This past Sunday, I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Robyn Ochs, advocate for bisexual awareness and what she terms “the middle sexualities” and author of
Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World,
which I promptly checked out from our campus queer resource center. I’m not yet finished with it, but I was inspired to do a post about bisexual awareness and bisexual awareness, both because it’s an issue I personally identify with, because it is extremely important, and because it’s kind of a throw-back post to last spring, when I wrote about bisexuality on our old REL blog.
Personally reflecting on the way society as a whole chooses to view issues, I am constantly reminded of how we are a society that anchors itself in binaries and in polarities–good and evil, yin and yang, liberal and conservative, left and right, gay and straight. In doing so, we erase middle of the spectrum.
What goes between gay and straight? Now, this is a veritable alphabet soup of sexuality labels, many of which I don’t know much about at all–bisexual, pansexual, queer, omnisexual, bicurious, polysexual, just to name a few. For our intents and purposes, I use bisexual as an umbrella term. The truth of the matter is that the middle of the spectrum is ill-defined. Whereas straight and gay seem to reside in well-defined parameters, bisexuality is very much an individualized and personal label–I mean, how many girls and how many boys do you need to have liked, or have had sex with, to be bisexual? And even within the bisexual population, some people are more or less gay, or choose different labels for themselves.
Now, we call ourselves an LGBTQ movement, and though I often facetiously refer to it as a movement of G with a little L, let’s delve into this–why exactly is bisexuality still so misunderstood and stigmatized? Robyn Ochs broke it down into six key points: visibility, erotophobia, heterosexism, group mentality, binarization, and lack of education, which I will kind of reorganize for myself (and, of course, [in]appropriately insert my own views and observations).
1. For the sake of conciseness, I combine visibility with binarism. Visibility of bisexuality is extremely low, and most views regarding bisexuality are born from problematic and incorrect stereotypes like “Bisexuals are promiscuous!” or “Bisexuals just can’t decide.” Even when a real, live bisexual is sighted, we rarely know to identify them as bisexual–after all, when we see couples that are a man and a woman, the default assumption is that they are both straight, and when we see same-sex couples, the default assumption is that they are both gay. And of course, it is hard to build a community around bisexuality when they aren’t visible, and when bisexuality means very different things for very different people.
2. I would add to erotophobia the idea of objectification and sex-centrism. As a society, we are simultaneously desensitized to, repulsed by, and obsessed with sex. With bisexuality, the primary curiosity (whether explicitly stated or not) is often sexual–who are you having sex with? Who have you had sex with? This reduction of a person’s identity to their sexual experiences oversimplifies and glosses over nuances of a person’s very complex identity.
3. Heterosexism and a common group mentality go hand-in-hand in my mind. As humans, we like to have a group to identify with, and what better way to gain a sense of “us” than to create a “them”? The existence of bisexuality complicates this for both homosexual communities and heterosexual communities by literally existing in between. I definitely buy into the theory that people are made uncomfortable by and afraid of what they can’t strictly categorize. This inability to put bisexuality into a strictly defined group increases the stigma and the mystery surrounding bisexuals, while it often makes bisexual individuals feel alone and without community.
4. Finally, lack of education is directly related to questions of visibility, but it’s so important that I am actually going to restate it. Biphobia is a super-important issue, and its sources are more often than not lack of exposure, lack of understanding, and ignorance. Robyn Och’s point was that biphobia is not always ill-intentioned and that access to education is a privilege, but another key takeaway is that people with available resources should make a point of educating themselves and people with that privilege should take advantage of it.
For me, this also bring up some interesting nuances in terms of privilege. A fellow freshman once ignorantly and mildly offensively joked, “Check your gay privilege!” What this person (who, by the way, was a white, cisgender, heterosexual male) was referring to specifically, was a set of biased and nonrepresentative statistics regarding education and income, choosing to ignore the countless statistics about homelessness, mental health, and suicide, places where policies actively discriminate against LGBTQ people, and even the tiny microaggressions LGBTQ people encounter in their everyday lives. However, privilege does inherently exist within the queer community, and one example is here. Not trying to turn this into the Oppression Olympics, but in many ways, it is easier to be gay than bisexual, not to mention the fact that bisexuality is often regarded by both straight and gay communities as illegitimate–as some type of phase, as experimentation, pick a side already! I bring this up not to say it’s easy to be gay, because lord only knows that’s not true at all–rather, I bring this up to raise consciousness within the LGBTQ community of ways in which privilege manifest themselves and to encourage people with power and influence within the LGBTQ community to make a point of increasing awareness and education on issues of bisexuality and not letting the B fall to the wayside.
Robyn Ochs is an absolutely lovely woman, and if you’ve never heard of her, I would strongly encourage you to look her up, and to check out her book,