“Bisexual women all want to play around with other women, but when it’s time to settle down they find a man and a white picket fence.”
That was the first response I ever got to coming out as bisexual.
From my mother. My lesbian mother.
The second thing I heard from her was that “bisexual women all cheat.”
The next time I came out to anyone was to my group of straight friends a couple of years later. One of them immediately asked if I’d fantasized about her, with a sort of fearful waver in her voice. Several months later I walked down a dark alley to my car with another of those friends, and she jokingly asked if I was planning to sexually assault her. That was years ago. Recently, a group of us went skinny dipping after a beach wedding and that first friend refused to go in. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was her homophobia playing out again, such was the impact of all the microaggressions and stupid comments from my otherwise lovely friends and family. Mind you, this was after she spent the wedding teasing me about my confessed attraction to a waitress. Another, more insightful friend said “would she be teasing you like that if you’d said you liked one of the male waiters?”
For years I hid or downplayed my bisexuality. It was easy – I have a male partner and we’re monogamous. It is just assumed I am straight. We can walk down the street without harassment, and when people automatically use male pronouns when inquiring about my partner, I don’t have to brace myself and correct them. It’s a life of passing – of so-called straight privilege. Now, let me get one thing clear before I go on: I believe most people have it shit, and I have the privilege of being white and having a partner people treat as legitimate from the beginning. I acknowledge that. But I also acknowledge that a huge part of my identity has been forced into hiding for most of my life due to a fundamental cultural rejection of bisexuality. I acknowledge that for years, floating through the heteronormativity of middle-class Dandenong as a teenager, I felt like I was suffocating every time someone asked me about boys.
Every time one of my mum’s lesbian friends asked me about boys.
Every time my friends gushed about boys but I kept silent, too nervous to say “actually, that girl there is all I’m going to think about for the next week.”
The waitress incident I referred to earlier in the piece happened a month ago.
I’m thirty years old and that awkward experience, tinged with homophobia and an embarrassment more suited to the teenage angst years (because I’m pretty sure she heard!) happened to me as a thirty year old.
It’s suffocating. Straight people are suffocating. I don’t get them and I most certainly don’t understand straight girls (why do they flirt with each other so much?)
But the lesbians I knew taught me very quickly that no, I don’t belong in their places either. Bisexuality is a kind of identity limbo for those of us too shy to assert ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be. The more I treat it as normal, the more it will become normal – the more we all treat it as normal – all of us bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals and anyone else who doesn’t fit into the monosexual orientations, the more we can change things. I’m rejecting the idea that being able to pass is some kind of gift that somehow undermines our queerness. We can leave that limbo and establish a genuine place of our own, instead of being forced to third-wheel it with other groups.
I wrote in the 2017 queer issue about bisexual representation in the media, and since then I have noticed an increasing number of positive representations popping up in film and television. This has been a fantastic thing, and I believe it’s in part thanks to queer activism and bisexual voices speaking up.
I also believe that we can continue to build on this and create a more welcoming environment for bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals and others. We are finally starting to take our place out in the open. Fuck the closet – let’s take the stage.
Words by JessieAnne Gartlan