By Erika Grumet
(A note about the term “bisexuality”: some people find the term ‘bisexuality’ restrictive or uncomfortable because of its focus on the idea of “binary” or an either/or dichotomy. My personal interpretation, the way I use it, describes the idea of “a gender identity similar to mine” and “a gender identity unlike mine” but not necessarily incorporating or encompassing a specific or singular gender identity label. Yes, the idea is “either/or” but it’s an inclusive sort of either/or rather than exclusive. It’s also why, unless I need a more narrowly focused label for a specific reason, I generally default to the word “queer” in my own self-description, and have since the 90s.)
I have a special affinity for Carvel ice cream; my grandfather was involved in the design of Tom Carvel’s very first ice cream freezers. And, like many kids, birthdays were associated with Carvel ice cream cakes.
If you’ve never had a Carvel ice cream cake, let me explain. It’s a layer of chocolate ice cream, a layer of chocolate crunchies, and a layer of vanilla ice cream, all covered with a kind of whipped cream topping, and decorated.
I also have a younger sister; she’s a year and a half younger than I am, and as children, she was a very, very picky eater. Among the things she wouldn’t eat…vanilla ice cream. Because we were close in age, this meant we were very often at the same birthday parties for many years. Being older and more flexible, this meant that whenever Carvel cakes were served, my slice was cut in half, the chocolate half deposited on my sister’s plate, and I was presented with the vanilla half of her slice.
Don’t get me wrong, I like vanilla ice cream. I did then and I do now. But there was definitely an appeal in at least trying the chocolate side sometimes. I just kept getting told: “No. She only eats the chocolate, so you have to take the vanilla.”
And in that same sort of way, I was taught: “You can only like boys. You’re a girl, and that’s what girls do. Girls like boys. Boys like girls. It’s just the way things are.” I suppose it was the same way for most kids… if you were lucky maybe you also got told, “Sometimes boys like boys or girls like girls, but it’s kind of weird, like having pistachio ice cream as your favorite. No one ever orders the pistachio.” And when I started looking at people and getting those kinds of feelings (you know the ones I mean…the ones that make your heart beat a little faster, and your tongue feel funny, and other parts of you kind of tingly), but before I could name them for what they were, I knew I got those feelings looking at boys, and that was okay. But I also knew I got those feelings looking at girls. And that wasn’t, as far as I knew, okay. I wasn’t craving pistachio ice cream, but it was more like “why can’t I have the cake with the chocolate part and the vanilla part? Why do I have to always give one part away? Why do I have to choose between wanting chocolate or wanting vanilla?
You don’t. Obviously not. You can have vanilla, you can have chocolate, you can have swirls. You can’t necessarily have swirls all the time, everywhere. Some people are allergic to chocolate. Some people have a stronger preference for vanilla and others for chocolate, but most people like both to some degree or another. And there are people who can’t have any dairy products at all, too. This is sort of like what we usually call “the Kinsey Scale”, which most of us are at least a little familiar with: a linear way of plotting sexual orientation on a scale from zero (exclusively heterosexual) to six (exclusively homosexual)…you fall at a point, somewhere on a line, between the point at the left side and the point at the right side, and sure, you might move around a little throughout your life, but it’s a line; you can only move forward and backwards along the line.
But we’re more complicated than tab A, slot B, right? So then Michael Storms comes along and proposes the idea of this Storms Sexuality Axis. It allowed us to look along both an X and Y axis, where heterosexuality was on the Y axis and homosexuality was on the X axis, and you could plot a point somewhere in the quadrant where you matched up. Still very binary, obviously, plus, what about people who are asexual? Where do they belong? They kind of ended up in the negative quadrant; if you remember way back when you were graphing equations, bisexual people would end up in quadrant I, with a positive number for X and a positive number for Y when they plotted their location, but asexual people? Nope, Negative X and negative Y, down in Quadrant III. And we all know there’s nothing negative about asexuality unless an individual person is unhappy with it for themselves. So obviously, this doesn’t work either.
Along comes Fritz Klein, who would publish a book called The Bisexual Option, and he would also found the American Institute of Bisexuality. Dr Klein understood that labeling your sexual orientation is far more complicated than just sliding points on lines, whether that’s one line that goes from left to right, or whether you’ve got two ways to move that point. Naming your identity is multifaceted; it means thinking about what you’ve liked in the past, what you’re doing now, and what your ideal vision of the future looks like, and not just the physical parts and behavior, but also your fantasies, your desires, and more. It takes into account so much more than who you might want to be k-i-s-s-i-n-g (or something else). Dr Klein developed the Klein Grid (here’s an interactive option, where you can click choices based on your own experiences, desires and fantasies to discover or examine your own labels-past, present and perhaps future). Being able to look over time, at past, present and future and about what your ideal is, will probably tell you a lot more about your own orientation than a simple left or right line or even an X and Y access.
I still like ice cream. Vanilla, chocolate, swirls. But I also like cherry vanilla, pralines and cream, peanut butter-and-chocolate, or butter brickle. And there are even more flavors than that to sample. All of Ani DiFranco’s 32 Flavors and then some. I’m glad to get to taste so many different flavors–it works for me. “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death,” right? Maybe you want to stick with your vanilla, or chocolate. It’s ice cream. It’s all good. So are the sherbet and the sorbet.