adventures in bisexual erasure

I read this post a few weeks back called Why Gays Don’t Support Bisexuals. I thought it was pretty interesting, and sparked some thoughts based on my own relationships with bisexual men. The bi-erasure I’ve run into as a cis-woman when in a relationship with a bisexual man is usually one of two branches, both of which either invalidate our relationship or his identity:

  1. There’s no such thing as a bisexual male, so he’s actually gay and in denial/ in the process of coming out.
  2. No, he’s with a woman, so he can’t be bisexual. He’s straight.

Janeway expresses so many feels.

See, my general thing is to assume people know themselves pretty well — so if someone says they’re bisexual, they probably have a pretty solid reason for identifying as such (personally, I tend assume everyone is kinda bisexual, but for some people their bisexual inclinations are so minimal that it’s easier or even a non-issue for them to present/ identify as monosexual). Me, I’m straight-identified, which is actually part of how I came to this conclusion. I mean, I could see maybe being in a relationship with a girl should a very specific set of (and honestly, quite unlikely) circumstances occur.

A VERY specific set of circumstances.

It’s not that being with a girl is repellent to me, it’s that it just doesn’t matter to me. I’m neutral/ ambivalent about the idea. I’ve had girl friends who I am quite close to, and have kissed or felt the urge to kiss women in the past … but then again, kissing is fun, and I’ve never been interested or invested in pursuing it past that urge.

In short, I feel like I could have a happy romantic relationship with a girl should some “Y: The Last Man,” situation ever call for it, but I don’t particularly care to test-run that theory.

If you don’t get that reference, I feel bad for you. You need to go read this.

My bisexual friends do not hold this level of disinterest toward the idea of a relationship with either gender. They say, “I could go either way. I’m more interested in a great personality, and sex is sex– fun!”

This seems to generally sum up their attitude toward romantic relationships: Cool people are cool regardless of gender, and sex is fun– so why limit the possibility of romance?

On the other hand, when I speak with gay or straight-identified people about bisexuality, there seem to be two reactions to the idea of sleeping with both genders:

  1. Detached disinterest in sleeping with the opposite of whatever sex they’re attracted to.
  2. Vehemently expressed disgust.

I’ve begun to refer to such vehement disgust/ biphobia as the “team mentality” of sexuality. The “team mentality,” is when someone who identifies as straight or gay dislikes bisexuals because they (the monosexual-identified person) have so deeply invested their identity being perceived as 100% straight or gay, for whatever reason, that they don’t want to back away from their “team.”

The analogy, obviously, is from die-hard sports fans who get all weird and disturbing about their singular focus on a sports team.

Image from Why Your Team Sucks

Much like homophobia, I think biphobia comes about in part because the person does not want to look at/ acknowledge a part of themselves that would cause them to re-assess their identity and public persona.

In the case of biphobic gay people, this kind of makes sense. A lot of gay people have had to identify politically and socially as “gay” in order to fight for the rights to have their same-sex relationships recognized and legally validated. I would imagine the psychological effect is a bit like a hazing, or bootcamp, or running a gauntlet. It’s this traumatic event that tears down the existing world and relationships, puts life and psychological well-being in danger, and creates a sense of community forged through shared hardship.

Coming out as “bi” just as gay-ness is beginning to gain mainstream acceptance would be willingly subjecting themselves to a level of discrimination and erasure that the gay community is only just beginning to be able to move past. Furthermore, since bisexuality is so often cast as a “phase” it seems (at first blush) to counter arguments for gay rights– after all, if being bisexual is not “merely” a transition period, then that leads one to think that a self-identified gay person could, perhaps, find love and happiness in a heteronormative relationship.

And maybe they could– I’m sure there are plenty people who currently identify as gay that could possibly find heteronormative love, just as I think there are many people in heretonormative relationship that could find happiness in same-sex relationships.

Of course, that’s not the point — the point is that there is absolutely no moral or logical reason to prevent consenting adults who wish to engage in a relationship and build a family/ life together with whomever they choose from doing so. It is that simple, or should be.

Marriage for all! Dance party!

But it isn’t. There is unfortunately a large (but shrinking!) and noisy population of people who truly believe they “know,” for whatever reason, that gay marriage is a horrible thing. They are utterly convinced of their correctness, and have spewed their divisive vitriol into the public debate and into the private home lives of people they’re utterly unrelated to.

Why, how did this wikimedia image of Orson Scott Card end up here?

The children (and possibly grandchildren) of those bigots are raised in a culture of hatred and fear, and some of those kids have same sex attraction.

Now, imagine a kid is being raised in a family that believes same sex attraction is wrong and evil, and that kid realizes they have some same sex attractions. The kid is essentially faced with two socially-constructed options, no middle ground. Those options are to be gay or straight. So they pick a team. They draw a line in the sand and choose to identify as one or the other. Generally speaking, this results in an outcome that falls under one of four broad categories:

  1. Person chooses to ignore homosexual feelings of attraction and live as a straight person. If they get married, all their family will probably come to the wedding. No state, city, or federal agency will prevent them from having or adopting children. If they get divorced, they will not lose any claim to visitation or custody over their children. If their spouse ends up in the hospital, they will be able to visit them and sit by their bed. As a married couple, their marriage will be recognized on both state and federal levels, and they will benefit from all the legal benefits and protections such an official relationship bestows.
  2. Person chooses to ignore heterosexual feelings of attraction and live as gay person. They come out to their family and friends, and risk ostracization and discrimination. If they get married, some or all of their family/ friends may boycott the wedding. If they want to build a family, they will find people actively campaigning to prevent them from doing so. If they manage to become parents (as a stepparent, through surrogacy, through adoption, etc.), they may lose any right to see or visit their child should the adult relationship cease. If they get married, the legality of their relationship will not be recognized by all states/ countries. They will not benefit from all the legal protections and benefits the civil institution of marriage should offer to all citizens.
  3. Choice 1, but person does not find happiness or fulfillment in this lifestyle and re-assesses their identity. This becomes part of their coming-out saga, and they move on identifying as homosexual.
  4. Either of the first two choices, but person continually finds themselves slipping/ experimenting (either during or in between relationships). They always term these to be curiosity/ boredom/ loneliness/ desperation, and continue to present as their chosen identity. 

Basically, repression of sexual desires does not actually mean erasure of said desires — it means denying, for a lifespan, a key and essential aspect of how they relate to and interact with other people.

I really do believe most people are on a sort of broad spectrum of sexuality, similar to the Kinsey Scale. Research has long pointed to a genetic link, with recent research showing that epigenetic markers may be the deciding factor.

This HuffPost editorial by Christopher Rudolph, titled, Ender’s Game And Philosophy,’ New Book, Asks: ‘How Queer Is Ender?‘ gives a brief overview of Queer Theory and in the process, describes my view pretty well:

“Some people are biologically predisposed to being interested in the same sex and some the opposite sex, but there would also be many people in between—not just bisexual people, but people who mostly prefer men or mostly prefer women. In our society, we’re terrified to think that many of us are born somewhere on the middle of this spectrum, because we’ve been taught to hate and fear same-sex relationships, so we cannot even think about it!”

Personally, my suspicion has always been that hormone release (by both baby and mother) during gestation is what determines later sexual orientation. I figure it’s like a bit like baking — if I make a cake and don’t add enough sugar, or maybe I cook it at too high a temperature, then it won’t be the cake I thought I’d have.

Ingredients and timing matter, even in biology. Maybe the hormone release is dictated by the epigenetic changes, who knows.

Anyway, I do think there is a very, very small percentage of the population that is actually 100% hetero or homosexual. I just think that, given social pressures, if a person can fit in as straight, and they’re not overly interested in a homosexual relationship, why would they risk their safety and social privileges to come out about the possibility they may want to have a same-sex relationship some day? They may not be averse to the idea, may even have some curiosity about it — but why risk all for an urge they can dismiss as mild curiosity?

And if a person has identified as gay, and has given up relationships with their family or friends to live as a homosexual, and they have built a new support system within the gay community — well, then, why deal with the repercussions and sense of betrayal within the community just to announce that they maybe, possibly, might someday be interested in a straight-apppearing relationship, especially when such urges can be dismissed as a longing to fit in and be accepted?

As an analogy, imagine that you’re hungry and you want a snack. You have the option of ice cream or pie. But you’ve set up an arbitrary restriction for yourself, so you can have only one or the other — you want both, but you have decided you can only have one. You like both options, but you choose one over the other. Which do you choose? Why? Whichever you chose, you probably chose because you prefer it. You may like ice cream, but you prefer the texture and warmth of pie. Or maybe you enjoy pie, but it’s just not the same without ice cream, so you’d rather just have ice cream alone. You like both, but have a preference. It’s like 90% of you chose the pie, but 10% of you could go with ice cream. That’s how I kind of view most mono-presenting bisexuals. I figure they prefer one snack over the other, but there’s a little and easily repressed interest in the discarded snack.

Taking that percentages idea further, the less equivalent someone’s interest in both sexes is (say, 90/10 or 80/20), the more likely I think they are to identify as monosexual. But if someone has a 60/40 or 50/50 interest in both genders, then it’s going to be really hard to pretend to be monosexual. Your sexuality– no matter how much some people try to claim it isn’t an identity– is a huge part of how you view the world and interact with people around you.

But people still don’t like to identify as bisexual, either because they think bisexuals don’t exist, or they think it’s betraying their community, or they’re just scared to admit to same-sex attraction in any form.

Having a community, an identity — it makes a difference in your emotional and psychological health. Knowing there are people who “get” you.

On top of that, there are so many negative stereotypes and myths about bisexual people. People say bisexuals are cheaters, indecisive, attention whores, just in transition, in denial of their homosexuality. More than once, I’ve been told bisexual men are incapable of monogamy. In a nice little piece of hypocrisy (and, to my mind, one of those weird moments when people spout biological differences between the sexes like we’re literally different species), I’ve been firmly informed that while it is well-known that women are sexually fluid, men are incapable of this kind of fluidity.

One very angry man, with utter conviction and no small amount of spittle, spent a good 45 minutes reiterating this point to me; and insisted that any man I had been with sexually who had also been with a guy had either been a) faking it with the guy and was raped, or b) was faking it with me and in the process of coming out. It was inconceivable to this individual that any adult male could actually choose– and enjoy– sexual relations with both men and women.

What do you say to intransigent idiocy?

I guess there’s just no convincing some people.


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