(Some notes about content: this post speaks openly about queer and trans oppression and in particular talks about intra-community gender border wars and ciscentrism. It also tells a story about my own experiences of internalized queer oppression as a kid, related to a queer hating therapist. It also references my queer kink erotica without sharing excerpts or many details.)
About 25 years ago, when I was a teenager and first questioning my sexuality after a drunk friend made a pass at me at a party, I asked my therapist if she thought I was bisexual. She said that I wasn’t bisexual. I was relieved at the time, though now I get angry just thinking about how unethical and fucked up it was for her to say that.
A couple years later, when I was in college, this girl I had a crush on asked me if I was bisexual, and I said yes before I even really thought about it. It just felt true, even if it caught me off guard to say it out loud before I let myself know it inside. So, I came out as bisexual, went to an LGB youth support group in my college town (It was 1993, before people started using LGBT), found queer community on campus.
The next year, I co-ran a bisexual support group on campus. I wasn’t just out to pretty much everyone I knew (including my family), I was *really* out as bisexual, one of the most visible bisexual students on campus. Co-leading the bisexual group on campus was about finding bisexual community and support for myself, insisting that the B not be silent or silenced in queer community, honing my analysis of the ways bisexual folks are dismissed, erased, hypersexualized, and rejected, and supporting other bisexual students to grapple with bi erasure, biphobia and intra-community bi oppression. It remains one of my most treasured community collaboration memories.
About 19 years ago, I joined the local triangle speakers bureau. We would go around to classrooms and community spaces in groups of four: one cis lesbian, one cis gay man, one cis bisexual, and one cis straight parent of an LGB person. The cisness was never outright stated as a requirement, just assumed. By that point, I identified as transgender, and gender fluid, but often was read as cis, even after I came out to people. They just didn’t get it.
I didn’t fit into the box everyone assumed I should be in as a bisexual person “representing” bisexuals. We would be in a high school classroom, and a student would ask (pretty much every single time) whether I preferred men or women, and I would answer truthfully. (Which is what they said to do in the training we got.) I would say something that is true to this day, that my gender preferences go all over the map, and are mostly about being attracted to queer genders of all sorts, including other trans people. Then one of the cis gay or lesbian people would quickly interject what they thought of as the “right” answer (which was something vague about how bisexuals are attracted to “both genders”). After which my fellow panelists would look at me warily every time I answered a question, or sometimes jump in before I even could say a word, clearly nervous about what might come out of my mouth. It didn’t take long before I quit the speakers bureau, which is likely not a surprise. They wanted the “right” kind of bisexuals, and I clearly was not cis enough to represent bisexuality.
It took me a few years of insistently identifying as both bi and trans before I realized that if I continued to use the word bisexual to describe my sexuality, people wouldn’t understand what I meant. Even other bisexual people. Or at least the ones who were cis. Most cis bisexual folks talked and wrote about bisexuality in a way that erased my existence. They couldn’t even imagine that there might be bisexual folks who might be attracted to more than two genders, much less the existence of a wide range of trans and non-binary bisexuals. They weren’t the only cis people in queer communities doing this kind of erasure and rejection and participation in gender border wars. That was widespread across LGB communities. But bisexual community was supposed to be my community, so it hit me in my softer spots.
I realized that identifying as bisexual might resist bisexual erasure in queer community but it would continue to add to trans erasure in bisexual community, because people were working from a deeply embedded cis framework when they thought about bisexuality, and that was not changing any time soon, despite my personal efforts. After years of struggling to claim bisexuality, and years of being very out and supporting other bisexual folks in queer community, it hurt so much to know that identifying as bisexual would erase my transness to people, and would erase transness in general, particularly genderqueer and other non-binary identities (though we didn’t use the term non-binary in the late 90s). I felt pushed out, like I was being rejected from bisexual community because of my gender and the shape of my desire, a shape that didn’t fit the molds created in a ciscentric framework.
That’s when I started using the word queer pretty much exclusively. (I did not hear the term pansexual til about 5 years later, and then it was used to refer to kink communities that were deeply heteronormative and mostly straight with a smattering of bisexual women and did not feel nearly queer enough for me. So as an identity label it did not appeal.) Queer felt big enough to hold me in all my complexity, and connected enough to LGBT communities. Queer was a politic and an identity all at once, and that spoke to me. Queer made sense. Not because I didn’t think of myself as bisexual, but because I was too hurt by the way bisexual politics and culture worked in queer communities, too hurt by the way that if I identified as bisexual, no one could hold my transness. (Not all bisexual culture, that’s why I kept trying for so long, because it seemed like there were some folks in bi communities who were wanting things to change too. For example, the magazine Anything That Moves worked really hard to reframe bisexuality in a larger way that was explicitly trans-inclusive. But they were working against the grain, and folded not long after they began those efforts.)
Identifying as queer and trans felt like it held more possibilities of being seen and recognized and finding my people, and that was what I really needed right then. I still do.
I called my erotica collection Show Yourself To Me because it is all about the ways that sex and kink can feel like the best, most intense and sharp kind of recognition that you both ache for and are scared to death of and get off so hard on, all at once. I’ve spent the last fifteen years writing about the kinds of sex and BDSM that are possible when you are seen as who you are, in all of your complexity. And I call it queer erotica because it centers the kind of queers I make community with, the kinds of queers I have been and the kinds of queers I have fallen in love with, partnered with, fucked, and desired.
Many of the characters are trans and non-binary, and they play with folks who are a range of genders. I am especially fond of writing trans and genderqueer characters that play with other trans and genderqueer characters. There are a number of group scenes that involve folks with many different genders (definitely more than two). This book is about the kind of queerness I have embraced in my life, the kind that has held my transness in its many permutations and found them all hot. The kind of queer desire and love and glorious recognition that I had hoped bisexuality could hold for me, had ached for bisexuality to encompass.
Do I think of it as a bisexual erotica collection in my own mind? Yes. As much as anything can be. Many of these characters desire, love, partner with, play with, and fuck characters with multiple genders. Are they mostly trans and non-binary characters on both ends of things? Yep, they sure are, though not all of them.
Is a story about a trans butch dominant who plays with his gender fluid submissive partner as first a girl and then a boy a bisexual story? Is a story about a cis queer man who participates in a group scene with a dyke boy, a cis queer man, and two trans men a bisexual story? Is a mènage story between two queer trans men (who are exes) and a cis queer femme (who is one of the trans men character’s current submissive partner) a bisexual story? Is a story that includes a queer trans man getting gang banged by trans men, cis men, and dykes a bisexual story? Is a story centering a leather family that includes two cis dykes, a trans femme dyke, a genderqueer, a cis queer man, and a femme trans man who all play with each other and hold kink space for each other as they play with others a bisexual story?
It all depends on your framework. On how you conceive of bisexuality. On whether your default for bisexual is a cis bisexual person. On whether your default for who a bisexual person is attracted to is cis people. On whether you can open up your concept of bisexuality enough for it to hold stories and lives and people that are relentlessly insistently deeply queer and trans and genderqueer.
To be clear: I don’t think that bisexuality is inherently transphobic. And I don’t think bisexuality needs to be or automatically is built on a cis framework. I spent several years resisting that framework in bisexual community, trying to change it, before I began to focus on finding community with people that could hold my gender. I think it is very possible to have a concept of bisexuality and bisexual community that does include trans people, including non-binary trans people. And there are definitely some awesome vocal bisexual people who talk about bisexuality this way, who don’t work from a ciscentric framework. But the unfortunate current reality (of my experience) is that many bisexual folks, when they talk bisexual politics or create bisexual culture, are still very much working from a cis framework that erases trans folks, particularly non-binary trans folks like me. Not just as potential partners, but as potential folks who are also bisexual.
This kind of erasure of my own reality as a genderqueer person who is attracted to and partners with folks who are a myriad of queer genders is what cuts deep and continues to leave lasting aches in my queer heart. I experience this kind of erasure and ciscentrism around bisexuality pretty much every day that I engage with queer social media and queer culture. And it makes me incredibly sad.
So, do I think of myself as bisexual, 25 years after I first started wondering if I was? Yup, I still do, inside. Do I call myself bisexual out in the world? No, I gave that up about 17 years ago. Because bisexual community and culture broke my heart, pushed me out, and still erases people like me. Because calling myself queer means that more people understand what I mean when I describe myself. Because I do not want to collaborate in my own erasure as a non-binary trans person who primarily partners with other trans people and is attracted to a wide spectrum of queer genders.