Queer spaces are the most fun places I’ve ever been. Pride festivals, gay villages, social gatherings specifically for LGBTQ+ folk… there’s always a brilliant atmosphere, fantastic music and of course, copious amounts of glitter and rainbows.
But something that often niggles at the back of my mind is the feeling of not being ‘queer enough’ for these spaces. As a cisgender bisexual woman, especially one in a relationship with a cis man, I often feel that my ‘right’ to be in these spaces is questioned. And I’m not alone in feeling this.
So where does this feeling come from?
“It’s hard to feel like your identity is legitimate when it’s presence is non-existent in the representation of queer communities.”
The representation of queer people in the mainstream media is, in a word, limited. Often you feel like poking your head into a random writers’ room to remind everyone of the other letters in LGBTQ+. While lesbian and gay characters have become more common on our screens, the presence of bisexual folk is still frustratingly limited (not to mention the extremely lacking presence of trans characters, most especially trans characters played by actual trans actors).
This representation (or lack of it) reinforces an extremely binary representation of the LGBTQ+ community, lending mainstream society to erase anything beyond the L and G. It’s hard to feel like your identity is legitimate when it’s presence is non-existent in the representation of queer communities. And in the rare instances where it does exist, it often throws up a whole other problem…
“There’s this perception that women only show attraction to women in order to gain the attention of men.”
One harmful representation of bisexual people, enforced by the way many people talk about what it ‘means’ to be bisexual as well as the portrayal of bisexuality in pop culture, is that we’re just doing it for attention. Because bisexuality and lesbianism is very often sexualized in the media for a male gaze, there’s this perception that women only show attraction to women in order to gain the attention of men.
Yeah. That’s not what’s happening here.
Sadly, the LGBTQ+ community is not immune from this perception. In both online and real world spaces, I often feel an underlying resentment of bi people ‘infiltrating’ queer spaces, as they are not considered truly queer (the exception, perhaps, being bi people in same-sex relationships). I still feel a certain amount of nervousness when coming out as bi in queer spaces, for fear that I will not be taken seriously. This increases tenfold if I reveal that I am in a relationship with a person of a different gender. Obviously I must be straight, and claiming bisexuality to make me seem edgy and sexy – right? (Not right.)
“While we worry about being accepted in the LGBTQ+ community, we also acknowledge that this invisibility is what’s protecting us from homophobic trolls and unaccepting peers.”
It’s been suggested that cisgender bisexuals in a relationship with a member of a different gender get to enjoy ‘straight privilege’, which on the surface does appear true. I don’t fear walking down the street hand-in-hand with my partner, nor is my relationship objectified for the male gaze. I don’t have to come out to people if I don’t want to when I talk about my boyfriend, and I don’t have to worry about correcting people who think he’s ‘just a friend’.
However. As a bisexual person, especially one in a relationship with a cis man, so often I feel as though my identity is erased by everything from peer groups to mainstream society. With the media presenting a binary representation of queer folk and the common perception that bisexuals are just ‘doing it for attention’ or ‘can’t make up their mind’, I feel less privileged and more invisible.
This is a complicated feeling, not just for myself but for other bisexual people in relationships with people of a different gender. While we worry about being accepted in the LGBTQ+ community, we also acknowledge that this invisibility is what’s protecting us from homophobic trolls and unaccepting peers. Our identities are erased, but that could be exactly what’s keeping us safe from the verbal or even physical abuse that other queer folk are subjected to on a daily basis. I’ll be honest – neither situation is exactly ideal, but it’s pretty undeniable who has the worse deal here.
“Attraction to more than one gender is an authentic queer experience.”
I want to live in a world where being bisexual is a valid, accepted way of living your life. I want this to be the case in both LGBTQ+ communities, and also in mainstream society.
I want more bisexual (and pansexual, non-binary) characters accurately representing our identities in popular culture. I want role models for future generations to show that your sexuality does not have to be binary, and that attraction to more than one gender is an authentic queer experience.
I want to enjoy the atmosphere and acceptance of LGBTQ+ spaces knowing that it’s not at the cost of hiding my bisexual identity. I want to feel comfortable discussing my relationship and not have to worry that the person I’m talking to has written me off as an imposter in the community.
I want to be safe in mainstream society even when my bisexual identity is known. I want more discussion of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences in education, so young people know that what they’re feeling is normal and valid.
And I want the safety of all LGBTQ+ folk to be as given as the safety of straight people, and for all of our identities to be considered as legitimate.
Editors note: This piece originally referred to ‘opposite-sex’ relationships, however it was rightly pointed out that this phrasing reinforced the false gender binary. As such, we have updated the piece accordingly.