My spouse and I were walking down the street the other day when a man in a pick-up truck shouted a word from his vehicle: "Lesbians!"
I wondered why.
We were not holding hands at the time, so, from my perspective, we weren't overtly displaying to the world what our relationship is to one another. But since he shouted, "Lesbians!" -- not, "Female couple!" -- it's clear to me that his declaration had nothing to do with whether or not he could tell that we were partners.
It so happens that my spouse is a lesbian. But he didn't shout, "Lesbian!" singular. He added an "s." "Lesbians!" plural. Because there were no other people anywhere near us on the sidewalk, I have to assume that he was (loudly) trying to describe both of us.
I'm not a lesbian, but clearly something about either my appearance or the appearance of us two non-hand-holding women together (or both) made him think that I was. After all, he didn't shout, "Lesbian and bisexual!" But what about my appearance made him skip over "and bisexual" as a possibility?
Considering the fact that studies show that twice as many women identify as bisexual than identify as lesbian (yes, bi women outnumber lesbians two to one), the odds were just higher that if I wasn't straight, then I was probably bi. So, what could it be that made him assume we were both lesbians?
My spouse surmised that it was our hair. We both have pretty short haircuts. But does that mean that lesbians get to have a monopoly on hair length as a signifier of sexual identity? If so, I'm envious!
I shouted back -- at this point, much too late for him to hear -- "I'll take it!" Because even though I'm not a lesbian, it's certainly no insult to be mistaken for one, especially if the mistake is based on my awesome hairstyle! Sadly, he didn't get to hear my acceptance of his declaration, but it gave my spouse a good laugh. Sometimes, that's all that matters...
Street harassment and violence are no joke, though. But luckily, in this case, the event began and ended with that one word: "Lesbians!" It was almost as though he thought, "That's what lesbians look like, so those must be lesbians!" and the only word that popped out of his mouth during this train of thought was, "Lesbians!"
Nonetheless, the incident got me thinking: what does a bisexual look like? Or, more specifically, how can someone wear their bisexuality on their sleeve, if people's assumptions about our sexuality are based on things like haircuts? Especially if those haircuts are also assumed to only belong to monosexuals (in this case, lesbians)?
The only conclusion I could draw is: we need a bisexual haircut! I think the bi community needs to come together and decide on one hairstyle, and that will be the bi hairstyle. Then we need to be able to advertise the fact that that is the bi hairstyle, so that people can recognize us -- but, of course, never harass us or act violently toward us. Again, this no joking matter, since research shows that bisexual women are more likely than monosexual (lesbian or straight) women to experience domestic violence. Obviously, biphobia has got to go. But what I'm talking about here is developing a signifier, an aesthetic, a queer/clear marker for bisexuality.
We'll publicize what the hairstyle looks like. And we can publicize the idea that if you see two people with that haircut, and you're driving past them in a pick-up truck, and you have no intention to harass them but you just feel utterly compelled to shout a word in their direction related to your beliefs about their sexual identity, then you should definitely, definitely shout out the word "bisexuals!" It's just that much more accurate.
This piece was originally posted on The Bilerico Project.