By S.E. Fleenor
“Bisexuals are greedy.”
“Bisexuals can’t make up their mind.”
“Bisexuals just want attention.”
These perennial condemnations of bisexual folks (and, by extension, other bi+ [plus] identities) may be tired, but they’re also persistent. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard these or a variation on them in mixed (sexuality-speaking) company. Every time it happens, my eyes roll automatically and I brace myself to come out. Again. Clearing my throat, I start my diatribe. I watch as straight and gay people alike sigh and look the other way, as if to say, “Are you even really bisexual?” Some even have the audacity to say the words out loud.
I was living in Amsterdam the first time that my sexuality was called into question. “You’re the gayest bisexual I’ve ever met,” my gay friend said. His comment caught me totally off-guard; I assumed that I’d misunderstood his Dutch accent. When I asked him to repeat it, he said the same thing with a laugh. I was aghast, but he was laughing, so I figured I should shrug it off, but I couldn’t. I wondered if he was right.
Three years later, while living in Denver, Colorado, I learned that my former supervisor, a lesbian, also had an opinion about my sexuality. “You’re the straightest bisexual I’ve ever met,” she said. At the time, I was dating my current partner (now spouse), a cisgender heterosexual man whom she knew. My chest tightened as if I’d been punched. I sputtered and coughed in my office’s break room, trying to find some way to justify my identity. A few days later, I awkwardly told an ill-timed story about my ex-girlfriend in an inappropriately loud voice, just to legitimize my own identity.
Somewhere between being the gayest bisexual and the straightest bisexual people had ever met, I decided to marry that cisgender heterosexual man (because – gasp – I love him). I’m fairly certain that right about then, everyone in my family let out a collective sigh of relief. “Finally. She’s straight. Now we can move on.”
That’s the thing, though. I’m not straight. I’m not gay. I’m bisexual. No matter who I sleep with and no matter who I choose as my partner, I’m no less bisexual than I was the day I came out of the closet or any of the sleepless nights I spent as a child, praying to an unhearing god that I be cleansed of the “sickness” inside me.
People forget that bi+ (plus) people come out of the closet (or not) and fall in love, get our hearts broken, and mess up relationships for reasons other than the fact that we’re attracted, to varying degrees, to more than one gender. Simply put, we’re just human beings who happen to experience the world differently, in part, because of our bi+ (plus) identity. Bi+ (plus) identities are constantly erased within the larger LGBTQIA2S+ (plus) community and it’s hurting us. Our mental health is suffering as we are subject to double discrimination from both straight and gay communities.
With all that we face, is it any wonder that some bi+ (plus) people feel pressure to change their identity based on their partner? I know I feel it and sometimes I feel ashamed for who I am. I fear sharing who I am with new people I meet, with my therapist, with my doctor – the list goes on. My internalized bi+ (plus) antagonism whispers in my ear, “No one will believe you.” When it does, I take a deep breath and remind myself that, no matter what the cost, I am not going back into that dark and dingy closet.
And you don’t have to either.
S.E. Fleenor writes novels, articles, and non-fiction essays. Fleenor’s work centers on pop culture, books, art, class/ism, and social justice, and has appeared in several publications, including: Class Lives: Stories from Across the Economic Divide, Classism.org, My100DayPlans.com, and The Wick. Fleenor is a Contributing Writer at the Denver VOICE and has a monthly column in Greater Park Hill News. Outside of writing, Fleenor is a non-profit consultant and copyeditor. You can learn more at sefleenor.com.