Bisexual Women & Society’s Invalidation Of Identity

Credits: Alan Cleaver

Calista discusses the trials of being a bisexual women and society’s biphobia and erasure. Credits: Alan Cleaver

It’s taken me at least five years from first ascertaining my sexuality to accepting it and coming out. Even now, I’m not quite there. Whilst most of the important people in my life now know, I considered filling the rest in with a blunt Facebook post. “But you can’t do that!” piped up my internal censor, “you’ll just be proving that bis are attention-seeking!”

Biphobia is so prevalent in our society, within both the queer and straight communities, that even though I’ve come to acknowledge and value my identity, I still feel these doubts creeping in. In this article I’ll be approaching this issue from the perspective of a bi woman looking at how misogyny and biphobia combine into a toxic cocktail which – alas – is all too often on the menu.

Despite being in my fourth year at Cambridge, it’s only this year that I’ve begun to get involved with the LGBT+ campaign. Prior to that, I worried that I wasn’t ‘queer enough’, that it would not be appropriate for me to enter these spaces. This fear was based on my internalisation of the idea that bisexual people are ‘half gay’ – a concept which often means that we can never quite feel at home in either queer or straight circles. If a bisexual person is in a homosexual relationship, they are usually read as gay; if in a heterosexual one, as straight. Even frequent and loud professions of one’s bisexuality are often ignored, our orientation dismissed as attention-seeking behaviour or ‘just a phase’.

This last point reflects a conversation I had with a friend the summer we had just left sixth form, which tentatively danced round the subject of bisexuality. While discussing the difficulty I sometimes have distinguishing ‘friend crushes’ from the romantic sort, I mentioned the fact that I didn’t exclusively fancy guys, and was unsure as to whether I could accurately be labelled as straight. “Isn’t that just called being eighteen, though?” she replied, revealing that she had similar feelings, but that due to our youth didn’t consider them consequential enough to challenge the heterosexual paradigm.

Negative perceptions of bisexuals are reflected in and enhanced by their portrayal in the media. Whilst bi men are usually viewed as ‘gay but closeted’, bi women tend to be hypersexualised, their identities appropriated and twisted to pander to the male gaze. Women’s desires are viewed through this lens, so bisexual acts are reduced to the ploys of straight women trying to gain male attention.

When Katy Perry sings “I don’t even know your name/It doesn’t matter/You’re my experimental game”, followed by the arch statement “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it”, she not only reduces the invisible queer girl of the song to an object to be tested out then chucked away, but also perpetuates this view of female bisexuality. It is made very clear in the song that she is referring to a performance of bisexuality, tailored to appeal to straight men, whilst simultaneously reassuring them that she doesn’t really want the woman in question.

Another biphobic trope which can affect coming out both to established partners and to potential partners is that of the ‘bisexual femme fatale’. In popular culture, the characters tend to act as a foil for a more central figure, and establish bisexual women as alluring yet untrustworthy. This trope is seen in characters ranging from Delphine in Orphan Black to River Song in Doctor Who (can you tell yet that I’m a massive nerd?) Whilst I don’t have space here to go into it in detail, Shiri Eisner, the author of Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, examines it well in this article for Autostraddle.

To end on a more positive note (though I could keep on being bi-furious until the cows come home), I’ll mention some of the benefits of coming out to potential or current partners. I think that most people would agree that relationships (short or long term, monogamous or not, romantic or platonic) work best when everyone can be honest and accepted for who they are.

That said, coming out can be emotionally trying. I suppose that the most honest, if not the most helpful, answer to the question ‘How do I let potential partners know that I’m bi?’ is to be out in the first place. Attend LGBT+ events and get involved with activism, or find ways to drop it into conversation (my latest tactic is to describe my blunette hair and recent piercings as part of an ongoing project to ‘queer up my aesthetic’). However, if that feels too overwhelming, and you’d rather leave coming out until later in the relationship, bear these things in mind. Firstly, don’t date biphobes (or any kind of bigots) – just don’t. And secondly, never forget that it’s OK to be who you are. We bisexuals spend enough time being erased, marginalised and stereotyped by society; we should not have to put up with it in our personal lives too.

Say it with me we’re bi-winning.

Calista Hobart (GR. Comment Contributor)

3 thoughts on “Bisexual Women & Society’s Invalidation Of Identity

  1. This article is really great! You explain the struggles of bi-sexuality with fluency and I liked the Katy Perry reference, I never thought of those lyrics as reducing the queer status before, but what you said about it makes a lot of sense. People nowadays still think it’s ok to make fun of bi-sexuals because they ‘haven’t made their mind up”, but I think it’d be hard to find someone whose 100% straight or 100% gay, and what’s worse is that bi people aren’t just marginalised in the straight world but in the gay community too! I’m glad you’re encouraging people to come out to partners if they’re bi, that way more people will come out and hopefully we will all be taken more seriously.

Leave a Reply