Eradicating biphobia within gay communities and gay media

Ed. note: I’m off this week. The wonderful Tobias Rodriguez is filling in for me. Tobias originally hails from Texas and now lives in New York where he works in social media at a reproductive health organization.

When I walked into a large bar in Brooklyn Sunday night for a screening of an episode of The Outs, a web series about two ex-boyfriends in Brooklyn, I felt really gay. But with my girlfriend right next to me, I also felt really straight. I was in some ways both at the same time. I was, and am, bisexual.

It’s become both common knowledge and a studied phenomenon that female sexuality is fluid. In television and in movies, bisexual women have their own storylines, and in the last few years, a large number of female celebrities have come out as bisexual. While it seems like bisexuality might as well be commonplace for women, people assume that male sexuality stays on the gay-straight binary. For bisexual men, this is experienced as bi-invisibility, and it has serious consequences.

The assumptions are endless. While the gay-straight binary is enforced in different ways for bisexual men and women, bi men in particular face less acceptance from their peers. Even in young progressive circles, many people still think that bi men are “on their way” to coming out as gay. And while bisexual men are assumed to be gay, most gay male spaces often don’t make room for bi men who date women. For many bi men, neither straight spaces nor gay spaces feel comfortable. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to create bi-specific spaces. Queer spaces and support groups aside, bi people are still invisible.

As a bi man, feeling rejected in straight spaces isn’t unexpected, but the rejection from gay spaces stings. LGBT communities pay no heed to bi people unless they’re partnered with people of the same gender. And even then they’re labeled inaccurately as gay. For example, most gay male spaces, like clubs and bars, don’t make room for bisexual men who date women. 

The Outs is a perfect example. When a friend of mine introduced me to the web series last fall, I don’t think I’m being overdramatic (much) to say that it changed my life. My roommates watch it, my girlfriend watches it, her roommate and her sister watch it, my friend’s ex-boyfriend watches it, my other friend’s friend from OkCupid watches it, and more than enough people to fill a bar multiple times for screenings. It’s like Girls, except better. And much, much gayer. It focuses on the way two young gay men attempt to navigate their lives and relationships post-break up. I love the show. It gives me lots of feelings, some happy, some sad, but always pretty real.

Spoilers ahead: the two main characters, Mitchell and Jack, break up before the show starts. Their relationship ended after Jack cheats on Mitchell with Mitchell’s best girl friend’s supposedly straight boyfriend, Drew. Mitchell walks in on Drew and Jack after they’ve had sex, and both Jack’s and Drew’s relationships are ended. Prior to the hook-up, there had already been speculation about Drew’s orientation—the audience sees him watching gay porn, suggesting that he’s a closeted gay man. The next time we see Drew in the show, he’s making out with his new boyfriend in a Brooklyn wine shop.

It’s not uncommon for people to come out as gay after being in heterosexual relationships. But when the gay/straight binary is so enforced, these storylines become a media trope that disregards bisexuality. Because Drew is now partnered with a man, he must be gay–no one mentions the idea that Drew could be bisexual. When closeted people only have the option of coming out as gay, as opposed to bi or queer, we perpetuate two harmful tropes: that there are only two sexual orientations, and that the gender of your partner determines your sexual identity.

Biphobia and bi-invisibility are not new concepts. And yet, as we challenge heteronomativity and homophobia in straight spaces, so too must we challenge the bi-invisibility that continues to exist in LGBT spaces. Bisexual people deserve to be respected, believed, included, and taken seriously by their gay peers. Biphobia is not that different than homophobia: it’s the fear of the unknown, of the different. As we look to eradicate prejudices and homophobia in straight communities, so too must we eradicate the prejudices we hold onto within our LGBT communities.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    This article was very personal to me, as I also identify as bi but as a bi female. I know you say that in everyday life bi girls are seen as something that is more acceptable, and I can see that to an extent. But when you talk about bi guys being seen as being “on the way” to coming out as gay, I think it is important to remember that bi females often receive a very similar form and oftentimes potentially dangerous response that is around the idea that they just need to meet the “right guy” to eradicate these feelings. This often translates into those particular kind of rape cases you hear about where a woman is raped to erase her gayness. I just wanted to put that bi females experience a similar level of invisibility in that regard, though I do understand what you are saying.

  2. Posted April 3, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree that bi-invisibilty is a real problem. However, perpetuating the idea that bisexuality is common among women and female sexual fluidity is “common knowledge” is just as damaging to gay women as the idea that men’s sexuality fits solely on either side, for a bisexual man.

  3. Posted April 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    As a queer lady, I have a big problem with the ‘women’s sexuality is fluid’ narrative. It’s certainly not how I’ve ever experienced my own sexuality and I think it undermines my identity and reinforces bi-invisibility.

  4. Posted April 3, 2013 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    Everyone’s sexuality is fluid; your preferences are always changing and evolving even if you tend to stay towards one side of the gay/straight spectrum. What you liked and wanted when you were 15 is not going to look the same as when you’re fifty. I think the point the author is trying to make here is that it’s much more socially viable for women to enjoy and experience this fluidity than it is for men. I don’t also think the author is trying to suggest that bisexuality among women is commonplace, but rather that it’s witnessed more than with men due to the fact women have a slightly easier time being put into that category.

    • Posted April 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      See I think some of us are taking issue with this fluid concept because of what you just said. i’m not convinced that my tastes at 15 are really much different then now at 36. Better understood yes – I know better now what I want and like – but fundamentally my attractions and desires have not changed.

      It certainly seems fluid for some – I do not doubt you – but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s fluid for everyone. And I can definitely see the concern with the fluid notion when it comes to gays and bis b/c your implying it’s just a phase or that it’s possible for them to change their sexuality when in fact for most that is not true.

  5. Posted April 4, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Likewise – I was hugely put off this article when it set itself up with “it’s much harder for men”, having experienced prejudice from both sides as a bi woman.

    Using “celebrity bisexuals” to reinforce this theory is pretty flimsy. Most of the recent ones – Lady Gaga, Megan Fox, Evan Rachel Wood, Anna Paquin – haven’t actually had a same sex relationship of note. Lilo is the only celebrity I can think of who’s visibly bisexual, and she hasn’t openly acknowledged it as far as I am aware.

    Let’s try and help each other instead of competing. The last thing we need is prejudice from other bisexuals. We’re doomed.

  6. Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I was really excited to read this article, but I have to admit, I was disappointed in the way it handled female bisexuality.As you said, “common knowledge and a studied phenomenon that female sexuality is fluid,” what this has ment for me is that my bisexuality is seen as just a phase, and moreover that it is not real since “everyone has girl crushes” etc. This is an issue that you face as a bi male, but that does not mean that women do not face this issue as well. Furthermore, bi women face a multitude of issues surrounding rape and STD’s that are also “invisible.” Essentially, I was very disappointed to hear you dismiss bi-invisibility for women.

    • Posted April 5, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      This is exactly how I felt as well. As a bi woman who has worked through a lot of complicated relationships with people who doubt my sexuality, this claim that bi men have it harder because it’s accepted for women’s sexuality to be fluid made me feel as if I was totally excluded from this discussion. And that’s hard, because if you’d taken out the paragraphs delineating bi men and bi women, the entire rest of the article would have applied equally to both of us. But I feel like I am being excluded from a discussion that would normally include me, when so many other discussions exclude me as well. I do not consider my sexuality fluid – I am bisexual. It is not a phase. We should be united, not choosing sides.

  7. Posted April 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, the whole “sexuality is more fluid” among women thing, is actually quite harmful, and understandably it upsets a lot of gay women. Even though I am an out bisexual myself, dismissing my orientation as just being a “fluid” thing, like it’s some sort of phase is really bothersome. I have actually heard both gays and lesbians, many of them, say they don’t believe that sexuality is fluid, and even more hurtful, a lot of them also don’t believe that bisexuality exists. Although, I do understand why many bi men would feel like they are being dismissed. Honestly, if people are going to say that female sexuality is fluid, then they should be saying the same thing about men. Male and female sexuality are really no different from each other. I mean, every sexual orientation is something that ANY living creature can have. So with bisexuality, of course it’s a human sexuality, so it’s not just us women that can have this orientation, men can too. And the fact that men, for some strange reason, are not taken as seriously with it, as women are is very troublesome. Even though there have actually been males in the media who have come out as bi before.

    That reminds me of one of my close male friends, he is a closeted bisexual. He’s technically open to just a small sum of his close friends, some family members and of course to his wife, (funny enough, his wife who is also my close friend is bisexual herself) he still can’t REALLY come out, because he’s in the military, and understandably he’s afraid of what would happen if they found out about it. Which goes into the other topic of non-heteronormativity in the military and the abuse that can happen there. He’s also afraid that people will dismiss his bisexuality and just call him “gay,” which would feel very hurtful to him, because that’s not who he is.

    The truth is, there needs to be more acceptance of bisexuality for BOTH men and women, and as you and everyone else have said, we need to work together to put a stop to these stereotypes and fight to end biphobia of all forms.

    • Posted April 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Okay sorry for double posting, but I forgot to mention in my original post that I meant to put all of it in there; I think the one space I can think of where it’s actually accepting of bi men is AfterElton.com. As they call it a website for “gay and bisexual men”; just like AfterEllen.com is for “lesbian and bisexual women”. So at least that is something. There are probably a few more. But yeah, I still find that “study” done by Dr. Diamond to be a little … off. And I’m sure MANY gays/lesbians would agree. There have actually been other blogs by gay women, who are really upset and sick/tired of what they feel is nothing more than a “stereotype” that women are more “sexually fluid”. Pretty much all of them have disagreed, saying that people who believe in those stereotypes are keeping the myth about gay women alive that, it’s actually ‘okay’ for straight men to try to hit on them, because they’ll think that, “oh the right guy will come along since their sexuality is fluid”, and understandably they hate that. They want to be taken seriously, and show the world that they are no different from gay men and how THEY feel about women, and this is just making it worse.

      Although the show OUTS seems to be a really good show, when you were describing it I actually thought you were going to say that the one gay man cheats on his boyfriend with a WOMAN. For some reason I thought you were going to say that, maybe in some way I even hoped for that. Only because that whole ridiculous “lesbians has sex with a man” troupe is still around and it’s still bothersome, and of course it still upsets lesbians. I can think of at least one or maybe two shows where a gay man actually did have sex with a woman, but not as much as the other way around. And in some way I was hoping it would happen on OUTS, just so women wouldn’t feel alone in being trapped in that pathetic stereotype, even though that probably sounds terrible. But anyway I still find it kind of annoying that you had to mention how it’s “common knowledge” and a “studied phenomenon” that women’s sexuality is fluid. It’s really sad that it has to be ‘common knowledge’ and even more sad that many people actually believe it applies to ALL women, sad that people still buy into that, when that’s really not true. I think it gets taken out of context and gets WAY over-exaggerated. It may be true for SOME men and women, but not for MOST. Most people truly know who they are, and they know that nothing about them has changed or will ever change, and who they are is just that. And the idea of fluidity would be very insulting to most of us.

      Sorry for the rant, and the double posting, but I thought this was still important to discuss. And it’s something that has been really bugging me for a while now.

  8. Posted April 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    It seems as though the author dismissed the female bisexual experience, then went on to describe many of the things that I have experienced as a bisexual female. So I’m not sure how to feel about this. Good article, but I could have come along for the ride, too.

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