Ever since I started slowly coming out as bisexual to my friends, I’ve dealt with an onslaught of unintentional biphobia. Common comments I receive range from monossexism remarks about being “just a lesbian” or “just straight”, to the most hurtful, being told by a close friend that she doesn’t believe that bisexuality exists. Most people that I confront about their behavior apologize and never repeat the behavior again. However, there are a few people who are deep in denial about being biphobic and take great offense to being compared to the cousin of homophobia. How have either of you dealt with homo/biphobia with friends and family if and when you encountered it?
-Ginny from Georgia
Well, Ginny, I’d be lying if I said that I never encounter this sort of behavior. Hell, I even play into it sometimes myself. I sometimes find myself telling new people, when asked, that I’m gay, simply because it’s much easier than explaining the truth to them. However, when reading about the kind of behavior you have to put up with in Georgia (or anywhere in the South, for that matter), I’m hesitant to call everything that you described above “biphobia”. Let me explain.
A lot of people feel the need to put sexuality into a binary. That is, you’re either gay or straight. Many people who think this way don’t necessarily do so because they hate people who are bisexual or trisexual or pansexual or any other sexuality that exists in the middle of the spectrum. Instead, they do so because thinking in these clear-cut categories makes certain concepts easier to understand. Virtually all of us used to have that one toy when we were babies that made us put certain shaped blocks into the corresponding hole that fit it. Now, channel your inner small child, and try to remember or imagine what it felt like if you found a block for your toy that didn’t fit neatly into any of the holes. You’d likely be perplexed, confused, even upset by this, and then eventually convince yourself that something is wrong with that block and toss it aside. You’ll see similar reactions take place when adults encounter things that don’t fit neatly into one of their categories. This is why anyone who typically finds themselves in the “other” category: be it for sexuality or gender or whatever, often find themselves dismissed or “tossed aside”.
This is made slightly worse by the fact that, in a lot of people’s minds, even if you are sexually attracted to multiple genders, you’re eventually going to have to choose a side. To these people, you may be able to sleep with as many people, male or female, as you want, but you’re eventually going to have to choose someone to settle down with. That person’s gender will eventually decide what team you eventually decide to play for, be it “Team Straight” or “Team Gay”. These people were one of the main reasons I refused to come out at first, and they are one of the main reasons why I sometimes still find myself over-simplifying my sexuality. I didn’t want, and I still don’t want, people questioning the potential longevity of my committed relationship based on the fact that I happen to be sexually attracted to both genders. “Well I’m sure you love your boyfriend,” they say, “but are you sure you can commit to never sleeping with women ever again?”
When it comes to these people, you just have to be open and be patient. Their problem isn’t being close-minded or homophobic or biphobic, they just haven’t really encountered anyone who was willing to be open about it before. Sure, it can be a bit annoying when you’re bombarded with questions and are forced to speak on behalf of the entire bisexual population, but it’s a small price to pay by comparison. The fact that we currently live in a time that’s more gay-friendly than ever before is due mostly to the fact that there are more and more LGBT people who are choosing to live their lives openly. By living their lives openly, the people around them can see just how much being gay can be a relative non-issue. The same can be true for bisexuals or any other “third” category sexual orientation. The only problem is that so many of us aren’t open about it. Thus, people are free to make their erroneous assumptions about us, since there’s no one around them to correct such behavior. Also, when it comes to correcting that behavior, it’s best to try to be as gentle as possible. Calling people “biphobic” just because they slip up and make an inaccurate statement isn’t going to do much for the cause. Instead, just jump in and set the record straight. Or, if you’re in a group setting and you want to spare a person’s feelings, simply take them aside afterwards and bring them up to speed.
As for the people who are legitimately biphobic (that is, people who were taught better and still choose to hold on to their incorrect beliefs), there’s really not a whole lot you can do about them. Some people, no matter how many times you try to reform or correct them, will adamantly dig their heels in and refuse to change their mindset. Personally, I just make it a point to avoid these people as much as I can. However, if anyone whose close to you just so happens to be one of these people, the situation can potentially get a bit dicier. Hopefully, the two of you can still get along despite having this difference in opinion, at least for the time being. When it comes to these folks, you have to simply trust that you’ll be able to show them what’s right by example. Telling them something is one thing. But, hopefully, your life can serve as living proof that what you said is accurate, thus nudging them gently back over to the side of reason. That said, this isn’t a guarantee. They might just stay put and think of your sexuality as a bit of a myth. If that’s the case, then it might just be necessary to agree to disagree. I can’t see this issue being a truly irreconcilable difference. If it is, though, then I say treat them the same way you would treat any other homophobe in your life and trim them away with the rest of the “fat” in your relationships.