Frangipani

Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

On Labels, Bi-Phobia, And The Importance Of Community – Part II January 31, 2011

This is Part II of an overlong post. Part I is here.

I recently had a conversation with a lesbian-identified bisexual who pretty much embodied the bi-phobia I’ve encountered in lesbian circles before. This woman chooses the label lesbian because, even though she has the occasional male partner, she is married to a woman and came into her own in the lesbian community. Based on her interactions with women on a dating website who called themselves ‘bisexual’, she announced to me – after declaring the existence of a bisexual community support group ridiculous – that (female) bisexuals were clearly only sex maniacs who were looking for a woman to add to threesomes with their boyfriends and that ‘bisexual’ just meant basically duplicitous and untrustworthy fakers.

I managed to stay calm during this exchange. It had been a pleasant conversation up until that point and the statements she made were said mildly – she was simply stating her position. For my part, at the end of her little speech, I pointed out that attitudes like that were precisely why we needed both bisexual activists and bisexual community support groups in the first place. She shut up. We moved on.

But the more I thought about it after the fact, the angrier I got.  Who the hell was this woman to define bisexuals like that in the first place and then tar us all with the same brush? Hell, if I used her method of data-collection (i.e., base my opinion purely on the lesbians I’ve spoken to online) I’d have to conclude that lesbians were all bi-phobic bigoted flakes who couldn’t spell. Here I was bending over backwards trying to understand the attitude I was getting and arguing that it was understandable even if it wasn’t fair, blah, blah, blah, while this horrible creature felt entitled to blithely shit all over what she knew to be my identity. Oh yes. This wasn’t a ‘just among us lesbians’ type of discussion. She knows I am bisexual and that I belong to a bisexual community. She just doesn’t think it’s ‘real’ enough to deserve any respect.

I think one of the things that irritated me most about the whole encounter was that, fundamentally, her sexuality and mine are so similar, ie, we both consider ourselves lesbians who are occasionally interested in men. I suppose I thought that should have served as common ground for the tentative friendship we’ve been thrown into (this is purely platonic. Various events in our lives have thrown us together, but I have no sexual interest in this woman.). But the difference between us is that I am married to a man and, when I came out, I found support and acceptance in the bisexual community. Not only that, but I was outright rejected by the lesbian community and only found the bisexual community because one of the bi-phobes posted a rant about how bisexuals should all fuck off to this bisexual community and leave the ‘proper’ lesbians alone. The only reason I have any contact with lesbians now is because the poly community functions as a sort of bridge.

I think I also realized, in the days that followed that conversation, why the  label ‘bisexual’ is one I want to hold on to despite how I feel about men and women.

She spoke of the lesbian community as hers in a way that I know it will never be mine, and that made me sad. But then I realized that the reason her attitude towards the bisexual community made me so angry was that it was MY community she was talking about – not just mine in the abstract but mine as in the way the lesbian community is hers. When I was struggling with my sexuality and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do about it, it was the bisexual community that took me in. It was the bisexual community that introduced me to the poly community and it was in the overlap between the bi and poly communities that I found my partners and my friends. Not all the polys are bi and not all the bis are poly, but I can move through both communities with equal confidence and without being questioned. I prefer women and I have a preference for long-term relationships over casual affairs or sex-only relationships, but not once has anybody in either community ever accused me of not being bisexual enough or poly enough. And not only are my personal interpretations of bisexuality and polyamory accepted, H, who is not bisexual nor actively polyamorous has been embraced by the community as well. That, I think, seals the deal. When a community is not only willing to take you as you are but also take in the people you love, no questions asked, you know you’ve struck gold.

Despite how my orientation develops, I cannot turn my back on the bisexual community and I cannot relinquish the label. Instead, to the extent possible, I want to support the community and work towards better bisexual visibility and representation. Every community comes complete with assholes and while the bisexual community is certainly not free of them, it took meeting one from the lesbian community to make me realize which I’d rather put up with.

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On Labels, Bi-phobia, and the importance of community – part I

This post was getting ridiculously long so I decided to split it into two, slightly more reader-friendly posts. This is Part I. Part II is here.

When I started this blog, I called myself bisexual and basically figured I was as attracted to men as I was to women*. Over the years I have come to realize that my orientation isn’t as 50-50 as I thought. Today, I think a more accurate description of me would be that I am a lesbian who occasionally fancies men. Most of the time, however, men outright repulse me. Or rather, they’re lovely to be friends with, but the concept of having sex with them repulses me (except, of course, when it doesn’t). I don’t have an explanation for it. This is just where my sexuality seems to have settled, at least for the time being. I can’t say for sure that this is exactly where I’ll be in a couple of years, but as I get older I feel like these shifts signify a growing-into rather than the exploration of even a few years ago.

I am, however, still married to a man and I have no intention of changing that. What can I say? I picked a keeper.

Needless to say, this complicates my status. When I said earlier that I am more accurately described as a lesbian, I meant that my orientation for pretty much everything is primarily towards women. Life, love, sex – everything is just easier with women. And by easier, I don’t mean less complicated, but simply something I feel like giving my energy to. Whether I am at home or out in public with my girlfriend, I feel like I’ve just let go a long-held breath. When someone in the street obviously thinks I’m gay, I feel no need to correct them, unlike when they think I’m straight. Being assumed to be heterosexual feels like being backed into a corner and suffocated. Being assumed to be homosexual gives me this incredible sense of relief.

But then I run headlong into the minefield that is the lesbian community. To be fair, I should state up front that I have met and in some cases had relationships with polyamorous lesbians who didn’t have a problem with bisexuality, or at least with my being married to a man, so clearly they do exist. However, the overwhelming majority have been bi-phobic, and some very aggressively so.

Now, I do get that since being ‘bisexual’ was deemed cool by whoever it is who decides such things, lesbians have been repeatedly approached by women claiming to be bisexual who were in it only to get their boyfriends off, who were just fooling around or experimenting, who were only marking time till they could have a ‘real’ relationship with a man, and so on. Basically, lesbians have been jerked around and women calling themselves ‘bisexual’ have often been the cause. I understand how that can lead to a general wariness around women who purport to be bisexual – once bitten and all that.

But at the same time I have to wonder – do lesbians never jerk each other around? Has a lesbian never left a lesbian for another lesbian? Has a lesbian never entered into a just-for-now relationship that the other partner though was for keeps? Given the healthy balance of exes the lesbians I know seem to have, I’m going to assume that lesbians can and do do all of the above to each other. So why blame bisexuals?

I think the problem lies in heterosexual privilege. Out lesbians have committed to a lifetime of potential if not actual discrimination. In most countries, they can’t marry their partners, have little to no protection under the law, and have to deal with the social stigma attached to being gay. They don’t have a choice in the matter. I think the hostility towards bisexuals comes in part from the fact that we can, at any point, retreat into heterosexual privilege. I am married to a man. That affords me a certain amount of social protection, whether I like it or not. Even if I shouted my bisexuality from the rooftops, the fact that I am in a straight relationship means that my queerness can be ignored wholesale. I can ‘feel’ as lesbian as I like – socially, I have a kind of protection that no out, exclusively homosexual person does.  And even if I wasn’t married to a man, the fact of my bisexuality represents a sort of escape route if things get too dicey over in lesbian-land – an escape most lesbians do not have and could not access without denying who they are.

Part of me wants to give up the label ‘bisexual’ and embrace ‘lesbian’ for all of those reasons. That my marriage to H prevents me from doing so frustrates me no end and I wish there was a solution that did not involve divorce, because that ain’t happening.

But then I run into self-righteous, bi-phobic lesbians and I remember why my community means so much to me.

Continued here

*I am for the moment leaving aside the valid criticism of the assumption that there are only two sexes and that a bisexual person is one attracted to ‘both’ sexes. There are interesting discussions on that topic that I will write about later.