We had a moment this past week when we were shown exactly how far we have to go before we reach freedom.
Anna Paquin, she says, is bisexual, married to the actor Stephen Moyer, and Larry King found out about it, and the result, for several days, has been all over the web, two examples of which are here and here. King wanted to know how you could be bisexual and married at the same time. People focus on how clueless King is about bisexuality, but it seems to me that almost everybody is pretty clueless about all these matters.
Remember how exercised people got three years ago when John Travolta wouldn’t come out (here and here) just because, people said, he had been caught having sex with some male body? I think what the raft of marriage equality states have done is to make it OK for people who will say “I’m gay.” Then there are the people who say, “I’m straight.” All those folks are OK, and we can treat them with respect and dignity. That leaves all the rest of humanity out there, neither gay nor straight, and they’re the weirdos. This is what we’ve been doing for the last several years, setting up a system where we have, instead of one approved sexuality, with everyone else a weirdo, now we have two sexualities, and everybody else who is not in those two is a weirdo. We’ve set up this system so that to get respect and dignity—in Justice Kennedy’s phrases—we have to come out and call ourselves either gay or straight.
Now we have bisexuality, which so confused Larry King. This means we can choose among three options. That’s better than being confined to two, I guess.
Choosing from among a limited number of options is still a mechanism of control that people who are approved impose on people who are still out there.
I had it several years ago, when a man I used to know said to me, “Well, if you were married, you must have been bisexual.” I said, “No. I was always gay.” He looked at me, worried, his arm in the air, looking for something to point to that would resolve his discomfort. It was as if his world was divided into two—those who were married, and those who were bisexual, and everything would be OK if everybody got in one or the other of those two groups. Here I was claiming to be a member of both of them, at the same time, and that made him uncomfortable. This is so because, once we define ourselves by coming out and saying, “I’m gay,” or “I’m straight,” we have to act like the other members of that group. Men who claim to be gay can’t marry women. Men who say they are straight can’t suck cock. But of course, they do it all the time. And people who act like gay people refuse to take on the label.
Well, it’s not the people who get it wrong, it’s our words, the way we think about all these things. It may be that “gay” and “straight” have about lived out their usefulness. We’ve reached a point where we do not need words that describe one kind of person and one pattern of behavior. And we have certainly lived beyond the point where we can attach a word to people, and then judge them by whether they match the supposed requirements of the word. People may be too various for that. It may be that we should assume that all sexual states are temporary and that no sexual states are exclusive—unless we choose to make it so. You can’t know anything about my sexuality unless I tell you personally, and then you’ll have to ask again next time.
In these ways, it may be that the word gay has been bleached of all meaning and that the term gay activist likewise has no meaning left. What we can fight for, because it does have meaning, is the right of all of us to live our own lives, free of those who think they have a right to know and a right to impose their thoughts on the rest of us.
This guy, who wrote a comment on Gawker dealing with whether or not James Franco was gay, has it right:
“Relationship or not, why are people so quick to label gay or not. There are so many more types of relationships than that. Why not bi? I know in the public eye it isn’t as inclusive as it should be, and it makes it seem like a 50/50, but it’s a common label that people are coy to use. I’m bi, but will I actually date a guy? I’m leaning no, but I may. But I’m not gay nor am I straight. I’m a heteroromantic pansexual. But I’ll just say bi, it’s one syllable.” (go to the link, then scroll down to the comments to “someguy J. K. Trotter, 8/4/14″)