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Against Bisexual Invisibility

bisexualBerlin has been called by some the “Queer capital of Europe”. There is no shortage of LGBT events here. Not so long ago, I went to the “Gay and Lesbian City Festival”. There I read a report on “Lesbian and Gay Rights In The World”. There is also the Gay Museum, if I were interested in that, and the bar/club Sonntagsclub has a total of 10 different gay and lesbian groups, mostly meeting weekly.

(Image Source)

If you are like me, the last paragraph would have set your teeth on edge. If you don’t get why, then I’ll explain in following.

See, what you won’t find much of in Berlin, or really pretty much anywhere, are bisexual events. In the “Gay and Lesbian City Festival” (whose name made me, as a bisexual, feel distinctly uninvited) there was one lonely stand handing out flyers for bisexual visibility. And it was a BIG festival.

The report on “Lesbian and Gay Rights In The World” was mostly talking about marriage equality, and everything on it applied to same-sex relationships and same-sex-attracted people, not just gays and lesbians.

And there is one meeting PER MONTH for bisexual people in Sonntagsclub.

So, from this, how many same-sex-attracted people would you think were bi? 5%? 1%? Seriously, have a good think about it.

…Do you have your answer?

Well, you may be interested in finding out that FIFTY FIVE PERCENT of same-sex-attracted people are bisexual! (Source)

That’s right. We are a majority.

So why are we routinely ignored in “gay and lesbian” festivals, “gay and lesbian” museums, and talks about “gay and lesbian” rights?


Community

I mean, I’d get it if gays and lesbians felt their monosexuality to be an important topic and wanted to have their own festival separate from bisexuals. But that’s not what is usually happening. Usually, bisexuals are considered a tiny minority or just not thought of at all, and are ignored when same-sex-attraction related events and communities are created.

As both a bisexual and a trans person, I have to say that community is SO important for me. At times it feels like opposition is crushing in at me from all sides. Only by being in the company of those who are like me and who understand me, can I ever feel like I can totally let my hair down and be accepted. Only in the company of those who are like me, can I let go some of the stress about being a constant target of attack from society.

I genuinely believe that community support saves lives.

And let me just be clear: I would NOT feel welcome in a lesbian community. Quite apart from the transphobia/transmysogyny (which I hear is quite rampant), I would have to deal with people telling me I have to pick a side, people telling me I can’t be interested in women if I have a boyfriend, people telling me I just don’t belong. Or, almost worse, simply, insidiously, not acting like I am one of their own.

That is, if I were open about being bisexual and trans, rather than letting others assume I’m lesbian and cis (non-trans). But what the heck is the point of community if I can’t be myself even there?

Bisexual Erasure Through Choice Of Words

Despite bisexuals outnumbering homosexuals, “gay” and “lesbian” have become synonyms for “same sex attraction”. When we see two men together, we might say something like, “Oh, what a cute gay couple”. When same-sex couples marry, we call it “gay marriage”. When we unexpectedly feel some same-sex-attraction, we wonder, “Does this make me gay?”

Not only are all of these phrases making potentially wrong assumptions, but in fact, statistically, they are more likely to be wrong than right!

You might say, “Oh, but that’s just words. It’s annoying to have to correct yourself every time you say something and to say awkward phrases like ‘what a cute gay or bi couple’, and so on.”

But, they are not just words! When people say things like this, they are perpetuating the impression that bisexual people are rare or don’t exist or somehow don’t matter. And when a community labels itself as “gay and lesbian”, it is quite clearly not including bisexual people, and if any bisexual people go, they will have no protection against anti-bi discrimination.

It’s not so hard to say “same sex attracted” rather than “gay”. It just requires a little change of habit.

And if you want to save on syllables, you can use the word I invented, saseat, which is itself a contraction of SAme SEx ATtraction. (Alternative spellings: SaSeAt, sa’se’at). And its complement, opseat. 

If you are saseat, you experience same-sex-attraction, but whether you also experience opposite-sex-attraction is not specified. I find it an extremely useful word, both for my writing and for my thinking about these topics.

Bisexual Invisibility

Very recently I was telling someone I was attracted to a male friend, and she replied, “Oh, so you hope he is straight then!” (The topic of his unknown sexuality had previously come up).

I replied, “Well, he can be straight or bi, either one works.”

Another time very recently I was telling a different friend about a man I had been in love with. With mild surprise/curiosity, she asked me if I was attracted to men too. But if she had been aware of the statistics, then she should have been more surprised if I told her I was ONLY interested in women!

These are just two very recent conversations where bisexual invisibility reared its head.

“Some Straight Men Are Attracted To Men”

Or how about this video, which I saw recently:

Granted, what the interviewee was saying wasn’t too bad, and he even mentioned the word “bisexual” a couple of times. But what really got to me was the title (“Some Straight Men Are Attracted To Men” – no they are not, if they are attracted to men while still liking women they are bi, how hard is that to accept?) and the interviewer’s introduction:

“Can straight men ever be romantically attracted to each other? To another man? Well, turns out it isn’t black and white when it comes to men and sexuality…”

No shit! Of course it’s not black and white! Bisexuality exists!

“…Huffpost blogger Joe Kort who is a psychotherapist and certified sex therapist … says that the assumption that men who have sex with men are ‘in denial’ and need help to recognise and accept their true homosexual orientation, does not represent the experience of many men…”

Jesus! I mean, this would be a good point, if only the guy was trying to make a case for these men being bisexual. However, he doesn’t do that; he goes so far in erasing the existence of bisexuality that he makes a case for the existence of “straight men who are attracted to men”, rather than just admit that some men might be bi.

As I said the interviewee doesn’t seem to make that mistake to the same extent, but I still think that the topic wouldn’t need to be even talked about if bisexuality was accepted by society as a valid option. And in general he is setting up a choice between two options for men who have sex with men: being a gay man, or being a straight man who can make exceptions. For instance, with regards to a guy who has a wife but IDs as “20% gay”, he brings up the question of, “Is he straight or not?”. And later he talks about men who have sex with other men but don’t want to give up their straight privilege by identifying as “gay” (as if identifying as bisexual was not an option).


My Proposals

This is just everyday stuff. It’s sad that LGBT is so far from being accepted or understood that people seem to have only room in their heads for understanding two of those four letters. While gays and lesbians are generally accepted among educated, secular society, bisexual people are still treated as if they don’t exist. (And I could go into how educated, secular society treats trans* people, but we would be here all day).

What I’m proposing is simple.

One, we accept the truth that bisexuality not only exists, but is more common than homosexuality.

Two, we start using the words “same sex attracted” or “saseat” when that is what we actually mean.

Three, we stop assuming that everyone who has a same sex relationship is homosexual. Chances are slightly in favour of them not being homosexual.

Finally, I’d like Gay and Lesbian communities to be renamed Saseat communities and explicitly opened up to bisexual people. And I’d like Gay and Lesbian people to stop being so frankly immature and start accepting bisexual people as one of their own, because we go through the same horrible discrimination from society and we need the same support.

Thanks for reading.

Additional

A little P.S. for some people who may be asking, “but what about the pansexuals/polysexuals/queer people/other??”

I use the word bisexual because it works as a political term. It brings bi people together, creates a community, and gives us a cause to rally behind.

I think it would be better if we used “bisexual” as an umbrella term (which is what I’ve been doing here) or else find another umbrella term to rally behind (for example, non-monosexual, or, how about just saying bisexual-umbrella when we want to be explicit about our inclusiveness). And seeing as the term “bisexual” has existed for such a long time and already has so much activism and community-building work behind it, I think it would be hard to make a case for sacrificing all that just to use a different word.

Bisexual is a label for the grey area between the black and white of monosexual orientations, so it’s perhaps understandable that people find that the term doesn’t wholly describe them. I think we can define this grey area more by what it is not (not monosexual) than by what it is (attraction to two genders).

I myself would ID as pansexual, but I don’t use that term because I believe it divides the bisexual community. In fact, I think most bisexual people would ID as pansexual if they understood what it meant, which makes it confusing when only a small proportion of bisexual-umbrella people consider themselves pan.

As I said, community saves lives. So I don’t think we have the option of quibbling about words. If “bisexual” really annoys you as a term, then choose an umbrella term you can use and start campaigning for its usage among the bisexual-umbrella community. But at the same time please still work with the bisexual community and bisexual activism. We need all the support we can get.


 

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{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Albalida August 21, 2013, 7:23 pm

    It is sad that what’s considered the most effective pushback to heteronormativity… still falls under the gender binary umbrella. I believe that this comes from the idea that, to have any effect on the existing structure, it must be a direct opposition: homo as opposed to hetero. Transcending this model can be perilous when the act remains under the consideration of the level at which an impassioned opposition to the oppressive norm is an expectation of LG allies, -BTQIA be damned (Hey, I should always be glad when disempowered people find power… I’m just never glad to see even a tiny bit of power, well, corrupt, and turn on the relatively disempowered.)

    On the other hand, I actually loathe the Kinsey scale because it’s presented as a fact rather than a model. Bisexuality is still, to my ear, adhering to a binary world view. The idea this evokes is of somebody who is attracted to both men and woman, fair enough… but what’s the word for someone who is devoted romantically and monogamously to someone who identifies as androgynous intersexed? Is that still bisexuality? Biromanticism? Pansexuality or panromanticism? But “pan” evokes something general, active and expansive– if this were what TVtropes calls “single target sexuality”, then that person may never gather a great enough sample number of romantic partners in their lives to define their sexual identity. (Which should be completely fine, because it might only be people outside that relationship who are so forcefully curious about what to call it, anyway.) As much as visibility is necessary for acceptance… other people’s identities and relationships shouldn’t be some kind of a zoo, where supposedly self-actualized people stick less enlightened ones in cages and hang a plaque so everyone knows what that person is, and grr we got a shipment of some newfangled “bi”-sexuals means we’ve got to trouble with hammering out more plaques!

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