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.

The Problem With “I Don’t Want to Get Political”

“I don’t want to get political.”

I hear this statement every now and again, and under varying types of contexts. Sometimes it’s an attempt to distance oneself from what they’re about to say: “I don’t like to get political, but this really bothers me.” In other words, they’re saying: I’m not a political person. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m not some angry, man-hating SJW or anything like that – it’s just this one particular subject that bothers me enough to make me say something.

Sometimes it’s an attempt to silence people: “I’m tired of hearing about politics all the time”, as though we aren’t all tired of talking about politics all the time. Trust me, if we could stop, if we could feel sufficiently like we’d been heard and the battle was over and things were fine, then you would stop hearing about it. But until then, the conversation continues.

And I get where the “I don’t want to get political” opinion comes from, I do: it’s a desire to not want to get involved, because getting involved is heavy and difficult and undesirable. It’s undesirable for everyone, trust me, I know. I am involved, so I know firsthand how tiring the whole thing can be. And you’d think that my knowing that would make me more forgiving toward people who “don’t want to get political”, and yet every time that I see this statement, it irritates me. It makes me want to say something.

There are two reasons for this.

Reason 1 – saying “I don’t want to get political” comes from a huge place of privilege.

And, I know, I know: a good chunk of my readership just tuned out at the word “privilege”, but please, hear me out.

For many of us, getting political isn’t really something that we can choose. It’s something that follows us around, whether we want it to or not.

A woman is forced to “get political” every time that she speaks out against her sexual assault or harassment.

A person of colour is forced to “get political” every time they get profiled at the mall, or some random person on the bus starts throwing racial slurs at them.

A queer person is forced to “get political” every time they get dressed in the morning, or check out someone cute.

If you don’t quite understand what I mean by this, I think a good example would be the reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, which stars a cast of drag queens and has discussed many political issues, including homophobia, H.I.V., and hate crime violence. When asked if the show was intentionally given overt political messaging, show host RuPaul Charles responded by saying, “It’s inherent in our experience. We don’t have to do much to infuse a consciousness into the show. It is such a part of our story, and we walk with it.”

For many of us, we don’t even have to try to become political. We just… walk with it.

If someone gets to choose whether or not to “get political”, then the only reason they have that choice is because the experience that they live with is so normalized and accepted by society that it isn’t even considered political anymore. It just… is. They aren’t considered a sexual orientation – they’re just the norm. They aren’t considered a race – they’re just the norm. They don’t have to fight for their rights or equality – they’re just accepted and free as they are. They don’t have to worry about “getting political”, because nothing “political” affects them.

Except, everything is political, which brings me to reason 2 for why this statement bothers me.

When a person says, “I don’t want to get political”, they are still making a political statement. They have not excused themselves from the conversation altogether. But rather than taking the opportunity to side with either the bully or the victim, they have decided to take the safer route – they have become the bystander.

“Political” issues continue to happen. They just happen without any involvement from those who “don’t want to get political”. And if the bystanders are doing nothing, just standing back and watching, then the bullies continue to feel validated in what they are doing. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Nobody’s trying to stop them.

And when nobody tries to stop them, then that sends a political message, even if the message was unintentional.

And I’m pretty sure that, the majority of the time, the message is unintentional. I don’t think that the majority of people who “don’t want to get political” are trying to be dismissive of other experiences, I think they just don’t understand. They don’t realize that they are speaking from a place of privilege, that even if something doesn’t directly affect them, it still affects other people in a huge way. But I think that this is a conversation that we need to have. Just because someone “doesn’t want to get political”, that doesn’t mean that they are exempt from the conversation.

Why You Should Not Have to Rush Coming Out of the Closet

The first time I came out of the closet, I was sixteen years old and very, very not ready.

Before I was sixteen years old, I had crushes on other girls, of course, but it wasn’t until then that I had my first crush that actually stood a chance of going anywhere. She had been in one of my classes, a girl so unlike anyone who I usually hung out with. She didn’t get along with any of my friends, and we didn’t often see each other outside of class. So what this essentially meant for me was that, for a good hour every day, I was distinctly reminded of my own difference, and then outside of that, I had to go back to pretending that I was something I wasn’t.

And, perhaps to make matters worse, my group of friends at the time had, for some reason, gotten into the habit of religious debates during lunch. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the most peaceful way that we could have been spending our break, but what can I say, we enjoyed argument. One lunchtime, these debates centred around the issue of homosexuality, and whether or not it was a sin. Having just finished my class with the girl I liked, I sat there, listening to my friends trying to decide whether I was going to hell or not, and without really meaning to, I broke in and screamed, “how do you think I feel about all this? I’m bisexual!

And at that point, all I could think was: well. I guess I’m the bisexual girl now.

Suffice it to say, I shouldn’t have come out that way. Not that anyone judged me or anything; I went home and I told my family, and I answered any questions that my friends had, and I tried to work out what all this meant for me, but the problem was, I had done all of this way too early. I found myself concerned that everyone was looking down on me now. Nobody ever called me a ‘dirty slut’ for being bisexual (not to my face anyway), but I figured that everyone was dismissing me as one now (full disclaimer: no woman should be judged or demeaned for the amount of sexual partners they have had, I’m just trying to describe how I felt at the tender age of sixteen). Nobody ever laughed at me or called me names, but I figured that they probably were. I didn’t feel comfortable showing affection toward any of my straight female friends, because I didn’t want them to think that I was flirting with them.

People did tell me that they thought I might be faking it, either for attention or to look edgy or different, and there was a part of me that agreed. Because, truth be told, I didn’t know that I wasn’t yet. I knew that I had had crushes on girls, but what if those were just flukes? What if I had just fooled myself into thinking that they were crushes because I wanted to be different?

The best way that I can think to describe it is to say that it was like I had ripped off a scab before the wound had fully healed.

A few years later, when I was eighteen years old and my dating prospects had long since gone up in smoke, I found myself wondering why I was even bothering to be out of the closet. I distinctly remember thinking that it would be better if I just went back to what I called ‘factory settings’; just call myself straight, pretend it was all a phase, and live without the assumptions that society places on bisexual girls for a while.

It was another year or so before I was comfortable coming back out of the closet, and challenging these assumptions by being my awesome, loving, passionate, open-minded, happy bisexual self.

Now, why am I telling this story, you might now be asking yourself? Well, for one, October 11 is National Coming Out Day, and two, I wanted to illustrate, for straight and queer people alike, that coming out of the closet is not always an easy thing, and not just for typical reasons that we hear about. I mean, sure, there are most certainly plenty of queer people, youths and adults alike, who are stuffed into their closets by judgemental parents or a closed-minded community, sure, but in my personal experience, I didn’t have any of that. For the most part, my family and my community were fairly accepting of me. I am privileged enough to say that I didn’t risk being disowned by my parents or thrown out on the streets, and I know not everyone has that same opportunity, but coming out of the closet was still mental torment for me.

One of the things that we don’t seem to talk about very often is the way that our society forces us to internalize certain ideas. Of course, I knew that I wasn’t flirting with my straight female friends (most of them weren’t even my type anyway), but society has sort of given us this image of the queer woman as predator, the queer woman as a threat to straight women, that I was worried I’d be perceived as that. And there was a part of me that knew I wasn’t making up my bisexuality because I knew that I had experienced it, but at the same time, there was a part of me that wasn’t sure because society had told me, time and time again, that bisexuality doesn’t exist, you’re either straight or you’re gay, end of story.

But sometimes, it really doesn’t matter what you know to be true. If society tells you enough times that something is wrong, then it’s always going to feel wrong.

And that was what I hadn’t come to terms with the first time that I came out of the closet: I knew who I was, but I didn’t understand what that meant.

And I know that there are a lot of queer youth out there who feel guilty over still being in the closet. There are some circles who perpetuate this idea that, if you know you are queer and you have not told your friends or family yet, then you are lying to them. But the thing about coming out of the closet is, that’s sort of something you need to be absolutely ready for. And I’m not just talking about being ready situationally. Because you are going to deal with awkward questions from time to time. And you are going to deal with straight people who seem to have never met a queer person before and have no fucking idea what to do with you, even if they’re alright with you in theory. And, worse than that, you are going to deal with internalized assumption about what being queer makes you. Violence notwithstanding, you can deal with almost anything from other people, but only if you are strong enough in yourself and in your own identity that you know when they are wrong.

So if you’re still in the closet, then please, don’t feel any guilt over it. You are not lying to your family or your friends by not telling them that you’re queer. You are protecting yourself. You are giving yourself time to build up confidence, to understand who you are and that the way that society might view you isn’t always correct. There will always be time to come out of the closet when you’re ready (and trust me, you really should; it’s great out here), but there’s no need to rush out there and risk damaging your self-esteem in the process.

Because there is nothing wrong with you. You are brilliant, and you are full of love, and you deserve every chance in the world to give that love to someone amazing. And it is completely understandable if you don’t see that in yourself quite yet, but you should. Give yourself some time, reconsider every negative stereotype that society has placed on you because of your queerness, and then show the world how amazing you truly are.

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.

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.