Insight, Feb '18
Gay men and lesbians need to question their own biphobia even as they fight compulsory heterosexuality argues Shruti Janardhan
This article was originally published on Feminism in India and re-published here with their permission.
As a bisexual person, I do not have straight privilege. Do not conflate my experience with hetero people’s experience. Let me just put it out there.
Homophobic discourse threatens my existence just as much as people who identify as gay or lesbian. Even if I am at the moment dating a man, my sexuality is discredited through homophobic discourse too. You cannot tell me otherwise.
I have several friends from the queer community. And within the queer community, politics of visibility can take a sinister turn.
Certain identities within the community have more visibility than the others, and the nuances of the complexities of identity politics hardly get represented in mainstream media. [When] a diverse set of gender identities and sexual orientations [are] put together for the reason of fighting the dominant discourse of heteronormativity, politics within the community is inevitable (as is inevitable in any community with diverse identities).
But I am specifically going to talk about the discrimination against my sexual orientation within the [queer] community.
Every time my friends from the queer community and I get together, for some reason I am ‘lesser’ than them when it comes to facing oppression because of dominant heteronormative discourse. My friends are woke, political and largely accepting, but they make me uncomfortable when I make conversation about queer politics.
One of them, in fact, blurted out, even with the full knowledge of the fact that it was an incorrect and an offensive thing to say, that since I was dating a man at the moment I cannot conflate my experience with theirs. The way different sexual orientations experience discrimination is diverse and their experiences with oppression are different. But what this woman did was not acknowledge my oppression as different, she discredited it all together.
I broke up with my boyfriend in 2014 and soon after dated a woman for a few months. I could feel the difference in the attitude. Now that I was dating a woman, I was one of them.
It might sound like I am vilifying them – I am not. We are all victims of heteronormativity and even after being politically woke, we tend to make micro-aggressions and have certain internalized biases. But those biases and micro-aggressions have consequences and that is the whole point of this article.
When I was dating a woman I felt more relaxed. Now that I was with a person of the same gender identity that means my oppression was ‘real’ and I could talk about gender politics without being questioned if I should do the same. I shouldn’t have to date a person of the same gender identity just to prove my oppression is real. My word should be enough.
Yet, it’s not. I am made to feel like I need permission to feel oppressed. And frankly, dual oppression both from hetero people and queer community can be exhausting. Why do I have to be a certain way for my experience to be counted as real?
Why is my experience as a bisexual woman less valid when I am dating a man? It doesn’t change that I am bisexual, and it certainly doesn’t change the oppression I feel from the homophobic discourse which de-recognizes my sexuality. I do not have passing privilege. The only way I would have privilege is if I was a hetero person, which I am not.
But what is true is the kind of oppression I face, which is of a different nature. The face of discrimination against different sexual orientations is not uniform; we all experience it differently, even if the root cause of that discrimination is the same. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Also, people have a skewed perception of how attraction works. If I am bisexual, that implies it is possible for me to be sexually attracted to both men and women. What it doesn’t mean is I am attracted to and going to sleep with multiple people at the same time.
Do you know how difficult that is – logistically? That is absurd. Even though having multiple sex partners in the same bedroom is fairly common, you cannot attribute that to people with a specific sexuality. You do not have to be a person with a specific identity to indulge in that.
Just because I am bisexual doesn’t mean I am attracted to someone or the other all the time.
That is a fairly subjective experience as well. Even if I might, that does not mean every bisexual person has shared that experience – period.
The reason I mention this is because queer folks, along with hetero folks are complicit in perpetuating this common myth. Even though most of the time it’s amusing, sometimes it can be hurtful.
One of my lesbian friends once told me she would have considered me as a romantic prospect if she didn’t have to worry that I would wander. There is no factual evidence to substantiate that. When I pointed out that was slightly offensive, she dismissed it off pretty quickly. The reason for that dismissal was simple – she, like most people, has internalized biphobia.
We make mistakes, and in the realm of activism and politics, we can be harsh on each other.
The point of this article is only this – we recognize this form of oppression and revise our complicity in perpetuating this oppression. That’s all.
Main graphic credit: Look Human / Pinterest