One of the most biphobic people I know is myself.
Having read that, you may be surprised to find I am part of the bi+ community, identifying as pansexual, meaning I have the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of any or all genders, or regardless of gender. I have also used the words bisexual and queer to define myself. Bisexual, because I’ve loved and been attracted to more than one gender. And queer because I know, if anything for sure, that I’m not straight.
I am part of the bi+ community and yet, I’m one of the most biphobic people I know. Because every biphobic slur or comment or joke I’ve heard, I have internalised, shaping the way I think about other bi+ people. That’s what’s so insidious about biphobia. The way it eats us up from the inside out. The way it demoralises and silences us. The way it inspires us to demoralise and silence others.
Every biphobic slur or comment or joke I’ve heard, I have internalised, shaping the way I think about other bi+ people.
Growing up, I didn’t know the acronym LGBTIQ+ let alone did I know anything about the community those letters stood for. It simply wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Neither was pansexual, bisexual or queer. My only understanding was of a stark binary between ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. And I believed that if I wasn’t completely one, I must be completely the other. So, it didn’t matter that I was dreaming of women by night and pining for them by day. I was dating a man, who I loved, so I was straight.
When I broke up with him in my early twenties, I told him I needed to find out something about myself, that I wasn’t sure what it was, only that I knew I needed to be alone to do it. Then I slept for the first time with her and it felt like diving into cold water, the way it wakes you up. The way you surface and your breath rushes in and everything unfolds and expands and opens out wide.
I was still attracted to men, but I knew then that I wasn’t straight, so I told someone I trusted that I was bisexual. We were sitting in her living room, it was dark outside. The room was quiet. I said it and she ignored me. Looked the other way. Said nothing. So, I repeated myself. And after a prolonged silence, she asked the other person in the room what we should to cook for dinner. I felt disappointed, but didn’t have the language to articulate quite why.
Soon after, a friend from the LGBTIQ+ community told me it wasn’t that bad. That I should not complain. This friend was right, I thought. I hadn’t been physically harmed. I hadn’t been ostracised. Just ignored.
I’m in the process of unlearning.
It wasn’t until much later that I told anyone else this “coming out” story. I relayed it to a close friend, queer herself, who felt my pain and said, ‘there is a violence in being silenced.’
Being ignored when I said I was bisexual meant being silenced. And it’s violent because it’s the erasure of your words, your voice, and your story. It makes your experience feel less real, less valid.
Being told by a friend that I should not complain about it was another act of silencing, another erasure. And what it told me, deep down, was that my experience was not as valid as theirs. I internalised the message that the bisexual+ experience is not that bad, and therefore not worth talking about, that the bisexual+ experience is not legitimate.
I said I’m one of the most biphobic people I know because these are the messages I internalised. And through other conversations and other media, I internalised more messages. Assumptions that bisexuality+ is about indecision, crying for attention, or wanting the benefits of ‘both’ without the detriments of either – assumptions that are pedalled by both the community and by straight people that basically make bi+ people feel unwelcome everywhere. Because it makes them feel unworthy of claiming a queer identity, whilst simultaneously feeling false inside of a straight one.
These are the messages that became a part of my body and a part of my psyche, and then bubbled up later, playing out in my own internal monologue when I’ve gone on dates with people who are bi+.
These are the messages that became a part of my body and a part of my psyche, and then bubbled up later, playing out in my own internal monologue.
In the same way, these messages have shaped the story I tell myself and others now that I’m once again dating a man. In fact, until very recently, I would tell people that I was mostly into women, and that he was the exception. As if my queer identity was somehow made less legitimate by being in a relationship with a cis man. My own biphobia is rife, because I’ve been socialised and conditioned by society at large to think a certain way about bi+ people, and in turn, to think a certain way about myself. But I’m unlearning. Or at least, I’m in the process of unlearning.
I am a pansexual woman in an open relationship with a pansexual man. And our queer identities are not compromised by us being together. We’re not rendered more straight. Nor are we less queer. We are legitimate, because bi+, as I’m coming to accept deep within myself, is a sexual orientation in and of itself. It is deserving and beautiful and valid.
If you, like me, are in the process of unlearning and undoing what society at large has told us about bi+ people, know you are not alone. Momentum to develop bisexual+ representation and community has been growing internationally. 2019 Bi Visibility Day had events registered from 40 different countries! All around Australia, events are happening to make the invisible visible. Australia’s first Bisexual+ specific mental health service has launched: Bi+ Australia. And in 2019, Bi+ Visibility launched the first Mardi Gras Float in many years.
There is a violence in being silenced. But there is heart in being heard.
Sophie Hardcastle was the co-creator of Cloudy River - the series which will headline the Rainbow Pride movie collection on SBS On Demand. Watch it On Demand from the 20th of February.
The Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras 2020: Live Stream will be available to watch here from Saturday, 29th February 2020 at 07:35 PM.