I can’t sleep; I’m bisexual

Guest writer Holly Mathies muses post-Orlando on #loveislove, mental health and being a bisexual woman married to a man.


I’ve done some amateur research on bisexuality and mental health. I feel like I’ve said a million times that bisexuals experience worse mental health problems than lesbian, gay or straight people.

This morning, I feel like I’m contributing to that statistic.

Lots of people are saying the victims of Orlando’s queer nightclub shooting died because of who they love.

My parents know who I love. (Well, they don’t know everybody I love, but that’s less to do with being bi than being poly.) But they don’t know how tough a few days this has been for me and mine.

I don’t know what they learned about the shooting from TV news; I don’t know what they think about it. While the media make it all about Islamophobia and terrorism, instead of LGBT+ people, I might expect my parents to be as upset as I am, albeit for entirely different reasons.

I know that when they bug me to talk on Skype and I make excuses, or when they call and I’m not here because I’m holding hands with strangers (which I really liked! holding hands is something so practical you make little kids do it when you’re going to cross a road, and something so affectionate that it’s felt like crossing some kind of threshold in nascent romances when I was younger) or when I’m in the pub with my friends, even if we’re talking about politics and work and partners like usual, we’re all particularly in need of hugs and company this evening. The unspoken agreement on this makes it feel different, even if we’re not outwardly behaving any differently.

And I pick up my phone this morning to check just how unnaturally early I’ve woken up (5:37) and my phone also tells me I’ve got an e-mail from my parents, subject line ‘You.’ (My mom will probably never know what a great talent she has for ominous e-mail subject lines.) And it’s not like the little bubble of understanding and pain and grief and love I’ve coccooned myself in over the past few days. It’s small declarative sentences that, as always with this rural-Minnesota Guess/Offer culture, don’t seem harsh or difficult in themselves…but in which, as a native of that culture, I read guilt and accusation.

And it’s all too much and I crumble.

I started crying, not really about the e-mail but about loss and pain and despair and loneliness and whitewashing and gaywashing and ciswashing and all the secondary traumas. I cried because I couldn’t tell my parents this, I cried because I can’t tell them I’m bi and most of my friends are queer. I cried not because they don’t know who I love but they don’t know who I am.

This is what being bi is. It’s not threesomes or cheating or fancying everyone or being greedy or indecisive. (Of course, some bisexuals will do and be those things, but so will plenty of straight or gay people!) It’s not even about who I love.

It’s a friend of mine and her different-gender partner getting biphobia at a vigil last night for being perceived as a straight couple intruding on a queer event. It’s being told I ‘pass’ for straight or have ‘straight privilege’ for being married to someone of a different gender, as if being forced back into the closet is a privilege instead of a harm to my mental health. I can talk to my parents about who I love (they always ask about him anyway, if they haven’t talked to him first), but I can’t talk to them about the rest of what being bisexual is like.

There are no employment protections in the state of Florida for LGBTQ+ people, nothing stopping the survivors of last weekend’s attack from being fired on Monday. This isn’t just about how they love, it’s about jobs and housing and everything that it’s okay to deny people.

I always tell people who say I can’t be bi and married that they can be gay (for some reason, it is usually gay men who tell me this, though it’d work as well with ‘straight’ here, of course) and single. We are who we are all the time, not just when we’re crushing on someone, or shagging them, or dating them.

There’s a lot of rhetoric about people being unfairly targeted because of ‘what genitals they like’ or ‘who they love,’ but it’s about much more than genitals and even more than love. And this is actually enshrined in a UK legal judgment! In a 2010 asylum case, the expectation that gay men could return to Iran or Cameroon and be safe from persecution as long as they ‘lived discreetly’ was acknowledged to be a form of persecution itself. One of the judges in the case, Lord Rodgers, said

In short, what is protected is the applicant’s right to live freely and openly as a gay man. That involves a wide spectrum of conduct, going well beyond conduct designed to attract sexual partners and maintain relationships with them. To illustrate the point with trivial stereotypical examples from British society: just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates.

I’m in no way insinuating that my parents not knowing I’m bi leads to anything like the same kind of discretion as living in a country where my life would be in danger for it, yet it helps me to know that people recognise that ‘living discreetly’ amounts to a kind of persecution itself.

It’s an insidious one, too, because it has to be constantly self-monitored. You end up with a little model of biphobia (or homophobia) running in your head all the time. Such hypervigilence is well-known to be a detriment to mental health. And when it becomes a habit to anticipate potential threats in order to be able to control one’s reaction to them, it’s both mentally and emotionally exhausting. Your brain gets so good at this, sometimes it can think of ways to hate, criticise, or police yourself that your enemies would never dream up.

I think this is part of the reason why overall, bisexuals experience more mental health difficulties than gay, lesbian or straight people.

2 thoughts on “I can’t sleep; I’m bisexual

  1. This really resonated with me as someone who identifies as bisexual, who is also in a relationship with a cis hetero man. My bisexuality is something that certain people in my life seem very happy to “forget” because of the relationship that I’m in, which results in me feeling like part of my identity is being erased and ignored, and like they refuse to see certain parts of who I am simply because they can focus on what they like to see (my heteronormative relationship). I also recently had to “defend” my bisexuality and queerness to a lesbian woman, who questioned how many girlfriends I’ve had, as if she gets to decide how queer I actually am. I’ve been in so many LGBTQ+ spaces that were supposed to be “safe” but within which I did not feel fully accepted as queer/bisexual. It all takes a toll mentally and emotionally. Thanks for writing this.

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