Moving past binary thinking

Ambiguity is for so many people a problem, a challenge, and something to be resisted. Whilst traditional psychoanalysis may be out of favour with many I am drawn to the theories of Melanie Klein, and that first binary split when a baby is either joyfully nurtured or completely abandoned (in its own mind). Binary thinking does seem to have something very childlike about it, saints and sinners, superheroes and villains, elation or despair. It could be said that the movement towards adulthood is a move to embrace ambiguity and sit comfortably with it.

Ambiguity is on my mind after attending the Stonewall inaugural bi role models programme. Not because there was any ambiguity amongst the attendees, but rather the stereotypes and prejudices faced so often seemed to center on this aversion to ambiguity. We (as in humankind) seem to seek so often to remain in places of binary thinking. For a long time heterosexual was seen as right, correct, morally acceptable, and any other sexuality was collected under the term homosexuality and termed deviant, incorrect, a sin. As the fight for rights progressed a reframing occurred, homosexuality might be the opposite of heterosexuality, it was argued, but it did not mean it carried the opposite moral values.

Just as the world (or our western corner of it) seemed to settle down into accepting this new binary, gay and straight as opposite, but not in moral opposition, those who did not fit the binary started advocating for their rights too. It has to be said that mainstream L&G organisations, including Stonewall have not historically welcomed this. Bisexual people (and I use it as an umbrella term) have faced accusations of failing to pick a side, of being part-time homosexuals, of not knowing their own minds. Indeed bisexuality is still pathologized within mental health communities where the idea of “not knowing ones own mind” seems to have taken hold. It seems that in trying to overturn the binary that heterosexuality was morally right, and homosexuality was morally wrong a residual fear remained that the only other option was a return to that old binary. In telling bisexual people they must pick a side the shadow of their being sides looms large, even if it is just a phantom, a creation of those who would deny all LGBTQ+ people rights.

Sitting in a room with a group of people of diverse beliefs, backgrounds, classes, races, ethnicities and experiences I was struck by a universality of experience of biphobia and bierasure, even as the group shared few other characteristics. Perhaps this is part of the resistance to fluidity, to not fitting binaries. It is never as simple as “four legs good, two legs bad” but that is how so often the arguments have gone. Bisexual people have been told over and over again that they are somehow lesser, because they reject a simplistic framing of human sexuality.

A recent you gov survey found that almost half of young people do not identify as 100% homo or heterosexuall. This does not of course mean they identify as bisexual. Many people do not, since it carries so many negative stereotypes, from greedy to downright murderous. However it speaks to a generation who do not feel as threatened by the ideas of ambiguity and fluidity. It speaks to a more adult, measured and considered attitude towards the variety of human experiences we put in the box marked sex and relationships. Personally I found the day thought provoking and rewarding. It also left me considering though how far we have to go, and how far the talking therapies have to go. Whilst people are rejecting binary thinking, and demanding their place at the table, therapy is to some extent  stuck within the either or trap. Bisexual people are all too often seen as needing help to decide what they are instead of being accepted as who they are. I can only hope that the outcome of the day is a move towards greater acceptance, and a rejection of the childlike belief structure which remains trapped in black and white thinking.

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