Liminal identities present specific challenges to a post-secondary student. These often-invisible identities are perceived as being “between” two more easily recognizable categories. My own bisexual identity exists outside of the gay-straight binary, and my genderqueer identity exists outside of the man-woman binary. And the construction of “betweenness,” so common in discussions of these identity categories, is frustrating. I am not a Frankensteinian monster, bits of this and bits of that mashed together and animated. I am my own thing. My identity is a real thing. I am a real person.
Not that you’d know it, looking at the system I operate within.
There are no genderqueer bathrooms, so I slide myself over into one half of a binary that is false and misleading, denying my identity so that I can pee.
The University of Calgary has the Q Centre, an inclusive space for anyone in the QUILTBAG,* and a space that is now explicitly bi-friendly.** But there is no “bisexual” in GSAs, the Gay-Straight Alliance groups that are doing such good work. I’m assured that I am welcome, but unless I speak up about my liminal identity, I will be assumed to be straight if I mention my boyfriend, or gay if I mention my girlfriend. (People read me as a woman unless I speak up about my genderqueerness – that liminality is even less visible to most people than my bisexuality.)
Dan Savage “tells the truth” about bisexuality, which is that “it’s a fundamental truth … that it is a phase … it is a choice.” After saying that bisexuality is a choice in that clip, he goes on to talk about how gay and straight identities are not a choice, there’s no switch to flip – unless you’re bisexual, and you exist in that liminal space between and outside of the binary.
My bookshelves, full of the books that are cited in my research papers, include writing about “gay and lesbian literature,” “gay and lesbian film,” “gay and lesbian media.”
Class discussions often swing around to “men and women” – their differences, their similarities, their conditioning, their unique intersections of marginalization and oppression – and that’s fine. Men and women do exist. They do have similarities and differences, they are socialized and conditioned in different ways, and they occupy a variety of intersections of privilege and marginalization. Those conversations are not, in themselves, a problem. But those conversations are often the only ones that happen in class. There is no space for non-binary gender identities in those discussions.
Coming out of these liminal closets can be exhausting. And because liminal identities are so often invisible, it is not enough to come out once. Instead, it is an ongoing, constant process of coming out. Or, sometimes, it’s a painful choice to stay in the closet for that class, that conversation. It is not possible to always be the person challenging the binary; none of us have infinite resources, and we should not be expected to always be the ones to speak up. As Dayna pointed out in this space last week, “Just because someone personally relates to something doesn’t mean they are expected to represent that particular issue.” And it is not always just about whether we have the resiliency to be The Bisexual or The Genderqueer in a specific class – coming out as a bisexual is uniquely challenging. AfterEllen has a fantastic piece (with some great links to resources) about how difficult it is to come out as bisexual, and the comments prove the truth of the article.
We live in a world full of binaries, but those binaries fail to account for a huge number of us. It’s hard to see us. It’s hard to understand us (even I have trouble understanding myself!), and it’s hard to remember us because it’s just so easy to talk about things in terms of the binaries that we’re so strongly conditioned to operate within.
But we’re here. We always have been.
*Queer/Questioning, Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer
**Huge shout-out to the Q Centre, whose coordinators responded beautifully to community members’ concerns about biphobic comments being made by some Q Centre volunteers. A public meeting was held, a discussion was had, the Q Centre reached out to the bisexual community in Calgary for input, and changes were made. It’s not all invisibility and erasure – there are moments of hope and progress!