A few years ago, I wrote an article about bisexuality being the “Schrodinger’s Cat” of sexual orientations. Essentially, describing some of the challenges in coming out as bisexual a culture that centers on ‘either/or’ labels. While the article itself was tailored more toward supporting LGBTQ youth during their process, it applies to adults as well. During this year’s “Bisexual Visibility” week, I wanted to revisit and expand on the concept.
For those of you not familiar with Schrödinger’s Cat, it’s a quantum mechanics paradox in which things exist in more than one superposition until observed; at that point setting into a single state. (Watch this brief video for a more detailed explanation by a super smart person, here.)
In this paradox, the hypothetical cat would exist as both ‘alive’ and ‘dead’, until the box was opened and observation determined the subject’s actual state.
My position is that bisexuals are often caught in a similar dichotomy; assumed to be straight or gay until partnered, then moved into a category based on that partner’s presenting gender. It’s a lot, I know, stick with me here.
As humans, we love to classify things (including people) very quickly and using a minimal amount of mental energy. Our culture is both heteronormative and cisnormative – meaning the typical default assumption in meeting a new human is that they are straight and cisgender. Our unconscious bias takes split seconds and filters a list of attributions, then applies the most familiar ones to this new person. Efficiency at its finest. Unfortunately, that puts people in the awkward position of having to overcome every box your imagination has created for them.
It looks like this – if a male coworker posts a picture of his wife, people assume he is straight. Posting a picture of his husband moves this perception to gay. Categorization into this “either/or” eliminates every other option. Maybe he’s bisexual, or pansexual, or maybe it’s none of your business—other than this is a picture of their husband/wife.
So, for sexual orientations outside of gay/straight, one needs to choose between letting your (incorrect) assumption stand or correct you and come out as bisexual, pansexual, etc. Disclosing this new information opens the door for super awkward questions; staying silent means going back in the closet. While none of this is what you intended, this is generally the experience of walking through the world as bi.
Our understanding of the nuance in sexual orientation and gender is changing rapidly. While we are waiting for everyone else to catch up, my advice is to stop making assumptions about gender identity and sexual orientation.
These are two of the most personal aspects of ourselves; they imbue our humanity, and neither should influence how the world interacts with us. Create space for others to share their stories with you in their own time. Don’t rush to the end for expediency’s sake.
Trust me, they are infinitely more fascinating and complex than a split-second narrative could imagine.
Originally published at goodmenproject.com on September 25, 2018.