Bisexuality Awareness and Bi-phobia

Afraid of Bisexuals?
We are afraid of bisexuals.

Gay men, lesbians and straight men and women are united in this, if nothing else. How else to explain the way we treat bisexuals? We ignore them in the names of our organizations-National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. We ignore them in our newspapers, referring almost unilaterally to the "gay and lesbian community"-or just "gay community," which is worse. In the same way that women were once expected to see their own reflections in the words "man" and "he," we now expect bisexuals to look at "lesbian" and "gay" and see shadows of themselves.

If transgendered people are the divas of our community, then bisexuals are the invisible stagehands. We don't want to admit they exist-or, worse, that we might be they.

After all, many of us who self-identify as "gay" and "lesbian" have had romantic relationships with members of the opposite sex, often fulfilling, wonderful relationships.

 When Ann Hesche decided she was in love with Ellen DeGeneres, we smiled and spoke about the transforming power of love, welcoming her into the family. When JoAnn Loulan found her soulmate in a man, we were bitter, angry, scorned. We pushed her aside.

If someone has a same-sex romantic or sexual experience--for example, Eleanor Roosevelt--we ignore their heterosexual side and claim them as our own. But when men who loved men turn to women, or when women who loved women turn to men, we abandon them while they still identify with us. Straight friends who appreciate our community but always stay straight are patted on the back. Gay men and lesbians who "turn straight" are exiled.

Bisexuals can't win. Straights see them as swingers. Gays and lesbians view them as indecisive. "Make a choice already," we sigh or shriek. While our rhetoric explaining why straights should accept those with a same-sex sexual orientation is all about love, when bisexuals with opposite-sex partners edge into our community, we fuss over straight privilege.

Why we do this is no secret. Partly, we worry that the term "bisexuality" allows people to have same-sex flings and then to slip unobtrusively into straight society without ever making the tough commitment to publicly come out into gay and lesbian life.

Partly we don't want to include bisexuals in our community because we believe that our political identity (and thus our clout) depends on firm boundaries. Defining the gay and lesbian community is difficult--Do you have to actually have sex with someone of the same sex to be gay or lesbian? Could you be celibate? It is easier to define us by what we're not: we're not leatherpeople, not transgendered, not bisexual, etc.

First, let's dispel a myth. Being bisexual means one has the capacity to love people of either sex--it doesn't mean that bisexuals are incapable of being satisfied with just a man or just a woman, or that bisexuals must have one of each at the same time. This might seem obvious, but I know many women who call themselves lesbians because they are currently in a lesbian relationship. They view "lesbian" as a temporary title, not a phase exactly, but a way to describe how they feel and behave now.

One woman told me that she couldn't be bisexual because, "It's not like I would be interested in both men and women at the same time." Another said that the word bisexual is too loaded, that she fears becoming an outcast from the lesbian community she loves.

Maybe, therefore, our avoidance of bisexuality is largely an issue of semantics. Just as many of us cringe at the word "queer," the word "bisexual" may make us flinch--it has too many dark connotations, seeming shady, slippery and very different from the ordinariness of our lives.

We don't like the word so we don't like the people--but this is unfair. Like lesbians and gay men, bisexuals are beaten up, fired from their jobs and denied housing because of their sexual orientation. But unlike lesbians and gay men, bisexuals have no bisexual bars in which to seek solace at the end of the day, and only a few scattered organizations to support and nurture them.

There should be a natural affinity between bisexuals and the gay and lesbian community--and sometimes there is. My partner Kristina tells me that she recently met an undergraduate who said that most women at her liberal arts institution identify not as lesbian but as "bisexual" or "pansexual."

Why has the trend of identifying as bisexual not permeated more of the gay and lesbian community? Perhaps we are set in our ways. Perhaps we are afraid. After all, we have already put ourselves outside society once--to do so again, especially when it is a society we feel so comfortable with, seems radical and threatening. Perhaps we are truly gay and lesbian and not bisexual at all--though this seems doubtful.

I'm not denying the reality of a gay or lesbian sexual orientation. I just think there are more of us in the murky middle than on the clear edges--we just won't admit it. In fact, we try so hard not to explore the heterosexual aspects of our personality that we ostracize those who have, and who have found that they like it.

Let us take the time to again examine our identities--are we closeted bisexuals? Some of us surely are. Some of us are not. But let us remember that bisexuals are our brothers and sisters in our movement. Their issues--equality, ending discrimination, seeking justice--are our issues. We cannot exclude them just because it is awkward to add "bisexual" to the names or our organizations; we cannot ignore them because "GLBT" is too hard to say.

Copyright © 1999 Jennifer Vanasco. Reprinted with author's permission.

About The Author:
Jennifer Vanasco is a Chicago-based syndicated columnist and freelance writer.

About The Article:

The preceeding article was first seen in the August 5-11, 1999 issue of the Bay Windows Gay & Lesbian newspaper. Any questions concerning the article should be forwarded to the author, Jennifer Vanasco

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