Is Representation Important?

Representation is a popular issue right now – something that people have begun talking about more and more frequently. And it is a multi-faceted issue, one that can be discussed from several different angles: what kind of representation is good representation? How much representation is enough? When it comes to fiction, can we represent minorities through villains, secondary characters, or stereotypes?

But there’s another question that I see come up again and again when it comes to representation: quite simply, is it important? I mean, I don’t think that there are very many people out there who would argue that people don’t deserve to feel empowered, or to look up to someone. But when I see this question discussed, I often see the same response come up: that things like gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. shouldn’t matter. That a young Chinese lesbian should have the ability to look at a straight white man and still see herself in him, because at the end of the day, we are all people and we all share a basic human experience.

Now, I won’t deny that there is some truth to this statement. Some. To use my personal experience as an example, I am blessed enough to say that my career goals are such that I have been able to see my gender represented in it – not perfectly, mind you. When I was a little girl, I still grew up with the story of J.K. Rowling being forced to abbreviate her name by her publisher because they were concerned that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a woman, but nonetheless, there were plenty of women writers that I could look up to. I saw myself represented in that industry, and so I never had a doubt that I could exist in this industry. And therefore, I had no problem looking up to female and male writers alike. Because end of day, a good writer is a good writer, and there are plenty of male writers who explore themes and issues that I understand and relate to.

But in this specific instance, I saw myself represented. I knew that women could be writers. There are plenty of industries wherein this isn’t the case. Although women in the United States hold approximately half of all jobs, they represent less than 25% of jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. In 2015-2016, women made up only 16.3% of CEO positions and 28.5% of key management personnel positions. In the United States, there has literally never been a female president (and only one non-white president). So when we’re talking about young girls aspiring to enter into these roles, representation suddenly becomes much more important – not just so that you can know that it’s possible for you to enter into that field, but so you can know that you will be accepted and taken seriously in it as well.

Representation matters more and more in areas where people aren’t generally represented. And how do I know this? Well, because, while I’m a writer, I also happen to fall under another label, one that I very rarely see represented in the media, or represented well for that matter: I am a bisexual woman.

And growing up, I rarely saw myself in the media. I saw gay and lesbian people, sure, but their experiences didn’t always match up with my own. I saw straight people all the time, but their experiences didn’t align with mine either. And because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. Was I the weird one? Did I even truly exist, or was the way I felt some sort of elaborate lie I was telling myself so that I could feel unique and different?

And when I wasn’t feeling this way, I was feeling like I was something gross, something unlovable. Because when I did see myself represented, I saw myself in hugely unfavourable ways. Bisexuals in the media were manipulative, or they were serial-cheaters, or they were just used as one-night-stands and nothing more. One of my first exposures to the existence of bisexual people was through a talk show that I saw when I was really young – maybe four or five, where a man was trying to decide if he should leave his wife because he found out that, before they were married, she had dated a girl, and he didn’t think he could handle that. At the time, I thought this was stupid, because who she had dated before shouldn’t have any bearing on what their relationship was like now, but I was still young, still forming my identity, and I won’t deny that it sort of made me internalize this idea that I could never have a fulfilling and healthy relationship because of how I was born.

And none of this is to say that I couldn’t relate to straight or gay characters in the media. I could. There are plenty of characters on either side of the spectrum that I respected, looked up to, wanted to emulate, but in this specific issue, none of them were helpful. They couldn’t help me feel better about myself because they weren’t like me.

It took me a long time to undo the damage that a lack of representation had done to my self-esteem, and the way that I managed to start doing this was actually by seeking out what little good representation there was to be found out there. I found blogs and websites dedicated to real bisexual people discussing their experiences, which helped me to understand that I existed, that my feelings were valid. And, as stupid as it might sound, I found encouragement from looking up celebrities that identified proudly as bisexual – celebrities like David Bowie and Alan Cumming and Angelina Jolie, because they proved to me that I could be bisexual and successful and accepted and loved. The ideas were not mutually exclusive.

Especially when you’re young, when you don’t see yourself represented very often, you tend not to question the media that you’re seeing, but yourself. When you’re an overweight girl and all the beautiful women are represented as thin, you began to wonder if you’re ugly. When you are not white, but the majority of people in positions of power are, you began to feel very powerless. When you get a little bit older, you develop the ability to question these ideas, but by then the damage is often done already. By then, you’ve already internalized that you’re ugly, that you’re powerless, that you’re unlovable, that you don’t exist.

So, yes, a black boy can see a white character in a movie and relate to his internal, human struggle, but he cannot relate to his racial experience, and his existence is not validated by him. That is the difference between relating to a character based on their narrative or a figure based on their achievements, and relating to a character or a figure because they share a common experience with you.

That is why representation is important: because when you don’t see people like you doing what you want to do, you began to wonder if you even can do it, whether that be something as difficult as pursuing a certain career, or something as simple as being who you truly are. And regardless of who you are or how you were born, you deserve to be told that you are powerful, you are capable, and you are loveable.

When Does a Fantasy Become Harmful?

Although I love video games and although I love Greek mythology, the God of War series never really crossed my path until recently. Now, I still haven’t played it, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the game or the plot or anything like that. All that I’ve seen is one scene, but as this scene wasn’t overly complicated or difficult to interpret, I feel fairly confident discussing at least it.

In God of War 3, your protagonist Kratos – a Spartan demigod with more muscles than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime – enters into Aphrodite’s chambers (Aphrodite, for those of you who aren’t aware, being the Greek goddess of love and sexuality). He finds her almost naked, laying in a bed with her handmaidens and having some sexy-fun-time with them (because lesbians). Upon seeing Kratos, Aphrodite banishes her sexy handmaidens to the other side of the room so that she can have a conversation with him, during which she is lounging out on the bed, rolling around, and very clearly trying to seduce Kratos (because boobs). After the conversation is over, the player then has the option to give into Aphrodite’s seduction. If the player does this, we see Kratos descend upon the bed, before the camera pans off of them and onto Aphrodite’s handmaidens across the room, who then proceed to watch the bed and swoon and sigh over Kratos’s supposedly exceptional lovemaking, making comments about how jealous they are of their mistress while simultaneously groping each other.

Now, the critiques of this scene are obvious. It is both objectifying to women and fetishizing bisexual women. But that being said, I can already hear the defence against this critique: that it isn’t supposed to be taken at face value. It’s all a fantasy, intended to make Kratos look like the manliest manly man that ever lived, not only exceptional at fighting and looking awesome, but also at pleasing the ladies.

And trust me, I get that argument. I love fantasies in the media. In fact, some of my favourite story lines are power fantasies, intended to make the viewer feel like they are strong and capable by making you relate to the all-powerful, impossibly strong hero. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these are all power fantasies.

But at the same time, they are different from what we see happening in the scene from God of War 3.

The thing about Spider-Man that makes him and his story arch very different from this scene is, well, content. Spider-Man is awesome because he fights crime, he has super powers, he looks like an average teenager but is actually secretly awesome. And at the same time, Spider-Man is awesome in a way that most young people know isn’t real. When it comes to things like superheroes, parents tend to be quick to remind their kids that, yes, Spider-Man is awesome, but in real life, people don’t have super powers and they don’t fight crime in quite the same way. When it comes to discussions of sexuality, parents don’t tend to be quite so quick to talk to their children.

When I saw this scene from God of War 3, the first thing that it reminded me of was… well, pornography. Not because it foregrounded sexuality, but because of how unrealistically it depicted sexuality. Let’s all just agree: Aphrodite did not act like a real woman would. Neither does she or Kratos look the way that the average man or woman does; they are both idealized versions of what society thinks their gender should look like. And nobody in the history of the universe has made comments like the ones that the handmaidens made about Kratos’s lovemaking. This is all fake, and it is fake with the intention of pandering to the man and his ego, while most pornography is similarly made with a male viewer in mind.

And for many children in the western world, pornography is their introduction to sexuality. According to a report made by the BBC in 2016, 53% of children aged eleven to sixteen have seen pornography online, and of these children, 53% of boys and 39% of girls saw it as a realistic depiction of sex. And, look – I’m not trying to shame you if you watch pornography, all that I am saying is that pornography is not only unrealistic, it is centred around catering to a male gaze and a male ego. Like this scene from God of War 3, it is a fantasy, but when no one is talking to young people about this topic or offering them an alternative way of looking at it, it becomes easier to accept it as truth.

To put it in perspective, it would sort of be like if every single movie made for young boys was Spider-Man, and every single young boy knew that super powers existed, but they weren’t allowed to see it or talk about or hear about it ever; after a while, they’d start to question why they don’t have web-swinging powers, and why some girls look and act differently from Mary Jane.

But let’s talk about another issue that this scene discusses; female bisexuality. Like sex, bisexuality isn’t really talked about or represented in our media. The only bisexual characters that I can think of off the top of my head in mainstream media is Maureen Johnson from Rent and Piper Chapman from Orange is the New Black (both of whom are despicable human beings, but anyway…). In fact, probably the greatest representation of female bisexuality is, again, in pornography, meaning that you are more likely to see bisexual women having sex in our media than you are to see them going about their day or doing their jobs or anything like that.

But let’s go back to the scene from God of War 3, and let’s talk about the issue of desire here. Because, yes, Aphrodite starts out making out with her handmaidens, and yes, when Kratos is in bed with Aphrodite, the handmaidens are groping each other. But throughout all of this, the primary object of their desire is always Kratos, a man. Aphrodite sends her handmaidens away so that she can seduce Kratos instead. When the handmaidens are groping each other, their eyes are constantly on Kratos and they are going on about how hot he is. In fact, I am almost hesitant to describe them as bisexual, because outside of a few small sexual acts, they express nearly no desire for women; it always goes back to the man. And I have absolutely no doubt that the reason why the animators included these small sexual acts into the game was not because they wanted to represent Aphrodite as a strong, bisexual woman, but because they thought that it would be a nice treat for the presumed straight male player to see.

As I discussed before, this scene is harmful toward women in general because it perpetuates these unrealistic expectations that men have about how women should look and how they should behave sexually. But in some ways, it is almost more harmful toward bisexual women, because it perpetuates a very harmful stereotype that we all live with from the moment we come out of the closet: that we aren’t actually bisexual, we’re just trying to get attention from men.

This stereotype is one that hinges on dismissing the existence of bisexual women (and bisexual people in general). It portrays them, not as their own sexual orientation, but as promiscuous straight women – and as much as it is not okay to treat women differently depending on how many sexual partners they have had, it is an unfortunate fact in our society that that frequently happens, and it happens to bisexual women from the moment that we come out of the closet. Because of this stereotype, bisexual women are frequently dismissed, by straight men and lesbians alike, as ‘dirty’, a good, quick fuck but not actually worthy of love. Because of this stereotype, bisexual women are seen as ‘owing’ sex to men, because they obviously went to all the work of seducing them by being bisexual, and as a result, 61.1% of bisexual women are raped by an intimate partner, while 46% of bisexual women report being raped at any point in their lives, compared to 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians. And don’t even get me started on the emotional side-effects of being consistently told, by both straight people and the LGBT community, that you aren’t enough, you’re too dirty, too promiscuous, to be accepted.

But, hey, maybe this stereotype would be less frequently relied upon if our media would just give us alternative representations of bisexuality.

So to sum this all up: when is a fantasy harmful? Well, my answer would be that a fantasy becomes harmful when it’s the only narrative we’re given. Sex is nothing like the way that it is represented in either pornography or God of War 3, but you wouldn’t exactly know that as an inexperienced young person who knows that sex exists but has never seen it for themselves, because the vast majority of our depictions of sex come through a heavy lens of fantasy, and a very male-oriented fantasy at that, resulting in some unhealthy ideas of what sex is and what women in sexual situations should be. And actual bisexual women are not lounging in their beds, making out with their handmaidens until a man shows up to sex them up properly, but if that’s the only image of bisexual women that we are given, then how are we ever going to know that?

So maybe my issue is less with God of War 3, which is nothing more than a stupid fantasy for young straight boys who like the idea of being a super powerful, super masculine lady-pleaser, and more with a society that doesn’t really give us much else than that. Where are my depictions of sex from a woman’s perspective? My bisexual women who don’t care if a man shows up or not, they’re perfectly satisfied with the woman they’ve got right here? If we had more of those, not only would this scene be much less harmful, it would be easier to recognize it as silly and unrealistic by comparison.

Why We All Need to Talk About Biphobia (Discrimination Against Bisexual People)

I’m not going to lie – I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with my sexual orientation, and I blame part of that on the fact that I am not attracted to one singular gender. I am attracted to girls, boys, transgender people, gender queer people, non-binary people, etc. – basically, I’m attracted to people before genders, a phenomena that is more commonly known as being bisexual.

Now, bisexuality can come in multiple forms. By definition, it is the attraction to two or more genders, but what this means is a bit more complicated than it sounds. It is possible to be bisexual, but have a preference for one gender or the other. You can be bisexual and be attracted differently to either gender. Or you can be bisexual and experience equal attraction to either gender. At the end of the day, there are no straight-forward rules for identifying as bisexual – if you feel like you identify as bisexual, then you are bisexual. It’s as simple as that.

Now, I have known that I am bisexual since I was about ten years old, but I did not know the above information until I was around twenty years old, when I finally decided that it was time to be proud of who I am and research information on what that meant. In my searches, I came across several blogs and websites on bisexuality, and it was here that I found the official definition of what bisexuality was, because I had previously thought of it merely as an attraction to both boys and girls, split equally down the middle. It was also in these blogs that I first came across the word ‘biphobia’.

For those of you who are not familiar with it, biphobia is, as you might expect, the discrimination against people who identify specifically as bisexual. Although bisexual people can experience homophobia as well, biphobia is a partly separate issue, relating to the issues that bisexual people in particular face.

Now, I want to emphasize that this is not a word that I had ever heard until I started looking up information on bisexuality on the internet. And if I had not had reason to look this information up, if I was either straight or gay, I very well might never have come across it. Which struck me as exceptionally strange and disappointing, because the more that I read about it, the more I realized that biphobia is something that we all need to talk about – not just bisexual people. It is something that straight people need to remember, and it is something that homosexual people need to remember.

And why?

We need to talk about biphobia because whenever someone gets romantically (or sometimes sexually) involved with someone of their own gender, the dominant response is “oh, I guess they’re gay now” or “I didn’t know they were gay”, even if aforementioned person has had multiple partners of the opposite sex. The possibility that they might be bisexual never even crosses most people’s minds.

We need to talk about biphobia because in an interview with Larry King, Anna Paquin, an openly bisexual woman, was referred to as a ‘non-practicing bisexual’ because she is married to a man, whereas married straight women are not referred to as a ‘non-practicing heterosexual’ and married lesbians are not ‘non-practicing homosexuals’. And this is not an isolated incident either; this is something that even believed in my teen years – that when I get married, my identity would change depending on who I married. If I married a man, I’d magically become straight. If I married a woman, I’d magically become a lesbian. But that isn’t how it works. Bisexual people are bisexual – that doesn’t change based on who their current partner is.

We need to talk about biphobia because bisexual people are often accused of being queer people who are able to ‘pass’ as straight because they are capable of entering into relationships with someone of the opposite gender, but it is not a privilege to have your identity consistently dismissed and ignored throughout your life.

We need to talk about biphobia because bisexual women are automatically assumed to be promiscuous women who are merely trying to impress men, whereas bisexual men are automatically assumed to be gay men who are too afraid to come all the way out of the closet. Either way, bisexual people are automatically assumed to just want men at the end of the day. This assumption is so strong that many lesbians have stated that they would never date a bisexual woman because she’d probably just leave them for a man, because we all know that that’s what bisexual women really want (cue the eye rolls).

We need to talk about biphobia because I as a bisexual woman feel like that is not something I should disclose too early in a relationship, because it might cheapen me in my partner’s eyes.

We need to talk about biphobia because bisexual women in particular are dismissed as dirty, promiscuous, greedy, and unlovable, while simultaneously being sexualized, fetishized, and objectified by men who really like the idea of a woman who will sleep with other women, but also with them as well. Perhaps as a result of this, bisexual women are nearly twice as likely to be abused than straight women (according to a Buzzfeed report). Bisexual women also have a 46.1% chance of being raped in their lifetime (whether that be by a romantic partner or not) – a rate that is 2.6 times higher than straight women and 3.5 times higher than lesbian women (according to the bisexual support website Bitopia).

We need to talk about biphobia because I as a bisexual woman feel as though I cannot or should not date a man, because if I did, I’d lose something in the process – a feeling that is only emphasized by biphobic representations of bisexuals such as in the television series Glee, wherein there is one episode where a gay character becomes upset because his boyfriend kisses a girl. But it wasn’t the possible cheating that made him upset, no – it was the fact that the kiss resulted in his contemplating that he might actually be bisexual, as though his realization that he might be bisexual makes him less valuable in his boyfriend’s eyes. This conflict is resolved when the boyfriend character comes to the conclusion that he is completely gay, and thus the gay character can rest easily knowing all is as it should be. There is also a later episode where a lesbian character discloses that her ex-girlfriend was bisexual, to which the girl that is currently flirting with the lesbian character responds by saying that it’s “for the best” that she’s an ex then, and that what she really needs is a “100% Sapphic goddess”. This openly biphobic character is then treated by the lesbian as ‘better’ than her exes because she’s a real, bonafide lesbian. And this is a television show that marketed itself as being open-minded and inclusive.

We need to talk about biphobia because it is everywhere, and it isn’t something that I even thought about all that much until I had need to think about it. If I wasn’t bisexual, then chances are I’d be continuing to perpetuate these toxic beliefs today, because I wouldn’t know any better.

And people need to know better. That is why I talk about biphobia.

Because bisexual people are not dirty, greedy, naturally promiscuous, or whatever a biphobic society that enforces these beliefs paints us as. We are people. We are people who want to find love as much as anyone else. The only difference between us and anyone else is that we have to live with these assumptions held against us, and people are not talking enough about that. And we deserve better than that.

A Story of Doubt – Being Bisexual, Self-Conscious, and Ready to Embrace Who I Am

The internet is my unpaid therapist, and I will exploit that to the best of my ability. Partly because it feels good to vent – to scream into the void, it sometimes feels like. Partly because I like the idea that my experience is somebody else’s experience, and maybe that somebody else will stumble upon this and relate, or maybe somebody who knows that somebody else will stumble upon this and better understand what they’re going through. Either way, what do I have to lose with honesty?

And I’m not saying that my experience is every bisexual’s experience – that would be an extremely reductive statement to make, and we’re all different people, all dealing with a similar circumstance in our own unique way. But maybe my experience has been felt by other bisexual people before. Or maybe my experience contains echoes of other issues that I’m not aware of, and you can find other ways to relate to it. Who knows what the power of words are?

But my point is, this particular scream into the void is regarding my status as a bisexual woman. I’ve known that I was bisexual ever since I was about ten years old, when I started to become aware of the fact that I noticed girls just as much as I noticed guys. When I first realized it, I thought I was being pretty accepting of the idea. I mean, I didn’t tell anyone, not at the age of ten, but still, from that point forward I lived with that understanding of myself, I didn’t really think about it all that much or question the hows or whys.

In elementary school, I developed little crushes on multiple different people. The boy who struck me as different and maybe a little bit better than the rest. The girl who defended me from bullies. They never really progressed all that far, but still, I had them and I never doubted them.

High school was much the same – I continued developing crushes on people that never really went anywhere, because I was a Strong Independent Woman who had my grades to focus on and a novel that I was working on. Before high school graduation, I only really had two crushes that were seriously note-worthy – one on a male friend, the other on a girl in one of my classes. And although my adolescent years was the time that I started to become bombarded with insecurities, I never really doubted who I was in that regard. I became aware that some people might not be able to love me because they came to my status as bisexual with preconceived notions, sure, but it didn’t matter because that was what I was. I never forgot that.

It was only after high school graduation, when I entered university, that that all changed. Because the thing is, the transition from teenager to young adult was very hard on me. I lost most of my friends, and had difficulties making new ones. I was shipped off to another town, to attend a school that I somehow doubted was the right fit for me. And more and more, I was becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there were certain milestones in a person’s life that I was supposed to reach yet that I just hadn’t. I should have had a serious relationship by now, I should be into drinking and partying, I should have made that one big mistake that fucks up my life for a couple of months but then I get back on the horse and everything’s a-okay. Drowning in a sea of regret and confusion, I became depressed and incredibly, almost cripplingly self-conscious.

Let me try to explain to you how self-conscious I got, because this is a big part of the story: I had difficulties talking to people because I felt like I had nothing to say that was of value. I felt like my life was a waste, and that I had barely lived it at all. I felt like I hadn’t touched anyone or done anything, and nobody would miss me if I just went away for good. My point is, I got low, and when you get that low and you simultaneously have a barrage of media telling you that there’s something else that’s wrong with you, you tend to be kind of susceptible to it.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the negative stigma regarding being bisexual that I gave into. It wasn’t the idea that we’re all whores (I could combat that opinion with my own lived experience), or that we’re all going to hell (I still don’t even know if I believe in hell), or that we’re undeserving of love (maybe that was true for me, but there were a lot of contributing factors around that). No, the belief system that affected me the most was the simple assertion that we don’t exist. That all bisexual people are wrong and greedy, that we can and should just pick one gender or the other. I felt like I was committing some cosmic violation by being bisexual, so I tried to be something else. There was a period of time where I tried being straight, tried going back to factory settings, but that all fell apart when I came to terms with the fact that I was living a lie. So if I wasn’t straight, then therefore I was a lesbian, right? I talked like a lesbian, thought like a lesbian, even tried to assert that I was a lesbian to a certain extent, but just like pretending to be straight, it always felt like a lie. It felt wrong in a spiritual, gut-level sort of way, different than the way that being bisexual felt wrong. Being bisexual felt wrong because I was told it was. Being straight or a lesbian felt wrong because I was neither.

But I wanted to be one or the other. Being straight looked easier for obvious reasons, but being a lesbian looked easier too because at least I saw them. When I watched movies or TV growing up that included LGBT+ characters, they were always gay or lesbian. Never bisexual. They were whole, they were complete, they didn’t have to worry about being taken seriously as a member of the LGBT+ community because no matter who they ended up with in the end, their partner would always reflect the fact that they didn’t belong in the heterosexual world. And if they ever got married, they wouldn’t have to deal with people saying the sorts of things that bisexual people have to deal with: “So you’re a non-practicing bisexual?” “So you’re straight/lesbian now?” “Do you ever miss being with insert-other-gender-here?”

Now, I’m not saying that being a lesbian is easier than being bisexual – truth be told, I don’t know for sure which experience is easier, as I’ve only lived the one, and at the end of the day, it isn’t a competition. I’m just trying to explain my thoughts and my perspective.

And the strange thing is, when you start trying to tell yourself that you’re one thing, it sort of throws everything into doubt. Sure, I could remember having crushes on boys back before high school graduation, but were those really crushes? Heteronormativity is a bitch, so maybe I was just trying to tell myself that I was bisexual? Yes, being bisexual felt more natural to me, but how much could I trust that really? And besides, after high school graduation, the only crushes and relationships I’ve had have been really unhealthy, distorted and ugly versions wherein I choose who to flirt with based solely off of who’s flirting with me, rather than because I’m actually attracted to them. And therefore, the fact that I haven’t been attracted to the boys I flirt with must be because I’m not attracted to boys, right? It never even crossed my mind that, maybe, it was because I had really low self-esteem, and therefore I only gave the time of day to whoever validated me as an attractive individual, regardless of what I thought about them.

This has been the limbo that I’ve been living in for almost four years now – uncertain, self-conscious, and trying to force myself to fit a narrative that I don’t belong in. But the other day, I went to an event hosted by my school’s LGBT+ club, and while I was there, I was listening to one of my friends joke around with one of the club’s leaders – a girl who I haven’t spoken to very often. They kept referring to this girl’s partner, and after a while, I became aware of the fact that they were using male pronouns to refer to him. That was when it struck me – one of the club’s leaders, a girl who is welcome in this space and taken seriously as a member of the LGBT+ community here, is either a bisexual or pansexual woman. Up until that point, I don’t think it had really occurred to me what I was thinking, but it struck me then how really fucked up it is that I’m trying to make myself one thing when I’m not, and when there’s nothing wrong with who I am. I don’t have to ‘choose’. I just need to start taking myself more seriously.

So here I am: a new arrival on the long, uphill road to self-esteem. I don’t know how difficult it’s gonna be, but I imagine pretty darn difficult. I have a lot that I need to address about myself, and a lot of things that I’ve been saying that I need to start believing. Because I can say, surface-level, that there’s nothing wrong with being bisexual, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it right down to my stubborn, hard, little core. I can say that this is who I am and the world is the one at fault for trying to convince me that that’s wrong, but I am the one who needs to be convinced of that, first and foremost. And I’m ready to make myself.

And if there’s anything that I want you, the reader, to take away from my story, it’s this: there’s nothing wrong with being who you are. Whether you be a fabulous bisexual like me or something else entirely, you’re okay, and you need to tell yourself that you’re okay. You need to believe it. You can read all the inspirational crap on the internet you want, you can try to tell the people in your life that it’s true, but you need it to sink in. Because that’s the only way that you can be settled in this weird little life you’ve been given.

3 Subtle Ways That Bisexual People are Regularly Excluded

So, I’m not going to lie: I like being bisexual. If I could choose my sexual orientation, this would probably be the one I would choose. I like that I was forced from a young age to exist between the lines – to see things from outside of the binary. There are many people, after all, who never think to question the binary because they’ve never had any reason to. They’re either straight or gay, either male or female, they see things in terms of either good or evil and black or white, but when you’re a person who falls outside of those terms (whether you be bisexual, pansexual, intersex, gender non-conforming, or even just a jerk who means well), then suddenly you’re forced to question why it is that people tend to see things as either one thing or another. Society rarely considers the murky middle regions, and I’m proud to say that I have firmly taken residence in those regions.

But there are some parts of being bisexual that are less than fun, and one of those is when someone doesn’t mean to be exclusive, but they are. This often goes back to what I was saying about the binary – most people see things either one way or another, and they just don’t realize that doing that ignores the infinite options in between. They aren’t trying to be offensive, and they don’t mean any harm in it, they just aren’t used to thinking outside the binary.

So to illustrate this, I’ve collected a list of three statements I’ve heard often from people who aren’t trying to ignore the existence of bisexuals, but end up doing so by default.

1. “Oh, insert-public-figure’s-name-here is dating/married to someone of the same gender? I didn’t know they were gay!”

This one I only take issue with when the above mentioned information is really all you have to go on: when all you know is that insert-public-figure’s-name-here is dating someone of the same gender, and the immediate assumption is that that must mean they’re gay.

I saw this a lot with Kristen Stewart recently, when there was speculation on the internet that she might be dating a woman, and most of what I heard jumped immediately to this conclusion. “I didn’t know she was gay!” or “Of course Kristen Stewart is a lesbian! I should have known!” was everywhere. Yet, the fact that she wasn’t outed yet meant that nobody knew if that was the case. All that they knew was that she might be involved with a woman. And if Kristen Stewart was/is involved with a woman, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s a lesbian. After all, her being bisexual or pansexual was equally as plausible in that scenario, but I never once heard anyone say “I didn’t know Kristen Stewart was bisexual!”

While I doubt that anyone was actively trying to be harmful, the immediate assumption that a person must be completely homosexual in order to be dating someone of the same gender erases the experiences of those who aren’t.

Better ways that you can phrase this sentiment include “Oh, insert-public-figure’s-name-here is dating someone of the same gender? I didn’t realize they were part of the queer community!”

2. “She’s so hot, I’m going to go lesbian for her!”

I remember hearing this statement a lot around the emergence of Ruby Rose as a public figure.

The sentiment that you’re trying to get across when you say that is: that woman is so physically attractive that I, as a straight woman, would actually consider having some sort of romantic or sexual relationship with her. And that is a perfectly fine sentiment. I understand better than most that sexuality is not as simple as it seems: a person can identify one way all their lives and then suddenly identify differently well into their adult lives, and there is nothing wrong with that.

But the problem with the wording in this statement is not only that is misunderstand what being queer is (you don’t just go lesbian because you saw a hot girl and now suddenly, your lifetime of being attracted to men is forgotten), but it reduces sexuality to a very one-or-the-other, binary system. You’re not saying “yes, I’m still attracted to men, but that woman makes me think that I’m not entirely as straight as I thought”. What you’re saying is that sexuality is either straight or gay, and this woman is somehow so hot that you started playing for the other team all of a sudden.

It ignores the possibility that a person can be attracted to men, and also be attracted to women. Because if you legitimately find this woman attractive, then the only thing you can be is a lesbian.

Better ways that you can phrase this sentiment include “That wo/man is so hot. I’d date him/her.”

3. “Oh, so you married a woman? Does that mean you’re straight now?” or “I had an ex ‘go straight’ on me”

I’m lumping these two together because they basically express the same sentiment: in both cases, it’s assuming that a bisexual person who enters into a long-term relationship with someone of one gender is now exclusively attracted to that gender.

First of all – that just isn’t how the world works. Straight women who have been happily married for years are still able to find men who aren’t their husbands attractive, and nobody bats an eye at that. It’s normal, it’s to be expected. “I’m married, but I’m not dead”, older people will jokingly say when they see an attractive person. Well, it’s the same thing for bisexual people. Even if they’re completely in love with someone and can’t see themselves ever being with anyone else, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t bisexual anymore.

And, secondly, this kind of plays into a very harmful stereotype about bisexual people: that we’re all either confused or faking our sexuality for some reason. Bisexuality isn’t real, it isn’t possible to actually be attracted to more than one gender, and someday we’ll all learn that when we find the right person and just become straight (spoiler alert: we won’t).

Better ways that you can phrase this sentiment include “Congratulations on getting married! I’m so happy for you!” or “Yeah, my ex is dating Jim now. I hope he treats her well.”

~

As I mentioned before, all of these statements are fairly common, and if you’ve said something like this before, I’m not here to judge you or say that you’re wrong. The only thing that I’m trying to do is point out the ways in which these statements erases the experiences of bisexual people, and hopefully, help you to think a little bit more outside the binary by pointing out that these experiences exist. We’ve all done or said things that we didn’t realize were harmful or exclusive at the time, and that doesn’t mean that we’re evil people. All that it means is that we keep trying to better ourselves and learn more about other experiences.