Lois Shearing discusses the often hostile discourse around bisexuality, different-gender relationships and the unfair bias the communities we all exist within, often promote or demonstrate.
Although the concept of bisexuality, especially in men, is often erased, I would argue that bi women are hyper-visible. In mainstream, cis-heteronormative culture we are hyper-visible as sex objects; the sexy, fetishized, villainous femme fatale. Within queer circles, we’re hyper-visible as objects of mockery; the whiney, navel-gazing, privileged interlopers.
But while our image may be pervasive, our voice is not. Space for bi women to actually speak about, and more importantly be listened to, regarding our lived experiences, identities, conceptualisation of queerness, are rare. The ones that do exist tend to have been created by us, for us. I have written a lot previously about the lack of airtime queer media grants to bisexuality and my experiences with the kind of impatient disdain said outlets tend to have for bi writers. This was perhaps best exemplified by these two tweets from a previous editor of a queer media outlet.
Yet again, discourse about “bi girls with boyfriends” was rife on social media and forums this Pride Month. The discourse normally goes something like this; one or more prominent bisexual cis woman who is in a long-term relationship with a cis man makes a post about they’re queerness still being valid. This milquetoast statement is then met with days worth of posts about how annoying and milquetoast these statements are, some people disagree and argue that bi women with male partners are in fact interlopers in the community, others argue that no one is saying that and that bi women must have no real issues if this is all we talk about, and the bi community is once again called to defend what should be the baseline of our acceptance; that we remain who we are no matter who we love/date/fuck.
Meanwhile, any conversations bi women may actually be trying to have about our lives are drowned out by this background noise.
A new iteration to this discourse this year, that I’ve both seen online and had conversations about personality, is the idea that bi women feeling like their relationships with men are queer may be about their gender rather than their bisexuality. This is certainly something I’ve had to confront as a genderfluid/queer person and given how cisnormative our culture is, it’s important to encourage and create space for anyone to explore their gender.
But I can’t help but worry that this is another, more benevolent example of disbelieving bi women about our experiences. Given how bisexuality is not seen as a stable, complete identity, suggesting that a bi woman might feel her relationships with men are still queer is to do with her gender feels like a subtle way of suggesting that her bisexuality alone is not enough to create a holistic experience of queerness.
But what if it is? After all, heteronormativity does not just make demands of who we love (or fuck), but also who we don’t love (or fuck), and how we love (or fuck). To paraphrase Yoshino’s ‘The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure’, bisexuality is a threat to heteronormativity because its existence makes it harder to prove heterosexuality and gain access to its benefits. After all, if the man who outwardly loves his wife is also attracted to – perhaps even sleeping with – men, how can we know who is straight and who isn’t just by looking at their partner?
In my book Bi the Way, I argue that bi women’s experiences with dating/sleeping with/loving men are different to those of straight women for the simple reason that they are not straight women. The way we approach and interact with relationships is filtered through our life as bisexual women. Choosing to centre bisexuality in our approach to relationships is one manifestation of Bi Feminism.
Another new addition to the discourse this year is the now memefied response “does your boyfriend know he’s in a queer relationship?” to the equally memified assertion that any relationship a bisexual person is in is queer (even if it may not look it). The answer that most people don’t want to hear, is yes, they do. Or at least they know they are in closer proximity to queerness than they would be if their partner was straight. We know this, even if they won’t admit it, because the already high risk of intimate partner violence bi women face increases after they come out to their partner. The ‘shocking’ rates of intimate partner violence bi women confront is absolutely linked to societal biphobia.
One example of this comes from another bisexual woman who hasn’t been listened to; Amber Heard. There are multiple reports of her ex-husband Johnny Depp becoming violent from jealousy at the idea that Ms Heard was cheating on him with women as well as men. And media coverage, from both 2016 when the story first broke and again in the 2022 coverage of the trial, employed biphobic stereotypes of Ms Heard as duplicitous and hypersexual in order to discredit her testimony.
I don’t know whether Amber Heard considered her relationship with Johnny Depp to be an expression of her queerness. I don’t know how she conceptualises her internal desires and how they intersect with the world. Perhaps she has never been given space to share these. But I do know that both Jonny Depp and the world at large still saw her queer enough to be deserving of violence while married to him.
Bisexuals have always been seen as ‘vectors’ of queerness. This became almost literal during the AIDs epidemic when bi men were vilified as the bridge spreading ‘the gay cancer’ to their unsuspecting, (straight), wives and the wider population as a whole. While many in the queer community have argued that bi people have access to straight privilege, non-queer people who have relationships with bisexuals are aware of the way we bring them into closer proximity to queerness, and that anxiety has always manifested as violence against us.
Given that most studies into the demographic of the LGBTQIA+ community show that bisexuals make up the largest majority, I often wonder how our understanding and conceptualisation of queerness might be different if we were given proportional representation and space to be heard. How might the binaries, including gender, sexuality and mononormativity, that currently choke us be loosened? Where might we draw parameters around queerness, if we did at all? How might we defend our rights and liberties in a society that threatens them? I would like to know.
You can find Lois Shearing on Twitter @LoShearing