What Does ‘Just Like Us’ Ambassador Katherine Botterill Say on ‘Bisexual Visibility Day’?
When I was 14, I had a realization all of a quick. Suddenly, I had a much better understanding of the enigmatic term “bisexual,” which I had never given much consideration to before.
My upbringing in a sleepy village in the middle of nowhere, which had a penchant for keeping conversations of this kind to itself, led me to believe that I was the only person in the world who identified as “straight.” I had heard the terms “gay” and “lesbian” used in a derogatory manner, and the fact that I was attracted to guys led me to believe that there was nothing else for me to consider.
It was revolutionary when I finally acknowledged that I had, on occasion, felt an attraction to people of more than one gender. If I had realized that I didn't simply have to pick between being straight or ‘gay,' I believe that I would have paid more attention to the fluidity of my attraction much sooner. I think that if I had known that I didn't just need to choose between straight and ‘gay,' I would have
The term “bisexual” made me aware of the fact that our feelings of attraction can change at any time and in any context, which is something that I can strongly connect to. It provided me with the words to communicate my thoughts, and I was glad to define myself as bisexual as a result of this.
But as time went on, I saw unfavorable preconceptions and recurring patterns in the way bisexuality was portrayed, especially in the media. Bisexuality is either not represented at all in popular culture or is given less importance as a sexual identity than other identities like “gay” or “straight.”
Therefore, I think it took me a lot longer to grasp that there are experiences beyond being gay or straight, and I'm sure that's true for a lot of other people, too. Bisexuality is sometimes described as a state of bewilderment or greed or as a transitional phase between “gay” and “straight” because of the visibility it affords to sexual orientation fluctuation.
I was a young person just discovering my bisexuality, and I received little encouragement from my peers. This meant that these misconceptions might easily settle into the recesses of my mind and knock my freshly minted self-assurance right out of the socket. I began to subconsciously acquire animosity for the title that had previously provided me with such freedom and relief.
My mind wandered to other options; I questioned whether or if there were other means of self-expression that didn't include constant defensiveness and the burden of coping with criticism. After learning that the word “pansexual” refers to “an attraction to persons regardless of gender,” I understood that it described me perfectly. However, this label never really stuck; perhaps a little part of me felt threatened by the casual use of the term “bisexual” when referring to myself. Moreover, the act of categorizing things began to bore and exhaust me. It was beyond my capability to stress about whether “bisexual” or “pansexual” should be used. There seemed to be so much overlap between these two labels alone, not to mention differences in experience even among people who used the same label, that I began to question the use of using labels at all.
I planned to give up labels altogether as a means of combating my propensity for overthinking. However, I saw right away that this wasn't the most realistic choice. My desire to be open about my sexuality and discuss it with others was hampered by the fact that, after rejecting labels, I had no simple way to explain myself to others, especially those with a limited information base. The freedom to openly discuss my sexuality with others was important to me. Even after learning about all the numerous ways people might characterize bisexuality and the common misunderstandings that go along with it, I still felt that “bisexual” was a fair descriptor, but it didn't quite capture all about my identity. This only led me back down the same path of despair I had been on before.
After some time had passed, I gave some thought to the recently recovered term “queer,” which has a long tradition of being employed in a derogatory manner to harm LGBT+ persons. I had the impression that it was a vague word, one that allowed for and even suggested variety from one individual to the next, just implying something else than the term “heterosexual.” It seemed to me that this was extremely congruent with the way that I experienced feelings of attraction.
At this point in my life, I am much more at ease with the concept of labels. And now that I think about it, I see that I couldn't have gotten here without first arguing with someone about another language and some perspective. When coupled with something as fluid and changeable as attraction, the alternatives might appear overwhelming. This is especially true when considering how the two concepts interact.
But now I view labels not as compartments into which we need to force ourselves to fit, but rather as something that is intended to be of service to us. Labels are there to provide us with words when we don't have any, and to assist others in understanding who we are as well.
Once upon a time, a buddy of mine who was also a Just Like Us ambassador provided me with some excellent guidance. Labels are a lot like post-it notes in that we can stick them on and then rip them off whenever we want.
They are a really helpful tool when it comes to discovering oneself and talking about how we feel, but they should never be stigmatized or used against us.
On the occasion of Bisexual Visibility Day, you are encouraged to flaunt your bi label with gusto and confidence if you so want; nevertheless, the most important thing is that you don't let yourself feel rushed into or constrained by a label in any way; after all, it's only a post-it note.