Updated: Nov 1, 2020
“Bisexuals aren’t real, they’re just greedy. Pick a side!”
These words came from the only openly queer person on a table of 15 people. He was a gay male around my age, someone who was unapologetically out and proud. His dismissal of bisexuality gave straight people around him the agency to be biphobic, and soon enough they echoed his sentiment.
“They’re just gay and don’t want to admit it yet!”
“It’s attention seeking, let them get it out of their system”
“You’re gay or you’re straight, nothing else”
As a closeted bisexual 16-year-old, I was frightened. I knew I wasn’t solely attracted to just men or just women from around the age of 11; despite that, I felt uncomfortable coming out.
During my school years, queerness was something to mock and belittle. From a young age I was surrounded by homophobia, from people describing things as “gay” to seeing kids my age be openly hostile towards homosexuality. In secondary school, the only openly queer students were bitchy, mean and egotistical. I knew that not all LGBTQ+ people were like this, but a few others didn’t feel the same. It led to some of them aligning all queer people with the “bitchy” stereotype, producing behaviour which was homophobic in nature. Some of my classmates waited until after we left school to come out, which gave them the freedom to be held to their own merits instead of someone else’s.
In school, I only saw sexuality as a binary – either you like men or you like women. Even though I knew I was attracted to both, I believed I would eventually align myself with one or the other. Not having any visible bisexual people around me or even hearing the phrase “bisexual” meant exploring my sexuality was difficult. We eventually learned about sexuality in school, but anything non-heterosexual was usually met with stifled laughter or open derision. Seeing more people who were comfortable with their bisexuality, whether in real life or in fiction, would have made my journey a lot easier.
After school, I held a false ideal that college was a far more progressive and mature place. Perhaps this was somewhere I could discover who I am, where I could get a true sense of my identity. Perhaps I could eventually come out comfortably and be accepted for who I am. The good news was that some people were far more open about sexuality than I experienced in school. The bad news was that their support was limited to single-sex attraction, usually male/male.
That’s why hearing another LGBTQ+ person belittle bisexuality was hurtful. I had developed the idea that this was a community of love and support, but it became apparent that not everyone respected each other’s identities. Even without being openly queer I still experienced homophobia, but this was my first real experience with biphobia. I tried to stand my ground and talk about how bisexuality was real, but I was laughed at.
During my college years, there was a surge of queer acceptance in the media. Glee burst into the mainstream with a song and dance (literally), placing the camp and flamboyant Kurt Hummel centre stage for many storylines. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was not afraid to speak out in support of an oft-maligned community; to know that the biggest pop star of the time was a bisexual woman is comforting. Unfortunately, some people were only content in championing people who identified as gay (or more specifically, gay men). Support for trans issues, non-binary issues and other sexualities were still a long way away.
It took until I was 18 to first come out of the closet. Every day I experienced people saying “just come out of the closet already” or “you’re gay, deal with it!”. When I came out as bisexual, suddenly it was “no, that’s not acceptable” or “it’s just a phase, you’ll come out as gay eventually”. People wanted me to be their ideal of my true authentic self. Maybe they wanted the “gay best friend” who would bitch with them and give them makeovers? Maybe they couldn’t process any part of the queer spectrum outside of the camp gay man? I was (and still am) very camp, so in many ways I fit their stereotype. I just didn’t fully fit everything they expected of me.
I wish I could say my experiences with biphobia were limited to ignorant words from college students, but sadly that wasn’t the case. When I was 20, I went to a party at my friend’s house. He lived with a man who had made my life difficult at college; his daily bullying and his frequent assaults were overlooked by students and teachers alike. During the party one of my friends told me “I’m proud of you for being confident in your bisexuality”. It was by far one of the nicest things anyone had to say about my sexuality, but it was followed by a biphobic remark from my college bully. Later that evening, I received a further barrage of biphobic behaviour from him. When I tried to stand up for myself, he pushed me down the stairs. I wasn’t badly injured, but some people painted me as the troublemaker. Perhaps it wouldn’t have happened if I’d been “quiet about being bi”.
Expressions of biphobia have followed me throughout my life. When a man in a gay pub asked if I was gay, I told him I was bisexual, and he responded with “shut the fuck up, that’s not a real thing”. A guy in a club flirted with me until he found out I was bisexual, at which point he backed away. “Sorry mate, I’m not keen on sharing you with a girl” he said. I’ve had gay men lose interest in me because they believe as a bisexual man I’m more likely to cheat on them. I’ve had straight people tell me “can we just pretend you’re gay so I can tell people I have a gay bestie?”. I know biphobia will never go away during my lifetime, and it’s tiring.
Biphobia comes in many forms. It can mean facing homophobia from straight people but also being pushed out of the community by self-proclaimed gatekeepers. It can mean ignorant comments from people claiming you’re “always up for a three way” or “gagging for sex all the time”. For bisexual women, it can mean being described as “attention seeking” or even straightwashed as heterosexual. Sadly, biphobia isn’t a silly youthful mindset people grow out of. Back in 2016, Christopher Biggins faced a backlash for biphobic comments he made on Celebrity Big Brother. For a visible gay celebrity to make such comments, especially a celebrity who has been so beloved for decades, gives other people comfort in their biphobic language. We’ve seen it with J.K. Rowling and transphobia: all it takes is a “well-respected” individual to share damaging remarks and others suddenly feel validated in their hate.
If bisexuality is a “trend”, then it’s one I’ve knowingly been part of for 16 years. We talk about bisexuality as a “choice” in ways many of us would never dream of referring to homosexuality as. We believe in the most bizarre events yet cannot believe that someone can love more than one gender (or even no gender at all). We need to stop viewing bisexuality through the lens of heterosexuality and homosexuality, and we need to understand the different experiences and barriers bisexual people face. I’m proud to be bisexual, and I’m proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community.