OutCasting Overtime: OutCasting Overtime 2018-01 - Is bisexuality queer enough for the LGBTQ community?

LUCY: This is OutCasting Overtime, a special feature from OutCasting, public radios LGBTQ youth program. OutCasting is heard online at outcasting media dot org, on iTunes, and on more than 50 public radio stations affiliated with the Pacifica Radio Network. Hi, Im Lucy, a youth participant in OutCastings bureau at Michigan State University. On this edition, OutCast er Samantha talks about not feeling queer enough for the LGBTQ community because of her bisexual identity.

SAMANTHA: I have never felt queer enough. As a bisexual woman, my sexuality is often disregarded as a phase, a stepping stone on the way to becoming a full-blown lesbian. For years I thought that my feelings for men invalidated my feelings for women. I thought that I had to choose, gay or straight, and ignore any desires that went against my choice. But thats not how it works. I dont have a say in whom I am attracted to or whom I fall in love with. Choosing to focus on my attraction to one gender will not erase my feelings for another. But the wider queer community often misunderstands or dismisses bisexuality entirely, making me feel as though I have to repress part of my identity in order to be accepted by my own community.

In the 1940s Alfred Kinsey developed the Kinsey Scale, a seven-point sexuality rating that ranges from zero, exclusively heterosexual, to six, exclusively homosexual. He helped to foster the popular notion, still embraced by the queer community today, that sexuality is a spectrum. However, many people, both within and outside of the LGBTQ community, use the Kinsey Scale as a sort of queer litmus test.

Technically speaking, anyone who identifies between one and five, indicating some attraction to more than one gender, could label themselves as bisexual. Yet the idea still persists that those who identify as perfect threes, and experience equal attraction to men and women, are the only true bisexuals, even though this is not a universal or common experience among bisexuals. This is why I do not feel queer enough. Its a feeling of being isolated and untethered, of being too queer for the straight world, but not queer enough for the LGBTQ community. In fact, I dont even feel bi enough if I cant label myself as a three on the Kinsey Scale.

So where does this leave bisexual people? If we are always forced to quantify our queerness, will we ever feel like we belong to a community? The B in LGBTQ signifies that bisexual people are part of the queer community, but asking us to pick and choose parts of our identity to constantly prove that were queer, that we exist, can make us feel like outsiders. I have often felt embarrassed sitting in classes surrounded by my openly queer peers who have been out since middle school, while I, a grown woman, am still partially closeted, despite knowing how important it is to be out and visible, especially for bisexual people. In fact, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, bisexuals are much less likely than gay men or lesbians to have come out to the important people in their life. While 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians are out to all or most of the important people in their life, only 28 percent of bisexuals are. There are many reasons people may choose to remain closeted, but the stigma surrounding bisexuality makes it particularly difficult to come out, especially when support from the queer community is tenuous. Many gay and lesbian people feel as though bisexuality invalidates homosexuality, because it makes sexuality look like a choice. When bisexual people are conceptualized as 50 percent straight and 50 percent queer, it invalidates our position within the LGBTQ community. People say that we need to pick a side, that we shouldnt be in queer spaces if were not in a same-sex relationship, that we should be grateful to have straight-passing privilege, when in fact neither the straight nor the queer community is seeing us as whole people. Being erased is not a privilege. It doesnt feel good to pretend you fit in with the straight world, knowing people dont see you in your entirety, but its even worse to think that if youre honest, the queer community may not have your back either.

The wider queer community also participates in perpetuating stereotypes about bisexuals, claiming they are promiscuous or incapable of monogamy. This leads to problematic popular representations of bisexuality. For example, Transparent, an Amazon Prime television show marketed toward the LGBTQ community, portrayed its only self-identified bisexual character as a polyamorous sex addict whose only plot function is to complicate a heterosexual couples relationship by having threesomes with them. Also, celebrities who act as de facto spokespeople for the LGBTQ community perpetuate negative images of bisexuality. One of these celebrities is Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda Hobbes on Sex and the City. She openly denies her bisexuality because she doesnt like the term and is currently in a same-sex relationship, even though she still claims to be attracted to both men and women. Defining your sexuality is a personal matter, of course, but when the term bisexual is rooted in stigma, people are hesitant to proudly claim it.
The LGBTQ community tends to view bisexual people through a monosexual lens, conceptualizing us as straight when were with people of the opposite sex and queer when were with people of the same sex. This misunderstanding of bisexuality makes me worried that if I marry a man one day I will lose the support of the queer community entirely, because they would only see a heterosexual relationship, not my queer identity. Regardless of whom I end up with long-term, I will always be bisexual.

Yet, the queer community often puts pressure on bisexuals to prove their sexuality, wanting us to recount our personal sexual history, how many men weve been with and how many women, before they believe that were bisexual. Not only is this practice invasive, but it reduces bisexual people down to a number yet again.

I desperately want to be a part of the LGBTQ community because I feel the most like myself when Im around other queer people. I dont want to be isolated any longer, drifting somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey Scale, but never landing in a full-fledged community. I want to belong so much that Ive even had a hard time writing this piece, because Im worried that Ill never be fully accepted in the queer community if I critique it for often excluding bisexual people. Im still learning to accept myself and see my sexuality as valid and worthy of being a part of the wider queer community. But its up to the LGBTQ community to create an environment that is supportive of bisexual people and conducive to their coming out. I cannot speak for all bisexuals, but from my perspective, being a part of the LGBTQ community allows us to be ourselves in a way we cant be elsewhere. It allows us to embrace our identities instead of running away from them. Most importantly, it allows us to feel a little less alone. But I wont subject myself to queer litmus tests and never-ending skepticism of my identity in order to be included in a community that markets itself as welcoming, while putting conditions on my sexuality. I do not have to quantify my queerness for anybody, including myself. I am bisexual and that is enough.

LUCY: Thanks for listening to OutCasting Overtime, a special feature from OutCasting, public radios LGBTQ youth program. OutCasting is heard online at OutCasting Media.org, on iTunes, and on more than 50 public radio stations around the country. OutCasting Overtime is a production of Media for the Public Good, a nonprofit organization. Visit us at outcastingmedia.org to get information about OutCasting, make your tax-deductible donation, watch OutCasting videos, access our social media links, and listen to OutCasting and OutCasting Overtime. Our Michigan State University faculty advisors are Mark Waddell and Geri Alumit Zeldes, and our executive producer is Marc Sophos. Special thanks to WKAR Radio at Michigan State University for help in making this recording. Thanks... and thanks for listening.


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