A Tale of Two Crushes: How My Bi Ass Relates to Identity
My first two crushes had a lot in common: they were both strong, heroic characters in what could arguably be described as two great, though oftentimes cheesy, woman-centric TV shows of the 1990s. However, despite their gruff exterior, they were secretly tender, loyal to those close to them with strong values of love and friendship. With blue eyes and dark hair, they even looked a lot alike. The only real difference was that of their gender.
My first crush on a boy was the mysterious Tuxedo Mask from the original Sailor Moon, whose tragic backstory lent a gentleness to his character that made six-year-old me swoon. My first crush on a woman was Xena, the warrior princess, whose bravery and strong will has made her somewhat of a lesbian icon.
My love for both of them was intense. For Tuxedo Mask, I would make believe I was Sailor Moon, dodging attacks and emitting powerful rays of light and that I was destined to rule the planet with my beloved. I’d sit at my window gazing out at the moon, fantasizing about love, just as my favorite character did on the show. When it came to Xena, I carried around a copy of Maxim I found in my older brother’s room that I kept permanently opened to her image. I took it everywhere with me until an adult, probably realizing the material wasn’t age-appropriate, told me it got “lost.” It didn’t really occur to me to me at such a young age that one was better than the other or that one was more appropriate.
As I got older, I was less transfixed by fictional characters and met other kids my age who I developed feelings for. My first “boyfriend” was in kindergarten. He taught me how to kiss with tongue, a skill I embarrassingly didn’t realize was reserved for only certain types of relationships. Years later, at eight years old, my friend Jaden and I would practice sex with our teddy bears, helping each other thrust into the stuffing with our pelvises. Early on all my interactions that could have been characterized as romantic or sexual seemed equally taboo, as some unconscious part of me felt that children weren’t expected to have these feelings. It wasn’t until around middle school at eleven or twelves years old that these feelings of shame were codified by gender. My interest in boys was generally encouraged, as my crushes on them were viewed as endearing by adults. My curiosity about girls, on the other hand, never seemed to be recognized or acknowledged at all. In some instances, adults even helped rationalize this attraction for me, explaining that you can find someone attractive without being attracted to them and that it was natural in the early days of puberty to wonder about all aspects of sexuality.
It was around this same time that began repressing the understanding that I never felt comfortable with binaries. I was attracted to more than just men, performed more than just femininity, and even failed to see friendship and romantic relationships as discrete, easily separated categories (Sometimes we have crushes on our friends and our best lovers are sometimes like best friends to us.). Queer theory often challenges the notions that gender and sexuality are fixed, essentially categories. It also treats the identities that exist along these intersections as something we do rather than who we are. They fluctuate based on situation. For example, I wasn’t so much attracted to “men” or to “women,” but rather to strong, supportive people with a firm sense of justice and equality.
Time and time again people have told me that I shouldn’t feel the need to label myself. Even when I made it public that I was dating my first girlfriend, friends cosigned my decision not the publicly identify as “bisexual,” explaining that the word only existed to garner attention or intrigue. Ironically, it’s usually straight people, who have never had the label of “unnatural” or “immoral” violently forced upon their sexual orientation, who seem to think we exist in a world where labels don’t matter. Even some queer theorists like to reject identity labels as well, fearing that they perhaps reinforce preexisting power structures and problematic binaries. For a long time I thought this was a radical concept, especially since all the older dudes who read a bunch of theorists whose names I couldn’t even pronounce stated it like it was an established fact. There are obvious examples of identity labels that serve as a counterargument to this claim (“queer,” “pansexual,” “demisexual,” “genderqueer,” “genderfluid,” etc.) but I also sensed the irony of privileging the choice to “not identify” over the choice “identify.” Can’t people embrace and reject identity labels based on situation just as they experience gender and sexuality situationally? They should exist to serve the identifier. For example, when I’m around cishet men who I would prefer leaving me alone, I identify as queer in hopes that they won’t understand the nuances of that word and assume I’m incapable of attraction towards men in general. In queer spaces, however, I feel the need to establish my bisexuality, as being bisexual exposes me to additional pressures and microaggressions that I feel the need to represent within my community.
While I don’t believe anyone should force themselves into a label that they aren’t comfortable with, I also think, as someone who is attracted to multiple genders, that it’s hypocritical to privilege “not identifying as anything” over “identifying as something.” It can actually be more radical to identify as a further marginalized identity than to refuse to acknowledge the marginalizing hierarchy itself. When I think back on my earliest crushes, from Tuxedo Mask to Xena Warrior Princes, from Zachary in kindergarten to Jaden in elementary school, I note how at the time these instances didn’t feel like a focal point of my identity. If you would have asked me at the time what made me “me,” I would have said that I was funny, that I was smart, that I was a good friend, and that Iiked horses (Not much has changed, to be honest.). These early attractions were just me doing what feels natural to many children: developing bonds and exploring how I related to the people around me. It wasn’t until I got older and learned that some of these bonds, feelings, and behaviors weren’t widely considered as valid that I learned there was a word, a label, for that feeling of exclusion. It’s given me the language and the power to critique my position in the hierarchy as well as the complexity of that hierarchy itself.
By: Alison McPherson