This week I found myself weeping unexpectedly at a simple, 10-word text. “Happy Bisexual Awareness Week my beautiful pal. I love you!” it read, and was followed by one pink, one blue and one purple heart - the colours of the bi pride flag. It was from my friend Holly, who is happily married to a man, and as lovely as it was to receive it also highlighted something: my straight friends rarely show up for me. They never come to Pride, engage with queer pop culture, or make an effort to understand what life is like for a bi person. And as I become more comfortable in my bi-ness, that’s really starting to bother me.
Because there’s no time like a pandemic for a bit of doom-spiral-inducing reflection, I’ve been evaluating my friendships with straight people. Recently I’ve felt a bit of a disconnect, and noticed myself pulling away. And when I thought about why, it hit me that while they’re all fit legends who I have a huge crease with, they’re kind of failing in some (pretty fundamental) ways. I don’t want to have to distance myself from them, when there’s a possibility that they could change. So, I’m using Bi Visibility Day as an excuse to explore how my straight friends - and the straight friends of all bi folk - can just generally be better.Tooga
A few weeks ago, I was having drinks with friends when I casually mentioned that I’d been on a date. “This is such great news!” two of them squealed almost in unison, jumping up and down in their seats like they were simultaneously riding the same dick. They’d misheard me. They thought I’d been on a date with a man. I haven’t so much as glanced at a man since I came out as bisexual three years ago and I’ve told them countless times I’m just more into women and vulva-having people. They know my relationships with cisgender straight dudes never quite felt right, and that I was pretty les mis until I started “acting on” my bisexuality.
"The comment left me feeling all kinds of lonely and let down"
It was only a moment before I corrected them, but in that split second I was reminded of what I’ve known for years but buried because confronting it seemed like too much admin: they’re kind of biphobic. After probing them as to why they lost their shit at the thought of me dating a guy, one put it down to being able to “relate” more. In short: they don't see my relationships with women and people of other genders as valid.
While I love being bisexual, am proud of my identity and genuinely pity anyone who has to navigate the heterosexual dating hellscape, that comment left me feeling all kinds of lonely and let down. It set me off on a miserable old trip down memory lane, turning all microaggressions and thoughtless comments I’ve had to endure as a bisexual who has straight friends over and over in my head like a rotten pancake.
Years before I came out, I confided in a mate that I wanted to start dating women. She laughed and said I should “stop trying to be so edgy” - a remark that in hindsight contributed to me repressing those feelings for another three years. When I told another old friend I thought I might be bisexual, she revealed her and our lesbian friend (double discrimination is real, lads) often joked behind my back that I thought I was bi but “wasn’t really”. I laughed along for a minute before excusing myself to have a silent cry in the toilet.Adrian Rodriguez Garcia
At my first Pride after coming out, a straight friend drunkenly announced to her group of queer pals - who I didn’t know - that I kept saying I was bisexual but couldn’t really claim the label as I hadn’t slept with a woman. I faked a headache and sobbed the entire bus journey home.
Even since having a long-term female partner and “proving” my bi-ness, the comments haven’t stopped. I’ve been told my romantic relationships are “more like friendships, really,” which is only really true if you’re all also fingerbanging your mates. Exhausted by a never ending stream of useless dickhead men, straight friends often say they might just “move onto women”, like queerness is the last resort for when you can’t get a boyfriend.
And then there’s the faux-jealousy: “You’re so lucky, you have it SO much easier with women”. Uh-huh, being part of a community that experiences one of the highest rates of sexual violence, has the poorest mental health, and is constantly erased and ridiculed by straight and LGBTQ+ people is a walk in the damn park. Don’t even get me started on all the thoughtless mentions of their “girl crushes”.
“You’re so lucky, you have it SO much easier with women”
When comments like this get to me, I can be prone to thinking I’m being “too sensitive” and often wonder if I should just ignore them. But Dr Meg-John Barker, queer academic, sex and relationship therapist and author of Rewriting The Rules, says having your bi-ness continually erased in this way can be incredibly stressful. Straight friends “assuming you are cishet even after being told otherwise, or only expressing interest and enthusiasm about your dates who are the 'opposite gender'” can take its toll on friendships, they say. They also explain it’s important straight people are better allies to their bisexual friends because “bi erasure, biphobia, and lack of support take a toll on bi people's mental health, which tends to be worse than that of either straight or gay people.”Jena Ardell
Like many other LGBTQ+ people, coming out has impacted my family relationships. This means for a lot of bi people, our friendships are everything to us. “People may well have problems in their families and/or workplaces when they come out as bi. They may even not be able to be out in those contexts. This can be particularly the case where bi-ness intersects with other aspects of oppression,” Meg-John continues. “For these reasons friendships can be vital. They should be one place where your bi-ness can be seen and mirrored by your close people, and a place where you can feel supported and like people are there for you.”
As much as I am roasting them very publicly right now, I don’t think my friends are Bad Guys. Homophobia, like patriarchy, fucks us all over - although some of us more than others, obviously. So while they’re not actively homo/biphobic, their heteroprivilege does mean they’ve never had to question the dumb shit they think and say about and to bisexuals. Some days, when I’m feeling emotionally strong (rare), I’ll call them out on it. After a strained and awkward conversation, they’ll end up apologising profusely and I’ll somehow end up feeling like a prick for even bringing it up.
"I can’t muster the strength to educate someone whose responsibility it is to educate themselves"
But because I also spent 28 years living under heteronormativity’s iron law, I still have a lot of internalised biphobia to unpack, too. Often, I just can’t muster the strength to educate someone whose responsibility it is to educate themselves. Especially on something that still, in my lowest moments, makes me feel like an imposter and a fraud.
It wasn’t until I met a group of bi girls at work that I really understood the power of queer friendships. Finding these angels gave me the confidence I needed to publicly perform my bi-ness, something I now feel is my duty when so few of us are able to be safely visible. With them by my side, I'm able to speak out against biphobia in predominantly straight spaces, even when that makes me feel like a nuisance and a bore.
Since forming this small but life-affirming community, there have been times where I’ve considered packing in my friendships with straight people entirely. It’s taken me this period of reflection to realise creating a bisexual utopia where you never have to encounter straight people again isn’t the answer. It would also mean losing cherished friendships that have lasted me almost a lifetime. Do I really want that? Especially if I’ve not, until very recently, communicated with them how I feel. How much of a chance should I be giving them to change? And at what point do I accept that they probably won’t, and make a decision to distance myself from them and put more energy into other friendships?
“In the case of coming out as bi - as with any new thing - it's fine for friends to need a little adjustment time. But if you are still not feeling free-enough and safe-enough to express your bi-ness, and confident of having it respected, after a while, that’s an issue,” Meg-John says. “It also should not be on any marginalised person to educate those around them. It's OK to provide a couple of links of good information and expect people to educate themselves. Those who refuse to do this are giving you some important information right there.”
"It's fine for this process to take a while"
For anyone wanting to have conversations with straight friends about how their biphobia is impacting you, Meg-John suggests asking them one-on-one if they’re up for a conversation about your friendship needs. “If people aren't up for that, or those conversations go badly, then focusing time and energy on cultivating friendships where you feel more seen and secure, is a good idea,” they say. “It's fine for this process to take a while though, and to get some therapeutic support if you find that kind of communication and boundary-setting hard, as many of us do.”
So what would I want my friends to do? And what should you do, if you worry you might not be treating your bi friend in the right way? “I just want to let them see me live and be happy - that I can be in queer relationships and be fulfilled,” says sex educator Portia Brown. She says it’s important for straight people to become more self-aware and realise that the comments they make can be harmful. “[Straight people] may not know the full implications of what they’re saying - or the lack of things they're saying. Or that their lack of enthusiasm is sending a message,” she says. So be prepared for your bi friend to call out these moments, and be sure to listen rather than getting defensive.
Personally, I don’t just want my straight friends to accept my bi-ness and carry on as if nothing has changed, I want them to be active allies. Holly, whose curiosity and hunger to learn is one of the things I love most about her, is never afraid to ask me questions about my experiences as a bi person. She makes an effort to engage with queer culture and doesn’t just consume content made by straight people. Her ability to empathise with LGBTQ+ people of all identities means she cares deeply about queer issues, and consistently speaks out against trans and homophobia online and in real life. This is the level of friendship and allyship I have come to expect. And all bi people should have friends like her.
To my straight friends and all the straight friends of bisexuals who are currently falling short, please do better bi us.
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