Can Men and Women Ever Really Be Friends? (And Can Bisexuals Have Friends At All Then?)

A lot of casual homophobia tends to be predicated on this fear of queer people flirting with straight people.

This whole idea of, “I don’t mind you being gay, just so long as you don’t hit on me.”

And, you know what, I understand that nobody enjoys having someone that they aren’t attracted to flirt with them. Straight people don’t enjoy being hit on by queer people. Lesbians don’t enjoy being hit on by men. Bisexual people don’t enjoy being hit on by someone who isn’t their type.

But, that being said, there is a larger issue here as well. This idea that queer men are attracted to all men, and queer women are attracted to all women.

A lot has been said on this already. It is a prevalent problem in our society, and it is a problem that lends itself to many harmful ideas and stereotypes.

Queer men can easily be excluded from such male-centric activities as, say, sports – because what would happen in the locker room? We all know that queer men can’t control themselves around any naked man – really, any at all. It doesn’t matter what he looks like or how he acts.

Queer women also tend to be stereotyped as the ‘predatory lesbian’ – the aggressive woman who won’t take no for an answer, and is out there to hunt down and ‘turn’ any unsuspecting straight woman.

And, sometimes, straight people become really awkward and uncomfortable around queer people, on the simple basis that they’re afraid that they might get checked out or flirted with.

Because, as we all know, when you’re attracted to a gender, you’re attracted to every member of that gender. Right?

Now, as a bisexual person myself, I have walked in both straight and LGBT communities, and while this isn’t a perspective that comes up often in the LGBT community (I can tell another queer woman that I’m queer without her immediately assuming that I’m hitting on her. Unless I am actually hitting on her), this perspective does come up quite frequently in the straight community.

And it doesn’t even exclusively come up in terms of queer people: it’s actually a sort of common perspective. Growing up, I remember frequently hearing the adage: “can men and women ever really be friends?” the presumed answer to this always being: no, because sex will always get in the way.

And if this were true, then I couldn’t have any friends. Ever. I’m attracted to every gender, so obviously I’m trying to sleep with everyone.

If this were true, then dear god, my life would be a nightmare.

But I’ve had male friends (both heterosexual and not) who managed to remain platonic. I’ve had female friends (both heterosexual and not) who managed to remain platonic. So where does this assumption come from in straight culture?

Well, in this particular scenario, I feel that the best way to explore why heterosexual people feel this way about queer people is by looking at heterosexual culture.

When it comes to young boys, we treat sex as a sort of conquest. It is the way that men can prove their masculinity; we turn it into a sort of goal for them. And we also teach men that every single woman is a potential conquest.

And, similarly, we teach women that every single man is ‘just after one thing’.

This tends to be in the background of many male/female relationships in heterosexual culture: a sort of chase. And it is so prevalent that many men feel entitled to sex with essentially any woman – even if she is ‘just a friend’. Look at the term ‘friendzoned’ for evidence: although this term has (hopefully) been mocked out of general usage, it was initially created by men who felt cheated because a female friend dared to say ‘no’ to sex.

And this idea of ‘the chase’ has created many, many problems in and of itself: most obviously, it has created rape culture. It has created this society where many heterosexual relationships are expected to follow a script where men pursue sex and women withhold it – and if a man pushes beyond her comfort zone, well then, he was just following the script. It has created this society where women are shamed for expressing any sexual agency or desire.

But it has also created this general confusion about how straight people can interact with queer people. Because many (obviously, not all) straight people automatically assume that if someone is attracted to a gender, then they will engage in ‘the chase’ with that gender.

But queer people do not grow up in quite the same way that straight people do, and the simple fact that many queer relationships involve two people of the same gender means that we cannot engage in the same conventions that straight people simply take for granted. For us, there were no lessons growing up about how we should view (at least one of) the genders that we were going to date. Lesbian women were not told by their mothers that they need to actively go out there and have sex with as many women as possible.

So for us, it’s just natural to know that we aren’t attracted to every single member of a gender. And, trust me: if we’re not attracted to you, we aren’t going to hit on you. Chances are, you’re safe.

And I think that the fact that so many straight people are afraid that queer people will start ‘chasing’ them really reveals something about ‘the chase’: it isn’t pleasant, and it isn’t healthy. We need to stop measuring our worth by the number of partners that we have had – whether we’re calling a man a ‘stud’ for sleeping with many women, or we’re calling a woman a ‘slut’ for sleeping with many men. We need to think again about the way that we’re teaching our youth about sex, or about the ways in which they should view the other gender. And a big part of this involves talking more about consent, but it also involves questioning our own gender biases. Because they are so deeply ingrained that I think we sometimes have a hard time recognizing them.

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How Millennials Are Changing Relationships

“Millennials don’t want relationships,” I read this morning on social media.

And, admittedly, my first response to this was something akin to: oh great, is this another thing millennials are killing, along with diamonds, golf, and napkins? Are millennials responsible for the death of relationships as well?

Once my initial reaction was out of the way, I started to think about this claim a little deeper. I mean, in this culture of Tinder and social media dating, you are more apt to hearing people wonder about what the future of dating is. So is there some validity to this claim that millennials don’t want romantic relationships, in a society where social contact is established through a screen?

As a millennial myself, do I want a relationship?

Well, yes. Someday. It just isn’t high on my list of priorities right now.

I am twenty-three years old, and right now, my life is a little bit rocky. I’m in the process of figuring out how I can move to another city. I’m trying to decide what I want to do with my life. My career and my pursuit of my dreams have sort of taken priority for the past few years, as I learn to navigate through this crazy, little world that I inherited. And, yeah, I would eventually like a relationship, but I don’t necessarily see myself settling into an image of domesticity, at least not any time soon. Right now, I’m still trying to find myself.

And so are the majority of my fellow-millennial friends. I have friends who have jumped from relationship to relationship, not because they don’t want to stay in one, but because they’re still learning and figuring themselves out. I have friends whose every romantic encounter is a Tinder hookup, because they aren’t emotionally prepared to settle down yet. I have friends who settle into happy, serious relationships, and then a few months later, break up and post all about the whole experience on social media.

And, personally, I don’t see any of this as a sign that millennials don’t want a relationship. It’s just that many of us are still very young. And a lot of this is pretty par for the course of young people, social media or no social media.

So then why do I keep hearing people say that millennials don’t want relationships, or that millennials don’t know how to make lasting connections with people?

Well, 1 – I think that this a pretty common complaint for every new generation of youths. Let’s face it: elders just like to complain about us. And, considering young people are consistently trying to find themselves and explore their environment, whether it’s the 1960’s or the age of Tinder, this is probably going to continue being a complaint for many, many years to come. The baby boomers will say it about us. The millennials will say it about the next generation. It’s just the circle of life.

But I also think that there’s another side to all this, and it’s something that I touched on briefly earlier: the definition of what a relationship is is, slowly but surely, changing.

Divorce rates in America peaked at about 40 percent in 1980, and although this number has been declining ever since, this does mean that many millennials grew up in households where their biological parents were split up. We are the generation of step-parents and single parents, and we are also the generation that grew up with both parents working outside of the house.

Perhaps (at least partly) because of this, it is estimated that the marriage rate might drop to 70 percent in millennials (compared to 91 percent of baby boomers).

Yep, that’s right. We’re killing the wedding industry too. Take that, heteronormative marriage ideals.

But it isn’t just the divorce rate that might make millennials wonder about marriage. As we talk more and more about the role of women in our society, women are encouraged toward pursuing careers and building lives outside of the home. More and more, we’re moving away from this idea that the only thing a woman can be is a wife and mother.

As Time put it, “millennials want jobs and education, not marriage and kids”. In fact, according to them, 55 percent of millennials said that marriage and kids aren’t important.

This goes back to what I was saying before: relationships just aren’t a priority for me right now. I want a satisfying career and education, and as a woman in 2018, I have more freedom than ever to get that. A satisfying relationship can come later, when I’m a little bit more adjusted and sure of myself.

And not only that, relationships are becoming increasingly less weirdly Stepford with time. We are talking more and more about such issues as heteronormativity, and how harmful that can become. Same sex relationships are becoming more and more accepted within society, meaning that today’s youth are more open minded than ever. Only 65 percent of millennials identify as exclusively heterosexual, and already, this is becoming an outdated statistic, as only 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 to 20 identify as exclusively heterosexual. According to the survey conducted by the J Walter Thompson Innovation Group, a significant amount of today’s youth identify as bisexual.

I also don’t think that such societal conversations as the role of polyamory or sex positivity should be ignored, as these are changing the way that we, as today’s youth, view relationships.

And I’m really not trying to say that any of this is a negative thing. On the contrary, I think it’s amazing. I think that millennials these days have more freedoms when it comes to relationships than any generation has ever had before, and I’m really curious to see where we’ll take these freedoms as more of us grow older and more mature and more prepared to settle into relationships (or not settle into relationships, whatever makes each individual person happy).

I think that, for too long, relationships have had a solid structure that each and every person is expected to follow, or at least pretend to follow. And I think that this structure works for some people, but not for everyone. And right now, millennials are creating the freedom to build new relationships that work better for each individual person. And is this a trend that will continue? Or are we destined to become the stubborn, old curmudgeons, complaining about the next generation and their inability to form healthy, normal relationships? That, I suppose, only time will tell.

What A Bisexual Person Wants Straight And Gay People To Know

The other day, I was scrolling through social media, minding my own business, when I innocently stumbled upon a video, edited together using clips of celebrities discussing their experience with bisexuality, including Halsey, Kristen Stewart, Drew Barrymore, and many others.

I enjoyed this video. As a bisexual woman myself, it made me feel good. It made me proud to be who I am. And, yes, I know that the rule of thumb for the internet is that, every time you feel that way, don’t look at the comments. But I looked at the comments anyway. And, reading through them, my stomach sank.

It isn’t that the majority of comments were outwardly intending to be cruel or anything like that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they were trying to be accepting. But they all pretty much read the same: “I don’t care”.

There were a few comments from actual bisexual people, trying to defend the validity of the video, but the vast majority were from straight people or gay people (who went out of their way to identify themselves as gay), clogging up the comments with repeated assertions that they didn’t care. They didn’t care so much, in fact, that it very quickly proved that they did. They cared a lot, or else they would have just moved on without making a comment.

And I think I understand where these comments come from, at least on the surface. The idea behind it is not to make me, a bisexual woman, feel bad. Quite the opposite in fact – when straight and gay people make these comments, they think that they’re making me feel validated and normalized. I’m so validated and normalized, in fact, that I shouldn’t even have to say that I’m bisexual. I shouldn’t say it at all. I should just stay quiet, really, and allow them to continue pretending that I don’t exist.

Because the way that these comments appear, whenever a celebrity or a fictional character is outed as bisexual, this idea of, “I don’t care who they sleep with, just as long as they perform well” – it feels less like they’re saying, “be who you want to be”, and more like they’re saying, “please stop talking about this, I don’t want to hear about it”.

And maybe straight people and gay people don’t care. Maybe it doesn’t affect you. But I care, and, personally, I wish they would too.

Because silencing bisexual people is not something that’s unique to the comment section of social media posts. In fact, it’s common enough that it actually has a name – bi erasure.

And bi erasure affects me. Bi erasure affects how straight and gay people view and treat me. And bi erasure is a huge problem.

Bi erasure affects me when I come out to a straight or gay person, and they automatically assume that I’m confused, or a straight woman looking to experiment, or a lesbian who’s afraid to come ‘all the way’ out of the closet (the idea that I’m only half out of the closet is also seriously problematic – I am all the way of of the closet).

Bi erasure affects me when 47 percent of people say that they would never date a bisexual person. And, no, I’m not asking for 100 percent of the population to be looking to date me specifically, that would be… quite frankly, exhausting. But the reasons that people cite to avoid getting involved with any bisexual are actually disgusting. I’ve heard many people say that they would never date a bisexual because they’re afraid they might cheat on them (as though straight and gay people don’t cheat on their partners). I’ve heard many people say that it’s actually unfair for a bisexual person to try to enter into a committed relationship, because we all know that they’re eventually going to stray for penis or vagina or whatever. Actress Megan Fox even made the comment once that, though she identifies as a bisexual woman, she “would never date a girl who was bisexual, because that means they also sleep with men, and men are so dirty that [she’d] never want to sleep with a girl who had slept with a man.” Before people even get to know me, bi erasure has already created this image of me as some sort of dirty, promiscuous whore, out to harm straight and gay people by entering into committed relationships with them.

And, lastly, bi erasure affects me when 44 percent of bisexual youth have reported experiencing suicidal thoughts in the last year (compared to 33 percent LGBTQ youth en masse). Bisexuals make up the largest single population in the LGBTQ community, and yet we are woefully underrepresented – by our own community.

So to the straight and gay people who want to make sure we know that you don’t care about us – we know. You’ve proven that to us again and again, trust me. You can stop saying it.

But, like I said, I think that the majority of these comments do not come from an intentionally harmful place. I think that these are people who want to live in a society where nobody has to say what they are, they can just be what they are. But the problem with that is that we don’t live in that society. We live in a society where the label that you put on your sexual orientation affects the way that people treat you – whether you be straight, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. And when you are treated differently and ignored for the label that you identify as, then, trust me, it feels good to see a celebrity or fictional character that you look up to identifying under the same label. It feels liberating. It is what truly makes you feel validated and normalized.

So, to all the straight and gay people reading this (and I sincerely hope you are reading this; you are who I wrote this for, after all), I want to ask a few things from you.

I want you to let us speak when we have something to say. Before you rush off to tell us that you don’t care, that you don’t want to hear it – listen. Please. We might even open your mind to possibilities that you did not know existed.

And when it comes to stereotypes that you have developed in the absence of actual bisexual representation, I want to ask you to think about them critically. Because the thing about bisexual people is that we… people! We are a relatively large group of people too, and growing larger (1 in 3 American young adults identify themselves on the bisexual spectrum, after all). And what this means is that we are full of variety that one might not expect, if they never saw or heard from us. Some bisexual people are promiscuous, some aren’t. Some bisexual people feel best in polyamorous relationships, some in monogamous relationships. Some bisexual people experience a preference for one gender over another, and some find that their interest is split 50/50, down the middle. Some bisexual people are incredibly romantic and love to be loved, some aren’t. It all depends on the person – and I, for one, am tired of living with stereotypes that may or may not even apply to me.

Why Being The Real You Can Be Frightening

There are a few details about me that I am, for the most part, very out and proud about, that some might consider controversial.

For example, probably the lesser of all these details, is that I have short hair, shaved into a pink mohawk. I don’t exactly live up to the stereotyped image of the punk-rock party girl; I’m rebellious in your typical let’s-smash-the-patriarchy sort of way, not so much in a let’s-do-hard-drugs-all-night sort of way, but I like my mohawk. It’s cute. It’s stylish. And it’s surprisingly easy to maintain, despite the constant questions of “oh my god, how do you manage to keep it up all the time?”

And, yes, I’m aware of the assumptions that might arise about me because I have a mohawk; that I’m trying too hard to be cool, that I’m not pretty or ‘feminine’ enough, yadda yadda yadda. I’m aware of these assumptions, but I always try to remind myself that these assumptions are wrong. I am totally feminine enough, and I’m damn beautiful, thank you very much.

Like I said, I always try to remind myself of this.

On another note, I have proudly and openly identified as a feminist ever since I was about twenty years old. That isn’t to say that I didn’t believe in women’s rights before then (heck, I’ve sort of been wrapped up in the whole ‘girl power’ thing ever since my days of watching Sailor Moon in kindergarten). But before my twentieth year, when I was taking a women’s studies course at my university, I was always a little bit too aware of the assumptions that followed women who identified directly with the word ‘feminist’.

The assumption that all feminists were essentially black holes that sucked all the fun out of the room. The assumption that all feminists were man-haters, or stuck-up, or generally more hateful than they were loving. The assumption that all feminists were overly-aggressive bitches, fighting battles that had already been won because they wanted so desperately to stay relevant. I didn’t agree with any of these assumptions, but I was aware of them, and being aware of them was enough to make me distance myself from the label.

And then, when I was twenty, I took a women’s studies course at my university, and I learned all about how important and relevant feminism still is. And I decided that all of these assumptions were wrong, just an attempt to undermine a movement with a powerful message. I decided that I really needed to identify as a feminist if I was going to help make the world a better, more equal place for everyone.

Once again, I try to ignore the assumptions that follow me around.

On a third note, I’ve been bisexual pretty much from the moment I started to exist as a person. I first realized that I was when I was about ten years old. I first came out of the closet when I was sixteen. I first retreated back into the closet when I was eighteen. I came out of the closet for the second time when I was nineteen. Basically, what I’m getting at here is that, coming to terms with my own sexual orientation has been a long and difficult road for me, and a big part of the reason for that is… well, the assumptions that I knew followed bisexual people around.

I knew that there was this assumption that bisexual people didn’t exist – they were just confused heterosexual or homosexual people. Or, bisexual people were greedy, or dirty, or “special snowflakes”. I knew that 47 percent of people won’t date a bisexual person because of these assumptions, and that bisexual people experience alienation and exclusion within the LGBT community because of them. As a living specimen of bisexuality, I had a hard time buying into these assumptions, but at the same time, the knowledge that these assumptions would follow me around kept me in the closet.

And then, when I was nineteen years old, I basically just came to conclusion of “fuck it” and forced myself out of the closet, for better or worse. I knew who I was. I knew that these assumptions were false. I knew that the best way to prove that they were false was by going out there and being the best damn bisexual person I could be.

So, again, I tried.

I hope you’ve noticed this key word that comes up over and over again: tried.

Because, here’s the thing: I’m proud of everything that I just told you about. I don’t waver in my conviction when it comes to any of it. If I’m only ever known as that bisexual feminist with the bright pink mohawk, well then, there are worse things to be known as, aren’t there? I’m cool with it. I’m happy.

Except, every single time that I meet with someone new, I find myself doing the exact same fucking thing: I shy away. I dread adding them on my social media accounts before they can get to know me, because I know that, sooner rather than later, they’re going to notice that I talk an awful lot about feminism and the importance of combating biphobia, and they’re going to make assumptions about me based on that.

And I know, logically, that it’s stupid of me to fear that. I know the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie quote: “Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in” (this quote also works for friends and biphobic female-dating-potentials). And yet, just the same, the part of my brain that still wants to please everyone won’t turn itself the hell off sometimes.

This is a character flaw in me; I shouldn’t go out of my way to please people who would be so quick to dismiss me. I am aware of it. I am working on it. But I thought that it might be constructive to work on it, you know, publicly, just so that everyone can see me admit, right here and now, that being yourself despite all public assumption is difficult. It’s something that you need to work on.

Being yourself is not a light switch: you don’t just come from off to on, just like that, even if, on the outside, it may appear that you have. Being yourself takes a fuck-ton of time and self-confidence and training yourself to not be afraid of what others might think, and it takes more of all that than I currently have. But that doesn’t mean that being yourself isn’t worthwhile.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m ashamed of who I am; I’m not. I love who I am, and the moments when I am most free, most me, have been some of the most fulfilling moments in my life. I wouldn’t give up any of it for the world.

And I sincerely hope that everybody can know that level of freedom and fulfilment. I hope that you, dear reader, can read this and think about the thing that you’ve been hiding from people for years because you were afraid of the assumptions that they might make. I hope that you can take that thing, and you can start talking about it. You can open up, re-introduce yourself to people who have yet to meet the real you. And, most importantly, when you find yourself faced with the assumptions that will, inevitably, come (or, hell, even just your own fear of these assumptions), then you can find it within yourself to decide that this still matters. This is still who you are, and who you are is valid, and important, and deserves to be recognized for more than just the stereotype that others have created around them.

Just because someone assumes something about you, that doesn’t mean it’s true. It might sting, and it might be unfair, but end of day, it has nothing to do with you, and more to do with their limited view of the world. So introduce them to a better world. Expand their mind, force them to see what more can exist, by being your true self. It won’t be easy, no, but it will be amazing.

And, besides, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently pointed out: isn’t being true to yourself more important than pleasing some close-minded person who doesn’t even see you as an equal?

Why We Cannot Force Labels on Others

I have discussed why labels are important in the past, and regardless of anything that you are about to read here, I still believe that they are. We do not exist in a society that is beyond labelling yet – identifying as queer or transgender or black or Muslim still affects the way that you go about your day, the way that people treat you and the way that you are viewed by society.

But that being said, there is another trend that I have noticed when it comes to labelling individuals that I think needs to be addressed.

If you have been following following celebrity news lately, you might have noticed headlines such as, “Sam Smith Comes Out As Gender-Nonbinary” or “Sam Smith Reveals He Identifies As Gender Nonbinary“. Now, for those of you who might not be aware what non-binary identities are, what this would essentially mean is that Sam Smith identifies as neither male nor female, but rather, as a third gender that exists (as you might expect) outside the binary. Many non-binary people prefer to be referred to with pronouns that are neither masculine nor feminine – in other words, they do not wish to be called “she, her” or “he, him”, but as “them, their”.

This is not what Sam Smith actually said in his interview with the Sunday Time.

What Sam Smith said was that he’s “as much woman as he is a man“, and he then proceeded to explain how he enjoys dressing up in women’s clothing and heels. The closest that Sam Smith came to identifying his gender was when he stated that he “[didn’t] know what the title would be”. He did not actually use the words “I am non-binary” in the interview, and he did not ask to be referred to using gender-neutral pronouns; more than anything, he seemed to express a desire not to be labelled at all. And yet, despite this, Sam Smith has been labelled by People and Vogue as non-binary.

Something similar has been happening to singer P!nk for years now as well. All over the internet, you can find people arguing about P!nk’s sexual orientation, and some, such as Perez Hilton, have even identified her as bisexual. Yet, P!nk has never made any active attempt to label herself at all. In a 2012 interview, P!nk discussed what dating was like for her (before she was married to a man), stating, “I wasn’t gay, but all my girlfriends were. So no, it wasn’t a big deal for me, but when (a tabloid) comes out and says, I just said I was bisexual, it’s like what? That wasn’t my truth, and I like truth. I like absolute truth.” And yet, regardless of this, you can still find her identified with the label ‘bisexual’.

Now, on the one hand, I understand why some people might want to identify Sam Smith as non-binary and P!nk as bisexual; both of these identities are seriously underrepresented in the media. So, as a result, people who do identify with these labels want to be able to see themselves in others, particularly in celebrities who they look up to and admire. It’s a bit easier to do this when the celebrity in question actually identifies with your label, and lives with all the same stigmas and experiences that you do as a result. It’s easier to know that your identity exists and has value when you can see someone who is loved and respected and powerful identifying with it as well.

But the problem with these two specific instances is that neither individual has claimed the label that is being put on them.

Choosing what label you identify with, particularly when it comes to gender and sexual orientation, is a very personal matter; nobody else can choose it for you. You need to decide what feels most natural for you, what you think best reflects your experience. And if you do not feel comfortable adopting a label, even if it does reflect your experience just fine, then you should not feel forced to adopt it.

Perhaps Sam Smith is non-binary, or the way that we might think of non-binary anyway, but even if he is, he should not feel forced to accept that label just because others think that he should. He should be allowed to come to the conclusion himself, to decide what he feels best reflects his own experience without anyone else telling him how to feel or identify.

And, meanwhile, for those of us on the outside, we should not try to decide what someone else should or should not identify with. If someone tells us that they identify as bisexual, or non-binary, or as no label at all, then even if we do not agree with their choice, it is not up to us to tell them how they should identify themselves. That is their decision to make, based on how they feel and how they wish to be perceived and understood.

And at the end of the day, you need to make the decision of what you’re comfortable with. Live your truth, whatever that might be, and don’t let anyone make you feel like you are any more or less valid because of the word that you use to describe your experience. Because, as much as labels are a useful tool in helping us to sum up and explain our experiences, at the end of the day, they are just words, with all of the limitations that that implies.