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Biphobia in 2019: ‘an uncomfortable conversation’

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Following the tragic death of Lyra McKee, the Irish journalist and gay rights activist, I began to research the many notable achievements of her short but exceptional life. I came across a TED talk that she gave in 2017 about the Orlando nightclub shooting. In the talk, she proposed that the only way to decrease prejudice against the LGBT+ community is to talk about the discrimination that its members face, even when that may seem awkward;  “uncomfortable conversations can save lives”.

Uncomfortable conversations can save lives

In honour of Lyra, I am here to start a conversation that may feel uncomfortable. Biphobia – the dislike of, or prejudice against bisexual people. From simply perceiving bisexuality to be experimentation rather than a valid orientation, to shunning bisexual people for “attention seeking”, the issue rarely seems to be drawn attention to. Perhaps that is because it is felt that those who are bisexual could simply choose to romantically and sexually interact with the opposite gender. Or, perhaps, it is rooted in the fact that often, neither the gay nor straight communities welcome these people as their own.

Whatever the cause may be, bisexual people often feel invisible in their struggle to accept their sexuality. After discussing this with friends who have come out as bisexual, my sense of these difficulties was intensified. In some cases, their anxieties about coming out to their parents or worries that their friends would assume that they were attracted to them seemed typical of any non-heterosexual orientation. But they also described the way that being in heterosexual relationships often made them feel as if they were not truly bisexual, or made them wonder if they were ‘faking it’. Similarly, having had less sexual and romantic experience with people of the same gender made them feel as if their sexuality was somehow not valid.

Bisexual people often feel invisible in their struggle to accept their sexuality

We also discussed the intersection between biphobia and misogyny – after telling men that you are bisexual, the standard reply is often “that’s hot”, or worse, proposing a threesome. Indeed, after setting your Tinder preference to women and men, you can expect to be inundated with profiles offering participation in threesomes with women and their male partners. Having said this, writing this article gave me a new appreciation for just how bright our future may be. When I told my fourteen-year-old sister that I was writing an article about bisexuality, she didn’t wrinkle her nose or giggle awkwardly. Instead, she blinked knowingly and said “oh yeah, we learnt about that in PCSHE”.

 

Being ‘Butch’

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Existing as an LGBT+ person, by definition, will leave you alienated by the world around you; existing as a lesbian will inevitably leave you alienated from even the more inclusive circles of feminist discourse because, in some way, you seem to fall short of grasping what womanhood fundamentally is. From this sense of alienation from even our own gender, a profound loneliness can arise, which causes us to ask ourselves – how can we take pride in our identity when it leaves some of us feeling so distinctly othered?

How can we take pride in our identity when it leaves some of us feeling so distinctly othered?

Much like our gay and trans siblings, in finding ourselves left behind in heteronormative society, we choose to carve out our own niche, and redefine cultural norms to fit a narrative that placed lesbianism at its core. The historic butch/femme culture of post-WWII lesbian circles continues to resonate strongly with myself and many others, and choosing to identify as a butch lesbian was one of the most freeing acts of my life.

In a patriarchal society where the question of what it means to be a woman has historically been answered by men, the very notion of womanhood becomes a grey area for lesbians, many of whom identify as nonbinary or gender nonconforming as a means of expressing such a sense of alienation. Being a butch lesbian means subverting the expectations of how you should ‘be’ a woman; it means ‘being’ a woman in a way that deliberately excludes men.

For me, being a butch lesbian is a source of immense pride; participating in an historic and infamous facet of lesbian culture reminds me that lesbian identity remains fearless and resilient despite all that we’ve endured. Most of all, being butch means loving and nurturing the women in my life, and prioritising them at all costs. At the core of butch/femme culture is the reverence of women that makes being a lesbian feel so exceptional.

Being butch means loving and nurturing the women in my life, and prioritising them at all costs

Presenting myself in the way that I do often means that I have little choice in making my sexuality known to the world; I read as gay to an entire room before I’ve even opened my mouth. As scary as this can often be, it creates a fierce, unapologetic pride in my identity. I found my liberation when I allowed myself to identify as a butch lesbian. Lesbians have been abused and silenced throughout history, but we’ve always been here, and we always will.

LGBT+ and Labelling

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To label oneself as LGBT+ is to label oneself as inherently different. 93.2% of people in the United Kingdom identify as heterosexual according to the Office for National Statistics (2017). So, when you realise you are LGBT+, you may suddenly think that you are an outlier, an anomaly. I know I did.

To many, this is alienating and lonely, and this feeling is not aided by the narrative that depicts queerness as illness. The prevalence of mental illnesses among LGBT people is much greater and gay young men are especially at risk of suicide. I think, in terms of feeling excluded and discriminated against, it is the little things. Being harassed publicly by a complete stranger for being in a same-sex relationship or for being gender non-conforming is often focused on as part of the queer experience, and indeed it is something that most queer people have either experienced or live in fear of, yet I would say queerphobia chips away at you in much subtler ways.

Queerphobia chips away at you in much subtler ways

It’s things like being the only lesbian in a friendship group of heterosexual girls discussing their boyfriends, who ask you little to nothing about your own dating life. It is seeing their discomfort when you do discuss it. It is being a closeted gay man whose friends incessantly mock others for effeminacy and throw the word ‘gay’ around like it’s the most hilarious and insulting concept they have ever heard of. It is being a trans woman and watching TV constantly portraying trans women as some kind of trap for the unsuspecting heterosexual man. All these things contribute to that sense of ‘other’. You are not the default.

It’s things like being the only lesbian in a friendship group of heterosexual girls discussing their boyfriends, who ask you little to nothing about your own dating life.

After years of grappling with my identity as gay, I realised I do not long to be the default, I am more than happy with anomality. There are such wonderful aspects to being queer, you belong to a community brought together by a shared ambition of acceptance.

This community is a brave, fierce and incredible one and every time I see pride marches on the TV or the way the community helps each other to their feet after tragedy, I am filled with pride. Yes, to label oneself as LGBT+ is to label oneself as inherently different, but it is difference that unites us and adversity that empowers us.

 

Don’t forget the +

By Ella Al-Khalil-Coyle

In preparation for this article, I asked a nonbinary friend of mine about their journey to finding their identity: “I knew at like 13 I didn’t really see myself as a girl, I remember my best friend saying “oh so are you trans?” and me being like “…no I’m not a boy either”, then we were both confused.” They later spoke on their struggle to accept themselves as non-binary because of their ‘feminine’ appearance, not fitting the ‘typical androgynous stereotype’, which got me thinking. Being bi-racial, I really resonate with the ‘not [blank] enough’ narrative. The labels that empowered others, always felt alienating to me, be it over ethnic or sexual identity.

The labels that empowered others, always felt alienating to me, be it over ethnic or sexual identity.

Dolly told us to figure out who we are, then do it on purpose, but I don’t think Ms Parton gave enough credit to how hard that first part is. I always hated being asked to define my sexuality, because I don’t think I understand my feelings well enough, which made more sense when I realised I was on the aromantic spectrum. That moment, when you find a title, an identity, and just go “Yes, that’s me!” is amazing, but for me it came with a lot of anxiety. So, I’m a-romantic. But am I aro? Arospec? Grey? Demi?

Hours of research and two bottles of vodka later and I’m left blankly staring at dictionaries feeling more disconnected to myself than ever. The real question was: who was I doing this for? It didn’t feel like the answer was me anymore. Fixating and obsessing over every feeling trying to fit into a category, just to prevent making other people uncomfortable. The worst part is, I was losing myself in the process. So I got rid of the ‘[blank]’. I am enough. I’m just me. If anyone else wants to know who that is, they’ll have to stick around and see for themselves. If your title helps you feel strength and pride in this insane world then own it. I feel privileged to be able to sit and watch you.

I am enough. I’m just me. If anyone else wants to know who that is, they’ll have to stick around and see for themselves.

But choosing not to have a label doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are, and it does not mean you’re alone or isolated from our beautiful community. Whether it’s LGBT+, LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA+, we will always have a place; we will always be the plus.

 

Illustration by Kaitoise

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