Being Bi/Ace, Part One: Scrutiny About Attraction and the Kinsey Scale

This post is for the May 2018 Carnival of Aces on “Nuance & Complexity,” which I am hosting. Please check it out and consider submitting! Cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

I have some frustrations with the way that attraction is discussed in the ace community, which are related to and further amplified by biphobia/bi erasure. This will be part one of at least two parts, because this is something that’s really complicated for me, and so difficult to talk about that it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for more than two years! So strap in, because it’s finally time to do this.

Attraction in the Ace Community

Sexual attraction. Romantic attraction. Emotional attraction. Aesthetic attraction. Physical attraction. Kinky attraction. Sensual attraction. Intellectual attraction. Platonic attraction. Alterous attraction. Platoniromantic attraction. Social attraction. So many different kinds of attraction, so much mental and emotional bandwidth dedicated to naming and processing it all.

I can’t keep up. It’s exhausting, and personally, I have no interest in dissecting and categorizing my own feelings along these lines. The types of attraction I feel are nebulous, blending into one another in a way that feels unique each and every time I experience it. And even if they were easily distinguished, they tend to be fleeting and quickly forgotten, so it’s difficult to find patterns.

Over my years as an ace blogger, I’ve really started to hate talking about attraction. It’s just… it feels like there’s an expectation that ace people (not specific people, but people in general) will be willing to publicly engage in this type of detailed explanation about their own attractions? It’s just such a huge focus in the ace community, and I feel alienated by these discussions, and frustrated that it all seems too complicated for me to even explain why.

But this is my attempt to address the topic anyway, because there is still some value in doing that. I’m sure my experiences are not unique—I’ve been around too long to think that. So if someone else is feeling similarly frustrated with these conversations, I’m putting this out there for them.

Bi/Pan, Not Otherwise Specified

A lot of my issues with this come from my experience as a bi ace, specifically. And by that, I do not mean biromantic, but frustratingly, that’s how most people familiar with the ace community automatically read that combination of identifiers.

I don’t identify with any romantic orientation. Whatever I’ve experienced in the past—and I give a half-hearted shrug at the proposition that my past experiences might count as “romantic attraction”—I haven’t felt anything resembling romantic attraction for many years now. However, I’m also not strongly committed to aromanticism. I consider myself somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, but only sort of tenuously. Provisionally, I guess, at a remove from the aromantic community. I hold in my mind the possibility that a sudden drastic change could occur, though I don’t expect it. Because I’ve had it happen before—in my head, I’ve started calling it the Sapphire Effect, after the Steven Universe character. Maybe I’ll write another post about that later.

So I call myself greyromantic now, but only in ace communities. Elsewhere, I tend to go with bi, ace, or just queer, depending on how much I want to explain and which aspect of myself is most relevant. (I would say I’m pan too, but lately I just haven’t been in situations where that would be useful.)

When people know that I’m neither sexually nor romantically attracted to anyone, that tends to leave them confused about how I can still identify as bi. Even other bi people have said things like, “But you’re ace, not bi?”—and that’s probably the most polite version of that sentiment I’ve ever heard.

Look, I’ve been identifying as bi since I was 13, which is well before I ever identified as ace, because I noticed (some kind of) attraction to other girls and boys (and later, people who don’t fit those categories). It wasn’t sexual and it never really rose to the level of a crush, but it was still there. I didn’t stop identifying as bi when I started identifying as ace—I only stopped identifying as bisexual. And I didn’t stop identifying as bi when I stopped identifying as biromantic, either.

I have also identified as pan, not instead of but in addition to being bi, since I was 15. I use the terms interchangeably, depending on which term I think will get a better reception. Some people will tell you that they mean different things, because “bi” means “two” and “pan” (or “omni”) means “all”—which is an extremely simplistic way of defining terms. Don’t we all know how irritating it is when people are so fixated on the prefix that they rigidly flatten asexuality and attempt to deny a huge portion of the asexual community’s existence/validity? It’s the same with bisexuality.

These people tend to say that that “bi(sexual)” is therefore an exclusionary identity, but I don’t agree and have become more interested in fighting for the term than adapting my language to avoid getting into arguments about that lately.

So let’s get this out of the way now: the way I define it, “bi” means potentially attracted to both people with the same gender and people with a different gender than you. It is not solely about “men or women” and exclusive of non-binary people, because it can include anyone with a different gender than you. People who are attracted to women and non-binary or gender-variant people but not men exist and it’s totally valid if they ID as bi too. In my case, though, it effectively means the exact same thing as “pan.” So please don’t come into my comments or my email telling me I’m wrong to define these terms that way.

The Kinsey Scale and Bi Erasure

Visual representation of the Kinsey Scale. Graph labeled 0-6, with "exclusively heterosexual" at 0 and "exclusively homosexual" at 6. 1-5 are labeled "varying bisexual responses."

Visual representation of the Kinsey Scale, pulled from Wikipedia.

And then there’s all this scrutiny about how much I am attracted to, usually, men vs. women—with nary a thought that I might also be attracted to people who are neither. The misconceptions are strong.

Where do I fall on the Kinsey Scale? Most people tend to think I’m like a 5, but my feelings are more along the lines of fuck the Kinsey Scale and all of your assumptions.

What the hell does it even mean to be “more” attracted to one gender over another? That’s incredibly vague. Are we talking frequency? Intensity? Level of exposure? Level of comfort? Level of desire to pursue an actual relationship? Relationship history? Something else?

And what type of attraction, exactly? Because I don’t know about you, but I experience a wide variety of attractions and attraction-like feelings, which are not that easy to describe, and I’ll get into this later, but for now, let’s just say that they’re non-standard—or at least, usually treated as if they are. And also, get this: it fluctuates, so even if I figured out what metric is being applied and pinned down a number, it wouldn’t even be the same number later on. What is the point?

I’m left feeling like I am expected to sift through my attractions to come up with a satisfactory answer for those people, but that’s a hell of a lot of work, and I suspect most of them would actually tune out anyway, because they were only interested in an easy dismissal. They want to categorize me as “(mostly) lesbian” and move on.

The worst thing is when people try to use the goddamn Kinsey Scale in scientific/academic surveys about sexuality, where they are purporting to be inclusive of both bi and ace people. Researchers, PLEASE stop doing that! Why do I need to tell you all this extra stuff about me that gay and straight people don’t have to talk about? Why split bi people up into five different grades? What is the purpose of collecting this information? It’s not even clear what you mean by it anyway, and it brings up all these bad feelings about bi erasure, especially for someone who is also ace and aro-ish. Can’t you just believe that I’m bi enough and move on?

Caught Between the Kinseyists and the Pan-Splainers

Part of why I have been so hesitant to post this is because I have experienced this type of identity-policing quite a bit. And it’s all the more fraught because I actually do experience major gender differences in my attractions. More specifically, my attraction to men is consistently different from my attractions to everyone else, in a way that leads people to think I’m just never attracted to men (and therefore, “not really bi”).

In order to talk about this at all, I have to simplify things a lot. The most illustrative route is to compare to women, who make up the most populous and broadest group of people to whom I’m attracted, with the most well-established pattern. But if I do that, then I get accused of reinforcing the gender binary by the “bi means being exclusive” crowd. I am certainly also attracted to non-binary and androgynous people as well, but they’re a smaller group with a less obvious pattern, so it’s not as helpful a comparison. So for my next post, yes, I’m going to be comparing my attractions to men vs. women.

It’s really more accurate to say that many of the people in these groups appear to be men or women, but their gender identification is unconfirmed, and surely for some it’s an inaccurate assumption. I’d say masculine-presenting or feminine-presenting people instead, but then that gets into a whole other can of worms (drag, crossdressing, and other forms of gender-bending or androgyny). Honestly, it would be inaccurate in a different way to say that, so I think it would only further confuse things. And since it’s men vs. women that I’m always getting questioned about by the Kinseyists anyway, I might as well address the differences between them directly.

So that is what I will do next time. As you can see, this is all very complicated, and I thought it was important to explore the dynamics of what makes this so frustrating to try and talk about first.

In other words, this post has been brought to you by A MASSIVE PILE OF SALT.

Thanks for reading, and if you’ve had similar experiences, I’d like to hear about them, so please feel free to leave a comment down below!

Continue to Part Two: Aesthetic Attraction and the Visual-Aural Gender Split →