D H Kelly discusses the position of bisexual women and a crowd-funded book which might make a difference
As you might have read this weekend, there aren’t really any straight women, just a mass of bisexuals and a minority of lesbians. This, according to a psychologist who has previously concluded that bisexual men do not exist at all. This is why you must never show your fear to a bad scientist – he will observe your pupil dilation and think he’s pulled.
Bisexuality exists in a special place in our culture where it is either everywhere or nowhere. The idea that we’re all a bit bisexual is something I have often heard, though never from actual bisexual people. A couple of times I’ve heard this from close friends who I’ve felt able to ask explicitly, “So would you say that you are bisexual?”
“Well, I can see why you might find women attractive,” one answered. “Women are very beautiful. You wouldn’t want to kiss one or anything but they’re great to look at.”
“I think most people are,” another said. “I seem to be extremely gay for some reason, but I think that’s probably unusual.”
Yet much of the time, the assumption is that bisexual people don’t really exist – that bisexual people are complicating something which most people seem to experience as an either/ or. This largely comes down to the cultural belief that sex is all about men: if in doubt, a person is most likely attracted to men. A bisexual man is a gay man placing one tentative foot out of the closet. A bisexual woman is merely a sexually adventurous straight woman, or one seeking to appear so to be more attractive to men. Female bisexuality is often written this way in popular culture – Doctor Who‘s Clara might describe Jane Austen as “a phenomenal kisser”, but we know we’ll never see Clara so much as give a curious glance towards another woman, let alone fall in love or have a relationship with one. Vague allusions to bisexuality are increasingly part of the sassiness of strong female characters, while meaningful representation is only edging up.
And yet this sexy quirk comes at an enormous cost for ordinary bisexual women. Bisexual women have significantly worse mental health than straight women and lesbians (and are more likely to have their sexual orientation seen as a symptom rather than an identity). Bisexual women are more likely to experience domestic violence. Bisexual women may be less likely to experience overt homophobic discrimination and abuse – inevitably, many of us enjoy the social privileges of having male partners – but we’re more likely to be in the closet, invisible, at home in neither straight culture which dismisses us nor gay culture which often mistrusts us. Without community, it’s very much more difficult to shake off internalised homophobia and self-doubt.
This is why I was so excited when my friend Kate Harrad began to organise Purple Prose: Bisexuality In Britain, a collectively written guide to bisexuality. A diverse group of bisexual folk have come together to write about bisexual life in the UK in the first book of its kind, including myths about bisexuality, the strange things people say to us as well as the intersections of disability, various gender identities and race with bisexuality.
The project is less than 70 hours off the crowd-funding deadline, so now is the time to make this happen.
[Image is a photograph feature three brown-skinned hands clasped together. This photograph is by skeeze, was found on Pixabay and is used under a Creative Commons’ License.]