Thursday, October 15, 2020

Claiming “Sexual Preference is Offensive” is Biphobic

As of October 14, 2020, the phrase “sexual preference” is now considered offensive by certain people and already efforts are being made to scrub it from our lexicon. It looks like it falls upon me, your friendly neighborhood lesbian transwoman, to explain why this is nonsense.

First, let me explain why some (not all, some) people would take offense. Using the word “preference” over “orientation”, it is argued, presents sexuality as a matter of taste which can be overridden if necessary: “I prefer apples, but I will eat pears” is equated to “I, a gay man, prefer men but will date women if I must.” It presents sexual attraction as a choice, and that presentation is offensive to gay men, lesbians, and presumably straight people who don’t have better things to be upset about.

Dear offended people: Do you not know any bisexuals?

No, I’m not being sarcastic; I am legitimately asking if you know any, because I don’t think you do. I know several of them, and they are not all split down the middle when it comes to sexual attraction. Here’s how my unofficial poll worked out:

  • Bisexual man. Prefers women 70% of the time (numbers approximate; he rated himself a 2 on the Kinsey Scale).
  • Bisexual woman. Specifically identifies as “hetero-flexible”:  100% heterosexual one-on-one, but in a setting of three or more people “60-40 to 75-25 straight depending on group dynamic and my mood”.
  • Bisexual man. “Emotionally speaking, I prefer males to females 70:30; physically, it varies varies wildly person to person but usually males 30%  to females 70%; romantically 50/50.”
  • Bisexual woman. “I lean a bit more toward men, but it varies. 65-75% hetero, depending on how recently I saw a really cute girl and/or was at a con.”
  • Bisexual man. “Pretty close to 50/50. I get different things from different genders, so it's kinda like asking if you prefer Pepsi or Ford, you know?”
  • Bisexual woman. Attraction is 60% men, 40% women.
  • Bisexual man. “Its more a case of ‘does this person interest me?’ so 50-50 I guess?”
  • Bisexual woman. “My orientation is bisexual, but I greatly prefer women. Probably 90-95% women, 5-10% men.”
  • Bisexual man. Basically 50-50, but only comfortable expressing or receiving homosexual intimacy when in the presence of a woman.
  • Bisexual man. “Pretty much 50/50.  I'm much more inclined towards genderfluid to be honest.  physical plumbing, gender expression, and the various shades of each aren't really part of the determining factors of whether I'm attracted to someone or not.”

See all those numbers which aren’t 50-50? That’s a preference. The orientation of these people is bisexual, but they each have preferences within that bisexuality: #1 prefers women; #2 prefers men; #3 has preferences which vary according to conditions and characteristics. None of them are wrong, because it’s impossible to be wrong when talking about what kind of adult human being attracts you. Telling them that “the phrase ‘sexual preference’ is offensive” is erasing what it means to be bisexual.

Finally, the term “preference” can be a powerful social tool when properly used, a tool which I and other queer people would be much poorer for losing. It can be used to shield the feelings of others and soften the blow of rejection to a friend; “I’m sorry, I just prefer other women” suggests that despite the fact there is no chemistry, you still want them around as a friend, whereas the sharper “I’m a lesbian” too often sounds brusque and dismissive, a “how dare you!” shutdown.

In less amiable situations, such as when approached by a stranger at the bar or other social event, such rejection can lead to harsh words and even violence. For their own safety, many gay women have used the phrase “I prefer women” to give themselves breathing room to look for an opportunity to get away, as many men will see that as a challenge to be overcome with guile rather than a shutdown which could elicit anger or worse.  I have used this phrase in both situations, and it has served me well. I will not give it up without a fight.

You are free not to like the phrase “sexual preference”. You are free to be offended by it. However, demanding that it no longer be used demeans bisexual people and their choices, and it robs queer people of a powerful tool to protect friendships and ensure safety. 

You mean well, but you are hurting people by contributing to bisexual erasure and a culture of biphobia. Sexual preferences do exist, and there’s nothing wrong with them. 

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