Queer and Camouflaged

Feature by Nine | 11 Apr 2007

I am so over justifying bisexuality. You know, like when I'm at a party or a bar, and someone – straight or gay, it doesn't matter – starts asking me mind-numbingly simple questions. Or worse, takes personal offence at my identity and gets aggressive about it. I'm bored of being the ambassador for bisexuality, being 'the only one in the room'. But I always wind up feeling I should just grit my teeth and be nice, because if they've decided I'm the representative for all bisexual people everywhere, then biting their heads off isn't going to do us any favours.

A super-abbreviated response to their interrogations, though, might simply be the blindingly obvious: "I fancy hot people. I get off with them. It's nice." As such, bisexual identity is, I would've thought, pretty unremarkable. But if we could ever get beyond the dreaded FAQ, then maybe we could look at things from my angle rather than theirs.

As in: okay, I identify as queer, right? And I've been out for ten years. And although during those ten years I've gone through periods – phases, if you will – of being quite assertive about my bisexual identity as well as my queer identity, I've generally felt like my issues needed to be identical to a lesbian's if they were going to merit discussion in a LGBT setting. And that seems kind of crazy, given that we've got as far as (sometimes) calling our community LGBT. But there generally seems to be little or no space devoted to addressing specifically bisexual issues.

Occasionally, there's some acknowledgement of biphobia, and the fact that it can come from lesbians and gay men as well as straight people. There's also the issue of bisexual people – especially younger ones, and the bi-curious – being written off as 'trendy'. Supposedly, they're heterosexuals who are trying to be edgy, mostly females looking to turn on their boyfriends. But we need to go further than merely acknowledging these problems - we need to look at how they affect us individually.

A handful of us might discuss our personal experiences within a bi support group, but resources aimed at LGBT people, whether they come from the media, the voluntary sector, the health service or the scene, tend to reinforce the notion that we are identical to lesbians and gay men, just with a different name.

There's an assumption in some circles that bi people can access all the validation we need from the 'straight' world. Certainly, some of us can settle down in a monogamous mixed-sex relationship, pass as straight, and be happy with our lot. But for many, it's a lot more tricky. I don't wish to invoke false hierarchies of oppression; it's not that poor downtrodden bisexuals have it so much worse than anybody else. It's just that I've had a few experiences I don't see reflected in standard LGBT narratives.

I made the decision long ago to withhold all information on my personal life from a family member who was keen to discuss boys with me, but who made it clear that my getting off with girls was "gross and disgusting". In an abusive relationship, I learned to dilute my queerness to the point of self-policing the books I read or the films I watched, because anything might set my partner off. I've fretted that new female partners might freak upon finding out that I'm not a lesbian, and I've avoided going to lesbian events when I couldn't tell whether bi women were deliberately unwelcome or had just been forgotten about. I worry that even mentioning bi issues will be met with either indifference or hostility. And I still find myself slipping into the pronoun game once in a while when I'm among peers – which is bullshit because, having got together with a boy worth sticking around for, I'm doing our relationship a disservice if I play it down in order to win approval from fellow queers. Moreover, I thought I wasn't the type of person who seeks approval by conforming.

So I think it's time we moved on from marvelling at bisexuality. I'd like to see more support in place for bi people, especially for those who are coming out, which acknowledges their identity in its entirety, and stops them from feeling like they're the first people ever to experience these kinds of pitfalls. Perhaps some LGBT funding should be used to directly address bi people's specific concerns – or would that be too radical? In an age when the term LGBT is practically synonymous with inclusion and diversity, it's great that, along with trans people, we're (sometimes) seen as part of the community. But inclusion comes down to the way an individual feels; inclusion by name alone is not enough.