Biphobia: The Author Strongly Argues That Bisexuals Face Their Own Discrimination, Especially from Straight Populations
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Excerpted from Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner. Available from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright 2013.
Oddly enough, the issue of biphobia, or monosexism, is one of the most hotly contested territories in bisexual politics, and certainly one of the least understood. A term much-feared and slightly frowned upon, biphobia has often been dismissed even by the most avid bisexual scholars and activists. Some insinuate that bisexuals don’t actually suffer oppression that is separate from homophobia or lesbophobia. In fact, very often, simply raising the issue of biphobia (in any setting) is perceived as an affront to gay and lesbian politics and is ridiculed, often with the ubiquitous “bisexuals are privileged” argument.
Before I refute the argument that bisexuals don’t suffer from a unique type of oppression (biphobia), let’s examine where this argument places bisexuality and bisexual people: To look at the first part of this argument, we will soon discover the old and familiar “bisexuality doesn’t exist” trope. To claim that bisexuals do not experience oppression differently from gays or lesbians is to subsume bisexual experience into homosexuality, thus eliminating its unique existence. For if no unique bisexual experience is to be found, then certainly the category of bisexuality itself is null. The second half of the argument (“privilege”) acknowledges the existence of bisexuality, but connects it with the notion of privilege and thus oppressor status, again nullifying the unique oppression that bisexuals experience and the need for specific attention to it. In this way, bisexuality is here spoken about on two levels: first as a nonexistent other, and second as an oppressor (presumably of gays and lesbians). The notion that bisexuals are only oppressed as a result of homophobia and lesbophobia erases the need for a unique bisexual liberation struggle and places bisexuals as “halfway” add-ons to the gay and lesbian movement.
I feel the need to emphasize this, as people often see (when they do see) biphobia as a series of straightforward, direct personal attitudes and behaviors, rather than as a structure. In fact, biphobia is often defined in exactly that way—for example, the Wikipedia entry on biphobia defines it as an “aversion felt toward bisexuality and bisexuals as a social group or as individuals,” and the STFU Biphobia blog defines it as “fear or hatred of bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals, and anyone who doesn’t otherwise fall within the binary gay or straight.” In her article “Biphobia: It Goes More Than Two Ways,” Robyn Ochs cites prejudicial behavior, discrimination, and stereotyping as characteristics of (biphobic) oppression. A widely publicized online list titled “What Does Biphobia Look Like?” (but perhaps more accurately described as “biphobic things that people do”) cites a list of biphobic behaviors, such as “ assuming that everyone you meet is either heterosexual or homosexual,” “ thinking bisexual people haven’t made up their minds,” and “ feeling that you can’t trust a bisexual because they aren’t really gay or lesbian, or aren’t really heterosexual” (all emphases mine).
Another problem with discussions of biphobia is that they overwhelmingly focus on biphobic stereotypes, as if stereotyping (and stereotypical thinking) is the only biphobic phenomenon in existence and the end-all of biphobia in general. For example, Ochs dedicates much of her article to discussing the ways in which bisexuals are perceived by biphobic people (in other words, stereotyping), the Wikipedia entry on biphobia likewise patterns itself on listing biphobic stereotypes, and the “What Does Biphobia Look Like?” online list also consists of descriptions of behaviors or beliefs that are likewise based on stereotypes. A Google search I performed for the word “biphobia” showed fifty links over the first five pages, of which 60 percent focused on stereotypes (or other such “people think bad things about us” varieties), whereas only 20 percent dealt with other forms of biphobia (mainly bisexual erasure). This overwhelming reference to stereotypes in the context of biphobia creates the impression that stereotypical beliefs are the near-only origin and form of biphobia, and that direct personal mistreatment is the only (or main) result thereof.