Greedy, Lying, or Slutty: Straight-Passing and Bi-Erasure
I was reading an article recently- this article, to be precise- which was centred around the fact that the author believed people who’d only dated members of the opposite sex shouldn’t be allowed to identify as “queer”. And it got me thinking, as things like that often do, about straight-passing and bi-erasure (and the erasure of other, non-mono sexualities, though I’ll be discussing my own experiences specifically).
Look, here’s the low-down: I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a member of the opposite sex for what feels like a staggeringly long time now. There’s no doubt that the majority of people who glance over my life would assume I was straight, especially if I forgot to wear my “I’M BISEXUAL, ASK ME HOW” badge that day, and I can’t blame them for thinking so. But the fact of the matter is that I am not straight, no matter how much various people would like me to believe I am, and when people describe me as such they’re saying something that doesn’t account for an important part of my sexual and romantic life. But does the privilege I get from passing as straight make up for the fact that I regularly get a big part of my personality ignored? That is the question.
Thing is, I totally understand the urge to keep straight-passing people out of LGBTQ+ spaces. When I see posts declaring that bisexual people with opposite-sex partners shouldn’t be allowed at pride, when I see people rolling their eyes at “fake bisexuals” who they believe are wearing queerness as a status symbol, when I hear people brushing off the right of non-monosexual people to engage with queer culture, I get it. I do. Because queer spaces are, in a lot of ways, one of the few places where hetereonormativity isn’t so, well, normal, and having someone prance in with their opposite-sex partner, looking to all the world like a straight couple and benefiting from all the privileges that brings, seems counter-productive. So I understand where this desire to keep straight-passing bisexuals out of these spaces comes from, and in some ways I find it hard to begrudge anyone that desire, even if the B in LGBTQ stands for “bisexual”, not for “bisexual with the appropriate level of gay for my tastes.”
But then, there’s the problem of bi-erasure. Let’s be clear here: bi-erasure is a thing that exists, both in the media and in real life, where bisexual people are simply seen as monosexual (into one gender) depending on the partner they’re with (or greedy, or lying, or slutty, or…you get it). And by slinking away into a corner and trying not to engage with LGBTQ+ spaces because I’m worried I won’t be seen as queer enough, or I’ll be seen as invading somewhere that isn’t for me, I’m contributing to that, in the same that allowing people to think I’m straight (because it doesn’t always feel appropriate to be all “I LIKE GIRLS THO”. And sometimes, believe it or not, my sexuality isn’t relevant to the interaction I’m having) does the same thing. But then, what’s the alternative?
The alternative is being open and willing to talk about my sexuality with people, which is something I’ve been trying to do over the last few months. I’m not straight, and allowing people to think I am is untrue. But part of the problem there stems from the effect bi-erasure has on society- far more often than you would imagine, people who claim to like and have a modicum of respect for me tell me that bisexuality doesn’t exist, as if that’s something that a) makes even a jot of sense or b) isn’t infuriating as fuck. And then had people defend them for saying that, in a way they would never defend homophobia or transphobia or the like. I’ve had people- otherwise decent, liberal people, mind- call me a liar and a slut.
Or, of course, I have to quantify my bisexuality- how many women have you dated? Have you done x arbitrary sexual act with a woman? Funnily, whenever I was dating a woman, I was never asked to prove my hetreo side, because, you know, of COURSE I must want the dick. Christ, sometimes just mentioning the fact that I’ve dated women or what-have-you in a related conversation is enough to play into the stereotype some people have in their heads of bisexuals performing for attention. Either I say nothing and I’m categorised inaccurately, or say something and immediately fall into a bisexual stereotype in the head of the person I’m telling. I can’t win.
As I’ve said before, I’m never going to argue that my status as a straight-passing bisexual is as difficult or problematic as many other members of the non-hetreosexual, non-cis world (especially as a female bisexual, as my sexuality is often written off as performative lesbianism for the male gaze). But the problem remains: either keep my mouth shut, pass as straight, and contribute to a culture where bisexuals exist only as stereotypes, or open my mouth and potentially back up those stereotypes.