Can Men and Women Ever Really Be Friends? (And Can Bisexuals Have Friends At All Then?)

A lot of casual homophobia tends to be predicated on this fear of queer people flirting with straight people.

This whole idea of, “I don’t mind you being gay, just so long as you don’t hit on me.”

And, you know what, I understand that nobody enjoys having someone that they aren’t attracted to flirt with them. Straight people don’t enjoy being hit on by queer people. Lesbians don’t enjoy being hit on by men. Bisexual people don’t enjoy being hit on by someone who isn’t their type.

But, that being said, there is a larger issue here as well. This idea that queer men are attracted to all men, and queer women are attracted to all women.

A lot has been said on this already. It is a prevalent problem in our society, and it is a problem that lends itself to many harmful ideas and stereotypes.

Queer men can easily be excluded from such male-centric activities as, say, sports – because what would happen in the locker room? We all know that queer men can’t control themselves around any naked man – really, any at all. It doesn’t matter what he looks like or how he acts.

Queer women also tend to be stereotyped as the ‘predatory lesbian’ – the aggressive woman who won’t take no for an answer, and is out there to hunt down and ‘turn’ any unsuspecting straight woman.

And, sometimes, straight people become really awkward and uncomfortable around queer people, on the simple basis that they’re afraid that they might get checked out or flirted with.

Because, as we all know, when you’re attracted to a gender, you’re attracted to every member of that gender. Right?

Now, as a bisexual person myself, I have walked in both straight and LGBT communities, and while this isn’t a perspective that comes up often in the LGBT community (I can tell another queer woman that I’m queer without her immediately assuming that I’m hitting on her. Unless I am actually hitting on her), this perspective does come up quite frequently in the straight community.

And it doesn’t even exclusively come up in terms of queer people: it’s actually a sort of common perspective. Growing up, I remember frequently hearing the adage: “can men and women ever really be friends?” the presumed answer to this always being: no, because sex will always get in the way.

And if this were true, then I couldn’t have any friends. Ever. I’m attracted to every gender, so obviously I’m trying to sleep with everyone.

If this were true, then dear god, my life would be a nightmare.

But I’ve had male friends (both heterosexual and not) who managed to remain platonic. I’ve had female friends (both heterosexual and not) who managed to remain platonic. So where does this assumption come from in straight culture?

Well, in this particular scenario, I feel that the best way to explore why heterosexual people feel this way about queer people is by looking at heterosexual culture.

When it comes to young boys, we treat sex as a sort of conquest. It is the way that men can prove their masculinity; we turn it into a sort of goal for them. And we also teach men that every single woman is a potential conquest.

And, similarly, we teach women that every single man is ‘just after one thing’.

This tends to be in the background of many male/female relationships in heterosexual culture: a sort of chase. And it is so prevalent that many men feel entitled to sex with essentially any woman – even if she is ‘just a friend’. Look at the term ‘friendzoned’ for evidence: although this term has (hopefully) been mocked out of general usage, it was initially created by men who felt cheated because a female friend dared to say ‘no’ to sex.

And this idea of ‘the chase’ has created many, many problems in and of itself: most obviously, it has created rape culture. It has created this society where many heterosexual relationships are expected to follow a script where men pursue sex and women withhold it – and if a man pushes beyond her comfort zone, well then, he was just following the script. It has created this society where women are shamed for expressing any sexual agency or desire.

But it has also created this general confusion about how straight people can interact with queer people. Because many (obviously, not all) straight people automatically assume that if someone is attracted to a gender, then they will engage in ‘the chase’ with that gender.

But queer people do not grow up in quite the same way that straight people do, and the simple fact that many queer relationships involve two people of the same gender means that we cannot engage in the same conventions that straight people simply take for granted. For us, there were no lessons growing up about how we should view (at least one of) the genders that we were going to date. Lesbian women were not told by their mothers that they need to actively go out there and have sex with as many women as possible.

So for us, it’s just natural to know that we aren’t attracted to every single member of a gender. And, trust me: if we’re not attracted to you, we aren’t going to hit on you. Chances are, you’re safe.

And I think that the fact that so many straight people are afraid that queer people will start ‘chasing’ them really reveals something about ‘the chase’: it isn’t pleasant, and it isn’t healthy. We need to stop measuring our worth by the number of partners that we have had – whether we’re calling a man a ‘stud’ for sleeping with many women, or we’re calling a woman a ‘slut’ for sleeping with many men. We need to think again about the way that we’re teaching our youth about sex, or about the ways in which they should view the other gender. And a big part of this involves talking more about consent, but it also involves questioning our own gender biases. Because they are so deeply ingrained that I think we sometimes have a hard time recognizing them.

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What A Bisexual Person Wants Straight And Gay People To Know

The other day, I was scrolling through social media, minding my own business, when I innocently stumbled upon a video, edited together using clips of celebrities discussing their experience with bisexuality, including Halsey, Kristen Stewart, Drew Barrymore, and many others.

I enjoyed this video. As a bisexual woman myself, it made me feel good. It made me proud to be who I am. And, yes, I know that the rule of thumb for the internet is that, every time you feel that way, don’t look at the comments. But I looked at the comments anyway. And, reading through them, my stomach sank.

It isn’t that the majority of comments were outwardly intending to be cruel or anything like that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they were trying to be accepting. But they all pretty much read the same: “I don’t care”.

There were a few comments from actual bisexual people, trying to defend the validity of the video, but the vast majority were from straight people or gay people (who went out of their way to identify themselves as gay), clogging up the comments with repeated assertions that they didn’t care. They didn’t care so much, in fact, that it very quickly proved that they did. They cared a lot, or else they would have just moved on without making a comment.

And I think I understand where these comments come from, at least on the surface. The idea behind it is not to make me, a bisexual woman, feel bad. Quite the opposite in fact – when straight and gay people make these comments, they think that they’re making me feel validated and normalized. I’m so validated and normalized, in fact, that I shouldn’t even have to say that I’m bisexual. I shouldn’t say it at all. I should just stay quiet, really, and allow them to continue pretending that I don’t exist.

Because the way that these comments appear, whenever a celebrity or a fictional character is outed as bisexual, this idea of, “I don’t care who they sleep with, just as long as they perform well” – it feels less like they’re saying, “be who you want to be”, and more like they’re saying, “please stop talking about this, I don’t want to hear about it”.

And maybe straight people and gay people don’t care. Maybe it doesn’t affect you. But I care, and, personally, I wish they would too.

Because silencing bisexual people is not something that’s unique to the comment section of social media posts. In fact, it’s common enough that it actually has a name – bi erasure.

And bi erasure affects me. Bi erasure affects how straight and gay people view and treat me. And bi erasure is a huge problem.

Bi erasure affects me when I come out to a straight or gay person, and they automatically assume that I’m confused, or a straight woman looking to experiment, or a lesbian who’s afraid to come ‘all the way’ out of the closet (the idea that I’m only half out of the closet is also seriously problematic – I am all the way of of the closet).

Bi erasure affects me when 47 percent of people say that they would never date a bisexual person. And, no, I’m not asking for 100 percent of the population to be looking to date me specifically, that would be… quite frankly, exhausting. But the reasons that people cite to avoid getting involved with any bisexual are actually disgusting. I’ve heard many people say that they would never date a bisexual because they’re afraid they might cheat on them (as though straight and gay people don’t cheat on their partners). I’ve heard many people say that it’s actually unfair for a bisexual person to try to enter into a committed relationship, because we all know that they’re eventually going to stray for penis or vagina or whatever. Actress Megan Fox even made the comment once that, though she identifies as a bisexual woman, she “would never date a girl who was bisexual, because that means they also sleep with men, and men are so dirty that [she’d] never want to sleep with a girl who had slept with a man.” Before people even get to know me, bi erasure has already created this image of me as some sort of dirty, promiscuous whore, out to harm straight and gay people by entering into committed relationships with them.

And, lastly, bi erasure affects me when 44 percent of bisexual youth have reported experiencing suicidal thoughts in the last year (compared to 33 percent LGBTQ youth en masse). Bisexuals make up the largest single population in the LGBTQ community, and yet we are woefully underrepresented – by our own community.

So to the straight and gay people who want to make sure we know that you don’t care about us – we know. You’ve proven that to us again and again, trust me. You can stop saying it.

But, like I said, I think that the majority of these comments do not come from an intentionally harmful place. I think that these are people who want to live in a society where nobody has to say what they are, they can just be what they are. But the problem with that is that we don’t live in that society. We live in a society where the label that you put on your sexual orientation affects the way that people treat you – whether you be straight, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. And when you are treated differently and ignored for the label that you identify as, then, trust me, it feels good to see a celebrity or fictional character that you look up to identifying under the same label. It feels liberating. It is what truly makes you feel validated and normalized.

So, to all the straight and gay people reading this (and I sincerely hope you are reading this; you are who I wrote this for, after all), I want to ask a few things from you.

I want you to let us speak when we have something to say. Before you rush off to tell us that you don’t care, that you don’t want to hear it – listen. Please. We might even open your mind to possibilities that you did not know existed.

And when it comes to stereotypes that you have developed in the absence of actual bisexual representation, I want to ask you to think about them critically. Because the thing about bisexual people is that we… people! We are a relatively large group of people too, and growing larger (1 in 3 American young adults identify themselves on the bisexual spectrum, after all). And what this means is that we are full of variety that one might not expect, if they never saw or heard from us. Some bisexual people are promiscuous, some aren’t. Some bisexual people feel best in polyamorous relationships, some in monogamous relationships. Some bisexual people experience a preference for one gender over another, and some find that their interest is split 50/50, down the middle. Some bisexual people are incredibly romantic and love to be loved, some aren’t. It all depends on the person – and I, for one, am tired of living with stereotypes that may or may not even apply to me.

Why I Like The Word ‘Queer’

Recently, I found myself sitting in a room with a whole bunch of people, where one older gentleman was talking. While I was there, he laughed and made the comment, “I don’t know what sort of language the kids are using today, or what words have been reclaimed now. Is it alright to use the word ‘queer’?” to which the majority of the people in the room, most of them straight and cis-gendered, responded by saying, “oh no, no, no, don’t use that word. You use that word and you get in trouble.”

The topic of conversation moved on from there, but through all of this, there I was, this tiny queer voice in the back of the room, thinking, “really?” Because, personally speaking, this response did not at all reflect my experience. To be honest, I actually really like the word ‘queer’.

And, admittedly, perhaps a bit of my liking toward this word comes from a place of privilege, because I never had this word used toward me with a negative connotation, and I know many people have. Historically speaking, this is a word that has been used to harass and belittle many people, to dismiss them as “weird” or beyond understanding, and of course, that is never okay. And if you are a person who does not like being labelled with this word because of an unpleasant history with it, I can totally understand this and will not tell you that you need to feel differently.

But that being said, as a reclaimed word, I find ‘queer’ to be an incredibly liberating identity.

If you are not familiar with the practice of reclaiming words, this is when a specific word has been used in an attempt to hurt people in the past, but in the present, that word is taken by the oppressed group and given a slightly different connotation, with the intention of taking power back. For example, the word ‘bitch’ can be considered a reclaimed word: historically speaking, it was used to describe an unpleasant, despicable woman, usually one who asserted herself in a way that made men uncomfortable. But nowadays, many women will proudly describe themselves as a ‘bitch’, because they are willing to assert themselves, even if it makes men uncomfortable, and they aren’t ashamed of that.

In a similar vein, the word ‘queer’ has been taken from one that means “weird” and, by extension, “wrong”, to one that means… something else.

Because, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if ‘queer’ has a solid definition yet.

I have sometimes heard the word ‘queer’ used to describe gay, lesbian, and bisexual people – which makes sense. This is the group of people that this word was most frequently used to wound in the past. And, more than that, the word ‘queer’ serves as a great, useful blanket term for anyone who has any interest at all in their same gender.

Because, let’s face it: sometimes, these identities can feel somewhat… limiting.

You may or may not be aware of the Kinsey Scale, developed by Alfred Kinsey as a way of measuring one’s sexual orientation. Now, this method is highly complex and multi-layered, but at its simplest, it is a scale from zero to seven – zero indicating exclusive heterosexuality, six indicating exclusive homosexuality, and seven indicating no sexual interest at all. Now, it was Kinsey’s belief that a person’s sexual orientation is subject to change over the course of their life (which is today considered a controversial belief, for perhaps obvious reasons), and that the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle of the scale, so in that nice one, two, three, four, and five area that indicates at least mild interest in both genders (this is, again, controversial). Now, you may or may not agree with Kinsey’s perspective, but the reason why I feel that it is important and relevant to what I am saying is because sexual orientation is not always as simple and straight-forward as gay, straight, and bisexual.

You can live your entire life thinking that you’re straight, and then fall head over heels for someone of the same gender. You can live your entire life thinking that you’re gay, but then realize that, while you definitely aren’t straight, your interests aren’t as exclusive as you once thought. Heck, you might even consider yourself straight, and think of Ruby Rose as that one exception. Not everyone will experience this, no; there are some people out there who do have totally exclusive interests, but for those of us who don’t, those of us who don’t necessarily feel like gay, straight, or bisexual entirely describes who we are, ‘queer’ is a nice alternative for us to fall back on.

Because queer isn’t limiting. Queer is whatever you want it to be. Queer is full of possibilities, full of options.

I have also heard ‘queer’ defined as a way to describe people who are not only attracted to their own gender, but to describe people who are transgender and/or gender non-conforming. And, again, this makes sense; again, this word has been used to wound these people in the past, and again, this word is a very liberating word in terms of gender as well.

Because, just like with sexual orientation, gender has historically been very stifling. When it comes to gender, you are typically expected to fall into one of two categories: male and female, determined by what genitalia can be found between your legs. If you are male, then you are expected to behave in a way that corresponds with that – you are to be ‘masculine’. You must be a provider, you must be in control of your emotions, you must be strong and powerful and commanding and in control. If you are female, then you are to be ‘feminine’. You are to be passive and quiet and kind and caring and understanding. It doesn’t matter the scenario, and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t come naturally to you; it is what is expected of you.

But ‘queer’ doesn’t expect anything. ‘Queer’ accepts you as you are, whether that be feminine, masculine, or somewhere in between. ‘Queer’ doesn’t tell you how to act and what to be, and ‘queer’ most certainly doesn’t care what’s between your legs.

From time to time, I have even heard ‘queer’ used to define straight and cis-gendered people who simply are not in a conventional relationship. ‘Queer’ honestly just refers to any people who fail to live up to our society’s idea of heteronormativity, and this includes straight couples who are in open relationships, or are heavy into BDSM culture, or who are not engaging in sex with the primary intention of procreation.

Because ‘queer’ is not exclusive. When you identify as queer, what that means is that you fail to live up to what society considers the standard, the expected. And while that can be very difficult and isolating when you are the only one doing so, the identity of queer builds a community around you. It means that you are not alone, that there are many out there who do not feel like their experience matches up with the one that society tells them they should have.

That, to me, is what the reclaimed word ‘queer’ means. And that is why I have no shame identifying myself as a queer person.

Bisexual People Are Not Just Going Through A Phase

So, full disclosure here: I’m a bit of a geek, and as such, I’m a bit of a fan of trivia, especially trivia that’s related to movies and books. So it should come as no surprise that today’s rant stemmed from a little bit of trivia. Namely, a bit of obscure Harry Potter trivia.

According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor David Thewlis, who played the character Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films, was quoted as saying, “Alfonso Cuarón (the director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), in the rehearsals, without J.K. Rowling’s knowledge, told me that [my character] was, in fact, gay. So I’d been playing a part like a gay man for quite a long time. Until it turned out that I indeed got married to Tonks. I changed my whole performance after that. Just saw it as a phase he went through.” Perhaps as a result of this statement, I have also found some sources claiming that J.K. Rowling herself claimed that Lupin was an ‘ex-gay‘ who, over the course of the series, learns to be straight when he falls in love with Tonks, a female character. However, as the leading source of this latter claim seems to be a user’s comment on IMDB, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the claim that this is something that Rowling actually said.

Now, why am I sharing this piece of trivia, you might be asking? Well, besides it simply being interesting to know from a total geek perspective, I also find it to be very telling as far as how we as a society tends to view sexual orientation.

Look at the language that was used in the above trivia. Regardless of what the sexual orientation of Lupin’s character is actually supposed to be, Thewlis decided that, if Lupin was interested in men at one point and interested in women at another, then that must mean that he was just “going through a phase”. And regardless of whether J.K. Rowling was the one who identified Lupin as an “ex-gay” or not, that is a term that some fans have come to use toward him. So then, what is Lupin’s sexual orientation? He likes men at some point, women at others… it’s almost as though he likes both… as though he might be some sort of strange, previously unknown sexual orientation that lands somewhere between straight and gay, like some sort of… bisexual or something…

Seriously though, why wasn’t this the first place that everyone’s mind went to when Lupin’s sexual orientation supposedly changed between movies? (I’m foregrounding the movies here because that seems to be where this issue is most apparent to the actors and the audience.) Why was there even this mention of “going through a phase”, of being an “ex-gay”, when we all know that bisexual people exist?

Or do we?

The issue of bi visibility has been an ongoing one for the bisexual community for pretty much… forever. In fact, there’s even a whole day in the year dedicated to spreading awareness about the existence of bisexual people, because apparently, the majority of people haven’t caught on yet. Bisexual people are frequently assumed to be going through a phase that they’ll eventually grow out of or overcome. Bisexual men are interpreted as being gay men who are simply afraid to come “all the way” out of the closet (as though coming out as bisexual isn’t coming all the way out). Bisexual women are interpreted as straight women who are looking to impress men with promises of threesomes and getting to watch them make out with other women (because it always comes back to being about men in the end somehow). Or, sometimes, bisexual people of both sexes are merely interpreted as experimenting, being curious, being rebellious, but not actually being what they claim to be.

And when it comes to real people with actual sexual orientations, we still tend to use a perspective that mirrors the one we saw with poor Lupin. When we see actual queer couples, we automatically assume that they are a gay or lesbian couple. A wedding between two men is always referred to as a gay wedding, even if it’s totally plausible that neither man is actually gay. And do you know how many times I have seen someone come from dating someone of the opposite gender to dating someone of the same gender, and the common response is, “oh, so you’re gay now?” or “I didn’t know you were gay!”

And if you do this or have done this, I’m not trying to make you feel bad about it. As human beings, we tend to want to separate everything into two categories, sometimes referred to as a ‘binary’. We want everything and everyone to be male or female, light or dark, straight or gay. And when something doesn’t fit easily into that binary, we tend to ignore it; I mean, what have we done to gender non-conforming or intersex people?

But the truth is, the world doesn’t exactly work this way.

The truth is, of all adults living in the U.S. and identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, bisexuals comprise of a very slight majority (1.8% compared to the 1.7% that identify as gay or lesbian). And of these people, not all of them can be confused, questioning, or going through a phase.

The truth is, I identify as bisexual, and I have since I was ten years old. I tried to change myself. I tried to force myself to belong on either end of the binary, because that was what I thought people expected of me, but I just can’t change who I am. I just can’t not be bisexual, because the way that I identify is very real and very unavoidable.

The truth is, we have been ignored for far too long. We have been dismissed as not even an option for far too long. We have been invisible for far too long.

And it’s time for that to stop.

It’s time for us to talk about bi visibility.

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.