Thursday, 20 October 2016

Being Bi and Maybe Having Some Straight Privilege(s)

Expect a lot more posts about bisexuality around here.  So, one of the reasons that I hesitated a little bit to apply the label of “bisexual” to myself, even when it was obvious that I’m attracted to both men and women, was that I haven’t really suffered from homophobia or biphobia, and I worried about being “attention seeking.” And when there are lots of people ready to say that you’re not “really bi” if you haven’t suffered enough, like the article Miri rebuts beautifully here, it’s not surprising.

What sparked me thinking about being bi and still having a lot of privileges that a straight person gets was a Twitter thread. @elielcruz was pointing out that a freaking LGBT magazine erased bi people, calling them gay, and pointed out that being bi is really stigmatized in the same ways being gay is.  In some ways, more so, because spaces that are safe for the LG part of LGBT reject, ignore, or mistrust the B. (The T too, but that’s not my experience, so I can’t really speak to it.)

And I totally agreed with that but also couldn’t reconcile it with my own experience. That may be just because my experience is outside of the norm, even for a bisexual person.  Until  some time in my twenties, I thought of myself as straight. In college, I had fairly intense  feelings toward female friends that felt platonic at the time, but may, looking back, have been crushes. They were similar to the intense crushes I had on guys, but without any (conscious) thinking about sex. I had internalized so much shame and guilt about sex at all, particularly sex outside of an opposite-sex marriage, that I think my whole sexuality was really repressed as a teenager and into college. Any kind of sexual thoughts, it all felt sinful and shameful. (Thanks, evangelical purity culture!)

Because of that guilt and repression, I’m not really sure if I used to be straight and my sexuality shifted, or I was just in complete denial. I kind of think that it was repression, a subconscious way  of protecting myself from something I wasn’t ready to deal with. It’s probably academic anyway, because I thought of myself as straight, and didn’t experience attraction to women that seemed sexual at the time.

During and after college, I went through a lot of religious angst and soul searching, rejected most of what I’d been taught in evangelical churches, and went from being someone who thought “love the sinner, hate the sin” was actually an acceptable way to relate to gay people to someone who was fully convinced that being gay or bi is totally normal, no better or worse than being straight, and that what makes a relationship pleasing or displeasing to God is whether the people in it love and respect each other, not their genitals, their gender identity, or their signatures on a marriage license. But, I didn’t think of myself as bi at the time, and I think that process would’ve been harder if I had, because I would’ve had to ask if I was just justifying what I wanted to do or be, rather than looking for honest answers.

What that meant is that actually discovering that I was bi didn’t have much angst to it at all. All the emotional work had already happened, at a safe distance. What to call my sexuality, and how to talk about it, and to whom, were still hard, but I was past the point where the lie that that sexuality is broken or dirty could take root in my mind.

And, when I realized I was bi, I was already married to an awesome guy. So, I’ve never been in the position of having to come out to my parents if I want them to meet the person I’m dating, or of having to plan my wedding guest list based on who would “approve” of the relationship. We got married in Pennsylvania, nearly a decade before a same-sex couple could do the same. I’m not out at work, but I’ve got photos of my husband on my desk. So I feel like I have privileges that most LGB people don’t.

At the same time, it seems misleading to call that straight privilege, because I’m not straight. I still wince when people think being bi means orgies, or that bi people are greedy or indecisive. And when people assume I’m straight, I still do this weird mental calculus. Would it be weird or attention-seeking to correct them? How would they react? Do I even want to go there?

But I feel like getting to pick whether to go there or not is a privilege. It’s awfully convenient to be able to tell only people I trust (and the whole internet, quasi-anonymously), without having to hide my marriage or my dating history. Really, the only way you’d know I’m bi is 1) I told you, or 2) You saw the amount of femslash in my browser history.

I don’t know if you’d call it passing privilege, or if “heteronormative relationship privilege” is a thing. But I definitely feel like I’ve had it easier than the women I know who are dating or married to women, whether they’re bi or lesbian or identify some other way. Maybe that’s a combination of several privileges, intersectionality, and the fact that privilege isn’t really binary.

And yet bi women have the highest rates of intimate partner violence. Higher than lesbians, and *much* higher than straight women.  A lot of the stereotypes about bi women feed directly into that—we’re viewed as more likely to cheat, or incapable of being satisfied by a single partner, and toxic masculinity often interprets having a woman cheat with another woman as emasculating. So it’s not really safer to be bi when that’s taken into account. It feels safer to me, but statistically, not so much.

I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that bi people as a whole group experience straight privilege, but I think there’s some nuance and some weird intersections that confuse the issue. I like having labels for things, but I’m not really sure how to neatly categorize and compartmentalize any of this.

 




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