Thursday, September 10, 2009

From Erica: loving my balance on this fence

Something that's been bothering me for a long time is biphobia.

For some of you, the automatic response to that is to say "of course, it's a huge problem!" And for others of you, the automatic response sounds more like "huh?"

Here's the thing. We've got a lot of homophobia floating around out there, from straight folk as well as queer folk, about who can/should/does love whom and how acceptable that is or isn't. We've got a lot of literature, research, and theories making themselves heard in academia and the broader news media about what gayness means and how it comes to be, and of course about how gayness is affected by race, socioeconomic status, sex/gender identity, and more. There are gay folk who turn sexual desire into a political act, gay folk who loathe themselves, gay folk who just want the heteronormative lifestyle with a same-sex partner, and gay folk who don't care. There are promiscuous gay folk and celibate gay folk, and gay folk somewhere in between. But there's a long string of politics running from each end of these spectra to the other, and the overarching message is that it's okay to be gay. It's even better to be proud to be gay!

Being bisexual, bi-queer, or just bi- all labels that vary in definition and distinction from one self-identified bi person to the next- comes with a very different story, and that's what I want to talk about today.

In my experience, gay and lesbian folk can be gay or lesbian in many different ways, and as long as they say they're sexually attracted to individuals of the same sex and gender identity, people pretty much take it at face value. As long as they're not engaging in heterosexual behaviour at the same time, it usually goes uncontested. Not always, but usually.

For bi folk, it's a constant challenge and a constant quest to "prove" one's sexuality. I'm mostly speaking about the overarching rhetorical themes surrounding bi women, since bi men have a whole different set of stereotypes thrown at them, but some of these things speak true for anyone in the bi camp. Here are the things I've been told, as a bi woman, that I'm "really" going through:
-I'm not really bi. I just want attention.
-I'm not really bi. I just want to be part of the queer community while remaining in a safe, heterosexual relationship and use monogamy as an excuse to avoid being outed as straight.
-I'm not really bi. I'm not polyamorous.
-I'm not really bi. I look too femme.
-I'm not really bi. I'm actually 100% into women, and just can't face the truth.
-I'm not really bi. My sexual predilections, while not vanilla, aren't spicy enough.
-I'm not really bi. I want to attract the sexual attention of more men who find women-who-have-sex-with-women (WSW) hot.
-I'm not really bi. I'm not promiscuous enough.

Here's the truth, coming straight from this horse's mouth: I'M BI-QUEER-SEXUAL. I'm sexually attracted to males and females, men and women. I've been attracted to folk who play with androgyny too, though my trend has been pretty gender normative (as politically incorrect as that may be). As trans advocates have been saying for a long time, and as everyone else needs to start learning soon, sexuality is not the same as sex is not the same as gender identity is not the same as sexual behaviours is not the same as an entire person. Here's the thing. I like dresses, and I like playing with makeup from time to time. I've played with gender, and I feel most at home in a mainstream-White clothing-hair-makeup identity, with a dash of hippie thrown in. I'm a jealous person, and while I support peoples' rights to be polyamorous, I recognize that I'm not really capable of having an open, loving, safe, and happy relationship with someone who has other partners.

Monogamy works for me. As such, that means that when I settle in with a partner, my partner-based sexual behaviours fall into either "straight" or "gay" territory, as long as other people are defining it. For me, it's always sex, but for everyone else, the label matters. My current partner happens to be man-identified, male-identified, and straight-identified. I love him, and I see no need to justify that fact. Being with him makes desire women no less, and if he were a woman, that would make me desire men no less. I'm not on any fence for a lack of ability to choose one side or another; I'm balancing on the fence and able to reach both sides because I enjoy both.

Some straight women are jealous of the attention that bi women get for being bi, because of the myth that WSW are somehow sexually more available and more gratifying than straight women. Some lesbian women resent bi women like me, who can "pass" as straight if they want to. The truth is that both of those realities are horrible. The "attention" I get when I come out- the catcalls, the "Oooh, does Nick get threesomes?" questions- isn't fun at all. It's negative because it pins me into a stereotype that I don't fit. And the ability to pass as straight means that I'm expected to be complicit in heterosexism and homophobia because I'm not "one of Them," which is revolting and just plain wrong. I'm not bi to get queer attention and I'm not bi to get straight privileges. I'll admit that I get the privileges if I'm not careful- but that's something I seek to avoid as much as possible.

So here's an idea for people to chew on and maybe learn from: let my sexuality be itself. Being bi doesn't make me a traitor to anyone or any cause. It doesn't make me an attention-seeker, it doesn't make me a disempowered sexual beast, and it doesn't make me a liar. All it does is make me find people of multiple sexes and genders attractive, and makes me more aware of the negative treatment non-heterosexual sexualities get in our society.

For a further step, take this into consideration: stop thinking in terms of "heterosexual" and "homosexual." Think in terms of attraction (who you like), behaviour (who you do), and desire (who you want) instead, because the three are interconnected but not identical and because human sexualities are far more complicated than our two boxes can permit. When people talk about "gay people," consider how that term is an androcentric exclusion of lesbians and a heterocentric exclusion of a variety of sexualities, and a denial of the variety of personalities and preferences that the term is intended to encompass.

Above all, if you take no other step, please consider this: I like my view from the fence. It's a lot broader and more comfortable than being confined to one side or another. Please let me be up here, with all my cohorts, in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and thought-provoking post. I'll have to think a bit before I post a comment (or perhaps full post bouncing off these ideas).