What I Mean When I Say “Monosexual Privilege”
[CN: Biphobia, Suicide, Health Issues]
Recently I wrote on my Bi Any Means Facebook page, “If someone of any sort of privilege–white privilege, male privilege, cis privilege, straight privilege, monosexual privilege, Christian privilege, etc.–is offended because I dared to call out their privileges and critique their faulty logic, so fucking what?” Apparently that did, indeed, offend someone. That someone then proceeded to post link after link to Tumblr blog posts explaining why monosexual privilege is “homophobia.” Their logic was the word phrase monosexual privilege makes gays and lesbians on the same hierarchal level as our straight oppressors. Finally by bi friends stepped in to explain things in a way I couldn’t. I’m not sure if that changed the other person’s mind, though.
This is just one example of how shit hits the proverbial fan whenever a non-monosexual person—whether that person is bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, etc.—talks about monosexual privilege. What starts as an honest conversation about social hierarchy within the LGBT+ community turns into accusations that we’re the ones who are the oppressors. Part of it, I think, comes from the idea that non-monosexuals aren’t really queer because we can still be in “straight relationships” (which is a ridiculous concept because a straight relationship involves two straight people), but I think part of it is just a misunderstanding of the term. Maybe I’m giving people too much benefit of the doubt, but hopefully this will clarify a few things.
First, I want to explain what I don’t mean by monosexual privilege.
1). Monosexual privilege does NOT mean gays and lesbians don’t face discrimination. Just like being a cisgender queer person doesn’t mean you don’t experience discrimination; it just means you don’t face discrimination for being cisgender. Likewise, if you are a white queer person, it just means you don’t have to deal with racism.
2). Monosexual privilege does NOT mean gays and lesbians are the bad guys. As Shiri Eisner writes in Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution:
Gay and lesbian communities may well be collaborators in the oppression of bisexual people; however, both groups do not carry equal weight in the oppression of bisexuals. Rather, the overwhelming majority of oppression against bisexual people is performed by heterosexual power structures. While I believe that both groups’ monosexism [the belief that everyone is/should be either gay or straight] deserves attention, it is important to remember that heterosexual society is far more powerful, prevalent, and oppressive than gay and lesbian communities have ever been, and that heterosexual society is the main source and field of monosexism, biphobia, and oppression of bisexuals. (p. 65)
When you live in a world full of power structures of oppression, you will internalize a lot of it. I’m white, and I have internalized a lot of racist ideas. I’m able-bodied, and I have internalized a lot of ableist ideas. Hell, I’ve internalized a lot of biphobia, homophobia, and transphobia, even though I’m a bisexual genderqueer person! We all live in a constant state of unlearning bad ideas.
So what is monosexual privilege? Eisner wrote a Monosexual Privilege Checklist a few years ago (recently co-opted by Everyday Feminism) that explains how non-monosexuals face erasure, oppression, and even violence. I won’t copy and paste the entire list, but I will highlight a few examples that I see every day:
1). Monosexual privilege means no one will question the validity of your sexuality. I’ve heard from both straight and gay people that bisexuality is “just a phase,” or that bisexuals are “just confused.” For example, Dan Savage often says that when he meets teenagers who identify as bisexual, he always thinks to himself, “I was, too, at your age.” True, some people come out as bi first, then later on come out as gay, but that’s not everyone’s story. In fact, it took me so long to come out because I knew I wasn’t gay.
2). Monosexual privilege means you will always find positive media representations of you. There are still more straight love stories in the media than queer love stories, but the queer love stories that usually are represented in the media center around gay couples. Bisexual characters, on the other hand, are usually presented as “slutty” and untrustworthy. Either that, or no one says a character is bisexual; the character usually identifies as being “attracted to people.” (*cough*Orange is the New Black*cough*)
3). Monosexual privilege means, if you are cisgender and gay, you are less likely to suffer from serious health issues.
4). Monosexual privilege means, if you are cisgender and gay, there are more resources for you in the LGBT+ community.
5). Monosexual privilege means, if you are cisgender and gay, you are less likely to attempt suicide than bisexuals.
We live in a complex world where we both benefit and suffer from different power structures, and we need to recognize this. We all have parts to play in each other’s liberation, and that includes confronting our own privileges. It’s never comfortable, but part of bringing down social hierarchies is acknowledging how we’ve been contributing to these hierarchies.
[Picture credit: Eisner’s Facebook page]