Taking Back the Bi – reflections on a post

Aoife O’Riordan has written one of the best things I’ve ever read about being bisexual and the political importance of the word. Go read it – it’s a must.

My own reactions to the post are:

1/ That I don’t associate myself with the words queer and pan, and haven’t encountered much of those communities at all and thus haven’t seen the hatred against the term bisexual from that angle.

2/ That I’ve not exclusively attributed the meaning “falling for both men and women exclusively”, where men and women are assumed to be cis, to the term bisexual. My knowledge of trans* issues, while far from perfect and complete, ’cause yes, I’ve fucked up around this before, has grown alongside my feminism and my bisexual identity. So I see no reason why the label bisexual would exclude falling for a trans* or genderqueer person, assuming the person concerned has recognised and begun to deal with their transphobia.

3/ Regarding the phrase “I don’t see gender” – yes it’s highly obnoxious. Aoife compares it to saying “I don’t see race”. That’s a phrase I’ve only ever seen used online but from the context I assume it’s really common state-side from people that think they’re being progressive. I’ve read it instinctively as “I *refuse* to acknowledge that I certainly carry racist ideas and stereotypes in my head and act accordingly”. You don’t get to exist in our (UK/USA/White European-derived) societies without carrying racist stereotypes and ideas. It makes me uncomfortable every time I realise I’ve just run into another racist stereotype in my mind, but there it is. You don’t make it go away by pretending it’s not happening. Instead, you note it and challenge it and do your best to act as if you thought otherwise. I also strongly encourage reading about subconscious stereotypes and stereotype threat – learning about these things opened my eyes.

3.2/

“the idea that physical attraction is somehow less valid than, or exclusive of, attraction to someone as a person is the height of sex-shaming. There is nothing shallow or meaningless about being physically attracted to people. And being physically attracted to someone doesn’t mean for a second that you can’t fancy the hell out of their brains as well.”

Gold. Pure gold.

4/ This:

“…bi people don’t have the considerable luxury of numerous communities (both online and offline) where we don’t have to censor who we are. When we get, instead, is slim pickings of spaces where we can express this or that part of ourselves, with the constant awareness that other part has to keep silent for now and that our acceptance is always conditional.”

So much this.The only community where I’ve been out and known as bisexual is the kink one. And even then, it wasn’t exactly welcoming, per se. The advantage was there were a (comparative) lot of bisexual women in one place, filling a variety of kink roles that weren’t submissive, i.e. there were female doms (dommes) and female switches. HOWEVER, what I often saw was bisexual switches who subbed with men and topped/dommed with women. A female bisexual dominant who dommed men *and* women was rare, if not non-existent, in the community I was in. There was also ageism and domism at play where as a young bisexual switch, it was basically expected that I would sub for whichever men were there, and would play with another female sub (whether bi or lesbian) for the pleasure of the dominant male in charge. Ugh. In other words, I was accepted if I didn’t fuck up the dominant (ha) power structures, and made sure that my bisexuality was only performed in service (ha) of the men and male gaze. Lolsob.

5/ “negative implications- slut-shaming, greedy, indecisive, attention seeking, not real.” – I definitely fought against these when I was figuring out my bisexuality. Made all the worse because the slut-shaming was something already way too personal (yay, Christianity!), and later, the “greedy” accusation in light of being poly rather than monogamous.

I act monogamous at the moment but that’s as a specific agreement with my Squishy. Although, tbh, that agreement is suspect, as I don’t think he really gets the bisexuality and legitimacy of my feelings for women. Like, I can date another woman while I’m with him, but not another man, and what the hell is the deal with that? How is having a simultaneous relationship with a woman less threatening than me having a simultaneous relationship with a man? Oh right, phallocentrism and biphobia. Yay. Nevermind the suggestions that dating a woman is fine, if I let him watch us have sex or join in! Bisexuality in service of the male gaze because lol, twice the boobies! *headdesk* Like boobies are the only reason for fancying and loving women!

6/ Now for the part of this post that was revolutionary for me:

“[This new definifion is] better, but it misses the heart of the issue. The issue is this: bisexual experience is full of binaries. They do not come from within our selves or our attractions, but they permeate every aspect of our experience as bi people, and are a defining characteristic of our experience. Bi experience is liminal-  position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. In other words, our experience- not necessarily our nature- is to be forced to inhabit a position constantly on a threshold. Constantly on a boundary. Constantly with one foot in the door, because our welcome is constantly conditional. Our experience is defined by the ubiquity and number of externally imposed binaries that we are constantly faced with.”

Aoife goes on to talk about how the issues bi people face stem from our relationships being queer or straight, and why we need bisexual as a political term, as well as a personal identity.

When I, as a cis, femme, female, am in a relationship with a man, I am read as straight, and the expectations and stereotypes about straight relationships come into play. When I, as a cis femme woman, am in a relationship with a woman, I am assumed to be a lesbian and I will be accepted (temporarily) by the lesbian and gay community. I’ll then face all the troubles that “lesbian” couples face about being out in public. I face additional and differing problems whatever relationship configuration I’m in, but in either case, the problems specific to being bisexual are ignored.

In other words:

Where you are given respect, a scared part of you is watching your back. Where you are not, you rage against that unfairness all the more because you know that this is no better or worse than that.

All of this is to say, go, go and read her post in detail. Please, for all the bisexuals you don’t know you know, who are hiding in plain sight.

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3 thoughts on “Taking Back the Bi – reflections on a post

  1. “Bisexual” as a political term? I’ve never associated my bisexuality with anything political… but it seems that a lot of bisexuals are and I’m not sure why that is. I enjoyed your observations and more so since bisexual women tend to get a different kind of “hazing” than us bi guys do; being fake about it, slut-shaming, stuff like that and since I’ve become aware of this behavior from others, I think I can understand why they do it… but it doesn’t make sense that they do other than to say that people who bash bisexuals simply allow their own fears to make them foolish… and then they say foolish things.

    I’ve been bisexual for a very long time and I’ve heard pretty much all of the stereotypes a bi guy can be subjected to. Early on, such things bothered me… until I was old enough to realize that they shouldn’t bother me, that I’m not going to let someone else’s opinion change what I am and that when it comes to being bisexual, I’m going to keep my own council and not expect others to understand or accept my sexuality. If they do, fine; if they don’t, well, they can just get into the wind and stay there.

    It’s my personal thought that the addition of the word “gender” to what I believe is a new, yet unofficial, definition of bisexual just confuses things more than they have to be; I get that transgender folks should be accounted for where sexuality is concerned… but it’s a difference that makes no difference and more so when (a) someone is still either male or female and (b) transgender folks can be bisexual as well.

    Really enjoyed this writing; gives me a better understanding of what bi gals have to deal with.

    • Hey, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
      As a political term it feeds into an ongoing online argument about labels, the use and importance thereof. There’s a contingent of people who don’t think they need a label, or don’t like a particular one, and Aoife’s argument was that the alternatives some use in activist circles erased the core problems bisexuals and biromantics face in general that aren’t faced by the LG community. Such as biphobia and non-acceptance from the aforementioned Lesbian and Gay community. Her follow-up post, meshing the social theories of disability with being bisexualised by society at large, was even more nuanced and enlilghtening than the first post, and I recommend reading it in full.

      As for using gender in the definition of bi+ as opposed to sex, I’m not in a position to comment as I am very definitely cis, nor am I gender fluid or genderqueer, but if trans* and genderqueer folk who are bi+ request that those are the terms we use, then it’s a small but important and easy thing we can do to make their lives that much easier.

      As as a polite note for future refernce, I know you’ve been out as a bisexual man for a very long time, and have toughened up your skin so that the things other people say don’t affect you any more, but I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention it quite so often. I’ve known I am bi for about five years, and I’m still trying to find my feet and my place. Being told we should suck it up and deal when hurtful ideas get thrown our way is not exactly helpful. In my experience, ignoring the bullies does not in fact shut them up.

      Anyway, glad you liked it. 🙂

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