As some of you may know, yesterday was National Coming Out Day. Facebook timelines everywhere filled with rainbow profile pictures and inspirational videos and coming out stories and articles about cisgendered White men finding love, since we apparently don’t see enough of those. My timeline was likely filled with more queer folks than the average user; I’m not saying that I mute a lot of straight people, but I’m not saying I don’t. As such, I viewed a fairly diverse group of posts—snarky “I’m still a queer” posts, well-informed arguments about the problems and undue pressure National Coming Out Day can cause for people, rants about why “coming out” as an idea is problematic in the first place, and a lot of other things. I didn’t participate, in large part because national queer anything tends to have a decidedly White gay I’d-be-totally-cool-to-live-in-San-Francisco bent, which is not particularly me-friendly.
A less pressing reason I did not choose to participate is that only half my direct family knows that I am pansexual—this is actually inaccurate, technically, because I don’t think they have a solid enough understanding of gender, even after my explanations, to understand my orientation past a basic understanding of bisexuality. The difference, essentially, is that pansexuality is more explicitly associated with attraction to people who do not necessarily fall within the gender binary, or those who move across it in unconventional ways. The reason that my family does not know has less to do with my being afraid that they’ll disown me and far more to do with the fact that each member of my family not only thinks that I date every man that I’m friends with, but also that keeping in contact with my exes and assuming I did something terrible to cause my breakups is acceptable in any way. They haven’t been fully informed of my dating life in at least five years.
As such, I appreciate straight allies who I can talk to about my love and dating activities—I can count the number of people I consider this way on one hand, but that’s beside the point. What is not beside the point is that there were far more straight people than I consider allies posting their support for their queer friends and generally being happy and supportive, which I have no problem with. I’m happy that so many straight people are so apparently involved in queer politics now and so outwardly and profoundly supportive of queer communities. But what’s interesting to me is that straight people often don’t realize that being queer involves a lot of prickly politicking and uncomfortable identity issues within LGBTQ communities. My difficulties often come from being nonmonosexual—that is, being attracted to multiple genders. This is a necessary term because bi and pansexual people often get lumped into more conventional iterations of queerness in toxic and belitting ways—more on this later.
Recently, I was telling a straight friend about some biphobia I’d run into at a professional workshop. During a lunch break, a woman described an experience she’d had with a male stripper she decided to date, and how since he stripped he must be gay, which rubbed me entirely the wrong way—not only because I’m really tired of hearing your old ass aunties wax poetic about “downlow” men, but also because bisexual men do, in fact, exist. This was not even considered in the conversation until I brought it up, at which point the people at the workshop made it very clear that bisexual men were a myth and had AIDS and were terrible. I’ve skipped the part where it’s ridiculous to assume that someone likes men because he strips, mainly because I know that half of you have already typed out essays in the comments about “that one thing” that similarly happened to you that didn’t actually happen to you because in reality your hairdresser told you the story and you chose to take it at face value. Anyway, as I tell my friend this story, the other party present—a lesbian-identified woman—chimes in to say that, “I donno, that does happen a lot. I know a bisexual guy, and it’s like, what woman are you having sex with?!”
There are a lot of nice ways to say this, but I’ll bypass them to say that it’s really, really fucking stupid to assume that someone is not bisexual because you don’t see them with a person of a certain gender. There’s an entire term around this—bi-invisibility—which describes the phenomenon where a person is seen with someone of a certain gender and assumed to only like that gender. There’s also the fact that some bi people are more attracted to one gender than another—and that does not make them any less of what they identify as, even if, for some reason, you have decided to give far more of a damn about what sort of person they rub genitals with than you should.
People often assume that being bi is somehow easier than being monosexual, for a bunch of reasons that are half-assed and predicated on us wanting to seem straight (we don’t) or us being privileged for constantly being misidentified by straight and queer people. They thus decide that people, especially men, who identify as bi are actually gay and just bullshitting. THERE IS NOTHING CONVENIENT ABOUT IDENTIFYING AS BISEXUAL VERSUS GAY OR LESBIAN. And often, the people who claim that there is are the most obnoxious and visible reasons that identifying as bisexual causes issues. As a matter of fact, I’ll state here something that often upsets monosexual folks: by far the worst biphobia I have experienced has been from lesbians. I could fill an entire book on that, so I’ll leave it there for now. The point is, all the messed up things that straight people say and do to monosexual queer people, all the ways that they ignore your lived experiences, are not okay for you to imitate with regard to nonmonosexual people just because you are queer.
I bring this up because in part because my straight friend—who has been doing an amazing job of learning more about queer and, in particular, trans* issues—thought that the other person and I were just having a friendly chat and connecting over being queer. It can be difficult to identify contention and messed up politics within communities you are an ally to. Basically, straight people, there is an entire rabbit-hole that you have to dive down if you really want to be a good ally—that, or you can kindly leave both the T and the B out of your pro-LGBT activities, lest ye be full of shit. I’m also not saying to go and attack every bit of biphobia you see—you still need to be aware of your privilege as a straight person—but at the very least, learning not to jump into biphobia around you is necessary. Straight people and queer monosexual people: do better.
And to every monosexual person who has an anecdote about how she’s convinced downlow men are overrunning the streets, or who just knows his friend is gay because he kissed a dude that one time, or who thinks bisexual women are gross and cheat on every lesbian they date, or who doesn’t know any bisexual men (which, by the by, could involve the fact that you’re vocally biphobic):
Your opinions are not a chain letter which must be shared indiscriminately lest you die a horrible and cartoonish death. I implore you: shut the hell up.