Can you have your Cake and Eat it?

‘Do you like threesomes, then?’

‘You’re just greedy.’

‘So, are you still bisexual now you’re in a straight relationship?’

These are questions and comments that are probably familiar to almost every openly bisexual person.

Just yesterday I was talking to a friend, who, upon hearing that I’d started going to Queer* department meetings expressed that she would love to come but she didn’t feel that she was ‘queer enough’. She is a bisexual cis woman, in a monogamous relationship with her boyfriend. But sexuality isn’t about who you’re in a relationship with – it’s about how you feel and whether you’re attracted, in the broad sense of the word, to people of the same gender as you, a different gender to you, or some subset or combination thereof.

Bisexual erasure is ingrained in our society and, disappointingly, within the queer community itself. This is the tendency to ignore or downplay bisexuality or to re-explain bisexuality in other ways that satisfy a homo/hetero narrative. Bi erasure happens often in straight communities – when people treat that time you went home with the cute girl at the party as if it doesn’t count because you had been drinking. It also happens within the queer community – when marriage equality is talked about as gay marriage, and you’re only invited to queer events when you happen to be in a relationship with someone of your gender. Then, of course, the mainstream media doesn’t do much better – even popular bisexual characters are not acknowledged as such, like Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayers who transformed from straight to ‘gay’ as soon as she was with another woman.

I started being invited to queer events in an increasing number when I became, demonstrably, in a monogamous relationship with another woman. Not by people who had just met me or just found out about my sexuality, but by people who had known me and my identity for a long time. Suddenly I got told how cute my ‘lesbian’ relationship was, and it was immediately assumed by people I’d just met – including a new doctor! ­– that I was gay. I’m tired of having my sexuality invalidated, and tired of watching my bi peers internalise the biphobia that gets thrown at them all too frequently.

Why does this happen? Much like the gender binary is an easy but inaccurate way to categorise people, the gay/straight binary gives a concrete black and white category to put people in. Bisexuality doesn’t fall neatly into that dichotomy, and so it is often either ignored or miscategorised. It is easy to see two women together and assume they’re a lesbian couple, but takes a little more nuance to realise that you can’t definitively ascertain someone’s orientation from who they’re in a relationship with. After all, nobody assumes all single people are asexual! Your partner doesn’t determine your sexuality, you do.

Research has shown that bisexuals are more likely to end up with differently-gendered partners, and statistically, this makes complete sense – same-gender attracted people make up a relatively small segment of the population, leaving less potential partners to choose from. This reality, however, seems to only confuse the perceptions of bisexuals more. When singer Ani DiFranco married a man, the media headlines were ‘DiFranco Renounces Lesbianism’, despite the fact that she had publicly identified as bi for a number of years. It’s as if bisexuals are seen by some as flipping wildly between orientations whenever they have a new partner, and can’t stick to a fixed sexuality.

On another front, bisexuality is often thought of as inauthentic – just an experimental phase, or an excuse for having multiple partners. There’s a conception that a lot of bisexuals are just promiscuous, and aren’t truly attracted to people of the same gender on a meaningful level. This leads to a pressure for you to prove your sexuality, for others to be convinced of its authenticity before they will accept it. What does authenticity in sexuality look like? The person who at age 40 realises they’re gay, and leaves their differently-gendered spouse isn’t questioned. The person who has never had a sexual partner but identifies as straight isn’t questioned either.  

But bisexuality is valid. If you identify as bi, you are valid. The onus is now on others in the queer community to make sure bisexuals should feel welcome in queer spaces and accepted as more than who they’re dating. As a bi person, there should be no need to prove yourself or apologise for your sexuality – no matter who you’re talking to. In the words of Ashley Mardell, ‘All you need to validly be bi is to identify! It’s so true it rhymes.’