The vast majority of the prejudice and hatred bisexuals face is from the dominant culture and it’s precisely because of the ways we violate the heteronormative. In fact, it’s not just because of our same-gender desires. There’s more.
Straight men who are homophobic, a significant set of homophobes and the set most likely to commit violence due to that homophobia, often find themselves in the position of having to assert their straightness. While this has been interpreted by a lot of people as “The salient syllables in homophobe are the first two”, it’s actually irrelevant to my argument why any particular straight-identified man would have a problem with queer men. It suffices that some do, and that for those men, an openly bisexual man may in some cases be more disturbing to them than an openly gay man.
First, the male side of the story. (And this will be a little more in depth than the section on the female side, for the simple reason that as a cismale, any information I have about the female bisexual experience is secondhand. I can report what I have seen, but not how it feels. Let me know if I get anything horribly wrong, please.)
In a male-oriented monosexual schema, where Straight is Straight and Gay is Gay, the two states of attraction are mutually exclusive. Gay/not Gay. And Gay=Like A Woman.
It’s been established by a lot of people that for the androcentric dominant culture, the worst thing you can be is a woman (see this post and Chuck Derry’s work) . And one of the essential qualities of Woman, in these backward and hateful people’s minds, is to be sexually penetrated.
Always the penetrated, never the penetrator.
So if you listen to these men, when they start getting wound up and the spittle flies from the corners of their mouth, you hear the same thing over and over – a horror of being penetrated. They get so worked up about the idea that anyone other than a woman could possible enjoy being penetrated (and almost always when I’ve listened to the loudest and most freaked out, it’s penetrative anal they are freaking out about) that they have to prove they’re The Penetrator (coming soon from AC Comics, I presume).
And part of proving that you are Manly Straight Guy is to be “into chicks”. Whether it’s wolf whistles and catcalls or surreptitious looks (justified by “Hey, I’m a guy, we all look, it’s no big deal”) that objectify specific feminine attributes, it comes down to this:
Because heterosexuality and homosexuality are presumed to be mutually exclusive opposites, if you are one of these guys whose masculinity is so fragile that the merest whiff of teh gay makes you subhuman, you interpret your attraction to women to be not only an attraction to women, but proof that you are No Homo.
And this is one reason why, among men, bisexuality is so threatening. Because we disrupt the binary. Since we don’t fit into a mutually exclusive gay/straight black/white this/that framework, we are unclassifiable without the addition or invention of another category.
But, more importantly, our very existence makes it impossible for anyone to fit neatly into a bifurcated system of irreconcilable and mutually exclusive opposites, because bisexuals prove that such a system does not even have any grounding in reality, any independent existence. The simplest (and still ridiculously inadequate) way to even begin to approximate human sexuality is a spectrum, although something like a 4- or 5-dimensional Venn diagram probably comes closer.
Now in these more enlightened days (and I don’t even have to go back to before Stonewall to see a time when institutionalized heterosexism was clearly in the majority, I merely have to go back to the mid 1980s when I was first becoming aware of my sexuality) there’s a lot more acceptance of Gay. But for many people, that acceptance of Gay (which is more tolerance than true acceptance, see this post for why I find “tolerance” to be problematic) is predicated on gay people being exactly like straight people except for one trivial difference. One little thing that’s really not a big deal.
One of the characteristics that makes the suburban lesbian or gay couple in their ranch-style house with the white picket fence acceptable is monosexuality – that this couple, which has to be more stable than the typical straight couple in order to gain legitimacy, has attractions to only the gender that’s considered acceptable for them. Monosexual people are able to get their heads around the notion that attraction to women is acceptable for lesbian women, especially if one of them is sufficiently butch and the other sufficiently lipstick for their neighbors to decide they know “which one is the man”. (Aside: A friend of mine in a recent conversation about the butch-femme dynamic quipped “the saying goes that if two butch lesbians kiss, a flannel gets its stripes” in order to highlight the perception that even in same-sex relationships, gender roles are assumed to rigidly adhere to societal normatives.)
Of course, if one or both of the women in this couple is bisexual? If they are monogamous, their bisexuality is erased because people assume the gender of your partner determines your orientation; if they are visibly polyamorous across gender lines then they’re “not really lesbians” and might get “turned straight” at some point. Because they’re not a real couple, they’re just a couple of sluts. Facepalm.
Briefly, and based on my discussions with women, female bisexuality is not as threatening in the same ways. I don’t have any real data on this, just a couple theories which I’ll touch on fast and then leave hanging for discussion or a future article – 1) the type of men who are the most threatened by male bisexuality are the same types who think that F/F sex is just a performance for their benefit; 2) most of the women that I have seen get seriously threatened over female bisexuality are Sheila Jeffreys types, which is a splinter group that doesn’t adequately represent the population of female-identified persons.
So, the biggest problem faced by bisexuals is fear, hatred, and loathing by homophobic, heterosexist, and heteronormative attitudes in the dominant culture. That is not a point that’s in dispute. But that doesn’t make it unimportant to take on biphobia in queer spaces. It makes it more important than ever, because it’s a division in our community that’s hurting everyone Under The Rainbow.