As a bisexual, I’m pretty used to being erased in the queer movement, and to some extent I think I’ve felt I almost deserve to be because I am in a hetero-passing relationship. However, the erasure has been vexing me more and more recently, peaking last week during the Exodus fiasco when bisexuality never came up in the whole discussion of ex-gay reparative therapy.
That’s a big gap to miss when trying to discuss whether someone’s orientation can change. A bisexual person can be easily convinced that they did change if they happen to fall happily in love with someone of the opposite sex. I grew up thinking I had narrowly escaped the whole “gay” thing. I had never heard of bisexuality and thought my attractions to women and men were an indication of how close I had come to being a reprobate—“but for the grace of God.” Outside of the very obvious ways that mindset could hurt lesbians and gays (and did when I used my own experiences as evidence that being gay was a “choice”), it can cause pretty significant problems for bisexuals as they struggle with their attractions, which I discovered aren’t going to go away any more than gay or lesbian attractions will.
Enter Shiri Eisner’s book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution
I hadn’t realized how erased I felt until I experienced what it was like to be recognized. Here was a book that didn’t deal with bisexuality as a subsection. My identity wasn’t a footnote or an endnote. I wasn’t a passing term. I started crying before I was even through the introduction. I was holding in my hands over three hundred pages dedicated to my sexual orientation.
More importantly, there were terms to describe how others react to me.
I’ve never felt comfortable describing the little snide remarks or actions that I experience as “homophobia.” What’s to be homophobic about? There’s nothing in my relationship to raise ire. For all intents and purposes, people feel pretty comfortable assuming I’m straight even when I tell them I’m bi.
But biphobia and monosexism—“the social system according to which everyone is, or should be, [attracted to one gender]” (Eisner, p. 321) —yeah, those I’ve experienced.
No one ever walks up to me and says, “You’re just going through a phase.” But I’ve had both straight and gay friends tell me to just get it out of my system by finding a girl to ______ (fill in the blank because the suggestions range as far as you can imagine). Perhaps they think they’re being supportive; nevertheless, the implication is that if I can just have an experience with a girl, I’ll suddenly realize that I’m content with my male partner. It’s almost as if having capability to be attracted to multiple genders must mean that everyone is the same; therefore, when I experience one, I experience them all.
Others have suggested that I might be happier with a girl because I’m so attracted to them—that maybe I don’t really want to be with my male partner, which is really just a way to say that I’m a lesbian in denial even if they deny that they’re trying to say that.
Then there’s the “concerned” ones who grill me about how many sexual partners I have and, on the flip side, the ones who give me flak for being married.
Still others have dared to challenge my coming out, asking me what I hope to gain from it since I’m already married.
When I get these reactions, they bother me, but I’ve never been very good at pinpointing why. Usually I end up giving the pat explanation, “Being bi doesn’t mean I’m promiscuous. I am happy in my relationship and am not looking for anything else. It’s just really important to identify this part of myself right now.”
Sometimes I launch into it before anyone asks a question, which is an indication that I have some internalized biphobia myself.
Reading the beginning of Shiri’s book I began to realize how these prejudices play out. These aren’t necessarily the same prejudices that gay or lesbian people experience. Perhaps I would get some of that if I had a female partner, but for the most part I don’t find too many negative reactions when people mistakenly assume “partner” means “girl.”
But the prejudice is there.
It’s there when I need to explain why I’m marching in a gay pride parade with my husband or when I have to correct someone who assumes that because I’m married I have no vested interest in queer activism and gay rights. It’s there when someone tells me I “already have the right to marriage.” It’s there when people think they can define my identity and my relationships based on expectations of how I should or shouldn’t behave. It’s there when people assume they can ask any question they want about my love life simply because I told them I’m bi.
I wasn’t aware of them because bi-erasure was just part of the way things were. It took a book to tell me it shouldn’t have to be that way. From now on, rather than trying to convince people that I’m not promiscuous or unsure of what I want, I’m going to own the right that I am allowed to live my life on my terms. My identity doesn’t get to be defined by someone else’s prejudice or stereotypes.
Back when I started my blog, I described myself as a bi-feminist. Up until now, I’ve couched my bisexual activism in a broader activism for lgbt. Today, I’m giving myself permission to emphasize the bi part of my feminism. I’m no longer content to be railroaded and erased. I might make people uncomfortable, but it’s time to challenge the cultural lens. It’s time to make the “b” in “lgbt” visible.