Whenever I think about the criticism bisexuals face about their sexuality, I think of Charlotte York quipping on Sex and the City, “I’m very into labels; gay, straight—pick a side and stay there.”
To those who don’t know any better, an admitted equal attraction to both sexes feels more like indecisiveness or confusion. Another awful theory tends to point to some sort of past trauma. I have been guilty of making assumptions about bisexuality. Like many gay men, I tried to convince myself that I was bisexual because in my mind at the time, “it sounded better.” And by better, I mean less stigmatizing. All too often, though, we collectively based someone else’s experience on our anecdotes. It’s as often wrong as it is unfair.
So, I could understand the frustration felt by those 12,000 people who signed an online petition over a Vogue profile of Cara Delevingne that suggested her bisexuality might just be a phase.
The original petitioner, Julie Rodriguez, said in an interview: “The idea that queer women only form relationships with other women as a result of childhood trauma is a harmful (and false) stereotype that lesbian and bisexual women have been combating for decades. How could Vogue’s editorial staff greenlight this article and publish it without anyone raising concerns about this dismissive and demeaning language?”
When asked about herself in the New York Times, Delevingne said she found the protest flattering although she saw “nothing malicious” about the article. She was, however, clear on this point: “My sexuality is not a phase. I am who I am.”
It was good that Delevigne was given a platform to address other people’s assumptions about her sexuality, but it doesn’t negate the overall problem in how media covers bisexuality.
Before she openly admitted to being sexually fluid, Miley Cyrus, who has been rumored to be dating Delevingne, was subjected to speculation about her sexuality. The language of it was noticeably pathological.
In one story for Hollywood Life, a source said of Miley, “She’s also beyond disillusioned with dating dudes right now. She thinks the majority of men are pigs and she has major trust issues. So the idea of dating a woman is very appealing right now, no one would be surprised if she does. And the first girl on her mind is Cara.”
Cyrus herself has since revealed that she told her mother at the age of 14 that she has been attracted to women, but before this omission, the narrative was, “Miley is so sad about her breakup with her fiancé that she turned to girls.” If celebrity culture were not as dominant as it is, this would be less of an issue. However, that is not the case, so these depictions of bisexuality matter.
That said, there are some famous folks who have said that their bisexuality was indeed of phase. Last year, Jessie J said of her 2011 omission that she was sexually attracted to women, “For me, it was a phase. But I’m not saying bisexuality is a phase for everybody. I feel that if I continue my career not speaking on it, I almost feel more of a liar than if I didn’t. I just want to be honest, and it’s really not a big deal. Who cares?”
She also acknowledged difficulties following that omission years ago, given it lead to her solely being categorized as “gay” or as one newspaper headline branded her on its front page, “Jessie Gay.”
For her, it was a phase. For Cara and Miley and many, that is not the case. The problem is that, no matter what any famous person—and their regular counterparts, for the matter—say, we collectively tend to not take them at their word. We project our own labels and interpretations. We attribute “reasons” to their love lives that shouldn’t require any. We don’t allow them to just be.
We should be better than that by now.