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When Are We Going To Get Over Biphobia?

The bisexual pride flag (Credit: Peter Salanki from San Francisco/Wikimedia Commons)

I presumed that my LGBTQ+ friends would be the most understanding and accepting of my bisexuality. I was wrong.

My first time sleeping with another woman was a one night stand. I met her in Dublin’s most iconic gay bar, The George, and I was completely infatuated. She carried herself with the most intoxicating confidence, dressed in an ’80s-style two-piece denim outfit and a striped button-up shirt. She came alone, while I had arrived with a large group of friends. This didn’t matter—she seemed to know everybody in the bar. She was what my older queer friends would have described as a real “power lesbian.”

Before we made our way home together, she asked me twice if I was “Sure I liked women” because I “looked straight.” There was nothing stereotypically “gay-looking” about me. I reassured her that while I did find men attractive, I liked women too. “Oh, you’re… Bisexual,” she remarked in a sardonic tone, rolling her eyes.

When we slept together, afterwards she lay next to me and sarcastically asked “So, are you still bisexual then?” as if my one night encounter with her would have affected who else I could potentially be attracted to. It reminded me of how homophobic straight men often tell lesbians “You just haven’t found the right man yet.” Noticing how uncomfortable her question had made me, she quickly laughed it off as a silly drunken joke, and we drifted off to sleep.

I Convinced Myself I Wasn’t a Lesbian

Looking back now, I regret sleeping with someone who was so patronizing. But from my experience, gay people being dismissive of bisexuality is a lot more common than one might expect.

I was always most nervous about telling the straight people in my life about the girls I was dating. I presumed, naturally, that my LGBTQ+ friends would be the most understanding and accepting of my bisexuality. But when I told one of my best friends (a gay man in his twenties) that I had begun dating girls, he laughed and said “Oh my god, no! I hate the idea of you sleeping with a woman.” He insinuated that I must have been in a somewhat confused mental state, following my breakup with my ex-boyfriend a few months prior to coming out.

Conversely, my heterosexual mother handled it better than any gay person in my life. I casually slipped into conversation that I had gone on a date with a girl and her response was astonishingly simple and ideal: “Cool, was she nice?” There was no taxing or upsetting conversation. Nothing to explain or defend. I told myself that the gay people in my life had only reacted this way because they were used to me exclusively dating men for so long, that they were adjusting to my coming out just as straight people were. But it was far from being all in my head.

He insinuated that I must have been in a somewhat confused mental state, following my breakup with my ex-boyfriend a few months prior to coming out. Click To Tweet

In September 2013, a prominent lesbian YouTuber, Arielle Scarcella, published a video entitled “What Lesbians Think About Bisexuals.” She asked several gay women to describe bisexuals in one word. The first woman answered with “Greedy.” Other responses included “Confused,” “Messy,” and “Rare- it’s a rare unicorn kind of thing.”

She then asked them to imagine themselves in the following fictional situation: “You’re at a lesbian party. You look across the room and see the hottest girl at the party. You walk up to her, and it turns out she’s bisexual. What’s the first thought that pops into your head?”

“That’s so unfortunate,” one of the women replied, implying that bisexuality is a major deterrent for lesbians. Sometimes, even women who sexually identify as lesbian are judged for sleeping with men prior to coming out. “Gold star” lesbians—women who have never had sex with a man—are held in high esteem within the lesbian community.

This is because unfortunately, society is still wired to think that sexuality is a limited thing, when truthfully it’s incredibly fluid and for many, it takes time to “figure it out.” Therefore, implying that bisexuality is a “phase” and that monosexuality is mandatory only makes things more confusing for someone who might be figuring it out, or who otherwise would be perfectly content identifying as bisexual.

On Finding Pride While Having Faith

A study conducted by the intimate toy website Adam & Eve found that out of 1,000 people over the age of 18-years-old, 47% of respondents had no intention of ever dating a bisexual person, 19% were undecided, and only 35% were open to it.

While the study did not ask participants to state their sexual orientation, it’s clear that bi-erasure and biphobia exists within the LGBTQ+ community and not just outside of it. Why is it that some lesbians and gay men tend to exclude bisexual people from their dating pool?

According to a study published in the journal Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, this could be linked to the fact that people generally perceive bisexuals as being more attracted to men than they are to women. Bisexual women in particular are perceived as only sleeping with women for “fun” or to arouse heterosexual men, who often fetishize sex between women. The research shows that lesbian women had a more negative attitude toward bisexual women than bisexual men or gay men.

It is often implied that coming out as bisexual is a stepping-stone for coming out as gay. While some people have come out as bisexual before coming out as gay (for instance, Elton John), using bisexuality to test the homophobic waters is unfair to both people who identify as bisexual and to homosexuals. It’s a symptom of a larger problem, a clear indication of cultural homophobia—it implies that being bisexual is somehow more acceptable than being gay, a “safer” way to identify even if it’s not the truth. Yet bisexuality is not widely understood or accepted either, and using bisexuality as a stop-gap identity only furthers the assumption that bisexuals are lying about who we are. We are considered too promiscuous, incapable of fidelity, or too “risky” to date in case we’re merely going through some sort of experimental phase.

Using bisexuality as a stop-gap identity only furthers the assumption that bisexuals are lying about who we are. Click To Tweet

These generalizations and misconceptions are both entirely unfounded and downright tiring. Society expects us to confine our attractions to one gender, but would shun us for limiting our attractions and having a “type” when it comes to race, or height, or hair color, etc. In reality it comes down to a fear of rejection. Lesbians fear being rejected for a man, and straight men fear being rejected for a woman. The idea that we are fickle and neglectful is ridiculous and there is no research to support it. Many bisexuals are happy to be in and even seek out committed monogamous relationships. Not to mention, rejection can occur in any relationship, regardless of the sexuality of the couple. Therefore, the fear of being rejected for the opposite sex while dating a bisexual person is entirely irrational.

Reducing a full human being to this handful of derogatory adjectives is unacceptable. We are all gloriously unique, no matter where we fall on the spectrum. When the legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned and challenged in such a way, it prevents or delays many bisexual people from coming out. Some of the comments from bisexual people on Scarcella’s video included “This broke my heart” and “This actually made me cry because I’m bi.”

What’s even worse is that bisexual people are actually more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation than lesbian, gay, or heterosexual people. Ethan Mereish, one of the lead authors of an American University Study on the specific stressors bisexual people encounter, said that “Bisexual people face double discrimination in multiple settings—bisexual people are often invisible, rejected, invalidated, [and] stigmatised in the heterosexual community as well as the traditional LGBTQ communities.”

Part of the disdain for bisexuality among some of the lesbian and gay community no doubt comes from the fact that bisexuals benefit from straight-passing privilege. Prior to coming out as bisexual, I was in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man, and I decided not to address my bisexuality at all because of the relationship.

Admittedly, things are a whole lot easier when you are dating someone of the opposite sex. There is never a need to be acutely aware of who might be looking at you when you hold hands or kiss in public. There are no intrusive questions at social gatherings about who plays what role in the relationship, or how sex works between you, or whether you know this one particular “other lesbian” who lives in the same very large city as you (all of which I have subsequently experienced since beginning to date women).

Straight-passing relationships are simply more convenient, and there is no real “need” to come out. Except the fact that you are concealing an important part of your own identity and constantly feel as though you aren’t being truly honest with your partner.

Is My Friend Still Bisexual? A Handy Guide

On numerous occasions, my ex directly asked me about my sexuality. I had the opportunity to come out to him, but I didn’t feel ready. I was afraid that dating a bisexual person would be something that a straight man might also be against. Of course, I was wrong to think that. When I reflect on the relationship now, I believe he would have accepted me for who I am. Regardless, I have come to be proud of my sexuality and I know that there are plenty of people who are welcoming of bisexuals in their dating pool.

I don’t personally know any bisexual person who would claim that we are more harshly judged or discriminated against than gay couples. This is not the Oppression Olympics. Much of the LGBTQ+ community faces unfortunate and unnecessary discrimination.

Rather than debating about who has it worse, let’s acknowledge that it can feel terribly stifling and painful to be unable to speak or act openly about your sexual identity. Let’s do better for the bisexual community. Let’s increase bi-visibility in books and television, and decrease biphobia by educating ourselves on misconceptions about bisexuality, and become the best possible allies we can be. Now is the time for action and solidarity. We need  allyship year-round, not just during Pride month.