The B in LGBT: Bisexuality as an Identity
By Taylor Haag
For young adults, sexual preference is expressed heavily during the university years in response to a new, unrestricted environment. With a larger community acceptance of non-heteronormative sexual identities, comes student run queer-straight alliance groups ready to spread knowledge and encourage acceptance of queer students. Yet, for a group promoting all aspects of queer life, there is a surprising lack of attention to a subgroup that was alloted their own letter in the LGBTQ anagram: bisexuals. For a group obviously large enough to warrant its own letter, it is quiet. No blue, pink, and purple flags fly at pride events despite a substantial bisexual population on campus. Specific to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this population is beginning to stand up to claim a legitimate identity within the LGBTQ community.
Bisexuality is a subgroup of the LGBTQ community defined as sexual or romantic affinity to both males and females. This attraction does not necessarily have to be a 50:50 relationship. In fact, most bisexuals identify as having a preferred gender, with a true half and half preference being relatively uncommon. The issue surrounding the legitimacy of bisexuality is the conflict model explained by Dr. Gary Zinik of the Santa Barbara City College in California:
"Underlying the conflict model of bisexuality is the notion that sexual orientation is a dichotomy: One is either heterosexual or homosexual. This dichotomous notion derives from the following. Since men and women are viewed as opposite sexes, it appears contradictory that anyone would eroticize two opposite things as the same time."
In essence, the socially constructed gender binary leads to a binary of sexual preference which implies that a bisexual individual is either unable to choose a side or experience a “transitional phase” from heterosexuality to homosexuality, or vice versa, therefore unable to commit to a one of the two accepted categories of sexual preference. This perceived indecisiveness received much criticism in the the early years of bisexual research, namely the 1950s and 60s, and into the present day by members of both the heterosexual and homosexual communities.
Presently, academia is leaning towards the new flexibility model concerning bisexuality, in which bisexuals flow freely between the homoerotic and the heterosexual. Individuals can have sexual interest pertaining to both groups; the human sexuality is not so two dimensional as to be placed into two rigid definitions.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's GLBTSA Program
The Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Straight Alliance at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a student organization committed to promote acceptance and unity within the LGBTQ community during the college experience, a time that can potentially be daunting for some queer students. Including weekly meetings open to the general student body, GLBTSA hosts many events aimed to be inclusive of every student, queer or not. In addition to being an active participant in the Southeast Regional Unity Conference held annually, the organization dedicates the Colors program to allowing students to be open about who they are. For recreational activities, the group sponsors the Fruit Bowl which is simply a program intended to bring students together to have fun in a safe social environment. Along with these events, the association publishes its very popular magazine, Lambda.
As the first student operated publication regarding the LGBTQ community, founded in 1976, Chapel Hill's Lambda magazine is still being published, though things have changed since the first issue in August of 1976. Founded under the slogan “the voice of UNC's gay and lesbian community”, the initial issues of the publication contained articles focusing on strictly gay males and lesbian females with no reference to bisexuals, transgendered, or any other subgroup and was published under the organization which, at the time, was called the Carolina Gay Association. In fact, the first article not centered around pure homosexuality was not published until March of 1989 when the Carolina Gay Association was considering changing its name to the Carolina Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Association. In the Anti-CGLBA section of the article, the student wrote “I believe that all of CGLA's membership and services should continue to involve bisexuals. However, I think CGLA's names should continue to reflect the fact that we exist to support students involved in Lesbian and Gay life and relationships.”iv This shows the idea that bisexual students were not technically a part of the gay community because they could potentially be in a heterosexual relationship. In this case, the gay community was exhibiting an “if you're not with us, you're against us” attitude.
The most recent issue of Lambda, published Spring 2012, has a spread specifically focused on the ideology that bisexuality is a legitimate identity within the LGBTQ community and should be treated as such. Those who identify with bisexuality have known all along that their sexual orientation was neither an internal conflict, nor a transition stage. Even within the LGBTQ community, the stigma is that bisexuality is “something often regarded as insincere; a sex-driven pseudo-identity.” The idea that bisexuality is something made up by sex hungry high school girls in need of attention from adolescent boys who idealize girl on girl action is ever present at the back of the mind when contemplating the validity of an individual being attracted to both sexes.
Despite bisexuality still not having a comfortable niche within the LGBTQ community, there is still a substantial presence that is gaining momentum and speaking up about belonging as an identity that is not distinctly gay or straight.Through the efforts of those identifying themselves as bisexual, awareness within the LGBTQ community that the B is not there for show, is becoming more and more important in the eyes of those looking to validate their identity. University students at Chapel Hill are using the Lambda publication to express to the rest of the student body that the LGBTQ community is the spectrum it claims to be, and not a strictly gay and lesbian organization.
- Gary Zinik PhD (1985): Identity Conflict or Adaptive Flexibility?, Journal of Homosexuality, 11:1-2, 7-20
- "Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender & Straight Alliance." About Us. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Web. http://studentorgs.unc.edu/glbtsa/index.php/programs.
- Kolmes, Keely, and Pippa Holloway. "The Carolina Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Association??" Lambda 15.3 (1989): 1+. UNC-CH GLBTSA.
- Bellamy, Cammie. "Bisexuality Isn't a One-Way Street." Lambda 32.2 (2012): 16-17.