Bi the way, Don’t be a Phobe

We’ve all dealt with it in some way. A rude comment, a strange look, doubting of the authenticity of our identity. An unfortunately all too common experience for queer folk is facing some form of queerphobia, from microaggressions to outright bigotry. From outside the community this behavior is already as hurtful as it is harmful, but what about when it happens from within the community?  After speaking with Nicole, a bisexual woman, and Zach, a bisexual man, both of whom requested I refer to them only be their given names,  the answer becomes apparent.

In short, it sucks.

In the realm of dating Nicole considered her brushes with biphobia both within and outside of the community as “frustrating,” citing two common tropes that have plagued bisexuals for years, the idea of the promiscuous bisexual just looking for threesomes and the myth that bi people are naturally inclined to cheat. “There’s just this assumption that because they’re only one person that is not [all] genders that I’d be attracted to…they aren’t going to be enough and I’m going to look elsewhere.”

The worst part of it, Nicole added, is the feeling that because they’ve bought so strongly into these tropes, a partner may discount the relationship without ever truly giving it a real chance.

Zach’s experiences were not much of a departure from Nicole’s. When asked if his identity ever resulted in friction in dating, he was quick to answer, “one hundred percent”

In one example, Zach experienced a particularly hurtful case of bisexual erasure, a process by which the authenticity of the identity of a bisexual person is called into question or outright doubted to exist, in a romantic relationship. “I had an ex who was…like ‘are you sure you’re bi? Cause you just kind of sound like a gay guy at times.’” What Zach felt hurt the most from this experience was this statement came from a bisexual woman, an unfortunate example of internalized biphobia.

With men, the experience was similar, with the pervasive accusation that Zach’s identity was “just a phase,” rearing its ugly head.

Nicole faced similar prejudice for not being a “gold star gay,” saying she’ll occasionally have experiences with female partners that feel she’s “just doing this for fun” or that she’s the type of bi girl “who really actually only falls in love with guys.” 

Partly to blame, Nicole felt, is that she is more “femme presenting,” leading to her style and gender expression carrying with it various stereotypes of how she should act and who she should be attracted to.

Both parties exhibited clear hurt and frustration over these experiences, with Nicole reiterating the “superficial feeling” biphobia can cause in relationships and Zach lamenting the emotional toll of having “a core part of who [he] was being challenged…for no apparent reason.”

One hope spot that both parties shared is a general lack of fetishization from within the queer community, though it seems our straight friends still have some ways to go in this regard.

“It’s interesting that you bring up fetishization,” Zack began, “because I have seen that happen with bisexuality, just not within the queer community….[it’s] mostly in the straight community.”

Zach added that the experience of fetishization differs between bisexual men and bisexual women. “I’ll say that I’m bi and they’re like, ‘you’re just gay’ but if they’re talking about a woman that’s bi, like, Oh my God.”

This observation was echoed by Nicole’s discussion of her own experience, “As a bi female, [in] the straight male community, there’s a certain degree of fetishization of bi females….it’s often looked at as ‘that’s really hot, and if I’m dating you, then that means you’d automatically be down to have threesome, have somebody else.”

Outside of dating, both Nicole and Zach shared some of their experiences with friends and the wider queer community.

Nicole’s experience has been fairly positive. With a diverse friend group identifying across the queer spectrum, Nicole said that “[No one] has tried to ostracize or say anything about my sexuality. They’ve all been like, ‘Hey, that’s great…You’re awesome that you’re a part of it.’”

Though it’s clear that acceptance of bisexuality and bisexual individuals has been increasing, it’s important to remember that Nicole’s experience is unfortunately not universal. Zach felt that since he came out, he’s felt somewhat disconnected from the queer community.

“All that questioning, all that doubt, all that challenging… it kind of left this disconnectedness where I’m hesitant now to go into queer spaces,” Zach said.

There’s been times, Zach stated, that to avoid feeling out of place in his own community, he adopts the label of gay, simply to avoid accusations and doubt.

Additionally, Zach shared a particular experience where a former friend told him under no uncertain terms that “bi people do not exist” and that they either “default back to straight, or come out as gay,” a claim made more vexing as the same friend was in the process of discovering their own sexual identity.

“Yeah, that one kind of sits with me,” Zach added, after a brief moment of quiet reflection.

Though the focus of this article was biphobia, it’s important to remember that queerphobia comes in many forms and impacts vulnerable members across the queer spectrum in countless ways, even from within the community itself. It’s important, especially in our current political climate that we stick together as a community and make all members feel safe and welcome for years to come.

Travis Barkefelt is a longtime Pittsburgh resident and even longer time bisexual with an interest in creating and sharing stories that connect and empower members of the community.