Twitter debunks myths about the strange creature known as ‘bisexual’

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An army of Twitter users remind us that queer identity is not as simple as “gay” and “lesbian.”

Over the last two days, actress Maria Bello and Olympic swimmer Tom Daley both came out as bisexual—Bello with an earnest column in the New York Times, Daley with a nervous message to fans. Bello and Daley both stressed the complexity of their sexual identities as well as their feelings on the subject. But despite the attempts of the two celebrities not to spell anything out, many news and media outlets only heard one word: “gay”—a word the celebrities didn’t say.

Numerous media outlets who reported stories on the two celebrities described them both as “gay” in headlines. After an outcry from readers, a number of these outlets changed that label to “bisexual.” Perhaps most hilariously, Time originally lead with the headline “Maria Bello New York Times Out as Lesbian, which was later changed to “If You Think Maria Bello Is a Lesbian, You Weren’t Paying Attention.” Even members of the queer media got it wrong and had to apologize.

Bisexuals have always struggled to fit in within the queer community, where many gay men and women can’t or won’t recognize bisexual individuals as being among them—unless they happen to be dating someone of the same gender, at which point they’re labeled simply “lesbian” or “gay.” So to many, the headlines served to underline a feeling that their identity is constantly being erased.

Enter Vanity Fair columnist Richard Lawson, himself a gay man, who minced no words about Daley’s coming out:

When @dogunderwater asked Lawson why he didn’t just take Daley at his word, Lawson responded, “because being socially honest instead of using precious terms has value.”

At this, frustrated Twitter user @verylemonade, who’d been participating in the conversation, dropped a grumpy subtweet:

Verylemonade’s hashtag immediately caught on, as Twitter users piled in to marvel at the “mythical and rare” bisexual, turning the gimmick into comedic commentary on the media’s supposed inability to acknowledge that such creatures actually exist.

At its best, the hashtag also toys with the tricky identity politics of being bi and of having complicated relationships in a world that wants clearly defined labels:

So far the tag has trended mainly in Canada and Europe, but it’s still spreading this morning, probably because it’s hard to resist a trend so tailor-made for blending social commentary with a touch of the absurd:

As for Lawson, he acknowledged to me on Twitter that he was enjoying the tag:

But it’s doubtful a cheeky hashtag can keep the media and members of the gay community from trapping queer individuals into an either/or scenario. For now, the bisexual remains safest in the wild, free from its would-be captors.

Photo by Jim Thurston/Flickr

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