Texan Millennials Take on Your Questions
By Noelle Mandell, Hank Kersten, and Kaitlyn Lamb
From a young age individuals are conditioned to understand sexuality as a dichotomy, which can be problematic, especially for bisexual youth. We’re often told that sexual orientations are supposed to fit into one of two boxes, heterosexual or homosexual. This raises a plethora of issues for many young people trying to better understand who they are. It causes frustration for those of us who feel attracted to the same sex as well as the opposite sex, then fall back on incorrect understandings that we’ve been taught. It leads to internal conflict when we feel one way but are told that those feelings are invalid.
Bisexuals face aversion both inside and outside the LGBT community. Yes, not only are we questioned and alienated from the heterosexual realm, we are also excluded from queer circles despite comprising over half of the LGBT population. Biphobia is something we face on a regular basis, from our queer peers and heterosexual counterparts alike. At any given moment we’re told that we’re “confused,” “experimenting,” or “hiding our real orientation.” Not only are we told we don’t exist, but if we are acknowledged, we’re seen as greedy and promiscuous. We’re propositioned for threesomes and asked if we miss particular genitalia, and if we’re seen in one type of relationship, we’re asked if we’ve now decided to be heterosexual, or homosexual.
Not only do we face our identities being questioned and struggle with coming to terms with our sexuality on our own (which is more difficult because of cultural stigmas and misunderstandings), our community also suffers from high levels of violence, economic insecurity, poor heath and rampant employee discrimination. Depression, anxiety, and stress riddle the community, specifically of bisexual women, due to their facing social stigmas and exclusion, which helps explain their high use of marijuana as a coping mechanism.
Complacency or indifference to this issue perpetuates the problem. When the plights and issues that the bisexual community face are ignored, it contributes to the ongoing societal problem and lack of acknowledgment of an entire demographic of individuals who have real preferences and have a legitimate sexual orientation. In order to bring these issues to the forefront, a group of bisexual millennials came together for Celebrate Bisexuality Day to shed light on what it means to be a bisexual, and what it’s like to live in society as a bisexual. No matter what community you’re a part of, and however you self-identify, we hope this helps you better understand bisexuality, and that it advances the social change we so ardently need.
- What are some common misconceptions that you have come across or have been faced with?
Noelle: I am sure I have encountered all of the same types of misconceptions that many other members of the bi community have such as comments like “Oh, you’re a lesbian now?”, but most recently my girlfriend and I were quizzed on our relationship and sexual history while we were celebrating a friend’s birthday. The more drinks our friend’s brother-in-law had, the more intrusive his questions got. He couldn’t believe we were happy or that I was content in a same-sex relationship and was in disbelief that I wanted kids when I’m older regardless of the gender of my partner. He was puzzled by the whole bisexual thing, and because I was in a relationship with a girl was insistent that I had to miss being with a man. Finally, he asserted that because I was bisexual that I had to be interested in introducing him into our relationship for the evening… well quite the contrary.
Kaitlyn: I could never manage to stomach having a profile on a dating site for more than a couple weeks at most, because of the kinds of messages I would get. I kept getting unsolicited propositions for threesomes…within the first message! Oddly enough, though, I don’t just experience this with online interactions. Even in person, whenever someone learns that I’m bi, the inevitable follow-up is, “That’s hot. Wanna have a threesome?” So let me set the record straight (so to speak): I AM NOT INTERESTED IN HAVING A THREESOME WITH YOU. Stop asking already.
Hank: As someone who is a bisexual man, many people (especially gay men) like to assume that I am really a homosexual who just isn’t “comfortable enough to come out as gay yet,” when in actuality, that could not be further from the truth. I am a proud and happy bisexual, who is really, actually, 100% attracted to both men and women. Being bisexual is really odd, though, because I just don’t meet a lot of other guys who also identify as bisexual. I actually have a few friends who identify themselves as gay, but turn around and remark that they would have sex with women. It’s tragic.
- What does biphobia mean to you on a personal level/ How have you experienced biphobia?
Noelle: Once I came out, being an individual that identifies as a bisexual has been a privilege in my mind. I love having a sexual orientation that enables me to be attracted to and love anyone regardless of their gender. But with that comes a set of biases from both inside and outside of the LGBTQ community. Right from the beginning the questions about my orientation were the prime example of biphobia: “Are you sure?” “How do you know?” It’s as silly as asking a straight or gay person that same question, except people think it’s acceptable to do this to someone who is bisexual.
Kaitlyn: To me, biphobia encompasses a lot of things. It includes not only rejection /invalidation from society and even family, but also the self-denial of one’s identity. Growing up a fundamentalist Christian meant that homosexuality of any kind was not an option. It was something considered to be a choice and an unnatural/dirty practice. As a pre-teen, realizing you are attracted to the same sex after being taught that it was a sin, you would naturally feel guilty and ashamed. To know that not only could you not speak to anyone about it, but you also couldn’t admit it to yourself, that was hard. Even after escaping that environment, it still took me a few years to accept that part of myself. So, to me, biphobia also includes fear to be oneself.
Hank: Biphobia, just like homophobia and transphobia, doesn’t necessarily have to manifest itself as hate or violence. A lot of the biphobia that bisexual people face comes from people not understanding that it is a valid sexual orientation. The best example I have of this comes from my therapist that I was seeing throughout most of my high school career. Over the course of three years, I made a lot of progress in my struggle with depression and social anxiety, but one thing she never progressed in understanding was that I am bisexual. I had mentioned it a fair amount of times in our meetings, and yet, in one of our last sessions together before I moved to college, she mentioned how she hoped I could gain a better understanding of my own sexual orientation. Of course, I immediately rebutted that I am, in fact, bisexual and not at all confused or concerned about it. She simply moved on to the next topic, but I will always be baffled by her inability to grasp bisexuality as a concept.
- Have you ever had any difficulty in a relationship because of your bisexuality?
Noelle: Luckily, since I’ve been out, I haven’t faced any problems in dating or relationships that were due to my orientation. I’ve dated straight boys as well as bisexual girls, and now I’m in a wonderful relationship with a confident lesbian woman who isn’t threatened by my orientation in the least bit; I actually think she likes it. My guess is that bisexuals who face issues in their relationships due to their sexuality can be attributed to an insecure partner.
Kaitlyn: I wouldn’t say I’ve had difficulties with this. I do get confused, though when the guy I’m dating will tell me that they wouldn’t consider it cheating if I were to sleep with another girl. I don’t understand that at all. You’d be surprised how often I hear people say it, though.
Hank: I haven’t had any trouble in the past with this issue. All the people I’ve dated have been bisexual women, and I think that actually made the relationship just a little bit more fun. It was kind of like a bonding experience to be able to people-watch and talk about all the cute people around us or comment on attractive actors we saw in TV shows and movies.
- What does your family think of the fact that you identify as bisexual?
Noelle: I am the literal luckiest when it comes to my family. They are the most loving and accepting bunch that anyone could ever ask for. I have wondered to myself why it took me so long to come out to them (I came out to a small group of friends about 6 months before I came out to my fam.) I never wanted to disappoint my parents in anyway, and until I came to terms with my sexuality (I have dealt with internalized homophobia and biphobia myself) I didn’t want to proclaim such a ground-breaking thing. But when I told them, everyone just went on with their life and they love the girl I’m with now.
Kaitlyn: After coming out to my family that are not fundamentalist Christians, I have faced some unexpected (and not entirely pleasant) viewpoints. I’ve been told that while it’s okay to experiment while in college, that bringing a girl home would make them uncomfortable. They tell me they are relieved whenever they hear I’m dating a guy, because they want the “traditional family” for me. My thought is, who gets to decide what constitutes a “traditional” family? And why does it have to be pushed on me? Doesn’t what I want matter? They claim to be supportive, but I don’t consider any of that to be supportive. Nor is it acceptance. It is tolerance. Those are very different concepts. I see tolerance as hurtful and invalidating. We’re working on it little by little. It’s a slow process.
Hank: My mom was okay with my orientation, but after I came out (which happened in late middle school), I was barely able to sleep over at my friends’ houses, because she thought that since I was attracted to “everyone,” I could potentially be having sex with anybody at these apparently sex-ridden teenage sleepovers. If I wanted to go over to a friend’s house for the night, their parents had to talk to my mom, and she always made sure that I would be sleeping in a completely different room than my friend. How fun! My dad was of the opinion that you were either straight or gay, and nothing else existed. He has since come around and we have a very close bond, but it was really difficult to find the courage to talk to him about these issues early on in my coming out process. I still haven’t come out to my extended family.
- What are your thoughts about the bi-erasure that is ever present in mainstream media, even in progressive shows like Orange is the New Black?
Noelle: I think bi-erasure in the media is insane. It would do society good to have more bisexual characters in shows; everyone is missing out. I love OITNB as much as the next queer girl, but would love to see some more validation of bisexuality on the show and throughout its character portrayals.
Kaitlyn: Bi-erasure in the media definitely perpetuates the social exclusion bisexuals experience. For some reason we’re pressured to conform to the binary, because people have this strange obsession with labeling everyone. Like everyone has to go into a category. What they need to realize is that not everyone fits into these neat little boxes, nor do most of us care to. Yet, by ignoring that a certain group of non-binary individuals exist, we’re only hindering progress.
Hank: I think it’s hilarious, in an angering sort of way, that so many modern TV shows will have characters who are (usually) presented as sexually liberated women who just “love interesting people” or think that “everybody is beautiful,” yet they can never ever say the word “BISEXUAL!” It frustrates me so much that the very obviously bisexual Piper Chapman, as well as the often overlooked Lorna Morello, are never verbally described as such, especially when the show features so many other queer characters.
- Do you personally feel like you belong in the LGBTQ+ community? Have you ever felt like you weren’t welcome or that you were specifically being excluded for being bisexual?
Noelle: I definitely feel like I belong in the LGBTQ community and I’ll fight alongside every member of the GSM community for equality and liberation, even if they just think I’m going through a phase, haha. I don’t know if I think it would be fair to say I have been excluded because I feel like that supposes that it was intentional and I give a little more leeway than I probably should, generally. But I do feel as though I have been in queer spaces where I wasn’t welcomed or accepted because my aesthetic didn’t immediately make me stand out (or fit in) as a queer woman. I think this can be attributed to a larger societal problem about gender presentation, but as someone who is basically a blue jean femme, I am not immediately identifiable based on common characteristics that are “stereotypical” to queer women. I think that this plays into part of the invisibility for me though, personally. It’s a predicament to be a member of a marginalized group inside a marginalized group… and I have that in the queer community on two different fronts, as well as the resentment that comes with it for “passing as straight.”
Kaitlyn: I don’t think I’ve ever truly felt like I was a part of the LGBTQ community. I mean, I know I technically should, being that bisexual is included in the acronym, but I just don’t feel like I’m part of a community. Part of that is my own past experience in coming to terms with my identity. Another thing is there is still a social stigma of sorts associated with bisexuals present in both the LGBTQ community and society in general.
Hank: This is an interesting question for me to answer. While I always identified as queer and knew I belonged under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, I just never felt like part of a community. However, I recently went to Dallas Pride 2015, and it was incredible. It was the first pride event that I had ever been to, and it was there that I first felt like I was actually a part of a community, and not just part of a set of labels. I highly recommend to anybody who identifies as queer to attend at least one major pride event in their life!
- Have you ever had any friends and/or peers treat you differently after they have learned about your bisexuality?
Noelle: I have luckily not had friends who were closeted bigots who came out of the woodwork when I came out, however I have had a number of female [straight] friends/acquaintances become increasingly flirtatious with me since finding out that I was bisexual… so much so that it’s notable, but nothing that I haven’t been able to navigate or pretend like I didn’t realize. There was only one or two “I knew its,” which I absolutely can’t stand and could rant about how problematic those statements are for awhile.
Kaitlyn: Thankfully, I was already in a college setting around more open-minded individuals when I came out. That made it a lot easier to find other people who were perfectly fine with me being bi; actually, quite a few of them are bisexual as well. I really am fortunate to have such great friends that are so supportive and understanding. Sometimes I’ll go to gay bars with my straight friends. Good times all around. I highly recommend it to everyone.
Hank: This is where I have been the most fortunate in my life. I don’t know how I manage to do it, but any time I’ve come out to my friends, in high school and even in college, they have been super supportive and understanding. Sometimes I’m still surprised by the level acceptance I’ve been granted from the people I have grown to love.