Masterbitch Theater: Bisexual Invisibility

Though Huffington Post seems to be one of the few news outlets with frequently-occurring articles on bisexuality, I still found myself a little irked with a recent “Bi the Bi” column.

Writers A.J. Walkley and Lauren Michelle Kinsey both answered a reader question: “Are closeted bisexuals the main reason for bisexual invisibility?”  Unfortunately, to better frame their argument, they excerpted an old Dan Savage column:

More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about. […] While I’m willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.

Holy Goddamn Victim-Blaming, Batman. While I respect what Dan Savage has done as far as bringing more sexual issues to the cultural forefront, and his founding of the It Gets Better project, I still find his oft-dismissive attitude irritating. I’m not saying he’s dismissive of bisexual people in general (though statements like “[…]are always complaining about” do not win my favor), but rather that he’s dismissive of anyone who does not think the way he does. And I kind of wish we’d quit using him as the automatic go-to source for sex questions without considering other voices.

However, my main complaint here isn’t so much with Savage, but more with the way in which the HuffPo writers handle the question.

Walkley and Kinsey have somewhat diverging opinions on Savage’s take. Kinsey (what an apropos name!) feels sympathetic to Savage’s argument that bisexual people have a “responsibility” to come out:

I would say that the responsibility for sharing information about bisexuality and putting an end to bisexual invisibility rests on those who have knowledge and some basic level of economic, emotional and intellectual resources. Whether those people are bisexual or not, if they understand bisexuality, then they have a responsibility to work to make sure that information is passed along. Knowledge is power, and with power comes responsibility.

Walkley takes a more compassionate view to those who might feel vulnerable one way or another about coming out as bi:

What if he had said, “More out gay men would mean less of that gay invisibility that gay men are always complaining about.” Instead of putting the onus on society to be more accepting of more sexualities, he’s putting it on the discriminated group. Because bisexuals continue to receive significantly more bias within the LGBT community than the L and the G components, Savage can get away with this stance on bisexuals, but I guarantee that if that same quotation had been directed to the L and the G components, the reaction would have been much more vitriolic.

Biphobic words infographic by Clinton Andor
(Infographic created by Clinton Andor. Click to enlarge.)

Still, she acknowledges that Savage has a point, that coming out could lead to greater acceptance and less invisibility. I agree that, yes, it does help decrease invisibility when someone like Anna Paquin comes out (and does not shy away from the “but you’re married to a man!” comments that came after), but the idea that bi individuals should just buck up and quit feeling so vulnerable is insensitive. Yes, it would be great if we all felt strong enough to be exactly who we are, no matter who is asking, but I think that until being bisexual isn’t something that is treated with a dismissive attitude, it is going to be harder for people to feel comfortable doing so.

My problem with the “Bi the Bi” column answer is that they don’t really answer the person’s question. Instead they discuss what Dan Savage thinks is the answer to the question. Also, statements like, “I do believe that bisexual people make up a significant part of the global population, and we are most likely the majority of the LGB population” are conjecture. Maybe it’s true, and maybe it isn’t, but without facts, stop it. You’re not helping. (Also, can we stop with the puns on so many bi-related things? It’s laziness masquerading as cleverness.) Basically, they tell the question asker, “We don’t know, but here’s what Dan Savage thinks.”

Could you have thought about it for a minute, maybe?

Look, I love it when someone comes out as bisexual because I feel like that’s one more person in my corner, another person who gets it. I want to high-five them because I’m a bi gal who has been married to a bi man for the past ten years. Throughout my fancying-people-history, I’ve been head over heels for both men and women, but because I wouldn’t say I’m 100% out (talking about it on the Internet notwithstanding), I recognize how complicated the issue is. Every little bit of visibility helps, but I’m not about to demand that all not-straight people do the same. Instead, I would ask people who are considering coming out to examine why coming out scares them. Consider what personal strength you might have. Weigh everything. Don’t lie, especially to yourself. Do what feels right for you and your specific situation, and remember, no one has permission to dictate your feelings but you. Vulnerability does not make you less of a person.

So let’s talk about it: What do you think contributes to bisexual invisibility? Do you think there’s one thing that is the majority of the reason, or do you think lots of smaller reasons all contribute? How do you think these columnists handled the original question?

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

12 replies on “Masterbitch Theater: Bisexual Invisibility”

My favorite (i.e., NOT) biphobic comment: “How bi are you? What percentage?”

Well, I don’t know. How many vaginas does it take to equal a penis? Or vice versa? Do I get extra points for using a strap on or sex toys in general? Do blow jobs count less than PIV in the percentage? I mean, really. These are things I need to know in order to calculate my fucking percentage.

Ugh. Pardon me while I take deep breaths and let my high dudgeon fade.

Bisexual invisibility is mostly due to the fact that most people only (openly) have relationships with one person at a time. If a bisexual dates someone of the same gender, they appear to be gay/lesbian (the partner may in fact be gay/lesbian, or may be bi as well). If they’re different genders, they appear to be straight (and again, the partner may or may not be). If one of the people involved identifies outside the gender binary, the casual observer probably won’t realize that anyway and will still sort the relationship into an easy-to-name box, leading to more invisibility. No one has to go around telling the whole world about their sexual preferences. That’s bullshit.

Now that I’m in a committed relationship, I get really frustrated when people ask me if I’m “still” bisexual. Even my mom did this once, and I flat out said (nicely) “Yeah mom, that doesn’t really change.” Just because I happen to have found a really wonderful man that I’m serious with doesn’t mean that I’m not still attracted to women, or wouldn’t date a woman if I WAS single, or that my orientation or identity have changed in any way. It just means that I love Boyfriend and am committed to that particular relationship – not that I love men and am committed to that particular gender. But I think these assumptions are part of what makes it harder to speak out. No matter what I say, there will be people who deny my existence because I appear to fit into their pre-existing binaries.

It was pretty minor, but I even caught some bisexual invisibility from Equality Illinois the other day. They’re doing a push for people to contact their state representatives about same-sex marriage in Illinois, and in the form letter to be e-mailed, there’s this sentence “Like all Illinoisans, gay and lesbian couples…” and it really bugged me. Because hello, not everybody in a same-sex couple is gay or lesbian. An LGBTQ rights organization OUGHT to know that. I changed the wording of my e-mail, which made me feel a little better, but it still bugged me.

RE: the marriage email: Not so minor, to be bugged by that. Sometimes, it feels like some organizations forget that the second half of the acronym exists. I think that’s part of why I have often started saying, “not straight” in rather than rattle off the whole acronym because it, to me, encompasses everyone who is, you know, not straight. Whatever that means to them.

You should totally use my favourite acronym: QUILTBAG.

And it’s easy to remember. There are some labels that don’t quite make it into the acronym (but I feel can fall under other umbrella terms in QUILTBAG), but I think it’s a hellava lot better than LGBTQQ2IA*.

Ugh, NO. You don’t have to come out for everybody. The gays, the straights, the bisexuals, asexuals and so on aren’t clubs that can only survive on people becoming members by piping up about their orientation.

Of course I understand the thought of ‘If there are more of them, it’s easier to admit you’re just like them’, but supporting that thought means you want someone to fit in a pre-made mold instead of letting the majority be okay with whatever the individual wants to call him/herself (or not call at all).

I don’t come out as bi because while I recognize that on some level I can be sexually attracted to women, I have no idea how far that goes. Instead I like to say I’m “straightish.”

One of the big problems with coming out as bi, in my mind, is that people can be EVERYWHERE on who they’re attracted to. But, society as a whole has an “all or nothing” attitude towards sexuality. Either you’re attracted to women or you’re attracted to men – so it says. So, if you’re attracted to both, you’ve got to be split down the middle, right?

It is seriously angermaking that the response to these issues is “oh, more bi people have to come out.” That’s not putting ANY responsibility on the people with the relative privilege. Allies are seriously important.

Right, “you should be equal in your preferences” is another stupid thing people hear if they are bi, and if they’re not, then they’re “confused” and will “settle into one eventually.” Never mind that sexuality is a very fluid thing. Even if you’re totally into one gender and one gender only, that doesn’t mean that what you’re attracted to within that gender won’t change — so why should the “percentage,” so to speak, of a bi person’s attraction to men vs. women stay the same?

Sorry, I had to stop right here to be bitchy:

“While I’m willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight..”

Really, Dan Savage? Like maybe the hostility they get from a nationally syndicated sex columnist who has said repeatedly that he doesn’t think bisexuality actually exists?

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