Social Issues

heteroflexibility and bisexual invisiblity

I subscribe to Cosmopolitan, mostly because initially the subscription was free and then I decided that I enjoyed reading some of the articles. For example, in this month’s issue, there’s a pretty great profile of Madonna with an amazing eight-page photo shoot and another article by Jill Filipovic titled “The Women Who Get Stuff Done,” which covers what it’s like to be an elected woman in Washington.

But then there was another article– “I want a pretty lady to give me butterflies and orgasms” by Michelle Ruiz— that I found deeply disturbing mostly because I saw the cover line “Besties with Benefits” and I was excited to read it. But then I read it … and it disappointed me and pissed me off all at the same time.

The topic of the article is something I hadn’t heard of until I read this piece: “heteroflexibility.” At first I didn’t think that Ruiz could be serious about this, but then I googled it today and … yup. “Heteroflexiblity” even gets its own Wiki page.

There are a variety of opinions about the validity of the Kinsey Scale, but the basic premise that sexuality is a much more fluid thing than the gay/straight dichotomy has room for makes sense to me (probably because I’m bi). I don’t really have a problem with someone identifying as straight but being open to the idea of sex with someone of the same gender. There are, obviously, aspects to consider with the whole “bi-curious” stereotype and what they mean for bi people like me, but I’m very much of the you do you! persuasion and telling someone they have to identify a certain way doesn’t seem smart or loving. It took me a while to figure out I was bi, and there was a moment when if I’d heard of a term like “heteroflexible” I might have found it attractive.

However, I think there is a difference between someone who is straight but is willing under the right set of circumstances to experiment with a same-sex partner, and someone who is bi or pan and has been shoved so deep into the closet by bisexual invisibility and our society’s raging homophobia that it wouldn’t ever occur to them to think of themselves as bi/pan. This particular article as well as the several I read researching for today’s post, is of the “shove people deeper into the closet variety.” For example, Ruiz talks about a Craigslist “Women seeking Woman” ad, and then says this:

She’s one of thousands of women across the country … who identify as straight–explicitly mentioning boyfriends, husbands, or dating dudes in personal ads–but are also looking for casual, lesbian sex.

That was more than mildly frustrating. Explicitly mentioning my husband does not make me straight, for the love of God. I talk about my male partner all of the flippin’ time, and I am not straight. Just … nope. Also, if I were to have sex with a woman, it would not be “lesbian sex.” It would be me, a bisexual woman, possibly having sex with a bi, pan, or lesbian woman.

Ruiz goes on to talk a lot about how these women want romantic relationships with men and casual sex with women; they’re not interested in dating or falling in love with or marrying a woman, just in a “friends-with-benefits” type of relationship. And, ok, maybe these women are straight, but Ruiz’s article among others are not even seriously interacting with the fact that bisexuality could be a possible explanation for why some women want to have sex with men and women.

There’s no discussion of the differences between romantic and sexual attraction, and how both of those things are on a spectrum. They happily ignore the fact that there are a million reasons that shine as bright on the lights on Broadway as to why these women might not want to openly identify in a sexual orientation besides straight. Ruiz only gives us this:

Allie says she has unintentionally confused a few female hookups. Some want to know what she is–a lesbian? Bisexual? “I like a person and I’m attracted to a person. Sometimes that person is man, and sometimes that person is a woman; sometimes that person is short, and sometimes that person is tall,” she says.

 So, besides the fact that this is the definition of bisexuality, “Allie” appears in an article about “straight” women. This comes a few paragraphs from the end, after Ruiz has called all of these women “straight” and “heteroflexible” repeatedly.

I’m affected by this cultural misunderstanding every day. A lot of people see my partner and I and will assume that we’re straight, or that our marriage is straight even after I’ve told them I’m bi. The “bi” parts gets completely dismissed because, after all, I’m married to a dude, and they can completely ignore that now and just pretend that I’m straight. It’s easier that way. But, here’s a head’s up: my marriage is not, cannot be straight because I’m not straight. But I’m not gay, either. I’m neither of those things, although it seems as though the whole world wants to shove me into one of two polar opposite boxes.

It’s baffling to me that an article can include a definition for bisexuality and yet still insist that it’s talking exclusively about straight women. That’s how bad bisexual invisibility is in our culture.

I’m not entirely sure what to do about this whole “heterflexibility,” thing, though. A part of me wants to condemn it totally as a ridiculous term that doesn’t exist. Part of me wants to shout that if you want to have sex with someone of the same sex, you ain’t straight. People are skittish around that, mostly because our culture says “gay” is the only other identifier and they know they’re not gay. I know, it’s really hard to come to terms with an identity/label you’re constantly told doesn’t exist or is at best “temporary” and at worst the punchline of a joke about “college bisexuals.”

I think an argument can be made that as long as ideas like “bi-curious” and “heterflexible” exist that we’re going to be forever locked into the gay/straight dichotomy, that bisexual invisibility will continue to be a problem. Personally, I’m uncomfortable telling someone else how they should identify, but heterflexible just seems like one huge infuriating cop-out.

Photo by Duncan Johnston
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