This guest post is written by DirtyNerdy and was originally written for her blog The Dirty Nerdy, where it is titled “Leaving my school’s LGBT group”. I think it makes a number of important points and so I am grateful for her permission to reprint the piece in full. The Dirty Nerdy is one of the bloggers at the new website Secular View. Her posts there will focus on women’s rights and politics.
This report from the San Francisco Human Right Commission outlines how bisexuals are discriminated against and made invisible by both the heterosexual communities and the homosexual communities. It got me thinking about how I’ve been treated by my local lgbt community at school.
The report highlights different forms of biphobia. I’m going to go through them and talk about the ones that I know have affected my life with an emphasis on how my own support group for lgbt people has engaged in many of these.
1. Assuming that everyone you meet is heterosexual or homosexual
I am often confused by others as being heterosexual or being homosexual. I have even been told that I’m not actually bisexual and I have to pick one (which is actually encompassed by another form of biphobia). I’ve had people who assume I’m hetero go on rants about the “gay agenda” in front of me, only to be very surprised and taken-aback when I correct their assumptions–not only that I’m not heterosexual, but also that even if I were, it wouldn’t have guaranteed that I agreed with their homophobia. I’ve hung out with lesbians from my school’s lgbt group who assumed I was a lesbian and spent a good deal of time making fun of anybody who would find a penis attractive.
2. Automatically assuming romantic couplings of two women are lesbian, or two men are gay, or a man and a woman are heterosexual.
My boyfriend has a friend in his classes who is a lesbian. They often study together. He recounted to me his experience having to defend me (aww, how sweet) and my orientation to her friends who said outright that bisexuals don’t exist. They said that a bisexual person coupled with somebody of the opposite sex is obviously straight and trying to get attention and a bisexual person coupled with somebody of the same sex is obviously gay and trying to hide it. My boyfriend called shenanigans on that and asked if that means single people are all asexual.
3. Expecting a bisexual to identify as gay/lesbian when coupled with the ‘same’ sex/gender.
I’ve experienced this from former girls with whom I almost had relationships. They would tell me I need to just say I’m a lesbian because I’m dating a girl now. Suffice it to say, those “relationships” didn’t last long.
4. Expecting a bisexual to identify as heterosexual when couple with the ‘opposite’ sex/gender.
My ex-boyfriend. I told him about my experiences with girls from the beginning of our relationship, but he just chalked it up to alcohol or “trying to get attention.” Toward the end of our relationship, I finally started self-identifying as bisexual and I told him so. He claimed he didn’t believe me, but just to be sure, he used it as an excuse to try to police my female friends as well as my male friends, and later accused me of cheating on him with both (which, incidentally, never happened).
I’ve also had a couple people in my lgbt group at school tell me that it’s so great to have an ally–these are usually people who are new or didn’t know I was bisexual and assumed from their knowledge of my boyfriend that I’m heterosexual. I have had to explain at more than one meeting that I’m bisexual and for people to please accept that. There are two other bisexual girls in the group, but they both have girlfriends and they are infrequent members.
5. Believing that bisexual women spread HIV/AIDS to lesbians.
During at least one discussion in my lgbt group (which is quickly turning into an LG group), I was told by many of the girls that they would never date a bisexual girl because of the fear of contracting std’s.
6. Thinking bisexual people haven’t made up their minds.
While the comment wasn’t directed at me (because they don’t know my orientation), I have heard both of my sisters and my brother disparage bisexuals as just gay people who don’t know what they want. This attitude is also displayed in the media quite often. Where a character goes back and forth between dating men and dating women, all the while anguishing over what they are. Hello script writers: why can’t you just make them bisexual?
7. Refusing to accept someone’s self-identification if the person hasn’t had sex with both men and women.
For me, this one has affected me because I haven’t had any long-term relationships with women. It happens more often at my lgbt group’s meetings because they tend to expect me to just sit there and shut up while they talk about how somebody had called them a “fag” or otherwise oppressed them. The moment I open my mouth to say anything, I get a barrage of comments from a few people who seem to think that my current hetero-romantic relationship and my lack of former long-term homo-romantic relationships disqualifies me from talking about the struggles of lgbt people.
Again, my ex-boyfriend. Even before I came out as bisexual, he tried to pressure me to have threesomes because as he put it “You’ve been with girls before, what’s the difference?” The difference is that I wanted to back then, and he was just trying to use me to fulfill his own needs without regard to how I felt or what I wanted. At the time I was still struggling with my identity, and having a threesome would have just confused me even more.
I’ve never had any women do this to me, but plenty of men, on finding out I’m bisexual, insist that I describe in detail any sexual relationships I’ve had with women because they’re “curious.”
9. Assuming that bisexuals would be willing to “pass” as anything other than bisexual.
This goes back to what I said before about how I try to speak up at meetings. Many times I’m told that it’s easy for me, because if I don’t say anything, nobody has to know and I can just seem normal. I don’t want my orientation to be invisible, and I don’t want my identity to be hidden. I don’t want to pass as heterosexual.
10. Believing bisexuals are confused about their sexuality.
This goes hand-in-hand with being told “it’s just a phase or stage or whatever.” Many people don’t seem to understand that I was very confused about my sexuality before I discovered and accepted being bisexual. It seems more likely to me that they are confused about what bisexuality means, and they assume that I must be confused as well.
11. Feeling that you can’t trust a bisexual because they aren’t really gay or lesbian, or aren’t really heterosexual.
This has been used at least three times by my partners in order to try to control me or get me to change my identity. I’ve even had women partners “play” with me by asking if I’m sure I like it after everything we do in bed–then saying they feel insecure because they’re sure I’ll dump them for a man. Of course, I wasn’t the one to end those relationships, the women were. Then there’s my ex-boyfriend who as I said before started policing my relationship with friends because he thought that since I came out as bisexual I would just sleep with anybody.
12. Assuming bisexuals are incapable of monogamy.
A girl at school from the student group for cultural diversity came to our lgbt meet-up to observe and ask questions. She’s young (just out of high school I think) and she honestly wanted to ask questions and get information. When she found out I’m bi, she immediately asked me how my relationships work and assumed I couldn’t possibly be monogamous. I explained to her, that while my current boyfriend and I are trying out polyamory, that before that agreement and in every relationship before that, I’ve always been monogamous and never cheated on anybody. The conversation quickly turned into an interrogation of how polyamory works and the ethical questions surrounding it, but she seemed to get the idea that bisexual people can be, and usually are, monogamous.
I also started a discussion in the group once about my feelings of inadequacies when it comes to women. As I’ve been rejected by women far more often than I’ve been rejected by men, and every time part of the reason was my orientation. After pouring my heart out about how hurtful it was, two lesbians in the group came out and said they would never commit to a relationship with a bisexual. I almost cried. I asked why and one girl said that she was cheated on by a bisexual girl and the girl ended up dumping her and going back to her ex-boyfriend. The other girl had had no such experience but said she’d heard about it happening enough to feel justified. I asked all the lesbians there if they had ever been cheated on by a lesbian, and almost all of them said yes. Then I asked why they still trust lesbians, but they don’t trust bisexuals. Why is one bisexual woman’s actions representative of all bisexuals, and one lesbian’s actions not representative of all lesbians? They had no answers for that and just started spouting about how bisexuals don’t know what they want, can’t commit, and probably have a disease. It’s like they couldn’t comprehend that I, a bisexual woman, was sitting right in front of them on the verge of tears. The one group that I had hoped to find solace in, seemed to not want me. Sure, they would count me in their numbers, but I wasn’t expected to be treated with respect or have my voice heard.
There are other problems with the group that have troubled me–such as anti-feminism and transphobia and a penchant for meetings to turn into a gossip session. All in all, in a group that I thought could help me and provide support, I’ve found three or four people who I’m actually friends with. I will continue being friends with those I have gotten close to, but I don’t think I can stay active in the group.
For more from Dirty Nerdy, I recommend starting with her post on figuring out her sexuality. And from now on keep track of her and a number of other talented women bloggers on at Secular View.. Her first pieces there are on Wendy Davis’s filibuster and then US Congressional Representative Louis Golmert’s regressive anti-sex ed statement that “mankind has existed for a pretty long time without anyone ever having to give a sex-ed lesson to anybody. And now we feel like, oh gosh, people are too stupid to unless we force them to sit and listen to instructions. It’s just incredible.” Read The Dirty Nerdy’s fisking of Gohmert here.