CN: This article contains sensitive content
After the ‘move to the big city’ from Adelaide and becoming more acquainted with my queer identity in the years following a breakup, I finally found the courage to talk openly about my sexuality. One day, calling a loved one to see how they were, they asked if I had a boyfriend yet – I said I was seeing someone, but it was actually a woman.
I braced for impact. “Oh, experimenting now, are we?” they asked. Wracked by nerves, I began to explain that I was bisexual, and I always had been. “Nonsense – you’ve always had boyfriends! When have you ever had a girlfriend?!” I began to explain my dating history, feeling as though I had to legitimise the past I’d tried so hard to hide, but I was interrupted. “Don’t worry love, you’ll find a decent man eventually!” And that was the end of that.
Many LGBTIQ+ people will tell you this: we don’t come out just the once – we have to come out over and over again. People in the LGBTIQ community are often expected to openly discuss their sexual identity in everyday moments - at work, at social events, to their families, friends – even strangers.
But I believe this experience is particularly unique when it comes to bisexuality. Bisexual people are expected to come out regularly to people they barely know, like all LGBTIQ+ people, but with that often-difficult ‘coming out’, bi people are often asked to validate and somehow ‘prove’ their sexual identity, as if people can’t possibly believe that someone is attracted to more than one gender. And what makes it particularly bizarre is that this often comes from within the community, as well as from heterosexual people.
As a young baby queer, struggling with my identity and attraction to women and men, I was questioned by people of various sexualities and gender identities. Lesbians interrogated me about my sexual history, and then refused to date me once they’d found out I date men as well as women. In queer bars with gay male friends, gay men would refer to me as a f*g hag or beard because I didn’t present as queer enough; they seem to assume I’m straight and therefore taking up their space, especially if I deign to mention that I have a cisgender male partner.
As a young baby queer, struggling with my identity and attraction to women and men, I was questioned by people of various sexualities and gender identities.
If I tried to regain my space by mentioning I was bisexual, I received ‘pick a side’ comments or jeers about ‘phases of experimentation’. My queer identity was, and sometimes still is, erased in these situations, which makes me feel alienated from the community that I was always told would welcome me with open arms.
Talking to bisexual friends, I’m certainly not alone in this experience. This treatment from the community is harmful, and makes bi people feel invalidated and isolated. But they’re also constantly questioned on, or asked to provide proof and validation of their bisexuality to heterosexual people.
Only recently over Twitter, a former high school classmate responded to a tweet I made about wanting to write a book about acknowledging my queerness as a young teenager growing up on the edge of suburbia in South Australia. They implied the difficulties I faced were irrelevant and I was over-dramatising the bullying I experienced because of my sexuality – because, they said, I’d had a boyfriend in high school. As if, somehow, having a boyfriend meant my queerness was forfeit. Non-existent.
Nearly a decade on from high school, and it felt as though my identity was once again being forcefully erased for me. Memories of dark thoughts and feelings came flooding back, reminding me of times when I was so confused about my sexuality, I was suicidal.
Should I have responded trying to educate them about bisexuality, and said I had crushes, relationships and sexual encounters with women in high school as well, that I desperately kept secret? Maybe. But why must I prove my sexuality? Why am I expected to exert time and energy on a daily basis to legitimise my identity? Every bisexual person will tell you how utterly exhausting it is.
Why am I expected to exert time and energy on a daily basis to legitimise my identity?
It’s as if you’re expected to have a pamphlet containing the contact details of all your sexual encounters at all times, so when some random person tells me I couldn’t possibly be queer because my partner is male, then I can whip out my Bi Identification™ and say, “Well I am in a heterosexual relationship right now, but as you can see, my sexual history includes both men and women. You can call them and check if you’d like!” Is that what they want? I’m afraid to ask at this point, because after coming out more than 15 years ago, many of these experiences lead me to believe that often, these people purely wanted to make me uncomfortable, or sad, or invalidated, or all of the above.
So say it with me: bisexual people don’t have to prove their sexuality to you. Not those in hetero relationships, not those in same-sex relationships, not those in relationships with non-binary or transgender or intersex people. People should not have to validate their sexual identity or history at all. If for no other reason — because it’s an extremely weird thing to ask someone. Stop it.