Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues
This blog post is part of an ongoing conversation between two bisexual activists. A.J. Walkley and Sarah Smith* are both monogamous, bisexual, cisgender females who are in long-term relationships. A.J. is in a relationship with a cisgender male, and Sarah is in a relationship with a cisgender female. Both A.J. and Sarah are committed to remaining visible as bisexuals in spite of society's tendency to want to label A.J. as heterosexual and Sarah as a lesbian. Together they came up with the idea for "Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues" as a way to help eliminate stereotypes and bias against people in the bisexual community.
Question: Why would someone not want to identify as bisexual?
A.J: The stereotypes, the biases, the invisibility, the lack of inclusion: These might be considered the top four reasons that many individuals who would otherwise readily identify as bisexual decide to maintain a distance from the label. Due to a general misunderstanding of bisexuality, a large part of society views bisexual individuals as cheaters, confused, indecisive, greedy and incapable of monogamy; members of the straight community and LGT communities don't trust entering into relationships with bisexuals in some cases, believing that we will ultimately leave them for someone of another sex or gender; when in relationships, bisexuals are seen as the sexuality that goes along with their significant other at the time (heterosexual if in a seemingly opposite-sex relationship, or homosexual if in a seemingly same-sex relationship); and due to all of these aforementioned assumptions, bisexuals often feel left out of both the straight community and the overall LGBT community. When you consider all of this misinformation surrounding bisexuals, it becomes a lot clearer why someone might not want to associate with the identity at all.
At the same time, bisexuals who are out and outspoken about their sexuality get gruff for throwing it in peoples' faces. Sarah, you yourself spoke about this issue in a blog post a few months back.
Sarah: When I think about this topic, so many stories come to mind. For example, I have a bisexual friend who's married to a man. She'll tell straight people she's bisexual because she knows she's giving up straight privilege when she comes out as bi. However, she won't tell lesbian or gay people. She doesn't want them to think she's a heterosexual who's lying about being part of the lesbian and gay community in order to gain access to the support those communities have built up for themselves. A bisexual woman who's with a man or a bisexual man who's with a woman might share my friend's fear of what lesbians and gays will think of them for claiming the identity of bisexual.
As a bisexual woman who's with another woman, I'm concerned that lesbian and gay people will assume I identify as bisexual because I'm ashamed to be lesbian. I'm also concerned that transgender people and gender-nonconforming people will imagine that I'm prejudiced against them. The idea that bisexuals are more transphobic than other groups arises because some folks mistakenly believe that all bisexuals are only attracted to cisgendered and gender-normative men and women. Other people may share my concerns about being misunderstood by gays, lesbians and gender-nonconforming people, and having those concerns may keep them from wanting to identify as bisexual.
A.J.: I can definitely attest to the fear of coming out to lesbian and gay individuals as bisexual for similar reasons, Sarah. Instead of being seen as ashamed of a lesbian identity as you fear, however, being that I am in a "straight-seeming" relationship with a cisgender male, I have an internalized biphobic fear that the lesbian and gay communities will not accept me whatsoever. I don't want anyone to think I am straddling any fences in order to enjoy the "best of both worlds," taking advantage of straight privilege while also identifying with the greater LGBT+ community. I try to be as vocal as possible about my bisexuality in order to distance myself from the possibility of being seen as enjoying straight privilege of any kind.
And yet, being vocal can bring even more grief, which in turn might cause some bisexuals to be less likely to outwardly identify as bisexual. As an activist, I have received hate mail, hate tweets and vitriolic comments on my posts and blogs. It takes years to develop a thick skin against a lot of the biphobia we encounter, and even then, certain comments can sting. For the youth who are still coming to terms with their bisexuality, I can imagine how reading hateful comments online regarding bisexuality could make them crawl right back into the proverbial closet.
Sarah: I'm so sorry you've had hate mail and attacking comments, A.J. Thank you for being a courageous out bisexual despite the hostility you've faced. Knowing you has made me prouder of my identity and more protected from the wounds inflicted by biphobia. I'm sure you've given that gift to many.
I could write about today's topic forever. The longer I think about it, the more reasons I think of. No wonder the bisexual community has a visibility problem. It's a vicious cycle. The invisibility supports ignorance, the ignorance supports intolerance, the intolerance makes people want to stay in the closet, and the closet makes our community invisible. How will it ever end?
Readers, it's your turn: Are you bisexual but afraid to use that term to describe yourself? Are you monosexual but able to empathize? Can you understand why someone who can be attracted to more than one gender might want to avoid calling themselves bisexual? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.
If you have any questions that you'd like us to discuss as part of this series, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.