Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bisexuality and Heterosexual Privilege

Happy Pride Month!  For once I remember an awareness day/week/month ON TIME!  Wooohoo!  Yeah I realize I totally missed SAAM this year :/  I'll try to make up for that somehow.

But anyway!  Back on topic!  Today, folks, we're going to talk about the intersection of biinvisibility and heterosexual privilege*  You see, sometimes bisexuals pose a weirdness to LG safe spaces, because some of us - many of us - are in dual-sex relationships and appear to the world at large as heterosexual.  We are told that in order to participate, we have to acknowledge our straight privilege.  I think with bisexual activism in the 00's this has gotten much better, and we have been much more accepted in the LGBT community, but I still hear it from time to time and every time I feel like I have no place to call home.

It's true; as a bisexual woman in a dual-sex relationship, I tacitly and explicitly receive the benefits of much of straight privilege.  I could marry the person I loved (er, still love, not like that part is in the past), giving me a huge amount of legal privilege.  Because most people assume I am straight, I don't have to face the daily challenges to my sanity that a person in a same-sex relationship faces.  I get it: I understand how when I am bestowed, and/or take advantage of (depending on the situation), straight privilege, I appear as not capable of contributing to safe spaces because I am benefitting from a system that oppresses homosexuals.

But it isn't as simple as receiving and taking advantage of heterosexual privilege: "We don't have to take it, we're given it by default, and we can't give it up -- at least, not all of it."  When I benefit from heterosexual privilege, I am also benefiting from a system that is oppressive to bisexuals, a system that is ultimately oppressive to myself.  In order to receive most of the benefits of heterosexual privilege, we have to be closeted.  In fact, I can't count the number of times that my sexuality has been brushed off because I am in a dual-sex relationship: even when I speak up, even when I make my sexuality blatantly apparent, I am shoved back into the closet without my assent (although usually not without a few perfunctory offensive questions about the nature of my relationship first, of course).  So many people who I've told of my bisexuality manage to deal with it by shoving it aside and pretending I'm straight, because it is easier for them to do so than to deal with their own biphobia and homophobia, because if a bisexual person is in a dual-sex relationship, we're seen as passing for straight**.

This is because of homophobia and biinvisibility: when someone sees a man and a woman in a relationship, it is automatically assumed that both parties are straight, and they are treated as such; conversely, when someone sees two people of the same sex in a relationship, both parties are assumed to be homosexual.  Either way as a bisexual person in a relationship, we're shoved into a box that doesn't fit us, whether we protest or not (and some of us just get tired of protesting, since it doesn't really change the outcome anyway).  This is the definition of biinvisibility: no matter what (or who) we're doing, we're assumed*** to be someone who we're not; our true sexuality is erased and made invisible. For bisexuals in a dual-sex relationship, straight privilege is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, if we are currently in a dual-sex relationship we receive the benefits of straight privilege, but on the other hand we're closeted without our assent. And that privilege is out the door the second we're in a same-sex relationship.  Further, no mater what kind of relationship we're in, same-sex or dual-sex, we are hit with biphobic attacks and biinvisibility from all sides.  This is why it isn't fair to talk about bisexuality in terms of straight privilege: because it is so fucking much more complex than that, and reducing the multifaceted system of oppression that bisexuals live to heterosexuality erases our existence and experience.

I believe this speaks for the need for continued bisexual activism and a formation of a robust bisexual community of its own, with its own safe spaces.   I am truly grateful for allies in the LGBT community and the visibility the LGBT has lent to bisexual oppression, but honey, we bisexuals have to continue to step up and make our voices heard, because only bisexuals can really understand and make visible our unique set of oppressions.

*I seriously need to learn that it's spelled "privilege" not "priviledge".  I always want to spell it how my midwestern accent pronounces it.

**Some bisexuals enjoy and take advantage of passing, but I see that as a further sign of the effect of biphobia on the lives and happiness of bisexuals: in order to be left alone and be happy, we have to play the part of straight, even if it doesn't fit us.  If that's how a bisexual person makes it through this world sane, if that's how s/he survives biphobia and homophobia, I can't get too mad at him/her (after all, it is internalized homophobia and biphobia that creates this internal conflict).  I get mad at the system of heterosexual rule that forces us into that sort of a decision in the first place.

***Remember folks, when you assume, you make an ass of yourself.

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