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.