Just a few weeks ago, somebody told me I was in a straight relationship.
I was discussing my expertise in queer issues with a professor in the market for a teaching assistant. By this point in the conversation, I’d mentioned my own queerness and my decade of both official and unofficial academic study in issues surrounding gender and sexuality. I then offhandedly mentioned my partner, and referred to him using masculine pronouns.
She quickly interrupted me with a blunt, almost disappointed statement:
“Oh, so you’re in a straight relationship.”
The way she said it seemed to undermine every ounce of authority I’d claimed up to that point. As though being a woman dating a man (not that she had any reason to think my partner was cis-gendered) made both my personal queer experiences and years of study on a wide variety of queer subjects irrelevant.
I came out as bisexual when I was sixteen. As a white woman from a liberal urban area, I received barely a ripple of a response. In retrospect, I know how incredibly lucky I’ve been, to largely avoid the isolation, judgement, and discrimination that so many bisexuals, especially bi people of color, endure while coming out.
That silence, however, rather than warm and welcoming, indicated something else: that my peers and family didn’t take the announcement very seriously.
To this day, it is still taken for granted that I will end up with a man and have children. I’ve been told both explicitly and implicitly that my bisexuality is something I fake to get attention. Men fetishize my orientation as though it is a tool they might wield to play out their own fantasies. And just as disheartening is the same dismissiveness I receive from the queer community itself.
I’m not indifferent to why, either. You see, I get to pass. The binding ingredient in so many queer stories, of pretending and hiding and fearing for one’s safety, of being unable to live and love comfortably, is something bi and pan cis-gendered people don’t necessarily have to endure. That kind of privilege creates a very real tension within the queer community. I could marry a man and have children and traipse through my life acting completely straight, and still have a fulfilling relationship.
But even in that scenario, part of me would always be invisible.
Our experiences are not the same, but they are equally valid.
Bisexual Erasure is a symptom of an image-obsessed society, which categorizes people solely based on visual cues, regardless of
their actual experiences. Anything that is not immediately apparent ceases to exist. Disabilities, mental illnesses, trauma, gender identity, ethnicity . . . so much of ourselves is invisible at first glance. And whether we talk about it or not, that erasure hurts. Your atheism is not lessened by your partner’s Catholicism. Your childhood in the Philippines doesn’t evaporate because you and your partner settle in France . My bisexuality – and my expertise in sexuality and gender studies – remains a part of me no matter who I am dating. People, and relationships, are deep chasms of complexity and contradiction, largely unknowable to an outside party.
And regardless, any relationship that contains a queer person Is a Queer Relationship. My partner and I often joke that we are “The definition of bi/pan solidarity” (Bisexuality and Pansexuality being similar but not entirely synonymous terms, representing an attraction to more than one gender). We are both polyamorous, kinky sex educators. We celebrate Pride together and commiserate about our doomed queer crushes and debate which Schitt’s Creek character is the cutest.
But even if none of that were the case, I would still be bisexual.
My point — since I should probably get around to making one of those — is that there has to be room for nuance in the way we define ourselves and others. Just because someone doesn’t fit within your perception of an identity doesn’t make that identity any less real, and we should never judge others for the way that they love, or who they choose to bind their lives to. Our relationships, after all, are only a small fraction in the equation of Who We Are.