Sunday School: On Negativity


I’m a bisexual ciswoman with limited experience on the same-sex end of the pool thanks to my profession and hobbies, despite the fact that I’m actually attracted to women more often than men. I want to date women, but I’ve experienced a nontrivial amount of negativity and erasure from lesbians, and that makes me nervous about trying to enter lesbian spaces.

While I know that anyone who categorically doesn’t like/trust bisexuals just plain isn’t an option, I’m more concerned about being respectful of the fact that I’ve had het privilege so I don’t inadvertently upset people who otherwise wouldn’t have a problem with the fact that I’m bi. Can you give me any advice on how not to make an ass of myself? –BiNervous

Here is the hard truth: that negativity you have experienced from lesbians is more often than not a defense mechanism. Biphobia doesn’t generally come about because gold-star ladies think they’re better than bi ladies or ladies who had a rougher time arriving at a lesbian identity. It comes from watching the ladies we like go home with dudes at the end of the night.

Obviously this isn’t universal. There are plenty of lesbians who wouldn’t even think about judging another lady because her penis threshold happens to be higher than 0, and plenty of others who can compartmentalize whatever misadventures they may have had in the interest of fairness and sexytimes. But for a lot of people, experience is the only teacher they’ve had when it comes to dating, and lesbians are pretty intimately familiar with fighting against heteronormative social conditioning. Even if you’ve never had it happen to you, personally, it seems self-evidently safer to limit your dating pool to women who are essentially guaranteed not to leave you for a dude.

I’m not saying it’s right or fair that we feel that way, because it’s pretty clearly both wrong and unfair. But feelings don’t care all that much about “fair.”

For my part, I spent a bunch of years calling myself bisexual and getting shit for it from women I was interested in, so I know how hurtful it is to be dismissed like that. Surprisingly enough, that doesn’t keep me from being depressed and hurt sometimes. I like to think I’m fairly good at keeping it in and not letting it color my social interactions, but you’d probably have to ask someone else to find out.

I don’t really have any meaningful advice for you, BiNervous. You want to own your privilege, and you want to be sensitive to other people’s feelings–that’s a really good start, and anyone who isn’t willing to give you credit for that is an asshole and certainly not someone you would want to date. If you have trouble finding romantic prospects who aren’t assholes among the lesbian community, you might think about connecting with other bi girls who are feeling the same frustrations you are.

As for the rest of you lady-loving ladies, maybe you can take this opportunity to reexamine how you interact with bisexual women. You may have a BiNervous in your life who would make an awesome girlfriend. Don’t let an irrational prejudice cheat you out of recognizing her when you see her.

If you would like to submit a question to Sunday School, please use our contact form. We won’t publish your real name (unless you want us to), and creative pseudonyms get bonus points!

Featured image from flickr user marymactavish

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  1. What I’ve never got about this justification for rejecting bi folks is this: why is getting dumped for somebody of the sex you aren’t so much worse than getting dumped for someone of the sex you are? I mean, getting dumped sucks no matter who you’ve been dumped for. I’ve seen this justification for not dating bi people from all kinds of monosexuals (not just lesbians), and to me, it just seems like a facile way to reject bi people while trying to not appear overtly biphobic.

  2. “Having it both ways”, “having your cake and eating it” and “batting for both sides” are all phrases I’ve heard that suggest being bisexual is a form of cheating. It’s another thing that upsets a binary. So it’s OK to be gay but make sure you stay in the gay box, otherwise we can’t keep track!

  3. Hi everyone! I’m Danya, I’ve been lurking since Queereka began, and finally decided to delurk to give the lesbian-not-dating-bisexuals point of view.

    Even though I know it’s the local social landscape at work rather than an accurate depiction of the bisexual community, every woman I’ve met who identified as bisexual had no real interest in following through with that claim. After like, the third ‘bisexual’ who used me as a warm up act for ‘the real thing’, I get rather sick of the entire endeavor. The last woman I slept with, for example, told me as we were getting dressed, “You have to help me find [man], he’s the one I should have been doing this with.” (That was at a party, to clarify.)

    After 3 years and half a dozen women screwing with me in variations of the same theme, I’m exceptionally leery of anyone who labels themselves ‘bisexual’. I even intentionally shifted my own identity to match in the past year- while for most of my post-pubescent life I did identify as bi, lately I’ve started using ‘queer’ or ‘gay’ as a label to reflect that I am not the kind of woman that has treated me so poorly in the past. And this is all as someone active in multiple feminist spaces, who is well aware of and once wholeheartedly railed against bi erasure and/or demonization. And of course I still would, just not to those in the lesbian community who’ve been burned.

    As to the actual question: That’s a fantastic thing to hear. So many props for examining and dispelling privilege. I personally would advise the OP to take extra care to treat the women she dates equally to the men she’s dated in the past. Things like having unequal levels of PDA can be exceptionally hurtful- whether it’s more than she would with a man (it feels like fetishization) or less (that feels like she’s embarrassed or views the relationship as ‘less than’). But that’s IMHO.

    • I’m a bit lost here, I identify as bisexual and it shits me up the wall when people tell me I’m straight or some variant of, fortunately it doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore seeing as I’ve been in a relationship with a woman for nearly a year and half. The thing is, I’m not about to tell you how you should label yourself, but you said you used to call yourself bi, by your own account you decided to change your label because you didn’t want to be associated with people who you assume to be liars. So you’ve concluded that bi women are shitty, despite the fact that you existed as a bi woman and you clearly didn’t think you were shitty.

      You only care to campaign for the well behaved bisexuals? Wow, that’s not petty at all. People sleep with other people and they make mistakes, that happens. You can’t know what those people are really thinking or feeling. The woman who told you she should have slept with a man probably felt quite bad. At the very least she had the decency to tell you she didn’t want to continue the relationship with you, rather than sleeping with someone else behind your back. The fact that you’ve decided to pretty much throw bisexual people under the bus because you had some bad experiences speaks more for you than it does for bisexual people.

    • Hey Danya,

      I’m not entirely sure what you mean by bisexuals who don’t ‘follow through with that claim’. Bisexuals are necessarily attracted to both men and women, so following through on being a bisexual would involve potentially, displaying that attraction by sleeping with both men and women.

      It sucks that you’ve had bad experiences with women who happened to be bisexuals. Getting used by anyone is not fun and not cool.

      It is, however, a thing that people do to each other, regardless of their sexuality. If by ‘follow through’ you mean a relationship or committment of some kind, then I wouldn’t expect all people (not just bisexuals) to be ready to commit to a relationship right off the bat. A lot of women will sleep with a woman and then with a man, in the same way that a lot of women will sleep with a woman and then with another woman. That’s completely their choice and they should be honest with you about that. The best you can do is be honest with people about what you expect. Hopefully, they’ll be honest right back, but that won’t always be the case, no matter who they are.

      I also agree with Nicky above, as much as we can identify with the ‘other’, we can never really know what it’s like to be them. We also can’t lump all people who identify as something together based on other attributes. The only thing that all bisexuals have in common is that they identify as bisexual. Tarring all bisexuals with the same brush because a few women have wronged you dimishes the value of everyone else’s identity.

  4. As someone who identifies as lesbian and has dated bisexual women in the past, I really feel like I should have more advice to offer.

    I think the biggest thing is just be honest about your sexuality and be kind and respectful to the people you date. Be clear what you want whether it be a one night stand, a monogamous relationship, a non-monogamous relationship, or something else.

    While being aware of past het privlidge is a good thing, don’t let people make you feel apologetic for your sexual identity.

  5. I could have easily written this question, and wrapped lots of other issues into it as well. I’m afraid I don’t have much to add to the discussion, but I will be following it closely.

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