Rowan Blanchard, young feminist and Girl Meets World star, recently came out as queer – a term which has been surfacing more and more often as celebrities and millennials alike are becoming more candid about sexuality and fluid attraction. Blanchard is in good company: Angelina Jolie, Kesha, and Jillian Anderson have all spoken out about their gender-transcendent attraction. And while shirking labels and adopting the ambiguous “queer” label has a remarkable and imperative place in the LGBTQ+ community, it must be recognized that this trend may have insidious implications for sexually fluid individuals who do choose to adopt labels.
Biphobia, an aversion to bisexuality, is rampant among both heterosexuals and the lesbian and gay community. It takes only a cursory internet search to reveal the harmful narratives that bisexual women face, narratives that claim that bisexuality doesn’t exist, that it only exists for sexual promiscuity, and that bisexual women are untrustworthy. And that aversion isn’t without consequence – bisexual women experience health disparities even when compared with lesbian women. For example, bisexual women are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder than lesbians, and are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs than lesbians (men face similar disparities, although to a lesser degree). Aside from just health disparities, bisexuals also face higher rates of discrimination and poverty. It’s no wonder so many sexually fluid individuals hesitate to take on the heavy label of bisexuality.
The LGBT community is splintered as is, what with lesbians and gay men receiving the most media attention and the bisexual and trans community remaining neglected by larger organizations that claim to advocate for them, and the “no label” approach is deepening the divide. The flighty and flippant discussions of bisexuality on a national scale feed into the aforementioned narratives, and thus make advocacy difficult. Furthermore, even within the LGBT community, bisexuality has been demonized as transphobic and narrow, despite its established use as an umbrella term for attraction to two or more genders. As non-monosexuals continue to carve a place in the community for their identity, terms such as pansexual and polysexual have also begun to circulate – which further complicates the issue. Despite the terms having similar meanings and similar uses, the latter terms have been used to further invalidate bisexuality.
Not everyone shirks labels because they are biased against bisexuals. Some choose to abandon labels because it’s an alternative to the drama that traditionally accompanies having to explain, justify, and defend a stigmatized identity. Cynthia Nixon, from Sex and the City, describes this phenomenon well when she said: “I don’t pull out the bisexual word because nobody likes the bisexuals….[W]e get no respect.”
But that’s exactly why public figures and individuals alike should embrace labels. These disparities begin with invisibility and can be tackled by exposure and honest conversation. Preferences do not exist in a void, and a preference for shirking labels is so heavily present in the sexually fluid community that it’s becoming a crutch against judgement and prejudice. By abandoning labels, individuals are abandoning responsibility for a community that they could be positively impacting.
There is no wrong way to identify, and this isn’t to say that those who identify as queer aren’t or shouldn’t call themselves as such. But it is imperative that individuals think critically about their preferences and internal biases, especially when the harmful effects of those biases are on display.