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
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