By Julie Morgenlender
The thing about invisibility is, you can choose, if you want, to “pass.” If you “pass,” then you face less discrimination in specific areas, like at job interviews or just in the world in general. But then, if you “pass,” you get mistaken for the majority. You don’t get the protections you otherwise would. You have to choose when or if to disclose, and you don’t know what kind of prejudice you’ll face if you do disclose. And visible or invisible, you still have to deal with society’s misconceptions and misperceptions. Some of the laws that should apply to you, don’t. Or the laws do apply, but people argue that you don’t really need those protections. The majority just doesn’t understand. And even the majority within your minority doesn’t understand what your sub-minority is dealing with.
I listened to this conversation and smiled to myself. I was sitting in my monthly chronic pain support group, listening to the exact same conversation that I often hear amongst my bi friends. I explained the similarities to the group and they were shocked. It had never occurred to them that the bi community faces so many of the same issues.
A few months later, I was at a BBWN brunch when I heard this same conversation. The vocabulary was different, but the feelings and difficulties were the same. Again, I tried to explain the overlap. Again, they were surprised. It had never occurred to some of the women there that people with chronic pain and autoimmune conditions face similar issues.
I’ve had people tell me they wouldn’t date someone bi. I’ve also heard people say they wouldn’t date someone with a chronic illness. I’ve been told my pain isn’t real, that it’s all in my head. I’ve been told bisexuality isn’t real. I’ve been told I don’t look sick. I’ve been told I don’t look bi. I’ve gotten nasty looks for parking in a handicapped parking space while appearing “healthy.” Need I tell you about the looks I’ve gotten for kissing a woman in public or holding her hand as we walk down the street?
I hear the same stories from friends, those who are bi and those who have physical or mental health issues that aren’t immediately visible. Because something is invisible, many assume that it doesn’t exist, or that it’s a choice. We all know that neither is true. We definitely exist, and sexual orientation and health problems are definitely not choices!
The difficulties are so similar, and so are my responses.
I am who I am. I will not apologize for who I am. I will not try to justify who I am. When people have questions, I answer them honestly and directly, even though my response often makes them cringe. If you don’t want to know my health symptoms, then you’d better not ask, because I will tell you. If you ask about my coming out, I’ll tell you about that, too. Generally, the more direct I am, the less people doubt me. And if they do doubt me, or if they don’t support me, then I don’t include them in my life.
I have so many awesome family members (Hi, Mom!) and friends in my life, why would I waste time with someone who doubts or discriminates? Obviously, sometimes it’s harder to cut someone out. Walking away from a job with a biphobic boss, for example, isn’t so easy. But it’s important to surround ourselves with as many allies as possible.
And as we consider who our allies are, let’s remember that there are people in other minority groups who can relate to what we’re going through. A friend of mine was turned away by her doctor because she was in a same-sex relationship and wanted to get pregnant. Another friend was turned away by another doctor because she was in pain and the doctor assumed she was just looking for drugs. The situations are different, but the emotional pain, frustration, embarrassment, and indignation are eerily similar.
We have great support within our own communities, but I find there’s strength in connecting with other communities, too. When we support each other, not only do we get stronger, but we also help to educate each other’s communities about one another. So let’s be strong together.
Julie is a health activist and blogger, writing about understanding and acceptance, as well as difficulties, within the chronic illness and bisexual communities.
This post originally appeared in Bi Women Quarterly in Spring 2014 and is reprinted with permission. Read current and back issues and sign up for a free electronic subscriptions to Bi Women Quarterly at www.biwomenboston.org.