Role models. They're on my mind for one reason or another right now.
For a long time I've been talking about biphobia. Back in the mid 1990s, as I have surely written here before, someone asked me to define biphobia for them. They wanted a snappy soundbite: treating bisexuals as lesser or something like that.
Instead I talked about four flavours of biphobia.
There's institutional biphobia. The way organisations work can marginalise bi people. You have an LGBT group, and it holds gendered meetings... the bi attendee wonders whether they can bring their other-gendered partner along to a social. When they let off steam about their relationship it gets less sympathy than if only they were dating someone of the same sex. Slowly they are squeezed out and leave. This can be more calculated too: the LGBT organisation that will give you support about relationship problems, provided you're in a same-sex relationship. The big sign on the wall promising to challenge homophobia, that assumes biphobia to just be the lite version, a subset of the big bad.
Next there's internalised biphobia. This one's a big challenge for our communities and organising. Yougov reckoned last year that 23% of people were... well, somewhere between straight and gay. Just 2% owned the label "bisexual". So ten times as many people who could call themselves bi didn't, as did. Whether an internal narrative of I'm not bi enough or I don't want to be one of 'those bisexuals', people shy away from the word that perhaps best describes their atttractions.
Then, that biphobia which is analagous to heterophobia; we get this chiefly in the
gay community. "Just here as a tourist", they'll say. Or warn you off
dating bis as "they'll always leave you for a member of the opposite
sex". This isn't the main thrust of this thought piece so I shall move on...
There's that which is analagous to homophobia.
For women, that the sex they have with other women is less 'real' than
sex with men. For men, that having slept with another man makes you
dirty, undesireable. There is probably still a bit of taint from the
fear of bi men that was raised during the 1980s there.
The last two though have a curious overlap, in the way that homophobia-like and heterophobia-like patterns operate too often in our relationships.
I used to hear it from the couple next door. They've moved now, and most of the time their relationship seemed calm and happy, but when things kicked off... well, usually you can't make out the details through a thick pile of bricks, but every so often "At least I know which -----ing gender I'm attracted to" yelled from one of them to the other gave a remarkably good clue as to what they had been arguing about this time.
It's a common thread of bi experience too; running bi outreach stalls at events there's always someone who comes over looking interested and friendly but is then pulled away by a partner; sometimes with a breezy "he used to be bisexual before he met me".
On its own this is a problem, but in the workplace it has an added dimension. Suppose your employee, Sam, has been dating a woman for months and breaks up with her, and after a few weeks is now dating a man. Work colleagues give Sam a ribbing about switching teams, being confused, greedy or what have you. It goes on a bit too long for "good-natured banter" and Sam complains.
"Aha!" the LGBT Staff Network eager-beaver in HR thinks. "A bisexual for us to recruit! We need bi role models!"
But the staffer you offer support to may not be able to be your out bisexual, even though they are on the recieving end of biphobia and even though they brought it to HR to deal with: quite possibly Sam's new partner knows nothing about their previous dalliances with women. Or indeed, whenever that part of Sam's life gets mentioned, the crockery starts flying.
People who always date people of the same sexual orientation as themselves are rarely made to feel bad about their sexual orientation by their partner. For bis, most of our "dating pool" are not bi: most of the people who might fancy us identify as straight or lesbian/gay. The closet door may be being pushed shut by the person who is most important to us in our lives. And some of us have at the back of our mind that even if that is not the case now, it might have been different in the past, and might be different in the future.
Which means that, when you seek out bi role models, it's that bit harder for us to stand up than for our lesbian and gay counterparts.
This is the second blog post around a "we can't..." theme. Don't get me wrong. We can. It is a slightly provocative title about why bi people are under-represented.