Thursday, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) and this year Care2 is bringing you personal stories from around the world on the fight to eliminate anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination. For our complete coverage, please click here.
The hardest part of being out and bisexual isn’t what you’d expect. Yes, I’ve experienced icy glares and unpleasant comments when out with female partners, and I know that being perceived as a lesbian in public could be dangerous. While I’ve thankfully been spared any personal experience, I’m acutely aware that hate crimes do happen. And bisexuals experience just as much homophobia as gays and lesbians when in same-sex relationships, and when publicly affiliated with LBGT events and organizations. Functionally, we’re no different when we’re involved in the gay community.
But there’s another kind of homophobia we experience as bisexuals, and for me, it cuts deeper. By and large, it isn’t perpetrated by people and groups who would hate me regardless of what I do and say. It doesn’t come from bigots and hate groups. It often comes from friends, family members, co-workers and other people I see and interact with on a daily basis. Sometimes, it even comes from queer allies.
It is true that many bisexuals end up in long-term opposite-sex relationships — although characterizing those relationships as strictly “heterosexual” is not always accurate, since bi people can and do date each other. Since only 2-10% of the population is queer, depending on which study you read, it makes sense that there are many more opposite-sex prospects out there for bisexuals — particularly those who don’t live in big cities.
And when a bisexual ends up with someone of the opposite sex, whether it’s for a year or for life, something strange and disturbing happens. It’s hard not to feel, sometimes, that people become too comfortable with the idea of you in a “straight” relationship. As if everyone you dated or had feelings for before ceased to exist. As if you’d always really been straight all along.
Often, it’s unintentional. Of course my family will focus on my marriage to my husband and not my ex-girlfriends they haven’t seen in years, or perhaps never even met. To a certain extent, it’s unavoidable in any long-term relationship. The past fades into the background. After a few years with someone, unless you have children or continuing legal disputes from a previous relationship, it disappears entirely.
But, just as often, the homophobia is blatant and deliberate. Marrying someone of the opposite sex is held up as evidence that same-sex attractions were “a phase” (or worse, a mistake). As if sexual identity is something you can outgrow. Some people seem to want to warp our relationships and experiences to fit their narrative that sexual identity is a choice, a lifestyle, a sin — rather than seeing that bisexuals, like anyone else, very rarely have any conscious say in who we are attracted to and who we fall in love with. The only difference is that sex and gender are not the same kind of limiting factors that they are for most other people.
Whether intentional or not, this erasure of bisexuality — the “rounding up” to straight that the friends and family members of bisexuals in committed, opposite-sex relationships engage in is a form of homophobia. One that assumes bisexuals can “become” straight (or were “really straight” all along), and that this is superior and desirable. That previous relationships, feelings and attractions are somehow lesser because the object of one’s affections was the same sex.
Of course, it goes both ways. Men, in particular, who end long-term opposite-sex relationships and find themselves in a same-sex partnership are assumed to have been in the closet the whole time. It’s true that this is a real phenomenon in the gay and lesbian community, particularly for older men and women who did not feel they could come out in their teens or twenties, and people from religious backgrounds. This is becoming less common as queer youth are being encouraged to come out earlier. But it’s not representative of the majority of people who identify as bi.
Having dated a number of bi men, and being married to one now, I think I can authoritatively state that men who identify publicly as bisexual aren’t usually in the closet and secretly gay — unless all the ones I’ve met have been really good at pretending to be attracted to women. But this stereotype is another face of the homophobia society aims at us, this idea that having a same-sex relationship leaves you “tainted” or somehow changes you as a person. There’s the idea that a same-sex relationship means you can never have a successful or loving relationship with an opposite-sex partner in the future. The idea that one same-sex attraction, encounter, or relationship makes you gay. Forever. And that it’s a bad thing.
Yes, these two attitudes are mutually exclusive and contradictory. But often people will express both of the attitudes, depending on the situation or the gender presentation of the parties involved.
Some in the queer community complain bisexuals have the privilege of “passing” as straight. It’s understandable why. It’s true that being in an opposite-sex relationship can make life a little easier, provided that you both conform enough to heterosexual gender norms and social expectations that people will actually assume you’re straight and not both in denial.
Not every bisexual can pass as straight. I’m pretty sure that unless people know I’m married to a man, they assume I’m a lesbian. They might continue to believe it even after meeting my husband, because, let’s face it, most straight girls don’t shave their heads and wear suits to their weddings. The assumptions either way aren’t necessarily the problem, but the refusal to believe I love my husband and have loved girlfriends just as much in the past, even after I come out, is. It’s demeaning. It’s dehumanizing. And it’s homophobic.
I do think that it’s important that bisexuals come out to family and friends — and occasionally remind them that bisexuals do, in fact, exist. I know I have it easy compared to many other queer women who can’t marry the person they love., but I am deeply invested in gay rights and marriage equality as a member of the LBGT community. If I’d met someone different, I wouldn’t be married right now — at least, not here in Colorado.
I don’t want people to finish reading this post and feel it was 1,000 words complaining how hard bisexuals have it compared to gays, lesbians, and trans people — because oppression is not a competition.
If there’s one idea I want readers to leave with, it’s this: homophobia hurts everyone. Some of us it hurts in different ways. Let’s try to focus on eradicating it in all of its forms, even the less obvious ones.
Photo credit: Caitlin Childs via Flickr