Sunday, July 17, 2011

Living In the Open: Explorations in Self-Identity and Invisibility

My sexuality isn’t something I talk about much. It doesn’t come up. In Tucson and, more recently, in Eugene, I have found that I can talk about my wife, and the most response I’m going to get is a slightly startled look. People accept without question that a woman might be married to a woman. And while this attitude is not universal (for instance, in Huntsville, Alabama, I mostly got people being very polite but quickly making excuses not to talk to me), it does point to a very encouraging trend in societal values.
            The response I have never gotten is, “Oh, so you’re a lesbian?” It just doesn’t come up. Which makes sense. If I were to talk about a husband, no one would even think of asking, “Oh, so you’re heterosexual?” It’s not that I’m closeted. There is simply very little opportunity to talk about sexual orientation when one is in a happy, stable relationship.
            Because the thing is, I’m not gay. And I am definitely not straight. I tend to say I am bisexual, but since my view of gender identity is one of a continuum (or maybe even broader than that), the “bi” prefix is a bit problematic. On the other hand, I’m not prepared to talk about myself as “omnisexual,” because that term seems too broad, somehow.
Besides, when my sexuality does come up in conversation, it’s usually in the context of some guy going, “Oh, you’re bi? Wanna threesome?” and saying I’m omni would only compound that problem. (For the record, if that’s where your mind went immediately, then the answer is no. HELL no.)
I am proud of my sexual orientation. It’s a big part of my identity. But it is continually masked by the assumption that sexual orientation is about whom one happens to be having sex with. When I dated guys, everyone assumed I was straight.  Now, everyone assumes I’m gay. Even my closest friends tend to forget that I’m not.
On some level, I don’t mind this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being gay or with being straight, and neither is an orientation that I would be unhappy belonging to. But in fact, I belong to neither group. And it really bothers me that because I am in a monogamous relationship, people will assume that I am either gay or straight, with no sort of nuance or interpretation.
Not that the problem would go away if I were in a polyamorous relationship with both male and female partners. If I were to walk down the street with a guy on one arm and a girl on the other, most people wouldn’t think “bisexual.” If they realized a sexual relationship existed at all, they’d more likely just think “slut.”
I am, for all intents and purposes, expressing myself to be gay when I talk about my wife. And, as I noted at the beginning, no one is going to question that presentation. Indeed, I would probably be offended if they did. But what they assume I am is not who I am. And I don’t like it when people walk around with an erroneous impression of me. It feels like lying. However, it feels even more awkward and like I’m a nitpicky uptight bitch if I go around correcting them.
It’s a problem without an easy solution. Or maybe there is. Maybe instead of wearing my rainbow necklace everywhere, I should switch over to one like this: 
Better living through self-marketing jewelry. If only I liked the way it looked.

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