I just posted this on Twitter, but wanted to expand on it a bit:
Since it’s Bisexuality Awareness Week (hug your favorite bisexual!), I’ve been thinking about erasure, denial, visibility, and biphobia.
Just in case you didn’t know it, bisexuals walk among you. I’m one of them. You probably know others. You may have mistaken us as gay or straight because of the relationships we were in. But regardless of who a bisexual dates, that doesn’t erase or invalidate their bisexuality.
That said, there are a lot of people who believe that monogamous bisexuals have “made their choice.” When bisexuals choose a partner, that can lead to people assuming that we’ve finally decided which orientation we “prefer.” We’re finally going to be gay or straight.
But bisexuals aren’t gay or straight. We maintain the ability to feel attraction to all genders, regardless of who we’re currently dating/in love with/sleeping with.
In Mallory Ortberg’s Dear Prudence column last week, a lesbian wrote to ask if her friends were right to say she should be jealous because her wife is bisexual. Her wife had been engaged to a soldier, who then died while serving, and she understandably still grieves that loss. Thankfully, the woman writing in said, “I think this is biphobia,” but she still asked, “…should I be jealous?”
Ortberg handled it well, of course, but this woman’s friends’ insistence points to a deeply held belief that extends to all couples, which is: when we’re in relationships, we can’t acknowledge attractive people we aren’t dating, nor mention that our hearts can still engage.
Because if we mention these things, that’s an indication of wayward behavior, even though we haven’t done anything. We’ve only acknowledged that we can see and register the other people that still exist even while we’re in relationships. But let’s think more about why we can’t say, “I think [that person who isn’t the person I’m involved with] is attractive.” It’s because we’re all so fucking sensitive about thinking we’re “the one.”
Don’t get me started on the mythos surrounding “the one.” It’s all bullshit. It’s for people who think relationships don’t require work. Our egos have such immense capacity that we think that our partners aren’t allowed or inclined to notice what other people look like.
Full disclosure: When I was 18, I started dating this guy who emotionally wrecked me. And that wreckage began when he mentioned a girl he found attractive, and I crumbled like a leaf. I beat myself up over it and jumped to conclusions. From “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?” to “IS THIS BETRAYAL?” to “I’M NOT ENOUGH.” etc.
I wish I could’ve told my younger self: “You have so much growing to do.” Because his comment didn’t mean anything and it certainly wasn’t betrayal. He did a lot of other dishonest things to me, but that wasn’t one of them. And of the other things he did, that comment hurt me the least.
NB: That partner was bisexual but afraid to say so. The closest he ever got was, “I used to think I was gay,” to which I literally screamed, “ME TOO!” It was such a relief to tell someone. But it was just a half step. Because (gentle reminder) being bisexual isn’t the same as being gay.
But being bisexual is a scary proposition because there’s this notion that follows couples everywhere: if you talk about your capacity to notice other sexual beings who aren’t your partner, you’re telling them they’re not enough for you.
And friends, that is fucking bullshit. Because it amounts to telling bisexuals to NEVER say “I’m bisexual.”
Because of someone’s ego. Because people confuse acknowledging attraction to other people with genuine infidelity. And because people think that saying “I’ve slept with men and women/am attracted to all genders,” means “I’ll sleep with anyone!” which means DANGER.
But promiscuity is only dangerous when we don’t talk about it (e.g., the current state of emergency in Saskatchewan because of recent uptick in HIV cases). Also, telling someone they should be ashamed of expressing their attraction to others is dangerous. And given the prevalence of the belief that bisexuals only communicate their bisexuality to gain attention (how shameful), that might explain the high rate of depression and suicide among bisexuals, especially women.
The bottom line here is that I know it’s hard to not be hurt when the person you’re with acknowledges someone who isn’t you, but worrying about past experiences (or measuring up [a.k.a., The Chasing Amy defense]), and thinking potential is the same as action is unfair.
It’s like saying, “I think that house is pretty,” when you and your partner have recently bought an apartment. Committing to one space doesn’t negate your ability to admire the architecture of another space.
Or, here’s a more realistic scenario. You have two potential paths: 1/Your partner says, “Hey, that person is attractive,” and your feelings are hurt but you get over it because you’re both adults and you know and trust your partner. Or 2/You tell your partner, in any of a number of ways (verbally telling them, giving them an ultimatum, shaming them in front of other people, shaming them in private, physically threatening them, physically abusing them, assaulting them, etc.), that since they’re committed to you, they’re not allowed to mention anyone else, including statements of fact about their orientation, as if that implies anything beyond capability. And, as a result, they close themselves off to everyone, including you.
So, which would work better for you? Which is the easier scenario?
There’s a ton of awful shit that might happen in life. (Cue the list of 108 things that could [but probably won’t] kill you). But just because you could OD on zinc, that doesn’t mean you should avoid it or force it into hiding or deny that it’s even real. (Just like bisexuality, zinc is a very real thing.)
Denial hurts. Being told you don’t know your own mind hurts. But it hurts exponentially more when it comes from someone you care about. So, as a reminder—not just this week, but every week, in perpetuity—don’t police your bi friends or your friends who love them. Don’t call bisexuality a phase. Don’t say it isn’t real.
And if a friend opens up to you and says, “I’m bisexual,” regardless of their history, you only need to do one thing: believe them.