an experience vs. observing them.
Another big difference is how I take up space in and outside of the queer community when I’m dating a man vs. woman. For example, when I’m in a relationship with a cis, heterosexual man, I think twice before entering spaces that are created to honor and celebrate queerness. Even if I identify as queer, being in a relationship that is perceived to be normative and heterosexual gives me privileges that I need to be aware of. On the flip side, when I’m with a woman, I tend to avoid spaces that make me and my partner feel less safe — think super bro-y sports bar, conservative neighborhoods, etc. Well, I guess I don’t go to those places anyway :P
Q: Is being bisexual just a phase people go through until they decide to be gay or lesbian?
No. Although my dad still believes this. People thinking this is just a “phase” is deeply hurtful. It denies my desire that spans multiple gender identities, and makes me feel like I am not a whole person. It’s as if someone is telling me I’m still “figuring it out,” when actually, I have it figured out! Saying bisexuality is not a real identity or calling bisexuals “fence-sitters” is offensive and invalidates a big part of who I am and who I’ve always been.
Q: Have you dated other bisexuals? What’s the prevalence of other bisexuals among those you’ve dated?
I found this question to be so interesting. Yes, I have dated other bisexuals, but not because I sought them out. I never thought to look for other bisexuals, although this question makes a lot of sense if you think of it from the perspective of lesbian, gay, or even straight people. Huh, interesting.
Q: When do you bring it up when you are dating someone?
Depends on the person. It’s usually something that comes up or I bring up on the first 1–2 dates. I’ve ended dates after learning the other person is not comfortable with me being bi/queer. I’ve also ended dates after hearing biphobic remarks (“oh that’s hot” is amongst my favorites. NOT).
Q: Are you straight now that you’re dating a man?
Nope. Whom I’m dating or sleeping with currently doesn’t dictate how I identify. Does a straight person become asexual when they don’t have a partner? No. My queerness doesn’t just disappear when I’m dating a man and I bring my queerness to all of my relationships, regardless of my partner’s gender identity. Also, just because I’m dating a man, that doesn’t make our relationship “heterosexual” — I’m still a queer person, and there are ways to “queer” relationships that may seem normative on the surface. There are privileges and access points I get when I’m in a visibly “heterosexual” relationship. However, those privileges don’t make me straight. I’m happily in a relationship with a cis, heterosexual man who makes me feel seen as a whole person, who acknowledges and honors all of my identities, including my queer identity.
Q: What are some examples of biphobia?
- Believing bisexuality isn’t a legitimate identity (e.g., “it’s a phase” “he’s actually gay” “you can’t be a fence-sitter. Choose!”)
- Assuming someone’s identity based on sexual or dating history, or current partner’s gender / sex
- Calling bisexuals “allies” to the LGBT community
- Assuming everyone is either gay or straight
- Believing bisexual people are confused or trying to “decide”
- Erasing bisexual people from the broader LGBTQ movement and struggles
- Thinking bisexual people are “half-oppressed” or have it “easier” than lesbian and gay people
- Sexualizing bi women or thinking bi women are seeking attention from men
- Telling bisexuals that we have “double the options” — no, we don’t
- Not dating bisexual people because you think they’re going to leave for another gender; thinking bisexual people can’t be monogamous
- Thinking bisexual people are attracted to everyone
- Assuming all bisexual people want threesomes. GAH!
Check out this Invisible Majority report by the Movement Advancement Project detailing the disparities facing bisexual people (this glaad article summarizes it nicely).
Also, check out these amazing graphs summarizing my life.
Q: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
Now this is a tough one. I’m into pistachio these days, but I also love a good, high quality vanilla. I’d like to identify as a lover of all ice creams. Jk, butter pecan is a shit flavor.
Q: How do you think your life would be different if you weren’t bi? Do you ever think about that?
I don’t have to think about it because the media shows me what it’s like. Every. Damn. Day.
Q: What advice do you have for people going through self discovery?
Everyone’s journey is different and only they can define the right milestones for themselves. Seek out resources and perspectives of others, try to develop a supportive community of folks you trust, and reach out! Don’t feel pressured to come out at the expense of your own physical, psychological, and emotional safety. Take as long as you need to validate your feelings and to find language that feels right for you.
Q: What advice would you give to allies who’d like to support queer / bi-folks?
Do your homework — Google all the things. Ask questions respectfully, don’t make assumptions, and try not to put additional emotional burden on folks you’re trying to support for the sake of your education!
Intervene when you observe homophobia / biphobia. Speak up whether we’re in the room or not.
Got other questions? Ask in a comment below. Are you bisexual? Share your journey and perspectives!
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About Michelle Kim
Michelle is an entrepreneur, activist, speaker, and a coach passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive change. She is the co-founder of Awaken and owner of Michelle Kim Consulting.
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