Navigating Life and Love as a Bisexual Woman
By Madeline Anthony
As I sat down to write this article on destigmatizing bisexuality, I told my coworkers what I’m working on, and that I’m drawing on my personal experience as a bisexual woman.
“But... can you really be bi if you’re not...like...practicing?” asked my coworker Emmett. I roll my eyes. Emmett is a well-meaning, kind, straight dude. He isn’t trying to be malicious with his tone-deaf comment.
“Emmett,” I respond, “That question is exactly why I need to write this article.”
As a feminine, bisexual woman living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I’m not going to act like I’ve endured some rough road to acceptance or that I face ridicule or discrimination because of my sexual orientation regularly.
LGBTQIA+ people have never been so widely accepted and have never had as many rights as they do today. Trans men and women are breaking barriers, finally garnering some of the rights they’ve been denied for centuries. People born in New York City who do not identify as male or female can now opt for a third gender category “X” on their birth certificates. Same sex couples can get married in all fifty states.
However — and that’s a BIG however — these rights are being challenged, now more than ever
However — and that’s a BIG however — these rights are being challenged, now more than ever with President Donald Trump. Homophobia and horrific injustices in the treatment of queer people worldwide remains ever-present, yet there has undeniably been so much progress, even just since I was a baby queer in college four short years ago.
What I am going to do is tell you of my experience as a bisexual woman and let you in on the lives of the bisexual and queer women who undoubtedly surround you.
I love writing about this stuff. I loved speaking to other bisexual and queer women. More than once I found myself in tears because their words just really hit home. Somehow, I thought that I was the only person who felt this way, and now — after talking to over a dozen bisexual women from all over the U.S. — I found myself wondering, how did I ever feel so alone?
I found myself wondering, how did I ever feel so alone?
If you identify as bisexual or queer, I hope you share my feelings after reading. If not, I hope you learn something about your fellow human beings.
What does acceptance really feel like?
The thing is, something being “widely accepted” does not make it easy. It doesn’t mean my sexuality hasn’t made me feel uncomfortable or awkward. That it wasn’t hard to tell my mom when I had a serious girlfriend. That I haven’t felt judged or “other” surrounded by straight friends while simultaneously feeling out of place and not queer enough around lesbian friends.
It’s all happened. I’ve had lesbians at my favorite gay bar in the West Village tell me I look “too straight” to be there.
I could tell my gay friends were psyched when I downloaded “HER” (lesbian Tinder) or went to lez events. Even though they would never admit it, I feel like my lez friends are more supportive of my same-sex relationships then my hetero ones.
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When I’m around straight friends, I’m surprised at how awkward it can feel, telling them about a date I’m going on with a woman — the things that drew me to her — this stuff feels odd to say to them. I don’t want them to think I look at them that way, because I don’t. That’s not how being queer works.
“For me, it’s not knowing whether you should friendzone yourself or pursue a girl when meeting one — being careful not to make a girl you’re crushing on uncomfortable — like how guys always do,” says Rachel Master, a Colorado-based ski instructor.
Caught in the middle of “picking a side”
When I’m dating a woman, I sometimes think about the unique things I love about men, and when I’m with a man, I inevitably miss the specialness of dating a woman. I think about if I was “just” gay, I could stand in my truth knowing that I want to find the right woman. If I was straight, it would be smooooooth sailing.
This dichotomy is hard. Honestly, it can even be heartbreaking. I find myself asking again and again — regardless of my current dating situation — not only is this the right person to be dating, but is this the lifestyle I truly want? Because I’ve been on the other side and it’s fucking awesome.
“In general, it's this feeling of being caught in the middle and having to make a choice that defines who you are forever, which I don't think is necessary or true,” says Linze Rice, founder of Pink House Media, LLC.
“I grew up in a small town and knew that I was bi from a younger age, and when I finally got some freedom I explored and relished it. When I met my husband, I fell absolutely in love with him and knew that's who I wanted to be with. I don't want to be with anyone else, but I also don't want that beautiful, queer part of my heart and personality to die forever, either.”
The gay litmus test: the erasure of bisexuality
For Helen Phelan, a trainer and health coach based in Williamsburg, New York, the biggest challenge is being fully seen. This was the truth I heard again and again from over a dozen gals I spoke with: the erasure of bisexuality.
“I’ve always looked very feminine, and even when I have dated women I got a lot of disbelief about being ‘really’ into it, which was insulting. Now that I have been dating and living with a man for nearly four years, I’m completely discounted from the LGBTQ community,” says Helen.
She recalls women rolling their eyes that she wasn’t “queer enough” to take seriously and disrespectful guys assuming her sexuality was nothing more than an open invite for a threesome.
Bi women are often hyper-sexualized.
This didn’t surprise me. Bi women are often hyper-sexualized. The number of times men have given me a creepy lusty look when my queerness comes up and the number of couples on dating apps expecting you to jump in bed with them when they see the rainbow in my bio is so demoralizing.
“[Being queer or bi] is very much a part of who I am, even if I happen to be in love with a man,” Helen continued.
I started to tear up. It feels like such an obvious statement, but it’s one I — and so many others like me — desperately needed to hear. I know this is true; being bi is still very much my truth despite dating a man. Yet having someone else express the words I feel so deeply within myself struck me in a way I wasn’t quite prepared for — and it hit me:
Erasing someone’s identity just because they’re not currently in a “queer” relationship also erases the very real love they had with people of the same sex. It erases part of their past, dismisses their potential future and invalidates them for who they are in the present. It’s the biggest disservice you can do to a bi or queer loved one.
“I feel like being a person who is interested in the person themselves rather than a specific sex organ isn’t really credited with being part of any community at all and that can be isolating — especially during Pride celebrations. Not to mention the obvious societal prejudices against any type of queerness — being bisexual is kind of a lose-lose in that sense, which is sad because on paper it should mean I just have even more opportunities to find a loving relationship, not less,” said Helen.
PREACH girl, PREACH.
Bi girl living in a straight cis person’s world
Milo Rusnak, a zero waste blogger, shares this feeling of erasure.
“People write-off my identity if I date a man. Sometimes other queer people act like I need to date someone who is genderqueer or a woman in order to ‘count.’ If I happen to fall for a straight man, then I'm not queer enough,” she said.
Linze Rice agrees. “I am proud to be bi, but I feel like I mostly have to live in the straight world because of my relationship — which can be challenging because I also have many gay, lesbian and queer friends, and usually it leaves me kind of culturally feeling left out.”
This experience is isolating.
“One thing I do to compensate — which I actually feel ends up overcompensating — is playing up my queerness, and it just ends up making me feel fake, or like I'm forcing it. But really, I just want to be seen and acknowledged by my people,” she said.
The "B" In LGBTQIA+ Is Real
People are hesitant to believe in the validity of bisexuality. “Even I have been guilty of this,” says Rice. “Being hesitant to believe someone was bi because I saw ‘no evidence’ of it. Then I realized, if someone tells me they're gay or trans, I always believe it right away. So the struggle does get internalized.”
So, for the record: The "B" in LGBTQIA+ is real, is valid and demands to be more visible. Bi people exist. Let’s reclaim our identity.
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Madeline Anthony is a former journalist for the United Nations, an editor at Audible and a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check out her work on the Public Goods Blog.