Here Too, Queer Too

BCN 119 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 119, Summer 2013

I am a bisexual woman.  I am currently in a relationship with a bisexual man.  Though outwardly we appear to be a ‘normal’ heterosexual couple, we are still both queer.  These statements do not contradict each other in any way.

All my life, I’ve struggled with not feeling “gay enough”.  I’ve only ever had monogamous relationships with men – not due to choice, but due to circumstance.  I have always chosen a partner based on what I find attractive about them, not based on what’s between their legs.  And unfortunately (?), the people I’ve chosen to date long-term have all happened to be cisgendered men.  I have had other kinds of sexual/romantic relationships with women, but never long-term relationships.  And it’s no good for me to say “Hey! I’ve had sex with women – I am too a bisexual!!”, but sometimes I feel that I do need to say that in certain circles, so as to legitimise my feelings as a ‘proper’ bisexual and not one of those annoying ‘bicurious’ women (hushed tones, boo hiss).

Now admittedly, my partner and I both enjoy the privileges that come with being perceived as heterosexual, and I often wonder if that’s where the LGBTQ discomfort comes from.   Neither of us have had to come out to our families, had to worry about being abused in the street when we publicly display affection, or had to endure prying questions about our sex life.  We could get married if we wanted to, no questions asked (though hopefully if our government has any sense, that will change soon!). We could adopt children, or have our own, and no one would lament about how people like us are causing society to break down with our wayward morals.

But of course, that would all change if I were to date a woman, where I would be subject to the same homophobic abuse and hate speech as any other gay people.  Not only that, but being a bisexual woman comes with its own set of difficulties, namely the denial of our identity from both homophobes and some LGBTQ circles.  This feels particularly painful for me, as I feel I am unable to fit in with people I feel I am a part of.  For homophobes either class me as one of the queers or a joke, some harmless titillation to leer over and laugh at.
Some LGBTQ people dismiss me as a straight tourist, someone merely jumping on the queer bandwagon to fit in, or worse, kissing girls for male attention.

There’s a moment in Sex and the City where Samantha says that all the bisexuals she’s ever known have ended up with men – a common myth I’ve heard many times in an attempt to discredit bisexuality.  Before I came out as a bisexual, I heard one of my closest friends say that she couldn’t believe bisexuals could really know they weren’t straight unless they’d had relationships with both women AND men.  Even while writing these words– and I’m in two minds about admitting this – I still have a terrible fear that someone will read them and think “yes but how can she know she’s bisexual if she hasn’t had equally intense relationships with women? Bicurious is a better label for her! What’s she doing writing for this magazine?!”  [if so:  genders aren’t Pokemon, you don’t have to catch’em all – BCN Editor Jen]

I feel that too often we are defined by our partners and our sexual history, and not by our feelings – like I need to be “qualified” before defining as a bisexual.  Every time I come out to others I am greeted with surprise and told “oh, you’d never tell!”, perhaps because I don’t fit any stereotype of a bisexual woman (attention-seeking and promiscuous, presumably).  But it’s interesting how there is so much handwringing about our heteronormative and heterosexist society, and yet even in queer circles there’s still this sense of “straight until proven queer”!

I understand that bisexuals potentially have the option of being able to choose to date the opposite gender, and so can protect themselves from homophobic abuse in a way that gay people can’t… but then again, as one The F Word writer put it, “we want to be with the person we love, not the person that lets us claim straight privilege”.  Even if it is a choice, it is a choice that we are entitled to make for ourselves.

I would never try to claim that we face more discrimination than gays and lesbians… only perhaps that ours is particularly poignant, to sometimes feel rejected by our own kind.  It seems trite to say here, but it’s an idea worth reiterating – sexual identity should only ever be about how we feel, and not about our credentials.  I could have slept with an equal spread of genders, or only ever slept with men; I could have a preference for women but still feel sexually attracted to the occasional man; I could prefer men for sex and women for romantic relationships; I could be a virgin.  My bisexuality is completely valid and healthy in all of these scenarios, and does not deserve to be put up to scrutiny – it’s no one else’s business how we feel and express our sexuality.

Cath Elms is a feminist musician, writer, activist and zinester.  She is a founding member of the Swansea Feminist Network, edits a feminist compzine called ‘Pandora Press’, and bashes out alt-rock music on her piano.  She blogs at blatantblithe.wordpress.com