On a GLBT social site, I run a group for bisexual women. Last week, I asked them the question, “What challenges do you feel that we bisexual women face that are unique to us — both in the GLBT and straight communities?” Today I decided to write and answer that question myself, from my own perspective and my own experiences.
I would say the two main challenges many of us face in both communities are being taken seriously and visibility. Biphobia has gotten significantly better since the 90’s, and although we don’t get many of the comments that Transsexual people get, we still struggle to make our mark in both communities. We need to bring out the “B” in GLBT.
Both communities have one significant thing in common — they want to label us and put us in a box. They ask, “are you one of us, or one of them? You can’t be both!” My reply is always “why not?” to which the answer is a look of bemusement.
In the straight community, bi women seem to be perceived with both a sense of odd fascination and as sex objects. Visibility isn’t as much of a problem here, but it’s not the kind of visibility we want. One of the first questions we often get asked is “can I watch?” or “can we have a threesome?” Our sexuality is often seen as a joke — a drunken experiment, a way to please a male partner, or a cry for attention. While there are some women who fall into those categories, the majority of bisexual women are serious and honest about their sexuality. We don’t want it to be treated as a joke. Many men are in awe of the idea of us, but most of them wouldn’t want a long term relationship with us. We’re just something fun to sleep with a few times. The problem arises in mentioning anything resembling a serious committed relationship; many of them fear we will leave them for a woman. This overlooks the current statistics that it is just as likely that a straight woman would leave them for another man.
The acceptance of the straight community is a backbiter for the bi women community because the “sexual popularity” of bisexual women colors the perception for lesbians. No one wants to be made into a full-time joke or an adolescent fantasy; it’s often popular to have a “woman on woman” scene in a straight porn movie. The most unfortunate part of this scenario is that it is often with two straight women who do not want to be doing it, and they make it obvious. In that light it feels like a slap in the face to all women — who are in loving relationships with other women, regardless of whether they are lesbian or bisexual. This image being presented causes many people to see it as simply something to titillate and arouse.
This has been a growing trend on TV shows; there are more and more female bisexual characters that have full story arcs, instead of being made into just some arousing sideshow. While it is good to see that, you can’t help but notice that it follows the same pattern. It begins with the character going out and having one night stands with a few girls, usually involving alcohol. When the time in the story comes for a serious relationship, it is always with a man. Many lesbians and bisexual women resent this as it perpetrates two horrible myths:
There is no such thing as a “real” lesbian. I can’t even dignify this one with a response.
A bi-woman will always leave a woman for a man. This is the most destructive because it sabotages relationships before they even form.
I have to admit, it would be nice to see a stable female/female relationship on prime-time, and while I have this pipe-dream why not have one involving at least one bisexual woman? The problem is that even when there is one, it does not usually end well, and the character usually ends up with a man.
As a complete opposite of the social syndrome surrounding bi women, bi men experience near complete invisibility. If you think this an exaggeration, consider what happens when a male politician is caught with a man. The first and only assumption made is that he is gay and hiding it. The possibility that he may be bisexual is not even considered.
In the GLBT world, there is the opposite problem when it comes to bisexual women and it provides a dark reflection of perceptions in the straight world. Bisexual women, rather then being lauded instead — exist in the state of invisibility, that bisexual men have in the straight world. If there is a bisexual woman on a gay show, such as the L word, she is turned into a lesbian as time goes on. The message that is sent is that if you have any feelings for women at all, you are a lesbian. Even if you experiment with a guy once in a while, it’s just a phase or a fad and not to be taken seriously. If someone does insist they are fully bisexual, in both worlds, especially in movies, they are too often shown as “unstable” and “unable to make up their minds”.
In a group, I go to for bisexual women that meets once a month. Many of the women talked about having turned to dating only bi women, because of the perception of bi women perpetrated upon lesbians.
Before anyone thinks I’m bashing straight men or lesbians, I’m not. I’ve met many of both that are great people and are wonderfully supportive, that take me seriously, and I’m thankful for them, and I really hope there will be more of them. But unfortunately the trends I mentioned in both communities, even though they have gotten better over the years and are getting better with younger people, continue to persist. I think one way to overcome these challenges, other than what we are already doing by educating people, is to have more of our own “space”. A more general problem in the GLBT community at large is that too often things become more about the G and the L. Many polls have been conducted, and at least as many people identify as bisexual as the total of gay and lesbian. So why are we not more vocal, and more visible?
We need more “just bisexuals” places to call our own. It will help promote both visibility and seriousness. Websites like this one are a great start, along with the bi radio. I’ve heard that some cities have bisexual bars, and that’s great. I want to see more of those — more bi blogs, more bi news places, more of a community and togetherness. It’s harder to see something as a joke, and to keep thinking, it’s invisible and it doesn’t exist — when many people stand behind it and make their voices heard. We women especially need to spearhead this.
When gay people first started coming out of the closet there was a lot of fear, marginalization, and backlash. We can learn from them for they united and they persevered have really managed to build a community for themselves. We need to emulate them — and while working to put the B in GLBT, we also need to have more of a “B” to ourselves.