By Gabrielle Alexa
Originally Published on the I Am Woman Project
There is an unspoken loneliness when you have an invisible identity.
Our culture has always centered and praised heterosexuality, and then positioned homosexuality as its reverse. Bisexuality sits somewhere in the middle, further marginalized and stigmatized, but above all, erased. And just as bisexuality is overwhelmingly misunderstood, so is biphobia.
While there has always been a developed conversation about homophobia, the conversation around biphobia is distinctly different, if not somewhat vacant. It often misrepresents biphobia as a diet alternative to homophobia, rather than its own system of unique prejudices. It pretends that bisexual women only experience bigotry half as much as homosexual women do, and therefore awards us “straight privilege” because we can pass as heterosexual. But the ability to pass as straight isn’t a privilege, it’s a prime example of how our identity is erased.
And we are erased in other ways, too. Bisexuality is often referred to as a “phase” or “switching teams,” which positions it as a decision between two monosexual identities instead of its own distinct one. This purported inability to pick is why bisexual women have a reputation for being fickle or indecisive when really, there is no need for us to make a choice. We have already chosen.
In addition, bisexuality gets dismissed as an accessory to straightness because we perceive female sexuality, overall, as something that exists for men. Female bisexuality then becomes a performance for men and functions as a way of fulfilling their sexual desires, even though it exists independently of them.
Bisexuality gets dismissed as an accessory to straightness because we perceive female sexuality, overall, as something that exists for men.
This objectification participates in the fetishization and hypersexualization of bisexual women and while it gets mistaken for our cultural acceptance, it is anything but. We glorify threesomes and women making out with each other because bisexuality is only celebrated when it doesn’t solely belong to women. In actuality, we are celebrating what bisexuality suggests about men—that they are attractive enough to secure multiple sex partners, that their desires should be centered before our own. And it allows our sexuality to be seen as a choice, even to those who perceive gay and lesbian people as “born this way”.
Biphobia doesn’t just actively oppress bisexual people, it’s something we internalize and use against ourselves, too. Regardless of a compassionate support system and self-acceptance, nobody is immune to sexual shame. I’m certainly not an exception. So in the same way that others have doubted me, I notice I doubt myself. For years, I accepted the very odious task of proving my own existence. I had learned that queerness was something you needed to “explore” before you could know it about yourself. I kissed women and I heard it didn’t count (because straight people perform that behavior all the time). I slept with women and people challenged that too.
“Were you drunk? Have you had an actual relationship with a woman?”
People felt entitled to my answers. And these questions treat bisexuality like something that exists only when a person was sober, or within the context of partnership, or when it is out in the open. They ignore the fact that bisexuality is the potential for involvement with more than one gender/sex, not actual involvement. Straight people can spend a lifetime practicing celibacy or dating casually without their identity being challenged. But queer people and especially bisexual people have to gather a list of experiences before their identity is seen as valid.
In retrospect, for me personally, I think this translated to me forcing connections and experiences that weren’t always healthy. I wanted to know definitively that my identity wasn’t in my imagination. I wanted to have an answer when people asked prying questions. And I resented that heterosexuality was allowed merely to exist, that it doesn’t require proof, more so than I resented it for being the default. I resented monosexuality overall.
Heterosexuality is allowed merely to exist – it doesn’t require proof
I didn’t feel entitled to attend Pride or to wear anything rainbow-colored because those were identity markers that I didn’t deserve until I had completed some checklist of bisexual behaviors. I wondered if I needed to perform aesthetic queerness or broadcast my sexuality in conversations before I was “real.” Conversely, when I added a tiny rainbow flag to my social media accounts, I worried that I was overemphasizing something. One’s openness about their sexuality and how “out” they appear is currency in the LGBTQ+ community, regardless of sexuality. But because bisexual people experience a greater degree of skepticism, it feels like we must be that much more “out” to be authentic. When I confess that my parents still don’t know I like women, it is evidence against me.
As I settled into my sexual identity, as I dated women, as I developed more courage, I also noticed that simply dating men was enough to negate all of that. Because bisexuality is misrepresented as phases of heterosexuality and homosexuality, rather than the potential for both, all I had to do was settle down with a boyfriend to be accused of abandoning my identity. It was perceived as a surrender. When I entered queer spaces with a heterosexual partner, I also became an intruder.
Conversely, when I actively date women for a while, people ask me to consider that I am actually a lesbian. The joke is often that my last heterosexual partner has somehow “turned me” gay, even though my potential for dating the same gender has always existed. And relationships with women often require me to mitigate their fears that I will decide to be straight again, that I am halfway out the door. This speaks to the prioritization of monosexuality and the belief that bisexuality is simply a period of transition.
When I entered queer spaces with a heterosexual partner, I became an intruder.
In this way, my bisexuality only feels completely understood when I am going on dates with both men and women. Explaining my identity is a lot like playing peek-a-boo with a baby who hasn’t developed spatial awareness yet because it’s hard for anyone to conceptualize it unless it manifests simultaneously. And I think this has robbed me of a sense of community amongst other LGBTQ+ people, although I am definitely LGBTQ+. For so many bisexual people, this has made us feel like we don’t have a place, that we do not exist. We are invisible even to each other. And this can feel so remarkably lonely.
It is because of this struggle that the suggestion that bisexual women have privilege feels like a slap in the face. I’m sure that women in heterosexual partnerships, as a function of patriarchy, have privilege. But what about bisexual women who are single? What about bisexual women who present as stereotypically queer? What about when we are currently dating women, and therefore perceived to be homosexual? Our alleged bisexual privilege pops in-and-out at random.
We need to stop perceiving bisexuality as the middle-ground between two sexualities, and rather as its own unique sexual identity. We need to stop viewing it as a phase, or a step in-between. Most importantly, we need to stop heralding it as a privileged identity and pay attention to the specific prejudices that make up biphobia. In this way, we can create a culture that doesn’t erase bisexuality, and thus allows us to step outside the margins.
The I AM WOMAN Project is a community empowering women to elevate, motivate and celebrate themselves through shared narratives. We showcase and celebrate women’s true power by sharing their stories, wisdom and inspirational insights across video, audio, and digital
Gabrielle Alexa is a writer, passionate feminist, and cat mom.