„[…]calling out our friends and communities is an important part of the learning process in which we all partake. Debate, dissent, and conflict are the living fire of a community’s heart.”(Eisner 2013, p. 10)
My interest to write this article emerged from my experience of bi_phobic comments and prejudices, as well as a lot of suspiciousness towards bi_sexual desire from queer-feminist friends and loved ones. I am embracing my own fluid sexuality and bi_sexual_fluid identity now, but there have been quite a number of struggles on the way. In this article I would like to share my personal experiences on bi_phobia and direct attention to the structural basis of bi_phobic incidents rooted in monosexism.
Bi_sexuality to me means the possibility to feel love and desire towards people of different genders. Not necessarily to the same extent, not necessarily in the same way or at all times. Bi_sexuality to me, is an empowering term, which I use to describe the way I love and desire, without apologizing for it or feeling ashamed.
Shame, fear and moving on
Some time ago I started reading a book written by the white US-American scholar, Brené Brown. In this book she defines shame as the feeling of not being enough, not belonging, not deserving love and the fear of not receiving it. Never before have I thought about shame in that way, but I find it quite helpful here.
I know the feeling of being ashamed about parts of myself which I consider unloveable. It often comes with not fitting in with the norms of society or of a specific community – be it our body size, a prefered sex practice, the way we (choose to) (not) work or parent, the way we speak, learn or love.
I certainly know the feeling of shame when it comes to my bi_sexual desire, love and identity. Buried within that feeling, I can see the fear of not belonging – neither to the straight world, nor to a queer(-feminist) community. Bi_sexual people do not fit the norms of heteronormative societies, nor do they have a solid place in the prevalent norms of the queer(-feminist) spaces and politics that I am familiar with (which are spaces and politics in Vienna and Berlin).
I see queer(-feminist) communities stuck between the ideal of accepting all forms of desire, sexuality and love on the one hand, and hidden norms of who is queer and what it looks like on the other. These norms often come with prejudices and resentment against bi_sexual folks and foster their erasure. I have moved on from the shame and fear that have sometimes been circling around my sexuality – towards making empowering connections.
„Does something like bi_phobia exist?” and the need for spaces of empowerment
A lack of awareness for the specific situation and the structural discrimination of bi_sexuals is common, as I pointed out before. „Does something like bi_phobia exist?” a friend asked me a while ago, and another one told me that she* doesn’t really „understand” how people can be bi_sexual. Statements like these show, how invisible bi_sexuality and bi_phobia are.
In the beginning of March this year, a queer-feminist festival named _tastique took place in Vienna. In my opinion it accomplished to point out many ‚forgotten‘ questions and topics in queer-feminist politics and in society in general. At the _tastique festival, among other events, the so-called „Bi_Kränzchen” was organised. It was a ‚get together‘ explicitly geared towards people who are in some way personally connected to the term ‚bi_sexual‘. With the „Bi_Kränzchen” a space of visibility and empowerment was created. It was my first time ever in Vienna to find an event labelled that way, so I won’t deny the excitement I had! I was eager to meet up in a space which didn’t follow an (un-)conscious hetero or homo norm but rather opened up the umbrella of bi_pan_fluid_experiences above us. Around 25 people attended the gathering and several expressed their happiness and surprise about „being so many”. The idea was to discuss problems and emancipatory strategies of bi_sexual people within the queer-feminist context. It was the first time for me to see my own stories, questions and frustrations repeated in other people’s words in a collective space. I realized even more then, that a space for talking about bi_sexual desire, connected struggles and politics is necessary.
But back to the start! Why do bi_sexuals need to get together anyway? What are the specific situations bi_sexuals face and why do I talk about monosexism and bi_phobia?
Monosexism, Bi_phobia and Bi_Erasure
Monosexism is a structure of oppression that privileges identities and actions that express desire towards only one gender. It makes the space for loving beyond the binary of homo/hetero quite narrow and causes bi_phobia and the erasure of bi_sexuals.
A while ago I talked to a lesbian friend about my love life. I told her: „I’ve ended my fling with xy/her* and am exclusively with my cis-boyfriend now.” She looked at me and asked in a confused manner: „So you are all hetero and monogamous now?!” I realized that my bi_sexuality is judged on the momentary status of my relationships and that it is suggested I rephrase my identity in relation to the genders of my partners. This is a form of bi_sexual erasure and shows the common presumption that bi_sexuality doesn’t actually exist or that it isn’t a valid or relevant sexual identity. It is reflected in missing acknowledgment, representation and awareness.
The San Francisco Bisexual Invisibility Report is one of few large reports on bi_sexuality. It states that the erasure of bi_sexuality „has serious consequences on bisexuals‘ health, economic well-being, and funding for bi organizations and programs.” It also identifies bi_sexuals as the most likely group to feel suicidal in comparison to heterosexuals, gays and lesbians and points out the missing institutional support from health care providers.
Bi_phobia – whether discrimination, prejudices or resentments against bi_sexual or other non-monosexual identified people – plays a part in these facts. An easily visible form of it are stereotypes of bi_sexual people. „Bi_ people are really gay or straight, they are just confused or indecisive, they are promiscuious and can’t be trusted and they are transmitters of STI’s” are common ‚myths‘.
When I was hanging out with two lesbian-identified friends, I found out that bi_sexuals allegedly can’t be trusted because of their sexual identity. One was giving the other advice about a fling with a bi_sexual woman*. She said: „Oh your fling is bi_sexual?! You should be really careful then…bi_sexuals tend to leave their girlfriends* for boyfriends*!”. The other one got worried and thought about what she should do about her fling now.
Perspectives on the subversive potential of bi_sexual politics
In many articles about bi_sexuality, these stereotypes are responded to with a big „Nooo, that’s not true!”, says Shiri Eisner – a Tel Aviv based, genderqueer and bi_sexual activist and writer. The response is usually followed by a contrary statement and ‚proof‘ that bi_s can be „normal”. That they can be faithful and monogamous, that bi_sexuality isn’t just a phase but actually exists, that bi_s are not indecisive and so on.
Instead of discussing if the ‚myths‘ around bi_sexuality are true or not, Eisner suggests to use their subversive potential. In her eyes the ‚myths‘ are a good source for radical bi_sexual politics that aim to subvert the norms of society. „Bisexuality is charged with meanings that attest to society’s various anxieties. The attempt to eliminate bisexuality’s existence is an attempt to eliminate the subversive potential that it holds.” (Eisner 2013, p. 44) For instance the idea that bi_sexuality is a phase and bi_s are indecisive makes Eisner state: „The indecision, that is, fluidity associated with bisexuality can be used as a refusal to conduct ourselves through society’s narrow constrictions. It is a refusal and deconstruction of any socially dictated boundaries at all.” (ibid.) Furthermore the notion of a „phase” can be used to describe sexuality as a „continual process of learning, feeling, and experiencing.” (ibid., p. 45) The stereotype of promiscuity Eisner uses to call out for „a different kind of sexual culture, encouraging sexual independence, exploration, and enjoyment of our bodies, sexualities, our various genders […]”. (ibid.) These are examples of how Eisner uses the ‚myths‘ as elements in radical bi_sexual politics that aim to threaten heterosexist, patriarchal, capitalist and racist societies.
Let’s not be_ ashamed..
One of the most effective methods against the feeling of shame, Brené Brown says, is talking about it and sharing the feeling with others. Pretty obvious and still incredibly hard sometimes. I see the sharing of personal struggles and the creating of bi_sexual spaces and politics as a vital part in the fight against monosexism, bi_phobia, bi_erasure and their consequences.
Let’s be careful with each other, so we can be dangerous together!
I am happy about feedback, comments, critique!
You can contact me via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I write bi_sexuality with an _underline to make clear that it includes people of all kinds of genders and doesn’t suggest a gender binary of female/male.
Non-monosexuals are people who (are able to) love and desire people of more than one gender, i.e. pansexual, bi_sexual, polysexual, fluid or queer people, people who don’t use any identity label and others.
Brené Brown (2013): Verletzlichkeit macht stark (Daring greatly), Kailash Verlag, München
Eisner, Shiri (2013): Bi:Notes for a bisexual revolution, Seal Press, Berkley, California
radical.bi (2013): The difference between monosexism and biphobia, online: https://radicalbi.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/the-difference-between-monosexism-and-biphobia/ [06.04.2015]
San Francisco Human Rights Commission LGBT Advisory Committee (2011): Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations, San Francisco, California
_tastique (2015): _tastique queer-feminist festival, Programm online: http://www.docdroid.net/t7we/programm-tastique-v21.pdf.html [05.04.2015]