This week I’ll be tackling a kitten request – a note from a loyal reader who’d like me to talk about privilege in the perennial Olympic games of queerer than thou.
In case you’re the luckiest person in the world and have somehow missed out on these games, I dug up this oldie but goody that should serve as a pretty good primer:
Ok, except at the end of most conversations about who’s queer than whom, a dance-off rarely breaks out.
Today, I want to get down to brass tacks about heterosexual privilege as experienced by bi peeps and all that entails. I’ve helped more bi and pan friends than I cant count unpack this shit, so it seems like it might be worth it to write it down.
We so rarely have a productive, healthy conversation about privilege in our communities. Anyone who intends to medal in the queerer than thou Olympics dips back to their bag of oppressions, but they have to leave their privileges behind to compete.
Meanwhile, we call other competitors on their privilege, even if it’s the same goddam privilege we’re ignoring. Intersectionality teaches us that people have a host of identities that should all be considered alongside each other. And while each of us are much more than the sum of our oppressions and privileges, we have to lay them all out to have meaningful conversations about oppression and privilege.
Okay, let’s get down to it.
[Trigger warning for discussion of biphobic tropes]
A shocking number of gay people – well, shocking maybe to everyone but bisexuals – think that bisexuals just go home at night and roll around in piles of heterosexual privilege, using stacks of heterosexual privilege to light cigars made of heterosexual privilege.
And this is to say nothing of the idiotic things people both gay and straight think about bi/pan people. That they can’t be trusted as partners. That they can’t be happy in monogamous relationships. That they can’t make up their minds. That they’re selfish and greedy. Here’s a handy list of common bisexual myths – but note that, if you’re going to read it now, you might get a little ahead of yourself here (as it contains myths from within the world of bi peeps as well).
The sad sick result of these harmful beliefs is that bi people are often unfairly pitted between two worlds, with everyone asking them to pick a side.
Ani DiFranco even wrote a song about it:
Gay and straight people – who, for the purposes of this post, I’ll sometimes refer to as monosexuals – want access to and control over bi people. Bi-sexuality (hyphenated on purpose) is commodified so that people who deserve no such piece of the pie can forcefully take a slice. Even well meaning people will appeal only to certain sides of bisexual people because they can identify with them.
When I was running my Tumblr, Is It Homophobic?, I got a question from a bi woman about this. She was talking about how straight girls will appeal to her to talk about attractive men – like they were relieved that they still had something in common with this person.
As I once told another bi woman friend dealing with this kind of fuckery: it’s not like bi people are half gay/half straight.
I’d like to go now to a hypothetical definition of queer I developed along with some ideas I learned from a brilliant bi woman I’m lucky to call a friend:
Everyone who doesn’t have missionary position at-least hypothetically reproductive (no barriers, no birth control) sex with one and only one married heterosexual cisgender partner has a legitimate claim to queerness.
Why is that? Because anyone who doesn’t do those things and only those things is subverting that which the people who think they have a right to control other people’s lives want them to do. And ya know what, in contemporary American society, a lot of people might be given to think that these are fringe ideas, but they’re not. They’re shared by tens of millions of American voters and, for instance, everyone running in this year’s Republican primary – even the serial cheaters who leave their wives when they get sick.
This definition means that almost everyone is or could be queer, should they so choose to label themselves. People who want access to birth control. People who have sex before marriage. People who perform any form of sex that doesn’t involve penile vulvar penetration. Kinksters. Infertile people and people who choose not to have children. People who have more than one total partner in their whole lives. People who do not have any partners. The vast, overwhelming majority of straight people.
Not everyone wants to be queer. I get it. Not everyone thinks they should have access to calling themselves queer. I get it. Queer has traditionally – if you can call anything traditional that’s been a concept for less than 50 years – been the purview of LGBT people and occasionally defined as including kinky people.
But we’d really be much stronger if we could all come together and see what we have in common to fight for a better world. A married heterosexual cisgender woman who uses birth control really has more in common with me and other queers than a married heterosexual cisgender woman who doesn’t believe in birth control – at least when you consider that there are strong forces that want to control our personal lives.
And this brings me back to the serious conversation we need to have about heterosexual privilege as experienced by bi/pan people.
You remember how I said that great big gobs of gay people think that bi/pan people just go home and roll around in fat wads of heterosexual privilege?
Ya know what? A lot of them spend an awful lot of their time wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth about what heterosexual privilege means to them. Now, I’m not saying that acknowledging your privilege ameliorates or removes it, but the bisexuals who come to me with their arms up sick to within an inch of their last nerves about what to do about their privilege? It’s at least not like they’re ignoring it.
I first want to dispatch the bit about bisexuals owning and acknowledging heterosexual privilege in their lives so that I can get to the good stuff at the end – i.e., how to most effectively tell monosexuals to shut the fuck up.
A heterosexually partnered bi or pansexual person experiences heterosexual privilege. It’s true. Denying it or pretending it isn’t there won’t make it go away. You have to own it to unpack it, and you have to unpack to be able to tell monosexuals to shut the fuck up.
What your privilege really comes down to is how much you allow yourself to unthinkingly access it. Do you let other people misidentify you as straight? Does it put a spring in your step that you can be affectionate with your partner whenever and wherever you want without fear of violence or punishment? Do you drift away from queer communities when you’re heterosexually partnered? Do you put away signifiers of your queerness when you’re heterosexually partnered to mollify your partner or to fit better into their world? Do you find yourself compromising your true self in order to better access the heterosexual privilege now available to you?
Bi friends have asked me heartbreaking questions about how to appear queerer when they’re heterosexually partnered, and it really makes me sad about how shallow so many people seem, even the queer ones. Bisexuals ask things like, “should I get a big rainbow sticker for my bag?” or “should I wear my Butchies t-shirt on dates with my boyfriend?” – the idea being to visually subvert expectations of sexual norms even while in part complying with them.
I’ve never really known what to say, but I don’t think it’s fair to put the onus on bi people to carry a bi message bullhorn with them wherever they go.
That being said, bisexuals are in an ideal place to smack down the notion that you can read a person by their partner.
Telling monosexuals to shut the fuck up
1. Activity is not identity
I could, if I so chose, and with my partner’s permission (which I’m pretty unlikely to ask for since I don’t want to actually do the following, but stick with me here), choose to spend the next month finding women with whom I engaged in consensual heterosexual intercourse, and I would still be as gay as the day is long.
What I do is not my identity. My identity is who I am, or at least part of it.
A bisexual could realistically go through life and only have romantic and sexual entanglements with one gender and still be bi-er than a Sandra Bernhard cameo in an Alan Cummings movie.
You don’t have to carry notarized affidavits from previous same-sex partners indicating your full-on bi-itude. But… here’s a thought: don’t let people misidentify you. Don’t let your monosexual friends and acquaintances put you in a box based on who you’re partnered with. Don’t let people say you’re a straight couple – an opposite- or mixed-gender couple maybe, but being heterosexually partnered *kablooie* doesn’t make you or your relationship straight.
And don’t, don’t, don’t, for the love of dog, don’t let your partner – if they’re monosexual – claim you for their team, either. The last thing you need is your partner deciding your identity based on the fact that you like them. Monosexuals do this shitty thing where they go “yeah, uh-huh, right” when a bi person says they’re bi if they’re not currently fisting members of different genders with both arms. Don’t let people pull that shit on you. People who want to invisibilize your bisexuality are probably not worth being your friend or partner.
2. Fuck the master’s tools
You know what’s not going to work? Telling everyone they’re bisexual.
That thing I just said about monosexuals telling bi/pansexuals they aren’t really bi? Identity colonialism sucks, no matter who’s the colonist.
Invisibilizing or negating people’s identities is a low fucking blow, an ineffective rhetorical device, and an all-around bad move as far as your humanity goes.
And I know it’s tempting, and I know it’s what a lot of monosexuals do, but no sexual orientation is superior to any other sexual orientation. Bisexuals are not more evolved or honest or more in touch with themselves than anyone else. They’re just bisexual, which is a beautiful and wonderful thing that doesn’t need any artificially inflated arguments to defend itself.
Fuck the master’s tools.
3. Don’t disappear
The easiest way to let monosexuals win in their quest to control your bi identity is to disappear when you find your terminal partner.
Bisexuals really start freaking out if they’ve found “the one” and the one happens to be a different gender than them.
Don’t go away. Don’t pull up stakes from your queer community if you’ve decided to enter into a long-term or lifelong heterosexual partnership.
Did you know that Holly Near has been in a relationship with a man since 1994? Do you know how she avoided the (unfair bullshit) potential backlash that could have resulted from that?
She kept singing her lesbian love-songs. Now, I know that Holly Near is a lesbian-identified woman in a relationship with a man, but I think the analogy holds: Holly Near held onto her queer identity even though she is heterosexually partnered, and no one has really given her any shit about it.
For a brief moment in time I struggled with sexual identity, somewhere in the mid eighties. Then I realized it was the wrong question for me. That is not to say it is the wrong question for others. It just wasn’t important to me. So I haven’t really thought much about it since. I am going to sing lesbian love songs and support gay rights no matter what. The rest is public relations. [source]
Don’t slip away. Don’t let gay people chase you away from the queer community. Tell them to shut the fuck up. Tell them that no one is the yardstick for queerness, and that we all need all the friends and allies we can get.
Don’t slip away. Don’t grow up to vote in favor of anti-gay ballot initiatives just because you think they don’t affect you anymore.
Don’t fucking marry a homophobe. It seems weird to say this, but I have known so many bi people who were partnered to homophobes, and it’s like: hello! First off, that’s just unhealthy for you. Secondly, that is a huge pool of unexamined privilege.
Don’t lie to your children. Don’t act like queer people are other people. Don’t give your kids the room to be homophobic or biphobic. Let them know that they’d be hating their parent(s), too.
Be with us here in this place. Build a new damn table if those mean monosexual queers won’t let you sit at theirs. Don’t participate in your own oppression. Don’t oppress other people willfully.
Be with us here in this place. The only kind of queer you need to be is the kind of queer you are.
Big Mama Schlomo