Bi Furious in a Gay World: Part II

emma looking badass

In the second part of our Bi Week series, we look deeper into exclusion and ways in which LGBTQIA+ communities can improve bi/pan inclusivity.

Some are less welcome than others

Other than problems that come with perceived straightness, outlined in Part I, bi/pan people may feel that when biphobia in queer spaces is not explicit, they still feel less welcome than others. Bisexual identities are easier to ignore. If we mistakenly assume that being bi is the same as being half-gay and half-straight, without its own separate nuances, there will be no effort made to distinguish bi issues from gay and lesbian issues.

Nine, who identifies as queer first and bi second, says that she often feels excluded by careless language:

“Sometimes people and spaces just use the terminology of ‘gay’ rather than ‘queer’ or ‘LGBT+’; sometimes they do use ‘LGBT+’ terminology but then talk as if it’s just a synonym for ‘gay’. On the other hand, ‘queer’ usually denotes a space I find welcoming, and the more letters attached to ‘LGBT’, the more thought I feel like the organisers have put into it, so I’m cautiously hopeful that those spaces will be genuinely bi/pan-inclusive.”

Charlotte wants to see trans-inclusive language used in bi/pan discourse:

“Bi/pan must be inclusive of non-binary people. If I date a non-binary person, calling them my girlfriend or boyfriend erases their identity. As a bi/pan woman I don’t like my sexuality to be defined by the gender of my partner.”

She also picks up on the different reactions that masculine and feminine people receive on account of their sexuality:

“It is perceived that a bi/pan woman is ‘experimental’ and will eventually settle into a relationship with a man.  Meanwhile a bi/pan man is perceived as just being gay and ‘softening the blow’ before settling into a relationship with a man.”

Lewis says that he changes his own language and identifiers depending on the context he is in:

“A lot of the time I don’t bother telling people I’m pan, I just say I’m gay because it’s easier… Sometimes because people don’t know what pan is, I say I’m bi. Other LGBTQIA+ people have seemed interested in it. Many have said they can’t really comprehend what it would be like to be attracted to more than one gender, that it seems strange, etc. None of it was malicious and I didn’t find it particularly hurtful, but others might.”

On reflection, the fact I’ve not faced much direct biphobia myself in queer spaces could be partly because I tone down that part of myself and sometimes apologise for it, playing down my attraction to men by making ‘misandrist’ jokes and hoping my queer aesthetic stops people from questioning me.

Nine reflects on her varying level of involvement with LGBTQIA+ community over the last two decades, and how she became less engaged when in mixed-gender relationships:

“I’d be welcome up until my relationship entered the conversation, and then I’d feel, sometimes, almost like I had to apologise. It felt like I could see people recalculating me, as if I had presented an inaccurate version of myself just by showing up in a gay bar or whatever. On numerous occasions I’ve found that I’ve been assumed to be gay whenever I’ve been in a LGBT+ space, and then when a boyfriend gets mentioned, my queer credentials suddenly get questioned.”

The intersection of biphobia with domestic abuse exacerbated this problem for her:

“When I was in an abusive relationship with a straight man, my sexuality was a problem for him and it frequently came up in fights… I wish we could discuss these kinds of things in LGBT+ spaces instead of feeling like we shouldn’t talk about our mixed-gender relationships.”

Working towards harmony

Most interviewees agreed that they would prefer to see more bi/pan recognition integrated into LGBTQIA+ culture, although some also expressed interest in bi-specific groups and events.

One bi woman spoke about her need for engagement with queer spaces even when she is in a relationship with a man:

“I do often feel the need to have spaces where I can express my sexuality where an understanding of queerness will be present and occasionally feel quite lonely as a bisexual, aware that despite the wonderful allies I have in my life, I lack a community. Although most of my straight friends are cool, there is still dumb biphobia I get from them sometimes and it would be nice to have a space where I could occasionally opt out of that.”

Holly, a bi woman married to a man who writes for publications including Biscuit and the Queerness, sees the value of both separate bi groups and better integration:

“I have certainly benefited from a bi-specific group, Biphoria in Manchester. When I moved here and didn’t know anyone, it helped me make friends, it helped me come out to myself much less anyone else, and it’s provided me with a lot of really valuable experiences and opportunities.

“But at the same time, I don’t want bi+ people to feel any more isolated than we already do in LGBTQIA+ spaces. I don’t want them to think they can get away with ostracising us, either. So I do think there should be bi-specific safer-spaces because they’re clearly useful and needed. But I don’t think this should be to the detriment of enlightening the wider LGBTQIA+ scene about us. We still deserve inclusion and participation in that too.”

Lewis feels that visual representations of queerness are not diverse enough:

“I think the use of imagery in LGBTQIA+ spaces could be less focused around attraction to the same sex. A lot of imagery used is two guys or girls holding hands or kissing. You don’t tend to see different-gender couples in LGBTQIA+ imagery.”

We have miles to go before everyone feels comfortable in queer spaces. Free Pride wants to make participation in the local LGBTQIA+ community possible for all. If you have any feedback or suggestions for bi/pan inclusivity, or want to get involved in organising, email freeprideglasgow@outlook.com.

If you want to celebrate Bi Visibility Day with Free Pride in Glasgow, come to the Art School on Thursday 22nd from 11pm – pay-what-you-can on the door! More info here. Edinburgh folks can head to Teviot on Friday for another Bi Furious event!

bi furious

 

A few resources

Jacq Applebee’s comic about biphobia and racism at Pride

Holly Matthies on passing and mental health

Understanding sexual violence against bisexual women

‘Complicated? Bisexual people’s experiences of and ideas for improving services’: Report by the Equality Network

 

Words by Ellen MacAskill

Bi Furious in a Gay World: Part I

bi search

Discussions of biphobia often hinge on the fact that people on the bi/pan spectrum experience double-exclusion – both from the heteronormative world and from the gay and lesbian-focussed LGBTQIA+ world. As these two sets of cultural standards exist on different plains, those who find themselves straddling both worlds because of their orientation face a double challenge.

Rejection from LGBTQIA+ spaces is painful for bi/pan people because although these spaces claim to be inclusive, biphobia can be perpetuated within them. The first part of our Bi Week series will consider how this affects bi/pan participation in LGBTQIA+ communities.

*A note on terminology: This post will not discuss definitions of non-monosexual identifiers (including bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, and queer), but use ‘bi’ or ‘bi/pan’ frequently to describe those attracted to multiple genders, for the sake of shortness. Similarly, ‘queer’ will sometimes be used to refer to everything under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. For specific definitions, click here.

The spectre of straightness

Interviewing bi/pan people, I first asked whether or not they have ever felt excluded from an LGBTQIA+ space because of their orientation, and most had incidents and anger to share.

The common theme emerged of biphobia in queer spaces as a reaction to perceived straightness. People can be perceived as straight because of their gender expression and sense of style, because of the partner they are with or their romantic and sexual history, or because they don’t explicitly and repeatedly name their queerness (this erasure can happen to anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum). They are then treated with suspicion by people in the community.

One bisexual woman who has a long-term male partner says:

“I sometimes feel like I’m not gay enough, ostentatiously queer or butch enough, angry enough to be part of these spaces… I’ve found some LGBTQIA+ and particularly LGBTQIA+ adjacent spaces (e.g. feminist spaces, human rights-y spaces, PFLAG type groups) safe and welcoming but have found myself pretty much disengaging from LGBTQIA+ exclusive spaces due to how uncomfortable I feel in them.”

Amy, who identifies as bi and pan interchangeably, describes a disenchanting experience she had at a popular gay bar in Glasgow:

“I was talking to two girls outside, and told them I was bisexual.  Straight away they told me I was ‘definitely straight’ and that if I wanted to fit in more in the club I would have to ‘look more like a lesbian’.”

One bi man struggles with the assumptions made about him and his long-term girlfriend at certain queer events:

“The thing that bothered me most about hearing [biphobic] things at events is that I would end up not feeling comfortable going with my girlfriend and acting like a couple with her, to the point where we would both avoid holding hands, kissing or flirting with each other so that we could prevent looking like a straight couple who had invaded this space dedicated to people JUST LIKE US. More often than not, we will just avoid these mainstream events all together because we can’t be bothered with the hassle of worrying what people are thinking. Why wouldn’t I want to go and enjoy these spaces with my girlfriend when we are both bisexual?”

Being seen with a different-gender partner is not the only way bi identities can be erased. Charlotte finds that having her trans identity recognised comes at the cost of her bi identity:

“I am trans so I think the common assumption is that I am accessing the space for that reason.  There seems to be a perception that each person is just one of the “letters” when in fact we can be several.”

bi complicated

Passing as a privilege?

The fact that passing as straight can be a type of privilege arises as a matter of contention in bisexual discourse. The argument goes that bi people in mixed-gender relationships may not experience the fear of backlash that they do in same-gender relationships because their sexuality is inconspicuous and possibly unspoken. However this attitude assumes that bisexuals solely benefit from passing, when often the erasure of their queerness is detrimental to their sense of identity, relationships, and mental health.

One bi woman describes how much effort it takes to assert her bi identity when the world assumes she is straight:

“I find myself becoming accidentally closeted again and that’s really uncomfortable, and when I out myself some people don’t seem to get why it’s important to me because I ‘have a man’. My boss the other day said something about ‘the LGBT agenda’ to me, assuming I was straight – do I have that conversation in that moment, or in a few weeks’ time? If I wait, will he feel I misled him because I disclosed my romantic relationship status but not my sexuality? They know my boyfriend – will they ask him inappropriate questions because of my sexuality?”

My own experience of passing is mixed as a bi woman who is occasionally perceived as male. When your gender is ambiguous to others, the notion of passing as straight loses all logic. The absurdity of other people’s perceptions was highlighted for me when I was in public with a male partner and someone yelled ‘gayboys!’ from a passing car. Even mixed gender relationships can’t always help us avoid discrimination.

Rob articulates the problem with judging sexuality based on appearances:

“I think this [idea of straight-passing privilege] presupposes that any one in a heterosexual relationship will ‘pass’ purely because they are in said relationship, however I feel that in many cases as a less traditionally masculine cis man I would struggle to pass if at any point separated from my hypothetical partner solely because of the shallow stereotypes people tend to use to identify queer people from outward appearance.”

Seb agrees that it’s unhelpful to put weight on appearance alone when discussing the visibility of sexuality:

“While different-gender couples may seem conspicuous in LGBTQIA+ environments for appearing (relatively) straight, the same cannot be said for their appearance on the street or other public spaces, where they may still seem noticeably queer in comparison to the wider public.”

‘Passing’ arguments are often used as a way of silencing complex LGBTQIA+ experiences as opposed to helping people understand their nuanced privileges.

Tomorrow’s post will consider further difficulties faced by bi/pan people and ways in which things could be improved.

Words by Ellen MacAskill