A few months ago, I mentioned in passing to a couple of gay friends my frustrations around monosexual privilege and bisexual invisibility (especially in supposedly pro-LGBT environments). One of those friends, with genuine curiosity and humility, admitted that she didn’t even realize that that was a thing and that she’d never heard me talk about it before. Five minutes later I was emphatically jotting down a list of things I experience as a result of being bisexual in a monosexually-privileged world.
I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since. But this morning I discovered this absurd essay by Dan Savage in which he fully convinces me that he is bi-phobic while trying to explain how he is not. He argues that, rather than blaming gay and straight people for oppressing us, we should berate each other into coming out in order to increase our visibility. He’s a moron. But more to the point, he is deeply blinded by his monosexual privilege.
The truth is that—like it or not—our privilege often blinds us to the realities of those who are not privileged. The only way to move forward is to learn what we cannot instinctively see. In my year and a half of being out as bisexual, I have noticed that there are certain assumptions and realities I brace myself for every time that I name my sexual identity. So for those looking to become better bi-allies, here are 5 invisible realities of being bisexual that you may have never considered:
1) Being Over-sexualized – This is probably the most well known stereotype about those who are bisexual. This projection suggests that people who are bisexual are compulsively driven to seek out sex with whomever they can. Most media portrayals of bisexuals depict us as predatory sex fiends. Though it seems so extreme as I write it, I have often found that people project some form of this idea onto me. I have been told that I am playing fast and loose with fidelity and that I am trying to have my cake and eat it too. One problem with this assumption is that it suggests that there is some universally right amount of sex, and that anyone who has too much of it is deviant which, in turn, implies that sex is ultimately a bad thing. But this stereotype is also problematic because it erases the reality of bisexuals who seek monogamous, long-term relationships or those who don’t feel sexually liberated at all.
2) Hostility from Both Sides – Bisexual folks often wind up alienated not only from the heterosexual world but also from queer communities. While many heterosexual people condemn us along with those who are gay and lesbian, still others take particular offense to our seeming “sneakiness.” Within the queer community, I have encountered many who think we undermine the struggle for equality and acceptance by being able to “play straight.” We are often assumed not to encounter the full effects of sexuality discrimination. Both gay and straight people have expressed to me that I have a responsibility to choose a side. As a result, there is really no environment where I don’t feel at risk in acknowledging my bisexuality—even (and sometimes especially) in communities with other people who are queer.
3) Being Assumed Into Gay Inclusion – I have a love/hate relationship with the LGBTQ abbreviation. I appreciate that it acknowledges and connects a diversity of sexual realities and identifies us as one community with a common cause. However, far too often this phrase is used to name inclusion that really only applies to those who are gay or lesbian. Those who are bisexual (and trans* as well) are assumed to benefit from gay and lesbian equality while our existence continues to be overshadowed, ignored, or erased. When someone attempts to be inclusive by referencing a same-sex relationship (in a sermon illustration for instance), we who are not gay are meant to assume that such an illustration also names our reality. In fact, it is likely that every monosexual person who hears such an illustration will assume that the couple is gay and is unlikely to even think of bisexuality at all. We remain unnamed.
4) No Visual Representation – This is the reality of being bisexual that most frustrates me and of which I’ve found that non-bisexual people are most unaware. I agree with the claim that one’s choice of clothing or hairstyle shouldn’t lead to assumptions about one’s sexuality—but we all know that it does. When I first came out as a lesbian (prior to coming out as bisexual) I found myself trying to dress the part. For better or worse, I appreciated finally being unafraid of “looking like a lesbian.” These days, every morning I make a decision about how I want to present myself to the world. I know that based on my hair, make up, and clothing, people will either assume that I am gay or straight. But no matter what I do or wear, I can never present as bisexual. I cannot implicitly or silently indicate it to the world. Even if I made out with a woman in the middle of a crowded street or wore a rainbow flag toga, no one would realize that I am bisexual. When I am with a woman, I am assumed to be gay. When I am with a man I am seen as straight. I am never seen for what I am unless I announce it. Which leads me to perhaps the most invisible and most distinctly bisexual reality that I know:
5) Every Second We’re Not Coming Out, We’re In – Recently, I was on a date with a man. We had already had conversations about my sexuality, but I found myself thinking about how I would handle things if we hadn’t. At what point in a date with someone do you come out? I would have faced the same question on a date with a woman. As far as I know, this is a circumstance that neither straight people nor gay people have to encounter. In fact, for gay people dates and relationships may be the one definitive space where they don’t have to come out to be fully known. For those of us who are bisexual, there is literally no such space. Even in a room filled with only queer people, our identities are invisible—overshadowed by assumptions that we’re gay—unless we name it and keep naming it. There is no “not shoving it in your face,” there is no “not pushing our agenda,” there is no “just be you.” When privileged, white, gay men like Dan Savage claim that bisexual people have an obligation to come out in order to increase bisexual visibility, they don’t realize what they’re asking. They’re asking that we come out not just once, but over and over and over and over. Every moment. All the time. The exhausting reality of being bisexual in a monosexual world is that at every moment of our lives we are either vocally declaring our identity or allowing our identity to be erased.
I would love to see more bisexual visibility in the world, but it’s going to take more than just us coming out. A bi-inclusive world requires those who are monosexual to understand and embrace one essential truth: even if you accept everything you see as true, it does not mean that you are seeing the whole truth. We are more complicated than that. Thank God.