When I saw that pop singer Aaron Carter came out as bisexual on Twitter, my gut response wasn’t to be happy for him. I wasn’t overjoyed that another celebrity coming out publicly will be great for bi-visibility. I wasn’t thrilled by the amount of love and support he received from LGBTQ and straight folks for embracing his authentic self.
I simply thought to myself, “I wonder how long until he actually comes out as gay?” Before I could even finish the thought, I felt a pang of guilt. I couldn’t believe that my initial response was to invalidate his struggle, coming out process, and identity.
Actually, I could believe it. And that’s the problem.
Despite being an out and proud bisexual man or knowing that the negative stereotypes which plague bisexuals are false. And despite having received the same invalidating response of, “You sure you aren’t gay?” from countless folks, I still couldn’t help but think it.
I felt so shameful. So hypocritical. So phony.
But the thing is, despite all my activism, I still struggle with internalized biphobia. And I know I’m not alone.
This past month I received an email from a bisexual woman who said she feels horrible because she refuses to date bi guys. She told me she’s afraid that they’ll leave her for a man. She noted the hypocrisy. The same could be said about her she’d leave him for a woman but she couldn’t help but fear that outcome if she went through with dating a bi man.
A couple years ago, I met with a bisexual man in Portland, OR. He had been reading my work since I first start writing and wanting to ask me a few questions in person.
“I don’t feel like the poster boy for bisexuality,” he said. “There’s so much about what bisexuality is not, but not enough about what it is. I don’t feel like I fit into the bisexual…agenda doesn’t seem like the right word for it, but I can’t think of a better one.”
He knows he’s bisexual, but he doesn’t feel like the “right type” of bisexual. Some quick background: He had been married to his wife monogamously for eight years. He loves her deeply, but just a few years ago he realized he was bisexual, and wanted to explore his attraction with men.
He had this shame and guilt surrounding his desires because when he Googled bisexuality, he saw all these pieces about how bisexuals don’t need to be actively dating multiple genders to feel satisfied. Bisexual men don’t leave their wife to go run off with other men. Those are all nasty stereotypes!
But there he was, directly falling into what bisexuals are supposedly not: feeling a need to be with both men and women and a strong desire to separate from his wife to explore his attractions.
A parallel struggle to that of my Portlandian friend is the sentiment of not being “bi enough.” A reason why many folks who are emotionally and/or physically attracted to multiple genders eschew the label. Time and time again, I hear folks who “don’t do labels,” even though they fit the bisexual label to a T.
Frankly, I don’t care how you identify as long as it makes you happy. You can identify as a pastrami sandwich for all I care. But there is something that needs to be noted. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a straight or gay person say they don’t do labels. Every time, it comes from individuals who fall somewhere on the bi+ spectrum. So I do believe that fear and internalized biphobia are large contributors to rejecting the bisexual label.
These folks who don’t do labels tell me they’re attracted to men and women and could see themselves dating both, but know their attractions may change over time. When I tell them that is literally the definition of bisexual, they shake their head. “No, I just don’t feel bisexual suits me.”
All these little anecdotes are tied together by one theme: internalized biphobia. It doesn’t matter if you’re like me, someone who has fully embraced the label, or someone on the opposite of the spectrum, still in denial about their bisexuality, we all struggle with internalized biphobia to some degree.
Honestly, it would be somewhat weird if we didn’t. We all grew up in a society with constant bisexual erasure and a lack of bi visibility in the media. Not to mention the bisexual label, in itself, has numerous negative connotations and stereotypes implicitly associated with it.
Even though many of us are still able to claim the label, that doesn’t mean all the implicit and insidious negative connotations we have with bisexuality simply disappear.
We’re bisexuals, not magicians.
However, I’ve come to realize that we may never get over this internalized biphobia. I may never be able to curb my gut response to think a man is actually gay when he comes out as bisexual. The woman who emailed me may never be able to date bi men, due to her fears. My Portlandian friend may have to divorce his wife (or have some form of non-monogamous relationship) to feel content.
But that is nothing to feel an ounce of shame, guilt, or remorse about. In fact, if we do feel shame, then we’re letting bisexual stereotypes win. What we need to do is keep checking ourselves. Keep pushing ourselves. Keep asking the question, “Is this genuinely what I believe or what I’ve been told to believe?”
This level of introspection is difficult, but I think we’re up for the challenge. Besides, we’re good at introspection, and there’s research to back this up. In Dr. Pallotta-Chiarolli’s book, “Women in Relationships with Bisexual Men: Bi Men by Women,” she notes that bi men have to be introspective, rejecting heteronormative ideals, in order to embrace the bi label. So I know we can do it.
In the end, I’ve realized that my little biphobic thoughts will come out from time to time. These manifestations of my own internalized biphobia may never go away.
But I too will question my biphobic thoughts when they come up, and won’t let society the same society that has insidiously planted this biphobia in me win by feeling shame for struggling with aspects of bisexual identity.