Dear Lesbians, No, I’m Not Gay

7/1/2018

istock/santypan

“You’re probably just a lesbian.”

I don’t know of a single bi woman who hasn’t heard those words, or a variation of them. So common is this dismissal of our identity, it appears as at least one bullet point in every listicle about ‘what not to say to a bi person.’ So why do we still keep hearing it?

Recently, Twitter has exploded with memes from bi women about being attracted to every woman and, like, maybe 3 men.

While I worry that this meme may be a manifestation of internalized biphobia and a desire for bi women to prove we’re “gay enough,” mostly it seems the meme is just relatable content about sexism and overcoming complusory heterosexuality (the enforced idea that everyone must be straight).

In her wonderful essay ‘Bisexuality, Feminism, Men, and Me,” bi activist Robyn Ochs discusses her journey of unlearning compulsory heterosexuality, and holding men and women to the same standard when it comes to relationships and attraction, after a lifetime of believing she must settle for a man;

“I realized that in our society women are grateful when a man behaves in a sensitive manner, but expect sensitivity of a woman as a matter of course. I decided that I would not settle for less from men, realizing that it means that I may be categorically eliminating most men as potential partners. So be it.”

But for every one of these viral tweets that jokingly express the idea of eliminating men, there’s another telling the original poster that this is a lesbian experience, and that the poster is clearly a lesbian (not bi). It seems odd that so many women-loving-women would believe such an experience can’t be shared between lesbians, and multi-gender attracted women. Some of these replies might be coming from a place of genuine empathy, but I suspect many are just concern trolling.

Concern trolling is a term coined to describe feigning concern in order to derail a conversation. In this case, telling a bi woman they ‘are probably just a lesbian’ derails a valid discussions about what it means to be a bi women with a preference, what it’s like to be multi-gender attracted in a sexist society, or even a discussion around how bi women navigate compulsory heterosexuality.

In her interview on Cameron Esposito’s Queery, Gaby Dunn talks about her experiences with compulsory heterosexuality and how, even though she has a strong preference for women, she’s still bi.

“I am bisexual, I’ve been in love with men, I’ve dated men but in this economy I can’t imagine going home to a dude.[….] But I was looking back on the past and I was wondering how many relationships or encounters I’ve had with men where it was just me being like, ‘I admire you and I think you’re cool and funny,’ and I’ve been confused by movies and music and everything in our society to believe that the next step here is we have sex. [But with women] there’s nothing telling me that the next step in a female friendship is that we [have sex].”

Cameron handles the conversation perfectly. Although she, as a lesbian, can relate a lot to Gaby’s feelings, she doesn’t try to tell her that she is really a lesbian if she can no longer imagine herself dating men. Instead, she gives Gaby time to explain her feelings and the two explore the common ground they share. It’s a wonderful example of how bi women and lesbians can explore the overlap and differences of our identity and desires.

Some women who feel the same as Gaby and some of the women who post these viral tweets may go on to realise that they are lesbians. While bi isn’t always a stepping stone to lesbian, sometimes it is. Sometimes the reverse is true, too. There is a lot more overlap between bi women’s lives and lesbian lives than we sometimes care to admit, but lesbians being able to heavily relate to something bi women feel, does not make it an exclusively lesbian experience.

Thanks to monosexism, the harmful idea that only monosexual (straight or gay) identities are real, valid, or stable, many bi people struggle with thinking they must actually be gay when they realise they are same-gender attracted. It’s not uncommon for bi women to identify as a lesbian when they first come out, before accepting that their attractions to men are still genuine. Perpetuating the idea that bi women are wrong about their identity if they shy away from attraction to men perpetuates this stereotype and further marginalises bi women.

Believing that a woman must ‘really be a lesbian’ if she has a strong preference for women creates an environment where there is only one way to be bi; to be equally into men and women. This erases and minimizes a whole host of bi expressions, including those from bi women who don’t like men at all, bi women who have experienced trauma from men that has affected their sexuality, and bi women who are just choosing to not deal with the sexism that can come with dating men.

Beyond that, the memes themselves and the responses to them casually rely on the idea that bi people are only attracted to men and women, or that men and women are the only options and that simply is not true. It is not that case that women who don’t really like men must only like women. There are so many more possibilities than that.

So please, for the love of listicle writers everywhere, stop telling bi women ‘we’re actually just lesbians.’

Lois Shearing
Lois is a bi activist, who launched the DoBetterBiUs Campaign as well as the Bi Survivor's Network. In their daily life, they work as a content creator and freelance journalist. They are based in London, but their heart belongs to Brighton.