In last term’s piece on bisexuality I covered the two-fold frustrations that the bi community often endure: either our sexuality isn’t taken seriously, or we are hypersexualised; either we’re ‘actually just gay’, or ‘not gay enough’ to qualify for a place within the LGBTQ+ community. The way biphobia manifests is also twofold – at least in my own experience as a bisexual cis woman. The two-pronged internal attacks I grapple with on the day-to-day can be summarised as:
1) a resentment of my attraction to men
2) paranoia that my attraction to women is somehow predatory.
Both hinder my ability to feel 100% comfortable in my sexuality – but the former is far more normalised (and kind of encouraged?) than the latter.
Anyone who has strayed onto bi-TikTok (regardless of whether you identify as such) will be familiar with the trend where (presumably) bisexual women would show a side-by-side comparison their attraction to women versus men – the former would be all heart-eyes and awkward giggles (of course!), but the latter would be retching and agonised screams. Now, I’m not here to dispute the ‘men are trash’ mantra our generation has adopted with such a well-founded ferocity. BUT seeing these kinds of TikToks – and memes – again and again, as a bisexual woman, eventually led me into resenting what remains to be a core part of my sexuality (no matter how trash men might be). I felt a pressure, from within the bi-community itself, to prefix my attraction to men with an ‘unfortunately’. This pressure to renounce men (and thus ignore a pretty important component of bisexuality) comes from the brand of biphobia that decries bi-women as ‘JUST CONFUSED STRAIGHT GIRLS’. Beyond the ‘good humour’ of it all, demonising our attraction to men whilst romanticising our attraction to women creates a polarisation which enhances queerness and downplays opposite-sex attraction. It reaffirms our right to exist within the LGBTQ+ community – something which shouldn’t need validation.
This is not to say that bi-women with a preference for same-sex relationships don’t exist; for many bi-women, men aren’t so intrinsic to their sexuality – but that’s not to say they’re not important at all. On the other hand, for bi-women who do experience attraction to men more so than they do to women, this kind of discourse can be very invalidating. And, as someone who’s newly out, seeing attraction to men vilified to this extent hasn’t made figuring out the nuances of my bisexuality any easier.
I’m not saying we can’t – or shouldn’t – ever say ‘men are trash’, but I am asking that bi-women everywhere be allowed to feel their attraction to men without the guilt, or resentment, or disgust that I so often see on social media. Trash as men might be, I still fancy them – and I’m not going to apologise for it.
Now, the other issue: how to flirt with women without feeling like the crusty old man who leers at women in the street. This is another feeling which I’ve seen conceptualised in various sapphic memes across social media. It is by no means limited to bi-women; this issue is shared by many wlw. I’ve seen and heard many queer women lament their inability to flirt with women. Is this because we’re so used to the heteronormative narrative in which women are to be the passive recipients of flirting, that we simply don’t know how in the absence of male prompts? Or because we’re terrified of the idea of becoming the greasy, sleazy man whose unasked-for flirtation reeks of stale breath and desperation? For me, it’s definitely the latter (I consider myself better at flirting than the average man). But it is so hard to let go of the worry that you might make a woman feel the way a gross man once made you feel.
It’s sad to think we have grown up in a world that objectifies women to the extent that this hypersexualisation looms darkly over many queer women’s interactions with other women. I’ve felt the strange pangs of guilt for ‘looking at her that way’ – but what way? I don’t honestly believe that women look at women the same (unsavoury) way men look at women – no amount of social conditioning could possibly equate the two. I’ve never once in my life felt uncomfortable by the way a woman has looked at or admired me. Obviously, I cannot speak on behalf of all women, but I will provide my testimony if it means queer women can stop feeling like they can’t fully express their sexuality (and have fun with it!).
I recently tried to explain this phenomenon, unprompted, to my best girl friends – all of whom are straight. I was very drunk and suddenly very anxious that, perhaps, I had been predatory – or somehow weird – with one of them in the past. I hadn’t, so I’m not sure where I pulled that narrative from. But it is precisely this internalised bi/homophobia which sublimated in my drunken ramblings and unwarranted apologies to my lovely wonderful straight friends who had assured me – shortly after I came out – that they were never going to treat me any differently because of my sexuality. I know that their perception of me won’t have changed, that they don’t secretly think I’m a pervert, but still that nagging fear will worm its way into my psyche.
It goes without saying, but none of these anxieties are founded on anything concrete, or anything that has happened in my life to suggest that I am a perverse womaniser. Realising that sapphic love exists way beyond the heterosexual framework has been important to my understanding of it. We don’t ask lesbian couples ‘so, who’s the man?’, because there… isn’t one. Simple. By being attracted to women we are in no way stepping into a man’s shoes – they’re different shoes, and they’re beautiful!
The bottom line is that no one needs to apologise for, or downplay, their attraction to any gender to serve anyone else’s expectations. Remember: your bisexuality – in its entirety – is wonderful and valid and yours.
With illustration by Emily Perkins (@emp3_art)