If you ask any gay person if homophobia is wrong, you will hear an unequivocal “yes.” Most people– straight, gay, bisexual and otherwise– agree that it is wrong to judge or persecute a person for being gay. But, if you ask a gay person’s opinion of bisexuality, you may hear a surprisingly harsh, critical response.
Biphobia is alarmingly prevalent in straight crowds, and it is– surprisingly enough– an equally common problem in the gay community. Many bisexual men and women are in the two-way closet when they are among gay people, because they fear judgment or ostracization.
Although not all gay people are biphobic, biphobia is far more common in the gay community than many people are willing to accept. Here are a few reasons for this phenomenon.
Resentment of Perceived Privilege
Daniel Vivacqua, a gay activist, writes, “I know that my biphobia comes from this idea that bisexual people can, at any time, shed the weight of being queer and live a heterosexual life.”
His feelings are probably very similar to those of other biphobic gay people. Just as people of ethnic minorities often resent those who can “pass,” gay men and women resent the fact that bisexual people sometimes choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle. A gay couple draws the ire of homophobia, but a couple in which one person is bi may never be noticed unless she deliberately “outs” herself.
There are several reasons that this resentment is unfair. A person who is bisexual did not choose to be bisexual. Should he fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, he shouldn’t be judged for it. Additionally, it is very brave for a bisexual person to live an out-of-the-closet life despite his ability to blend in with heteros. He does not choose to be bi, but he does choose to surrender his perceived privilege in order to stand up for his rights– and the rights of other queers.
Stereotypes and Misconceptions
Many, many straight people and gay people will perpetuate the stereotypes associated with bisexuality. There is a very common perception in both communities that bisexuality is a sexual phase caused by “confusion” or the raging hormones of adolescence. There certainly are some people who experience bisexuality as a temporary phase, but, for the most part, out-of-the-closet adult bisexuals really are bisexual.
Additionally, the perception of promiscuity often blocks the gay community’s inclusion of bisexuality. Gay people– especially men– need to fight to battle stereotypes about promiscuity, peversion, paraphilia and nymphomania. Homophobes often accuse gay men of spreading STDs or living irresponsibly. Unfortunately, many people in the gay community are hesitant to include bisexuals because they fear that bi people may enforce or reaffirm the assumptions they fight so hard to disprove.
Of course, these stereotypes are not valid. Just like gays and straights, bisexual people vary widely in their personalities and values. Some bisexual people go their entire lives with just one or two sexual partners, while others may have a dozen in a week. Some practice safe sex, and others do not. Some are butch, some are femme, and some are the many shades in between. It is unfair to judge bisexual people based on preconceived notions.
Fear and Self-Denial
Have you ever noticed that the most vocal of homophobes often turn out to be gay? Often, homophobia or biphobia is a desperate attempt to obscure the parts of ourselves that we resent or fear. Many closeted gay people trumpet homophobia until they reach a point of self-acceptance. Likewise, some biphobic “gay” people are trying to hide or change the part of themselves that is attracted to the opposite sex.
A person who identifies himself as gay may be almost entirely attracted to people of his own gender. But he feels uncomfortable when he finds himself noticing a woman’s breasts, or feeling a strong emotional attraction to a female friend, or enjoying romantic movie scenes involving both sexes. He wonders, “What if I’m not actually gay? What if I’ve spent my whole life trying to find acceptance for my orientation, but I’m not actually who I think I am?”
I think that this form of self-questioning fuels much of the biphobia in the gay community. Gay people may fear the aspects of themselves that don’t fit binary assumptions about orientation. After going to such great lengths to accept their own sexuality, it can be unnerving to feel an attraction to people of the opposite sex. However, like all forms of internalized hatred, this is one that needs to be addressed and overcome.
Biphobia in the gay community is as common as it is hurtful. Although gay people tend to be able to find acceptance among both straight and gay crowds, bisexual people are often ostracized by both. In the era of civil rights and queer acceptance, we need to reach a point of inclusion in both circles.