Toronto
3 min

Dodging bisexuality’s bad rap

Last spring, when I first started working as Xtra’s summer intern, I thought the job would help me figure out more about my queer identity and my place in the community. But despite all the exposure to local queer issues, events and a wide variety of individuals I’m now more confused than ever.

Because I was in a gay workplace on an almost daily basis my own queerness was much more front and centre — to myself and to my friends — than it had ever been. Coming into the internship I worried about being labelled a queer journalist. What I hadn’t anticipated was the digs about my bisexuality. Friends joked that I was still “transitioning” to lesbianism. Others call me greedy for having crushes on men and women. I was asked why I was neglecting my straight side by hanging out with my lesbian friends and going out to queer clubs so much.

You might dismiss such comments as petty or not very important compared to other problems in the queer scene, but they indicate some disturbing attitudes toward bisexuality. Joking or not, I’m tired of people dismissing my sexuality. To say I’m transitioning to lesbianism or just bi-curious sounds an awful lot like the parents who tell their gay sons, “Maybe you just haven’t found the right girl yet.”

Why is it so easy to dismiss bisexuality? Maybe it’s because when you’re dating someone of the opposite sex you’re automatically assumed to be straight. But bisexuals are still queer even when they’re having what looks like a straight relationship. Like trans people, we complicate the neat little boxes that society has constructed for us around gender and attraction.

Similarly when you’re dating someone of the same sex you’re seen as gay or lesbian. We see this whenever a closeted Republican is caught having same-sex extramarital affairs. “He’s gay!” they declare in the headlines. No one stops to ask if the person was just a repressed bisexual.

It seems the only way to be recognized as bisexual is to date men and women at the same time. Of course that plays right into the myth that all bisexuals are promiscuous. We may joke about it (I’ve personally been described as everyone-crazy) but it’s kind of like saying that all gay men practise unsafe sex. Just because you can doesn’t mean you do.

There have been lots of sketchy depictions of female bisexuality that make it more difficult for us to be taken seriously — Superbowl beer commercials (Tinyurl.com/-yhkew9r), Britney and Madonna’s infamous kiss, Alice on The L-Word — and terms like bi-curious or “lesbian until graduation” don’t help matters. But they don’t serve as evidence that bisexuality doesn’t really exist. If anything all they do is confirm that the world is full of endless annoying, inaccurate terms used to describe human behaviour.

It would be easy to blame the media for bisexuality’s bad rap. Shows like Tila Tequila’s Shot at Love, Sharon Stone’s homicidal character in Basic Instinct and the denouncement of Anne Heche after her breakup with Ellen Degeneres and subsequent relationships with men are all unfavourable, well-known examples of bisexuality. But when it comes to sexuality — straight or queer — the media has a tendency to be sensationalist for the sake of entertainment and ratings, and even problematic depictions of bisexuality are better than none because they give us a place to start from.

It could be worse. As a bi woman I’m better off than I’d be if I was a guy. Kissing between two women is seen as hot, but two men making out are still more likely to be reviled than encouraged. Still, in neither case are the participants likely to be recognized as bisexual — the women are seen as straight and just experimenting while the men are instantly deemed to be faggots. As far as I know there is no such thing as GUG (gay until graduation), there’s just gay, straight or closeted.

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy for me to come out. With two immigrant parents, few resources in the suburbs of Scarborough and the only gay relative in my family deeply estranged from my mother, odds were not exactly in my favour for easy acceptance. There are still moments when I consider limiting myself to opposite-sex relationships to avoid having to come out to my father.

But when I finally did come out to my mother I did it because I felt like I was tired of hiding something. I was worried I didn’t fit into her idea of the ideal daughter and I didn’t want to disappoint her further.

Now that I’m out I worry about not fitting ideas about being queer. Maybe the lesson from all of this is to stop assuming we know what it means to be queer in the first place. In a diverse community full of leather daddies, drag queens, twinks, bears, dykes, drag kings, trans teens and everything in between making assumptions about who is attracted to whom only serves to limit us as queers.