Identity: Neither a Single Journey Nor a Universal Story

By Bendita Cynthia Malakia
Global Diversity & Inclusion Lead
Hogan Lovells US LLP

Here’s another question posed as a result of a webinar I hosted about the impact of bisexual identity as a lawyer, “When bisexual people are in either the experimental phase where they focus on relationships with either just men or just women, do they still consider themselves bisexual or straight or lesbian?

Identity isn’t about who you choose to be with in the moment; from my perspective, that’s a pretty disempowering view. Identity is your view of who you are as a person. Admittedly, it’s complex and some may consider it to be splitting hairs.

To be clear, as a baseline, we should not assume that just because an individual is bisexual, that they had an experimentation phase or that at some point they questioned their sexual orientation. Some people know and understand to their core from the very beginning that they are bisexual. Others who may have identified as either lesbian or straight, due to socialization or some form of oppression, may eventually find that they understand their identity to be bisexual and may not have had an experimentation phase either. There is no single journey or one universal story.

So where does that leave someone that is unsure about their sexual orientation? Of the LGBTQ initialism, where “Q” often means “queer”, “Q” also doubles as “questioning.” Yes, as a result of internalized and societal oppression telling us it isn’t palatable to be LGBT+, there is a specific identity that captures the notion that some individuals may be exploring their identity and should be included as part of the community. I readily see two ways to interpret this, which could be, but aren’t necessarily, at odds: (1) more generously, the LGBT+ community is so inclusive that even if you suspect that you are a part of it, room will be made for you; and (2) significantly less charitably, once you are “tainted” with queer identity – even by considering the possibility – you are relegated to be a part of that community. While the second hypothesis is offensive, it is conceptually a bit like the similarly-offensive one drop rule with respect to being Black or African American in the United States: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/12/one-drop-rule-persists/.

For individuals who ultimately end up identifying as bisexual, the questioning identity allows you to have the cloak of the community offering moderate protection and an ability to sort out whether bisexual identity is accurate for you. This is incredibly important. You often don’t know what you don’t know, and, given the plethora of ways for bisexual and bi+ identities to proliferate means one doesn’t have to commit too soon. Identity is a powerful and central driver in our society, so why not have the opportunity to be given the grace of exploration, iteration and choice?