Content warning: Biphobia, brief mention of mental health-related issues including self-harm & suicide.
We’re half-way through Pride month and, as expected, the biphobia is out in full force. Is it just me, or does it seem worse than usual this year? In any case, I’ve decided to resurrect the blog to hash it out because I am physically unable to keep my mouth shut about this.
I’ll never forget my first queer dating experience. I was fresh out of high school, beginning my first ill-fated attempt at securing a post-secondary degree. I had just moved out of my rural Ontario hometown to the city, where I finally felt that it was safe to “come out” and start living more authentically. I met this girl in a student group online (the birthplace of all great romances, right?) and she informed me very early on that she identified as lesbian. I didn’t think much of telling her I identify as bisexual, because I didn’t think that could possibly be a point of contention—a naïve assumption, apparently.
After two casual dates, she invited me out to see some live music with her friends. I met her at her off-campus apartment, and we had planned on meeting her friends at the venue. But on our way out the door she asked me something that didn’t sit right with me, even then. To this day I can still remember exactly what she said, word for word.
She looked me in the eye and said “no offense, but do you think it would be okay if you didn’t tell them you’re bi? Like, if anyone asks, just tell them you’re a lesbian.”
I’ll be honest, this wasn’t even the reason things fizzled out between us. In fact, at the time I actually agreed to it… despite the unexplainable icky feeling it left in my mouth. I was young and inexperienced, and I couldn’t pinpoint why what she said made me so uncomfortable. I didn’t realize until later that her request was rooted in biphobia. Luckily nobody asked, and I didn’t have to lie.
We continued seeing each other for a couple more weeks after that, until I entered a relationship with a guy from my hometown. But looking back, I’m glad it ended before it became too serious. Who wants a partner who doesn’t embrace, respect and appreciate you for who you are, especially when it comes to something as fundamental as your sexuality?
Unfortunately, that wasn’t my only experience with biphobia. Far from it. But at least when it comes from hetero people, it’s more digestible somehow. It’s expected. After all, we live in a largely intolerant world. But it stings just a little more when the biphobia comes from inside the LGBTQIA+ community… a community where we’re supposed to feel safe.
Defining ‘Lateral Violence‘
Because of the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding bisexuality, bi people often struggle just as much with feeling unwelcome in queer spaces as they do in straight spaces. Some of the most prevalent stereotypes include bi people being promiscuous, greedy, indecisive, more prone to STIs, more likely to cheat and even faking our sexuality for attention. Despite being proven statistically incorrect, these stereotypes somehow persist and continue to influence how society perceives us. And that includes people within our own community.
This is known as lateral violence, and it happens more than you’d think. Stonewall, a UK-based LGBTQIA+ charity, released a 2017 study that found 27% of bi women and 18% of bi men have experienced biphobia from within the queer community. It’s a significant jump from the 4% of gay men and the 9% of gay women who reportedly experienced prejudice stemming from within the community. This is often disguised as jokes, or as “personal preference.”
Another popular stereotype concerning bisexuals that frequently circulates queer spaces is that bisexual men are actually just gay, and that bisexual women are actually just straight. Because we can’t actually just be bi, right? This perpetuates the myth that we need to “make up our minds” or “choose a side.” Statements like this are disproportionately targeted toward bi women or femme-presenting people, especially bi women/femmes of colour.
Just for funsies, I decided to search up the word “bisexual” on Twitter to see if I could find a couple examples of lateral violence. After 10 minutes of searching, unfortunately, I found more than just a couple. Here are a few of the greatest hits—and no, I’m not censoring the usernames. If people are going to be putting this stuff out in public, they deserve to be put on blast for it:
Let me reiterate: these tweets all came from members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Another personal example: I was engaged in a debate with someone who, until that point, I had considered a friend. We were discussing something totally unrelated—feminism, I think. It was during that brief period in 2013/14 when feminism was considered a bad word. But the topic of conversation is irrelevant. I guess the debate wasn’t going the way she wanted it to, because she suddenly felt the need to bring my sexuality into it. “Okay,” she said, “says the supposed ‘bisexual’ who’s never even been with a girl.”
That statement struck me in multiple ways. For one, I had been with a girl. A couple, in fact, but that was none of her business. I didn’t owe her any kind of justification or explanation, and I knew that. For another, even if I hadn’t ever been with a girl, that wouldn’t make me any less bisexual. And to imply that someone’s sexuality isn’t valid simply because you don’t consider them to be “gay enough” is just ridiculous. There are bisexual people out there who never have and never will have a queer relationship, and that’s their business. It doesn’t make the way they identify any less valid.
So, what’s the big deal?
You might be thinking “so what, Vic? They’re just words. You don’t have to let them get to you.” And that’s true. But imagine how it would feel to be told, even by people who are supposed to understand where you’re coming from, that who you are isn’t valid or welcome? Too gay to fit in with the straight community, and too straight to fit in with the gay community… So where does that leave us?
This sense of not belonging can have a serious impact on a person’s mental health. During my research, I saw another tweet that said something along the lines of “people not liking you isn’t oppression, bisexuals need to get over themselves.” But what this person doesn’t realize is that biphobia literally kills.
For example, research has shown that persisting (and often life-long) mental health conditions are more prevalent among bisexual individuals than they are for gay and lesbian members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and “poor outcomes” such as self-harm, suicide and disordered eating are also more prevalent. Mood disorders including anxiety disorders and Major Depressive Disorder are also seen more frequently among bisexual people. According to the National LGBTQ Task Force, 45% of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35%), lesbians (30%), gay men (25%), and much lower rates for heterosexual people. Bisexual women also report the highest rates of alcohol abuse, drug abuse and smoking when compared to heterosexual and lesbian women.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that being bisexual can come with a certain amount of privilege, especially if you’re in a “straight-passing” relationship.
For example, I’m incredibly privileged in two ways. For one, I didn’t come out until I was practically an adult. Growing up in rural Ontario with a LOT of queer friends, I saw the trauma, bullying and prejudice they experienced every day first-hand. Honestly, I was scared. So I didn’t come out until I felt safe to do so, and because of that I did not have to go through a lot of the things my “out” friends went through growing up.
Another enormous privilege I have is that I’m now married to a man. I don’t have to think about the potential consequences of openly showing affection in public, applying for jobs or seeking adequate medical care. I don’t have to deal with people constantly calling my partner my “friend” (something I did experience with an ex, and it sucked) or my “roommate.” Because the life partner I ultimately ended up choosing happened to be a man, I can now essentially live my life with the same level of outward privilege as a straight person. I totally acknowledge that.
But that, my friends, is why I’m so loud about my LGBTQIA+ advocacy. Because despite how it may appear on the outside, on the inside I struggle with the same feelings of marginalization as any other queer person. Being married to a man does not invalidate my sexuality. If I had married a woman instead, I’d still be bi. I wouldn’t just automatically become a lesbian because of the partner I chose, so why is this any different?
I saw an article the other day from a popular LGBTQIA+ magazine with a headline that asked “should straight-passing bisexuals be welcome at Pride?” The fact that we’re even still asking this question in 2022 is ludicrous. I’m still a living, breathing queer person with struggles of my own, and people like me should be welcome in queer spaces.
For a group of people who exist as a community because they know how it feels to be social outcasts, the amount of intolerance that takes place in LGBTQIA+ spaces is astounding. Alienating an entire group of people from a community that is supposed to be a safe space goes against everything we supposedly stand for.
Why are we judging, gatekeeping and criticizing each other when we already face so much adversity from the outside? We don’t need this intolerant, heteronormative world to tear us apart because we’re already doing it to ourselves. And for what? What is the goal, other than to create an environment where bisexual individuals feel like they don’t belong anywhere?
Just something to think about. Happy Pride, friends!
© Victoria St. Michael 2022