Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Fallacy of Bisexual Heteroprivilege

This first appeared, in a slightly different version, in my column The BiAngle in the August issue of The Gayly.

Bisexual heteroprivilege — the notion that bisexuals can easily pass as straight, and therefore do not suffer the same level of discrimination as gays — is overly simplistic and ignores multiple realities.

Many bisexuals are in same-sex relationships, many look and act in ways that people associate with homosexuality, and — though this is rarely spoken about — a great many bisexuals actually pass as gay. For these bisexuals, straight-privilege is no more attainable than it is for any LGT person.

Okay admittedly, a bisexual passing as gay can choose to go through the trauma of breaking up with the same-sex person they are in love with, in hopes that the next person they love will be of a different-gender, so that they can go from being in a closet labeled gay, to being in a closet labeled straight.

Bisexuals who do fall in love with different-gender partners, can choose the wonderful experience of denying their identity so that they can have the privilege of appearing to be something that’s alien to themselves, yet more palatable to society.

Indeed, the idea of bisexual hetero-privilege implies that it is a privilege to be seen as someone who you are not, that it is a privilege to have your identity erased. Nearly every gay and lesbian has known the horrible price of secrecy and self-abdication. It is short-sighted then, to think it’s any different for bisexuals.

Most bisexuals – once they’ve come out to themselves – will tell you that they love being bisexual. Why? Because that’s who they are. It’s a basic human desire, to be seen, loved, and appreciated for ourselves. Which is exactly why so many LGBT people are out of the closet.

Yes, the logistics of being closeted — hiding as gay or straight —can be relatively easy for bisexuals, especially for those in committed relationships. It’s also especially difficult to come out — since many gays and straights shove us back in the closet with the insistence that we in fact “play” for one of their “teams.” Further, there is extra incentive for bisexuals to stay closeted, since when coming out we faces not only homophobia, but also biphobia.

It’s no wonder then, that one of my most popular blog posts is, “Why Bother Coming Out as Bisexual?” The answer is, for our own mental health, because using either gay or straight “monosexual privilege” denies us our truths. This is why the words “erasure” and “invisibility” come up constantly in bi-activism. Passing privilege requires we embrace erasing ourselves, while watching the entire bi community face relentless erasure from the press, mass media, mainstream culture, and the gay community. Being erased is no privilege; it’s a problem bisexuals constantly struggle to overcome. 

The “advantages” some bisexuals have for being more likely to be mistaken as heterosexual also often include, being ostracized by many in the LG community, being called homophobic, being ousted from inclusion in supposed LGBT events, and being referred to as allies. These reactions often come in the form of putting blame on bisexuals for the realities of a heteronormative world, as if bisexuals are responsible for our society’s homophobic tendencies. What’s being overlooked is that, not only did bisexuals not make the rules, but we don’t like them any more than gays do. While bisexuals reject hetero-normativity, many gays embrace and promote the monosexual-normativity that oppresses bisexuals.

For many bisexuals, the price for being in different-gender relationships does not end with the negative effects of passing, and animosity from gays. Bisexuals with straight partners often face difficulties inside the relationship due to the partner’s biphobia, which can include: insistence that they are now straight because of the relationship; expectations for threesomes; demands that they be closeted about being bi; and accusations of cheating with, or wanting to cheat with, someone of the same sex. We could call this bisexual hetero-disadvantage – except that bisexuals face many similar problems within same-sex relationships.


In summary, while some bisexuals do sometimes experienced some advantages for appearing heterosexual, for many of us there is no such reality, and for most others the “privilege” is unasked for, unwelcomed, and comes with way too high of price tag to be properly defined as “privilege.”

4 comments:

  1. There is sort of a pro-con relationship to most situations, so I think that it stands to reason that each bisexual can see the positives and the negatives to being open about their sexuality. I have one friend that has simply stated that being out is an individual choice...it's a bit of advice that I take comfort.

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  2. I was wondering if you would consider writing about the male perception of female bisexuality, in a way that explains why men have these views, and explain why these views are harmful to bi women. It would be a good idea, because some hetro men need to understand that a woman being bi isn't a call for a threesome

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    1. Thank you for that suggestion. It's a good idea. I will likely write on that some time.

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  3. Thank you very much for writing and sharing this article. I kind of bought in to some of the ideas of bi-privilege before, and, you're right, it's no privilege to pretend to be someone that you're not.

    Passing for something you're not is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it gets you good stuff, and helps you avoid bad things, but sometimes it gets you ignored or hated by people in your community - this applies to race, sexuality, dis/ability, etc. I know because I pass for white, pass for straight, generally pass for abled, and more. So, I get hate and/or hostility from a lot of places where I long to belong.

    It's sad, but, for now, until other people catch up, I guess we have to keep fighting, and build our own communities. :/

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