Standing ‘Bi’ the Sidelines: On Not Feeling ‘Queer Enough’ 

“Monosexuality is a heterosexist dictate used to oppress homosexuals and to negate the validity of bisexuality… We are angered by those who refuse to accept our existence; our issues; our contributions; our alliances; our voice. It is time for the bisexual voice to be heard”

The Bisexual Manifesto, 1990

As a bisexual woman, I occupy a shadowy liminal space in a heterosexist society. In public, when people assume I am attracted to men, they are not completely wrong. I can choose to stow away my queerness and ‘pass’ as straight in these circles, all the while shrouding more silence and shame around an important facet of my identity. Alternatively, I can smile wanly at the inevitable “you don’t look bisexual though” after I come out.

At the same time, in queer spaces, I begin to feel like an imposter and I try to shrink myself. Can a cis-woman who has only ever been in serious relationships with cis-men lay any claim to queerness? Is my voice worth hearing at all, or do I hide it behind my privilege? In an attempt to find answers, I spoke to other bisexual women within my age group.

My experience with dating is not uncommon among the bisexual community. More than 80% of us find ourselves in seemingly ‘heterosexual’ relationships, dating cis-men or women, in spite of our attraction to cis persons of the same gender, trans and non-binary individuals. This is partially because persons with fluid sexualities are likely to veer towards a more socially acceptable path after having heterosexuality foisted upon them all their lives. But it is also because of simple statistical odds, given that it is just easier to find a heterosexual partner.

The bisexual community faces some unique struggles that are often pushed into the shadows along with our identities. There are widespread misconceptions about bisexuality as an ‘inauthentic’ transitory stage on the pathway to ‘true queerness’, which is being either lesbian or gay. Bisexual individuals face specific forms of marginalisation, as they experience prejudice within mainstream society, as well as within lesbian and gay subculture.

Shakuntala, 24, who identifies as bisexual, spoke of the erasure of bi-identities within the queer community: “I think being bisexual comes with sometimes having your sexuality being denied by a lot of people from the community. For example, I’ve had friends on dating apps whose sexuality has been dismissed by someone, who might say for example identify as a lesbian. That’s definitely there.”

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This constant erasure can result in bisexual individuals feeling uncertain in their experience of attraction to their own, or other genders. They may feel the pressure to consistently maintain their identity in public. It is almost like one has to constantly prove themselves to be ‘queer enough’. The stress and invisibility might explain why studies done on mental health and the queer community have shown that bisexual individuals exhibit higher rates of depression and even poorer mental health outcomes as compared with their gay and lesbian counterparts.

One of my primary reasons for delving into bi culture, is because bisexual narratives are startlingly scarce, despite the fact that there are so many of us. According to studies done at the Williams Institute, bisexuals make up the largest sub-group within the queer community.

Why then, is there so much silence within our subculture, even in the post-377 era? Some of this silence could be linked to a feeling of being privileged in comparison with other members of the queer community.

Durga, who is 23 and identifies as bisexual has said, “I think the privilege a bisexual person would experience would be when they are in a heterosexual relationship because then they are passing as straight. They would not face the same level of oppression as every other queer person. You know, they’d be open to criticism if they were like in non-heterosexual relationship, so that’s the privilege.”

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There are arguments made that bisexual individuals have ‘Straight Passing Privilege’ as compared to a gay, lesbian, trans or non-binary person. This means that often, bisexual people are accorded the same rights and privileges as heterosexual individuals, particularly if they are in a relationship with a cis person of the ‘opposite’ gender.

Many members of the bi community, including myself, agree.

However, there are also valid counter-arguments made by other bisexual individuals, stating that the being invisible is not a privilege, and that the pressure that comes with constantly having to correct people’s erroneous assumptions about one’s sexuality is exhausting and damaging. Being seen as exclusively straight or exclusively gay means that unique concerns faced by bisexual individuals are often overlooked. This also results in the creation of arbitrary boundaries between ‘queerness’ and ‘straightness’, disregarding the fluid nature of sexuality.

During discourse about the queer community, it is important to hear and amplify voices from the standpoint of marginalised individuals. This is why Kamla, 22, said, “I feel like I have a lot more privilege, than say, a trans-person or a lesbian woman.”

Some forms of oppression are more critical than others and queer lived realities are complex and not monolithic. I claim no absolute, definitive knowledge of what it means to be queer or even, for that matter, what it means to be bisexual. I am far too privileged, and I have far too much to learn.

What I do know though, is that just for a few minutes, while immersed in the literature, history and voices of persons from my community, it felt like I was stepping out from the shadows.

Farah Maneckshaw is studying Applied Psychology (Clinical) at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Featured image credit: Jordan McDonald/ Unsplash