Biphobia in the Queer Community

9 May

This post is a response and an expansion to an article I found on a British lesbian website, whose provocative title “Why Do Lesbians Hate Bisexuals?” is way harsher than its content. The article actually works to debunk a lot of myths lesbians might have toward bisexual women, and seeks to unpack some biphobia coming from the queer lesbian community. Finally, I plan to explore some of my own internalized biphobia that led me to claim “queer” instead of “bisexual.”

“She’s not strong enough to be a dyke.”

The article is pretty clever in explaining lesbian subculture, and how queer women need that space and claim that identity in order to feel kinship and community. The bi world just doesn’t have that. Once an individual commits to a lesbian identity, she risks losing a lot (a job, her family, services and rights, getting gay-bashed on the street) and the lesbian community is there to respect that: you lose a lot, but you gain a family, who understands and supports you (in an ideal world). If you look queer enough, you might get a dyke nod from a stranger. You might get a discount on a latte from a lesbian barista. You might find community because other lesbians know you’re strong enough to be a dyke.

Bisexual women are not included in this. There is no bi-girl nod. There is no bi-girl softball team. There is no way to look bi (readers, challenge me on this). The reasoning behind this is that bi women, according to myth, do not lose much by coming out as bi. There’s not as much risk to danger or harassment. They might look straight enough not to get hassled on the street. Their parents aren’t worried. They don’t have to come out at work, and if they do, it might just come off as a charming peculiarity, or a certain open-mindedness. Being bi never comes off as a militant, political statement, like it reads for lesbians. They are still safe, with one foot in the straight world. They might date men and get married and have babies one day. Even worse, they might date you for the good sex and then leave you to marry a man, or experiment with you in order to look more world-traveled and sexually adventurous to a man. Oh, the indignation!

These are all fears that the lesbian community has towards bi women. These myths of biphobia would quickly go away if people who believe them would just have a conversation with a bisexual person. The problem, of course, is that when we exclude bi women, where does that leave them? It leaves them erased and invisible. Not only that, it leaves lesbian-identifying women ashamed to admit they’re sometimes attracted to men (article), even the queerest of straight men. This attitude of “either straight or gay” leaves bisexuals confused about their own internalized homophobia: am I only bi because I’m too homophobic to be a lesbian?

I don’t even know why I’m using this “us” vs. “them” language, because I used to be an open bisexual. And let me tell you, I did not get to be a part of the LGBTQ community using that word. Part of why I’ve adopted “queer” is to get more validation from the LGBTQ community and to feel a part of something, because I was never, ever part of the straight world. I’ve also adopted “queer” to reflect my political stances and my queer race, queer ethnicity, queer nationality, queer gender, and all of the other interstices I fall into, as well as to reject the gender binary that “bi” “sex”-ual implies. It’s been a heaven-sent word. But let’s be real: my first college significant other, a feminist dyke G&WS major who considered themselves to be extremely politically correct, seriously made fun of me by calling me “straight” and constantly put my bi identity down. Apparently I was cute enough to fuck, but not strong enough to be part of the queer world. I got sick of that, and worked to embody a more concrete queerness to distance myself from that biphobia, but also because the binary implication of “bi” just wasn’t working for me anymore when I was attracted to queer people who also identified as being on the transgender spectrum.

It is ironic that in my experience, being bisexual was not a threat to the hetero people in my community, especially if I was dating men; but the hetero privilege I was perceived of having was a huge threat to the people in my queer community. In mainstream discourse, we usually imagine it to be the other way around, with all LGBTQIA sexualities being incredibly threatening to the heteronormative world, and not to the queer world.

So to wrap up: in my book, bisexual people are welcome to start their own softball leagues, their own dance parties and special nights at the club, and their own visual codes. Bi people, don’t be afraid to create a community for yourselves! Find other bi people and form a club! The intention of this rant, and of the article above, is to validate bisexuality for the people who want it, and allow it to exist as a strong identity that people can claim. This takes work from the queer world as well as the straight world, or perhaps all people in a non-categorized, all-queer world.

I’m someone who identifies as queer, meaning I am attracted to queer people with queer politics, without trying to label their gender for them. This means I might want to sleep with a male-bodied person as much as with a female-bodied person, although my politics are of the feminist, anti-capitalist, smash-the-patriarchy variety. My only real turnoff is a heteronormative cisgender person with a lot of unexamined privilege, that is to say, a non-queer person.

Posted by Celeste

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3 Responses to “Biphobia in the Queer Community”

  1. _RyanPatrick May 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Speaking to your experience, I wonder if biphobia in the heterosexual community is masked by [assumption alert] the fact that most heterosexual males would love to see two women get it on… That’s not a threat, it’s a turn on. Perhaps the unmarked state of being “the man” – white, male, and privileged – allows two women to fuck because the male is able to devour the event with his eyes – it is there for his entertainment – or he assumes that he can join the action whenever the situation presents itself. No?

    But, I definitely agree that there is a ton of biphobia that spews out of members of what they call, ironically, “the community.”

    I am all for calling these people on their shit. If the heteronormative world is guilty of attempting to render LGTQ people as illegitimate, then those who identify as LGTQ don’t get a free pass on being closed-minded. Faggots can be bigots too.

  2. Matthew August 4, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    After a string of harassment and discrimination by gays and Lesbians in professional situations. As well as negative experiences in relationships with gay men and straight women – it suddenly dawned on me what a big deal it was to be bi and date between orientation. Oddly the most accepting have been the straight guys I hang with. However they could never mirorr my experience or know what it is like. So I have been contacting other bi people on the net. And my knew girlfriend is bi which is awesome. With about half of gay men telling me I don’t exist it really is time for bi people to create more community – So I will. – it is indeed bizaare that the prejudice against bisexuals is so prevelant in G & L

  3. Aya November 20, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    I don’t know how, but apparently I do look bi. I suspect it’s more to do with not looking like a lesbian…. whenever people hear I have a girlfriend they assume I’m bi. It’s sad, but I suspect this may be the reason I’m the only lesbian I know who would have no problem dating a bi girl – I know what they get from people who think like that, because I get it too. It’s sad when people who haven’t experienced it can’t seem to understand why it’s bad. I found this whilst looking for articles to educate some of my friends who have been spouting biphobic cliches lately…. hopefully I can change some attitudes.

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