Cover art by Zoé Green
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I did not formally come out; I just got a girlfriend. Before that, when questioned about my sexuality, I would speak about its fluidity and often brush things off. Perhaps that should have been a telling sign, but it was not an issue at the forefront of my mind, as I was often in relationships with men. It was a side of myself that I could ignore until I felt a strong attraction to one of my housemates, my now-girlfriend.
I thought that having a lot of gay and bisexual friends meant that I knew my sexuality. It turns out I was wrong. It’s almost weird that I did not connect with that side of myself when I’m part of a very liberal and accepting environment. It’s strange how you can move from thinking that you know yourself to realising that you do not. While this can be liberating, there is simultaneously a shame that comes with it.
I do not fit the heavily stereotyped image of what a queer woman is supposed to look like, which probably hindered my ability to acknowledge that side of myself. I am “conventionally” feminine, by society’s patriarchal standards – I wear makeup, love art and literature, have lots of female friends, and have had boyfriends. I acknowledge my privilege of never having been bullied or assaulted as a result of my sexuality. But I don’t feel a belonging to the LGBTQ+ community because simply I do not feel, “gay enough”. But equally, I do not feel straight enough either.
I think that many bisexual people have similar experiences where they are in this in-between world because they do not receive validation from monosexuals (such as heterosexuals or homosexuals). While it should not matter, if the only things you have heard about bisexuals is that they are greedy or just confused, it would help to receive some sort of confirmation that it is an acceptable sexual identity. I am not the first or last person to experience this late realisation. People talk about being gay, having your big coming out moment, but hardly anyone mentions what it means to like more than one gender.
Questions such as “so, you’re gay now?”, or “are you a lesbian now?”, or “do you still like men?” or “how did you not know?” were repeated on a few occasions. While I was sometimes startled by the invasive nature of these interrogations, it was strange to see how people assumed that I was no longer attracted to men. It’s as if you are not allowed to have an attraction to multiple genders. Some comments were disturbing because nobody ever asked me questions that were even half as invasive when I was in ‘straight’ relationships. It felt that I became part of a circus act: I was just some weird specimen to observe and prod at until the information was no longer exciting.
I was reminded of the obsession with labels and placing individuals into digestible binary identities. This was new to me, yet already I felt an expectation to define myself for the comfort of others. In Verity Ritchie’s YouTube video “The Bi-Cycle”, she discusses the confusing cycle that many bi individuals go through. She expresses the struggle of determining whether one is straight or gay because being both feels like it’s not a viable option.
Ritchie summarises points from Kenji Yoshino’s essay “The epistemic contract of bisexual erasure”, highlighting that monosexuals “share an investment in stabilising sexual orientation in a way which erases bisexuality and maintains a social order.” The social order is a hierarchy where the straight white male is favourable over every other identity. Bisexuality destabilises this hierarchy because it prevents straight and gay people from “proving” their sexuality. If bi people exist, then who is to say that someone who claims to be straight or gay is not actually bisexual?
Ritchie summarises Yoshino’s point that straight people can prove their “cross-sex desire”, but because of the inability to prove a negative, “[t]hey cannot adduce evidence of the absence of same-sex desire”. This is the same for gay people, whose identities are valid because they are the opposite of heterosexuality. It is a solid identity that can be placed below straight people in our innately patriarchal, heteronormative social hierarchy. Ritchie further discusses that there is a discomfort surrounding bisexuality because it suggests a level of choice in one’s sexuality. Bisexuals are confusing due to a lack of understanding as to why one would choose to be gay over straight. That is assuming that sexuality orients itself only on gender and nothing beyond.
I believe that biphobia coming from the LGBTQ+ community stems from unresolved internalised homophobia, and partly a misinformed perspective that bisexuals have it easier (Melanie Murphy & Jade Fox have interesting points about this). Yet, it should not be a competition about who is the most marginalised and tortured by society. According to research from Stonewall, “one in five bi people (20 per cent) are out to all their family compared to three in five gay men and lesbians (63 per cent).” These statistics are extremely telling of the shame that bi people go through for not “picking a side”.
The LGBTQ+ community is supposed to be a safe space where people can express their unique identities without judgement or fear of discrimination. But it seems that the toxicity that occurs from the hierarchies and binaries in our everyday lives has contaminated it.
After learning about other people’s experiences with bisexuality and the genuine inability for others to respect it as a valid sexuality, I am now more forgiving to myself for ignoring it until it felt right. There is too much pressure to have a static, unmoving identity. Humans are more complex than that. We are changing and learning all the time, meaning that we should not judge others when they shift between labels. Sexual orientation is not indicative of somebody’s personality and we need to combat the harmful stereotypes which prevent accepting identities that sit outside of binaries.
Article by Zoé Green