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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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