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.
Really enjoyed your post (especially the Dalek graphic)! “Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out” is a collection of essays by bisexuals you might also be interested in.
Any excuse to refer to Doctor Who. 🙂 I will have to look that title up. Unfortunately even the lgbt support centers in my area have few books on bisexuality. I’ve had to hunt down my own resources to purchase. Thanks for the title recommendation!
Thank you so much! I’m really glad my book helped. And yeah, I totally know what it is to cry when you’re holding a bi book in your hands because finally we’re being recognized and given space.
Much solidarity ❤
Thanks for reading my post! And thank you for your activism. You’ve definitely inspired me to allow my bisexuality to be an asset to my rebellious spirit instead of the liability it used to feel like. I’m going to have to get another copy and donate it to the lgbt support center in my area because they have almost nothing on bisexuality.
Thank you so much for this. I simply keep my mouth shut when people call me greedy, or say it’s a phase, or tell me I’m confused. I don’t feel the need to be a spokesperson for bisexuality, as I am pretty secure with the fluidity of my sexuality, but this has helped me realize the importance of correcting those who feel the need to choose my identity for me. I cannot speak for all bisexuals, but I should definitely speak up for myself! Thank you.
Reblogged this on The Book of Tina and commented:
Something I’ve been wanting to write about, but have yet to find the words to express. Truly thankful for this…
I, too, am a bi identified woman in a hetero-relationship. I have certainly struggled with bi-erasure, bi-phobia, and straight privilege. I should be able to claim my identity how I define it without having to vet myself in any way. It’s so encouraging to hear the story of another bi-woman dealing with the same. Thanks for writing this!
Married bi-sexual woman here:) People both gay and straight are uncomfortable if and when I mention it. I am not a traditional feminist since my husband is the primary breadwinner! It will be interesting testing the waters in a bi-community as I have always felt that is a defect to be bi.
Well, the definition of traditional feminist is muddy at best. I don’t think your salary defines your feminism. 😉 I say those who wish to identify as feminist (or bi for that matter) get to adopt the label they want, whether or not others approve or think they “stereotypically” fit the bill. No one ever truly fits into the boxes others try to force them into. Have fun pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable. 🙂
[…] What About the “B” in “LGBT”? So I have a theory about the folks who say the ridiculous things this blogger is talking about: they do it to everyone because they think their way is the only one. […]
I also recommend Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World. It’s a 42-country anthology filled with a wide variety of voices. It’s available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. (Disclaimer: I’m one of the book’s editors).
I don’t buy from amazon, but if I can find it in a local bookstore I’ll check it out. 🙂
You can order it directly from the publisher (and support a nonprofit organization) at biresource.net. 🙂
A question for sometimesmagical: I love the graphic “You’re obviously not defining your identity correctly.”
I’m the editor also of Bi Women (biwomenboston dot org), a quarterly publication. The theme of the upcoming issue if “Bisexual Enough.” (Have you ever wondered – perhaps because you do not fall dead center on the Kinsey Scale or because you’ve not had actual sexual and/or relationship experience with people of a particular gender (or even perhaps with anyone at all) – whether you are bisexual enough to call yourself bisexual? Has your legitimacy as a “true bisexual” ever been challenged by others? Tell us about your experiences, your interior dialogue, your conversations, your process, your conclusions. We want to hear from you. Essays, poems, artwork and short stories are welcome. Let me know right away if you’re planning on writing, and send your submissions by August 1st to: biwomeneditor at gmail)
I’d like to use this graphic in the issue, as it is spot on! May I have your permission to do so (and if so what photo credit would you like)? Also, please feel free to submit something for publication.
Oy, I’m still learning how the inserts work on a blog. I guess it didn’t link to the site I found it on. I found it here: http://bialogue-group.tumblr.com/post/28639343386/tw-total-fail-of-ignorance-biphobia-and-bigotry-on
It’s a meme format, so the image is floating around and people tend to put their own statements to it using sites like http://www.quickmeme.com/ You could probably create something similar yourself, but I would check the meme site’s policy about official publication. If it’s like somecards, they won’t mind you creating and passing around the image as an individual, but if you’re a company or organization, they may have restrictions (for instance, somecards won’t let their format be used for advertising.)
Now I’m going to see if I can fix the picture to link properly. 😛