Bi Women Face More Relationship Abuse. Let’s Talk About Why.

Did you know that tomorrow is bisexual visibility day? (Of course you didn’t. Now get your bifocals on.)

This year, I hope we can take the conversation a bit further than “bisexuals exist,” and discuss some overlooked health and violence risks that bisexuals experience. On that list is the glaring fact that bisexual women experience significantly higher rates* of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to both lesbians and heterosexual women (this violence is largely perpetrated by men).

*(This data is from CDC survey, and thus focuses on the US. I’d guess that the numbers are worse in places where the legal outlook for being openly queer and for reporting sexual/relationship abuse are bleaker.) 

So far, there’s not as much data on why. While we wait for (and encourage) researchers to dig deeper into this issue, I want to anecdotally highlight some relationship patterns that are part of this picture.

Below are some common ways in which bisexual identity is targeted or weaponized by abusive partners (including some behaviors used against bisexual people in general, and others coming specifically from heterosexual men dating bisexual women). While I can’t draw a one-to-one link between any of these behaviors and violence-related statistics, we can at least consider some of the real-life reasons behind the numbers.


Threatening to ‘out’ a partner:

  • “I’ll tell everyone you’re bi if you leave.”
  • If you don’t listen to me, I can tell your family.”

Being out as bisexual can be wonderful, but in some circumstances it can be can be dangerous, socially isolating, or just too much to handle emotionally. Therefore, threatening to out someone without consent can be a potent power move for abusive partners.

Identity policing/forcing a partner to stay closeted:

  • “You don’t need to go around sharing the details of your sex fantasies.”
  • “If you’re serious about this relationship, that shouldn’t even matter.”
  • “People will think this marriage is a joke if they hear you’re bisexual!”

In a healthy relationship, each partner should respect the other’s autonomy in defining and disclosing their sexual identity. Treating a bi partner’s sexuality as a dirty little secret can prevent them from fully accepting their sexual identity or finding a supportive queer community. It can also limit the closeness of their relationships with friends or family, as they are unable to share their full range of feelings and experiences.

Leveraging internalized and cultural biphobia to manipulate bi partners into staying:

  • “If you leave, everyone’s gonna think it’s because you cheated.”
  • “If you leave, everyone’s gonna know you were gay[/straight] all along.”
  • “Of course you want out. I knew someone like you couldn’t commit to one person.”
  • “Every bi girl I’ve been with has left me to date dudes. Guess you’re no different.”
  • “You’re lucky I was so accepting of the bi thing. Other people out there won’t want that baggage.”

These statements hit hard for bisexuals who already fear being seen as cheaters, liars, incapable of commitment, or less-desirable romantic partners. This fear of fulfilling stereotypes can motivate some to remain in an unhealthy or unhappy relationships.

Treating bisexual identity as universal sexual consent:

  • “She’ll fuck anything that moves–of course she’s down.”
  • “You said you liked girls–so make out with that friend of yours for me now.”

Of course no one, regardless of gender or orientation, should assume sexual consent without asking. However the combination of bisexual stereotypes (“bi women are sluts”) and misogynistic victim blaming (“sluts are asking for it”), means that bi women are more likely to be forced or coerced into sexual situations by men who view them as universally sexually available. This can also include the expectation for bi women to “perform” their same-sex attraction under any circumstances, as desired by a male partners.


So what can you take away from this?

  • If you’re a bi person or dating one: Pay attention to these red flags! Have you heard or said anything similar in your relationship? While one comment does not equal abuse, it is important notice any patterns of policing or shaming bi identity. When biphobia is normalized, it can be hard to recognize that full acceptance and respect of bisexuality can be your relationship standard.
  • If you’re involved in LGBTQ activism or community organizing: don’t ignore or exclude bi women in relationships with men! Doing so overlooks a large portion of queerphobic abuse and violence that occurs within those relationships.
  • If you’re involved in anti-sexual violence movements: this is your issue too! Among other points of intersectionality, the #metoo movement would benefit from discussion of how sexual orientation impacts risk for sexual harassment, abuse, and assault (for instance, Harvey Weinstein’s abuses involved trying to coerce openly bi women into threesomes).
  • If you’re involved in medical, psychological, or public health research: bisexual people are a distinct population worth studying! Research that focuses on the lives and well-being of bisexuals (beyond just questioning or verifying our bisexuality) is just catching on, and these stats are only the beginning of the picture. While anecdotal scenarios can help us understand where the troubling stats are coming from, further research could identify more specific risk and preventative factors for relationship violence among bi women. 
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Things I Love About Being Queer

Being queer can involve struggle, fear, and discrimination. This is not a post about that. Because some things are really awesome too. Here are some of my faves right now:

Relationships models outside of a (failing) hetero script

M/F relationships come loaded with a set of cultural defaults of who does what in initiating dates, finances, sex, housework, emotional labor, big/little spoon positioning, etc. Turns out this doesn’t always reflect the needs and desires of the individuals involved (for example, it usually leaves women sexually unsatisfied, and men emotionally repressed).

Fortunately, in gender pairings where this script doesn’t apply, you have to collectively build your own script by understanding, explicitly communicating, and negotiating your desires. These are great relationship skills to have, regardless of gender or orientation.

(For background, I’m bi, most of the people I’m attracted to are women or non-binary people, and my previous relationships have been with women. It’s not out of the question that I would date a dude, but because of the expectations I’ve developed, I don’t have much patience for some of the gendered expectations that many straight men bring to relationships. Thank god.)

Queer friendship

Not all meaningful queer relationships are romantic/sexual. There’s something wonderfully affirming in having a squad of LGBT-identifying peeps there to understand, validate, and fight for you, as you do for them.

Better media consumption

So I was reading Autostraddle, appreciating the gently subversive commentary, quirky ingroup humor, and supportive comment section–and I thought, “Wow, thank god I’m not straight–I would probably be reading Cosmo right now.”

As a queer person, you are usually not the target audience for most mainstream TV, movies, news, magazines, art, music, and fashion (perhaps more of a niche side-group to be pandered to on special occasions).

But on average, I think the media that is made by and for us is much more thoughtful, creative, interesting, and…better. Stories that don’t assume one type of happy ending or path to getting there. Advice columns that don’t idealize one relationship model. Fashion that doesn’t center around one beauty ideal per gender. Nuanced personal narratives that aren’t forced into a simpler and more comprehensible for cis/het consumption. You kind of have to find this stuff yourself, but damn, it’s worth it.

Getting to be the representation you want to see

It sucks if you didn’t get to see yourself reflected in mainstream entertainment, literature, and news growing up. (This remains true particularly for QPOC and other people at the intersection of identities.)

But the cool flip side of this is that you get to be that representation for other people. In whatever capacity you are publicly visible, you showing babyqueers a possible future that they might not have seen before.

I’ve had some moments particular where I realized just how true this was: A 13-year-olds at a dance intensive I was working at felt comfortable talking to me about questioning his sexuality; A blog reader told me that my goofball bi visibility post seriously helped her feel valid in her sexuality;  I’ve gotten some messages on social media from people who were excited to see some form of representation they were missing, whether queer female dancers or queer Arab people.

Now I’m obviously not a celebrity and my online presence isn’t particularly designed to be inspirational, but the awesome truth is that just by living your life openly and unapologetically, you can give other people license to do the same.

Questioning 

Adopting a LGBTQ identity generally involves a period of questioning. For some people, that questioning starts and ends with figuring out what there own gender or sexuality is. For those willing to expand their minds and hearts a little, it can be a door into questioning the cis/heteronormative systems of the society they were raised in, and questioning other systems of oppression that might not personally affect them. For example:

  • When I accepted that queer sexuality was okay, it only made sense to question other sexual norms I had encountered, from slut-shaming and victim-blaming, to kink-shaming and sex-worker exclusion.
  • For me, coming to terms with my sexual in-betweenness helped me better understand my racial in-betweenness and how concepts of conditional passing, erasure, and choices in identification play into both. For some of my white queer friends, accepting their queerness was their first experience with being the Other, and they used it to become more empathetic and motivated allies to POC.
  • Because I’ve had to validate and explain my sexuality to those who refuse to see it, I’ve developed better empathy and allyship for those who are forced to justify their gender identity or non-visible disability.
  • While I’m in a place where I feel relatively comfortable and safe in my queer identity, I feel a sense of solidarity with those who don’t have that privilege, nationally and internationally. I am navigating how to support these movements, while knowing that they are not mine to lead.

I don’t see “Questioning” as a transitional phase, but rather as a mindset that I hope to keep with me as I learn and evolve.

For Boys in Glitter

This one’s for the femmeboys. The flaming softboys and the fearless sissies. The boys in glitter and nail polish and neon pink. The boys at dance camp who I let try on my pointe shoes, just for shits and giggles. The men who showed me how to tear up a dance floor in heels like its a job. The pop stars with full makeup and raging falsettos.

You offered the first form of queerness made undeniably visible to me, and I latched on without quite knowing why. No, it wasn’t a desire for a “Gay Best Friend” accessory that drew me in, but a deeper, vaguer sense that we somehow belonged in the same category.

And as we stumbled through adolecence together, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be with you or be you. (Like with the cool girls with half-shaved heads, leather jackets, and poetry blogs, it was probably some of both.)

As a babyqueer girl who would never feel at home with ‘butch’ or ‘femme,’ something told me that the sissy boys were my gender cohort.

I’ve often heard from butch women and female-assigned trans people that wearing dresses and makeup felt like drag. And I’ve felt that too–but in a good way. See, I considered drag fun: a way to be excessive and expressive and play outside the boundaries of who you are. (The only problem comes when people don’t seem to want to see me out of that costume.)

If some butches found their parallels in bros who would never be caught dead in a dress, I found mine in the bold give-no-fucks girly boys (who usually lived in patterned buttoned-downs–but actually might be caught dead in a dress). Beyond the style inspiration, I saw a form of femininity that could be part of me–a queer femininity that wasn’t passive or dainty, but aggressive, flamboyant, and subversive.

And then there were my occasional boy-crushes–generally falling into that same type. They seemed safely unrequitable–like all those straight girl crushes. (In reality, some were not as unrequitable as I had assumed–like some of those “straight” girl crushes). But in my head, they were a purely hypothetical illumination of my desires, without the more daunting possibility of action.

With my femmeboy crushes, I realized it wasn’t men per say that contradicted my tastes, but rather the stale normative masculinity that most of them came wrapped in. I came to own the nuances of my desires and understand how my sexuality might be made to function in a less staunchly gendered sphere.

So thank you, all the fabulous femme-leaning men who have rolled through my life. We’ve found our own places in the world and they’re not quite the same, but in seeing you be unapologetically you, I found some seeds I needed to be me.

Type

They said, So what’s your type?
I said, Haven’t got one,
But there must be more than two,
And if you’re in, me and you
We can play this game with no teams and no winners–
We’re neither the saints nor the purest of sinners,
But be my incentive for sticking around on earth,
And I’ll be yours too.
We’ll never find stars down here I’m told,
But our participation here’s prized above gold.

So let’s make a story about me and you
No need to represent
Nothing to represent
Not theory nor experiment.

This is a story about me and you:

 

Things I Would Have Written in My One-Sentence Journal if I Was Still Keeping Up With That

Knee-deep one-liners from my life:

  • Most of being an adult is just sitting on different types of transportation.
  • You can’t have shade without light.
  • I like my guys like I like my fries: on occasion.
  • I deal with feelings like I deal with laundry: probably later, when there’s not so much going on.
  • Reclaiming is when you go through the garbage that’s been hurled at you and notice that some of it is actually recyclable.
  • If you don’t understand high art, sober art might be more your thing.
  • This is probably difficult for you to hear, but more difficult for me to not say.

*Just For Attention*

Usually I couldn’t stand attention
At least not from the people who gave it
But something the way you were
Made me start to crave it

So I pulled up a stool for a friendly chat
Making small-talk to pass the time
Like what kind of faces do you like your face on
And do they look much like mine?

You declared innocence like the default was guilt
As if that could ease our tension
But I thought once I faced you up front and center
You might choose to pay back my attention

I said guess I’m not such an attention prude
When I’m wrapped around you like this
Course it’s all for show (though I’m starting to think
I might be a method actress)

What a funny kind of play where I wear
My own face as a mask to pretend
That it wasn’t quite me that was touched
And I could pull it off in the end

But I tuned out the tunes and the boys making noise
Tried not to grant them a mention
Tried to shut out the guy in the side of your eye
So I could keep all your attention

A Cynical Queer Killjoy’s Mixed Feelings on the Rainbow Machine

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It’s June, which means that cynical, nerdy, political queer killjoys are spending the month rolling their eyes at the shiny whitewashed respectability spectacle of corporate-sponsored pride celebrations. I would know—I’m one of them.

But sometimes I fall off my high horse and remember: I didn’t start out thinking like this. Not even close.

When I sigh at the rainbow-themed sneakers and laptop ads popping up around the city, unimpressed with corporations’ willingness to co-opt symbols of a successful liberation movement now that it has been deemed more profitable than not.

But I also remember living in a time and place when public support of LGBT rights was more of a business liability than a strategy, and think of how much tweenage angst I could have avoided had I seen rainbow-plastered shoe stores then.

Read the rest on HuffPost