So Pride Month is already upon us. A bunch of cities have already started throwing their Pride festivals. Meanwhile LA’s in this upcoming weekend, and Will and I are going to be marching in the parade! I’m absolutely thrilled that we’ll be doing this for the first time together, especially now that we’re husbands. But I’ve been reading a lot of debates all across LGBT+ online media regarding bi people at Pride, and it’s got me a little concerned. The initial question is: do Bi+ people belong at Pride? I should hope that the answer to this is an obvious “yes”. After all, we’re right there in the middle of the acronym. But what about Bi+ people with opposite-sex partners? Do they deserve to be at Pride? Once again, I should hope that the answer is “yes”. As a matter of fact, I should hope that anyone and everyone would be welcome at Pride. But I’ve been reading a lot of arguments from people who claim that bringing different-sex partners to Pride is in poor taste. So that begs the question: would I still be welcome to march in Sunday’s parade if I had married someone of a different sex instead?
A lot of you kept tweeting me this biphobic Tumblr rant that’s been making the rounds:
“as pride season rolls around, let me remind follow het-partnered bisexual people:
Pride really isn’t for you, so don’t act like you deserve to be there as much as lesbians or gay men. Really, just don’t go at all, because there are no resources there that are for you. what are you proud of? being in the relationship literally everyone expects you to be in and that introduces no actual oppression into your life? but at the very least, if you must go (and god knows hell nor high water will stop you) please, please, please…don’t…bring…your…het…partner.”
In short, this user buys into the this idea of “Bi Privilege”. Put simply, because Bi+ supposedly people have the option to engage in an different-sex relationship, one that’s deemed as more traditional by mainstream society, that we can therefore pass as straight and don’t experience the same sort of challenges or oppression faced by the other communities in the acronym. And so, by bringing our “het partners” to Pride and engaging in PDA with them, we’re supposedly flaunting that privilege in their face and invading a space that’s meant to celebrate more non-traditional relationships.
Part of the problem with this logic is the apparent tendency to assign sexual identity based on behavior, rather than letting someone identify themselves based on their own internal experience. These are often the people who refer to same-sex relationships as “gay” ones, and different-sex relationships as “straight” ones. I’m sure that a lot of you guys already see the problem with this, since there are assumptions built into that terminology that can potentially erase the true identities of one or even both partners. Calling my marriage a “gay” marriage would be inaccurate, because, even though my husband is gay, I am not. But that doesn’t stop a lot of people from assuming that I’m gay because they view my relationship as “gay” instead of “same-sex”. Granted, I’m sure most don’t mean any harm when they make that assumption, but it still means that I have to once again weigh the costs and benefits of correcting them, and potentially engaging in a long and exhausting conversation as a result. The same goes for a different-sex couple at a Pride event, a couple whom many at that event would likely refer to as “straight”. How do you know that one or both partners don’t identify as members of the LGBT+ community? Short answer: you don’t. So we know that assigning a sexual identity based on someone’s behavior is already unreliable. Furthermore, it perpetuates this toxic idea that people have to “prove” their sexual identity by engaging in the proper behavior before they’re allowed to truly adopt it. It’s the reason why, when I do identify myself as bi, I’m often asked “so does that mean you’ve had sex with guys and girls?” No, I’m bi because I’m bi. Even though I have had sexual experiences with more than one gender, that’s not a requirement that I had to fulfill before I was allowed to call myself that. Furthermore, my experience on this planet is going to be shaped by the fact that I am a bi man, and that fact is going to affect me no matter what kind of relationship I decide to take part in, if any.
But some would argue that it’s less about the identity and more about the privilege. Even if two people in a different-sex relationship both identify as LGBT+, it doesn’t change the fact that society deems their relationship as more “socially acceptable” than those that are same-sex. Another version of this argument: people in the Bi+ community are privileged because they have the ability to pass as straight. As frustrating as this argument is for me, I can certainly see why some people might think that way. After all, being able to “pass” can be an extremely useful way to avoid conflict in risky situations. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t purposefully ambiguous about my sexual identity whenever I’m not sure if I’m in a welcoming environment. But calling it a “privilege” would be inaccurate, because this supposed strength is also what largely contributes to so many of the issues and challenges that the Bi+ community faces. We get a lot of hate from people who are convinced that we don’t exist. We also get hate from people who assume that we’re greedy, slutty, indecisive, confused, and/or duplicitous just because we’re bisexual. That hate, which comes from straight people as well as gays and lesbians, is why so many of us don’t feel truly welcomed in most spaces, and why so many would rather stay hidden than come forward and face all of that adversity. Thus, our voices are largely silenced and our struggles go largely unnoticed. And if you think that’s a privilege, ask anyone who’s forced to stay closeted out of concern for their well being if they feel like it’s a “privilege”. Silence is a form of oppression, not privilege. Bi people (of all genders) face substantially larger rates of mental health issues, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, poverty, and workplace discrimination than their homo and heterosexual counterparts. It’s also worth mentioning that these statistics apply regardless of whether we’re in same-sex or opposite-sex relationships, or even in relationships at all. How can we be expected to address those issues when we’re so busy still trying to convince people that we even exist? But hey, at the end of the day, I’m not trying to claim that my struggles are any worse than others’. This isn’t, as my friend Faith Cheltenham refers to it, the “oppression Olympics”. I just want to make it clear that there actually is oppression that’s taking place here, especially since so many people out there that this oppression is actually a good thing.
But there is one part of that biphobic Tumblr rant that remains tragically accurate: “there are no resources there that are for you”. Despite making up an estimated half of the LGBT+ population, around .01% of funding for LGBT+ causes goes to bi-specific organizations or causes. We are, as many people call us, “the silent majority”. Many people think that, when they donate to gay and/or lesbian causes, that bi people get covered by default. But as I already mentioned, members of the Bi+ community have their own unique challenges that they face regardless of any relationship they might find themselves in. Worse yet, there are a frightening number of bi people who find themselves shut out of certain services that are gay and/or lesbian-focused, simply due to who they are. But even if we are lucky enough to be welcome in said spaces, the bulk of the goods and services they offer are not designed with us in mind. Say a bisexual woman finds herself the victim of intimate partner violence and wishes to seek refuge at a shelter. Depending on the rules of said shelter, she may have to hide her true identity to avoid being turned away, be it a shelter focused on straight or lesbian women. But even if she’s lucky enough to find a shelter that won’t turn her away, it doesn’t change the fact that the services she receives weren’t created with her in mind. At best, she’s an afterthought. So while it may seem like we’re free to move back and forth from heterosexual to homosexual communities at will, the sad reality is that we often don’t feel welcome or embraced in either space. Hell, the City of West Hollywood, which is supposedly one of the most inclusive communities in the country, has special advisory boards for the lesbian, gay, and trans communities. It’s only the Bi+ community that’s been conspicuously overlooked.
I could also harp on the fact that bisexual people have been an integral part of the Pride movement from the very, very beginning, but I’ve already addressed that before. Instead, I’ll go back to what Pride is supposed to be about in the first place. First, it’s about visibility. It’s about putting the full spectrum and diversity of the community on display, and appreciating the beauty and perspective that each group and each individual brings to the table. Second, it’s about celebration. It’s about taking a stand against stigma and prejudice and defying all the voices trying to convince us that we’re somehow less deserving of love or less than human. Third, it’s about community. It’s about connecting with people who share our same struggles and experiences, and coming together to overcome those challenges and lift each other up. Finally, it’s about love. It’s about counteracting all the hate, fear, and bigotry that still exists in the world and replacing it with positivity and acceptance. That’s why I would argue that, as one of the most underserved communities in the LGBT+ acronym, our participation in Pride is not only permissible, it’s essential. We of all people understand the need for safe, affirmative, and accepting spaces. Thus, arguing that we don’t deserve to celebrate Pride because of who we love, or saying that we can only participate if we refrain from certain behavior, goes against the fundamental reasons why the festival even exists. It undermines the integrity of the values that Pride promotes. It silences the voices of millions, and perpetuates the notion that their experiences, their struggle, and their identity do not matter.
That’s why I can’t wait to march in that parade this Sunday, and why I hope to be holding my husband’s hand in one hand and a Bi Pride flag in the other. If you have a problem with that, then maybe you’re the one who needs to stay at home.