After Ellen’s “The Trouble with ‘Bisexual'” and why I am not a Cheeto

(Cross posted at Pam’s House Blend )

As a bisexual woman I’m constantly finding myself having to negotiate the flood of prejudices, stereotypes, and restrictive expectations of others.  It is difficult and overwhelming at times.  Which is one reason why I rarely go to honestly – because every time I go there, I find things that range from problematic to outright offensive.  I want to respond to the latest example. The title of the article is The Trouble with "Bisexual" and the author is "Senior Writer" Malinda Lo.  The most problematic part is :

When I say that I am a lesbian, my ex-boyfriend — my first love, my first adult relationship — is erased from the picture. Yet if I say that I am bisexual, I feel like a liar, because I have only ever been in a straight relationship once.

Bisexuals are not Cheetos.  We don’t come with an expiration date.  It’s not like we go bad if we are not used in a timely fashion.  I don’t know where this idea came from, which I often see banded around in the lesbian and gay portions of our community, that if you haven’t been actively dating both sexes concurrantly and very currently, we are not really bi.  

That idea ties directly into that pernicious myth that there are no real bisexuals.  See, there is this common wisdom that if you are a bisexual in an opposite sex relationship, you are straight.  If you are a bisexual in a same sex relationship, you are gay or lesbian.  Poof!  See you don’t have to deal with bisexuals being there because you can so easily erase us when it is conveniant!  And worst of all, people like Malinda Lo will erase herself and her own experience because she has bought into this myth that she didn’t score highly enough on the bi-detector quiz to truly deserve the label.  

But there is no fucking quiz, no bar.  None.  Bisexual identity is not dependent on your notches on the bedpost.  There is no threshold you must cross to become a ‘real’ bisexual as opposed to a fake one.  None.  None at all.  Let me repeat that :

 There is no threshold you must cross to be considered a real bisexual.  You are not a Cheeto.  Your bisexuality or right to identify as such never expires.  

The part of this article that simultanously made me want to cry and smash something is where she said

The possibility of encountering biphobia, I will admit, has sometimes prevented me from telling my whole coming-out story. My friends and family all know about my ex-boyfriend, but as a nominally public persona on, I have resisted revealing this personal fact.To be blunt, I know how deeply distrust of bisexuals runs in the lesbian community.

That is just fucking sad. This woman, like so many others, regularly closets herself because she knows that she won’t be accepted and respected for who she is.  And it’s not the straight community oppressing her, it is her own people who do this to her.  Gay and lesbian people who know what it is like to be ground down by secrecy and shame and perpetrate that same terror on others.  And make no mistake that it is terror and a form of emotional terrorism.

I would like to tell Malindo Lo about some of the bisexuals I have known.

 My fiancee had only ever dated guys before she dated me.  She had crushes on girls in retrospect, but always thought that she was straight.  We have been together for almost five years and she identifies as bisexual.

One of my best friends has, in her entire life, dated three people.  One was a girl and the relationship was brief and not sexual.  She was president of her campus GLBT group, worked in a LGBT campus office, and recently had academic work on GLBT topics published.  She has been with the same guy for two years and she identifies as bisexual.  

A former co-worker’s sister was in a long term relationship with a woman for 5 years and everyone at work knew.  On the day after she told a coworker that she actually wasn’t a lesbian but bisexual, she was fired.  Her boss said she was fired for being bi.  And because there are no laws against that in her state, she was SOL.   She identied as bisexual.

In terms of my number of partners, I’m almost 50/50.  I had two long term relationships with men, one with a woman.  I had numerous shorter relationships with both men and women.  I’ve been with the same woman for almost five years and I identify as bisexual.

 One of our family friends is bi and has been married to a man for 15 years.  She has never had a relationship with a woman, and she identifies as bisexual.  

 I knew a girl in college who was in the National Guard – in fact I met her in 2003 about a month before she deployed to Iraq.  She had never dated or slept with any women, but she had to keep her sexual orientation secret or she would be discharged and loose her scholarship.  She identified as bisexual.  

One friend just got out of a 5 year relationship where she was married to a woman.  Yesterday she asked out a guy for the first time since she was in high school.  She identifies as bisexual.  

An aquantence in college was in a serious but short relationship with one of the most powerful gay men on campus and when that relationship fizzled, he started dating women for the first time in his life.  He identified as bisexual.  

You know, the problem isn’t with the term bisexual.  The problem is with the greater gay and lesbian community.  The problem is with straight researchers who say stupid things like

People always ask me if this research means everyone is bisexual. No, it doesn’t. …Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn’t appear to be something a woman can control.

This researcher is saying that fluidity is different than bisexuality because bisexuality is expected and controllable?  What the fuck?!?  You know, bisexual coming out stories are remarkably similar to gay ones.  I have yet to meet a bisexual who expected to be one or who choose to be one.   I sure didn’t expect it and I sure can’t control it.  Making me straight or gay would be the equivelant of reparative therapy and would be grossly emotionally damaging.

The end of this article is vauge and confusing.  She doesn’t take a stand for the word bisexual or even vow to defend it from people who treat it like shit.  She just accepts that it is trouble and that people will make their own assumptions then tacks on some confusing bit about love.  And that is the message that we get from a "Senior Writer" on a prominant queer website?  I wonder if she would take the same blaise attitude about marriage rights or trans hate crimes.  That it is troubling but we just need to accept the assumptions people make that gay marriage will cause the sky to fall and trans people are deceptive and bring violence on themselves ?  But just to love them anyway?  I’m sorry, but that is fucked.  

The trouble isn’t with the word bisexual, it is with the way people treat bisexuals.  If Malinda Lo wants this magical fuzzy place with open hands, she needs to start joining hands with those of us who work all the fucking time to make that possible.  Bisexuals have been fighting our erasure for years.  She should use her platform on After Ellen to challenge the rampant and bitter biphobia that keeps most bisexuals I know away from the site, not just admit her secret fear of it.  If she wants a better world, she should roll up her sleeves and help us make it.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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