Breaking The Bias
Research by Gerdien van Halteren
Copy by Marjolijn Oostermeijer
Reading time: 10 Minutes
Being queer isn’t a career…
so don’t ask for a CV, my dear.
In a world of fervent catcalling and scorching gender reveal parties, it’s no surprise that our perception of sexuality is dictated by a cis, straight and male gaze. Although this gaze is increasingly criticised, it’s also internalised. Often subconsciously, we both consume and convey it. As teenagers, few of us are motivated to explore pleasure beyond heterosexuality. Young women are rarely motivated to explore it at all - being taught how to please rather than define their own pleasure. Circumstances like these reinforce a male-dominated world, in which we are straight until we come out as otherwise.
But seeing heterosexuality as the norm and homosexuality as the logical opposite means that for queer and Bi+ people, coming out is often not enough. Being Bi+ means constantly having to prove your sexuality in both queer and straight spaces. Can you imagine hitting the club in a gender-conforming look, only to have to validate your sexual identity by listing a LinkedIn page full of sexual and romantic experiences? Can you imagine having to do this over and over again? We don’t all want to be Carrie Bradshaw! Expecting others to prove their sexuality based on performative elements both censors Bi+ sexuality and narrows the definition of love and desire for everyone.
The labels representing various spaces across the spectrum of sexuality are nothing more than powerful constructs. In easier terms: Sexuality is personal. We can claim our sexuality, simply by identifying with it. Sure, for some of us this means experimenting with love and sex whereas, for others, a gut feeling is enough. Rather than upholding Hollywood rom-coms as the ultimate manual for romantic attraction, why not explore what attracts us personally? We’ll probably find the answer will differ to everyone.
The binary: Works great for
computers but shit for defining sexuality.
We’re often asked to define our sexuality by ticking boxes on a dating app. Our answers are turned into the zero’s and ones’ of binary code and fed to an algorithm, which then swiftly produces… Our soulmate! But a stream of unsolicited dick-picks and disappointing dates illustrates that although dating apps may provide us with the finalists, our choice of soulmate remains dictated by our hearts. Our digital search for intimacy both illustrates and reinforces the flawed idea that sexuality can be defined in binaries and boxes. And so, that Bi+ sexuality means ticking the boxes marked men and women whilst feeling a 50/50 attraction to either.
But, if our dating-app adventures have taught us anything, (other than that size apparently matters… enough to constitute a bio) it’s that sexuality is intricate. It’s a fluid, dynamic, multilayered spectrum that accounts for our own identity and expression, as well as that of those we’re attracted to. Although we often see labels as boxes, they indicate varying spaces on this spectrum. Bi+ sexuality, for example, encompasses the space of ‘attraction to two or more genders’ and includes labels like pansexual, omnisexual and skoliosexual. This means that even people who similarly identify as Bi+, may define their sexuality in individual ways.
To the socially conscious, labels might appear like another way to box in identities - which, to be fair, they are. But, in a heteronormative society like ours, they are also necessary. In a space that still under- or misrepresents most of us, labels give us a group to identify with and rally behind. More importantly, they give us agency over our own identity.
Being queer isn’t a career… so don’t ask for a CV, my dear.
No mom, it’s not a ga(y)teway drug!
“There’s just too many options” we sigh. With one hand fluttering across our laptop in a poor attempt to choose from an endless list of shows and movies and the other absentmindedly swiping past unfamiliar faces on Tinder and Grindr. But, when it comes to sexuality and gender, our options are painfully limited. We’re expected to be male or female, to be attracted to the ‘same’ or ‘opposite’ sex. Which minimises a spectrum vaster than Netflix’s library to a simplistic binary.
It’s through this binary socialising, that we often reduce Bi+ sexuality to a phase. We see it as a time of experimentation, confusion or (this one rings particularly for Bi+ men) a preface to homosexuality. Consequently, it becomes increasingly difficult for those actually questioning their sexuality, to identify as Bi+. And, for those who already do, to claim their space in both straight and queer culture.
Viewing sexuality as either ‘one’ or the ‘other’ (and anyone who doesn’t, as confused) erases all nuance from the exciting realm of love and attraction. Sure, sexuality is experimental, it’s often confusing and for many of us dynamic. But this applies to sexuality as a whole, not Bi+ sexuality exclusively.
When I met my love, everything changed… Except for my sexual identity
“We love pizza! And, we are planning a trip to Italy this year…” Have you ever third-wheeled it with a couple and found yourself wondering about the exact moment they turned into one big blob? When in one, romantic relationships make up a significant part of our lives. So we often perceive them, and the lovers in it, as one single entity. But relationships are still made up out of two (or more) individuals.
When we innately assume that relationships dictate the sexuality of those in it, we limit that sexuality to a handful of options. Partners in a same-gendered relationship automatically become gay or lesbian and those involved with another gender, are often seen as straight. But this isn’t always the case, particularly for lovers whose sexuality or gender does not concede to the binary. A.K.A. Bi+ people, amongst others. Not only does this assumption erase Bi+ sexuality, and thereby the identity of the lovers within a relationship - it also flattens relationships in general.
Romantic relationships are intimate - no shit, Sherlock. They signify a connection and agreement between lovers. So isn’t it equally logical that it’s the lovers who characterise the relationship, not the other way around? So, if you’re one of those lovers: Go forth and define! And if you find yourself third-wheeling it, allow that smoochy couple to define their identity, rather than assuming it for them.
Straight passing? I’ll straight out pass.
From The Real Housewives to Love Island, most of us are familiar with the reality shows that dominate our favourite streaming platforms (and at least some of our friend’s conversations). Most of us will also find these shows follow a straight narrative. We live in a world where heterosexuality remains the norm and thus passing as straight is seen as a privilege. This brought on the myth that Bi+ people have it ‘easier’ than those who are gay or lesbian.
Of course, that myth is no more real than the televised dramas unfolding on our laptop screen. For starters, straight passing relies as much on being gender-conforming as it does on having a differently-gendered lover. Furthermore, sexuality (perceived or otherwise) doesn’t exclusively dictate how ‘easy’ life is for an individual, nor how privileged they are, which depends on numerous factors. Most of these remain unseen as we side-glance a straight-passing couple snogging on the streets and snarkily comment on their mushy bravado. Even if we purely focus on the privilege of straight-passing, it’s not all roses and Hallmark cards either. Passing as straight in a world that expects us to be, pressures Bi+ people to publicly reject the queer parts of their identity before erasing their Bi+ sexuality altogether. Once erased, Bi+ people no longer have agency over their own identity and others will do the defining for them - resulting in stereotypes galore!
So what if we resisted the urge to label that mushy couple as basic straight bitches? What if we assume people to be queer until proven straight - or at the very least, allow them to define their sexuality before passing judgement?
When I met my lover everything changed. Except my sexual identity.
Bi+ Dictated by nature, not male desire!
You’ve probably seen her: The effortlessly gorgeous girl who’s always up for a beer, a burger and a night of uncommitted sex (threesomes preferable). You might even admire her chill attitude, hilariously dirty jokes and gleeful comments on other women’s butts. But the cool girl you’re imagining her to be isn’t real. She’s a sexualised stereotype, written by a straight male narrative, reinforced by popular media and often projected on Bi+ women. Yet, after years of internalisation, the projecting is no longer exclusively done by men - her stereotype is perpetuated across genders.
The cool girl, of course, is only one of the many sexualised stereotypes Bi+ women face. Others include the woman possessed by a demonic sex drive, the cheating femme-fatale and the unicorn in every straight couple’s threesome. Under the aforementioned male gaze, men are positioned as the ultimate trophy. Which means that Bi+ women are often seen as “actually straight” or “doing it for male attention” whereas Bi+ men appear “not man enough” to come out as gay.
This may sound arrogant, but shouldn't we position ourselves as our own ultimate trophy? If we do so, we can also safely assume others identify the way they do, simply because… well… they do! Rather than doing it for the sole purpose of seeming irresistible to men, most (or all) people who come out Bi+, do so to claim agency over their own sexual identity.
Dictated by nature, not male desire!