Today is a guest post from one of the other members of our affiliate who also works with a gender studies department at a local college.
When I first decided to come out, I was prepared for people to say a lot of different things to me. There was one reaction that I never expected but, unfortunately, it’s one of the ones that has kept on popping up over the years, despite the many gains that we’ve made for LGBT issues:
“But you don’t exist.”
People who tell me that bisexuals are a myth are a demographically diverse bunch: I’ve gotten this reaction from straight folks and from members of the queer community; from people younger than me as well as from folks in my grandparents’ generation; from medical and community health professionals; and I’ve gotten it when I’ve been in relationships with women, with men, and while single. After almost two decades of being out, it’s kind of funny: since I’m still around to hear it, isn’t that inherent proof that I’m really here?
Now on one hand, being told that I’m a figment of my own imagination is a mildly surreal experience. But I’m not Tinkerbell and I don’t need anyone to clap and shout “I believe in bisexuals” in order for me to stay alive. So why write about it?
I’ve gotten pretty immune to the weirdness that comes with these comments, but they’re still having a real impact on people’s lives. At a recent queer event, a bi teenager talked about what coming out was like for her, and the fact that she “didn’t know that [bisexuality] was an option.” She felt like she had to choose but she couldn’t, so she thought there was something wrong with her.
Someone else recently sent this card to PostSecret – the text on the card reads:
My friends love and support me as a Lesbian they would disown me if they knew I’m really bisexual.
She added on the back of the card “and it kills me inside.”
Some of this gets at larger questions of social norms: in a heteronormative society that sees gender as binary, a shift from ‘John likes women’ to ‘John likes men’ challenges the belief that everyone’s straight … but not much else. Changing ‘John likes women’ to ‘John likes people’ brings more assumptions out to be dismantled, and it therefore encounters more resistance. Given our culture’s current attitudes to gender and sexuality, that reaction isn’t unexpected, but we need to address these issues if we ever want to get rid of that resistance.
There are a lot of other issues around bisexuality that I’m not getting into here: the reactions men get when coming out as bi and how they differ from the reactions women get; the increase in the number of public figures who are out as bi (and the fact that a majority of them are white cisgendered women); and the discussion of whether the term ‘bisexual’ reinforces ideas of binary gender or not. BiNet USA and The Bisexual Index have a lot more information and are worth checking out, if you’re interested.
The fact that these issues exist within both straight and queer cultures can be disheartening, but visibility, acceptance and understanding are ongoing processes. As more people know someone who’s bi (or realize that they already know some of us), myths and assumptions get dismantled. For Pride this month, I’ll be celebrating the strides we’ve made as a community. I’ll also be wearing my ‘Love is a many gendered thing’ t-shirt, and will be looking forward to the progress that we’re going to keep making as we move ahead.