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SocietyMay 27, 2019

We need to talk about biphobia

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If you’re gay in the LGBT world, you’re part of the gang. If you’re straight, you’re on the outside. But where do those in between sit?

A year ago I was planning my wedding. My fiancé and I had just celebrated our four year anniversary with an engagement party. To everyone who knew me, I was a lesbian. After all, I was going to be marrying a woman, I visibly appeared as a gay woman, and many of my friends are also gay women. But the truth is more complicated.

I’ve always been bisexual. I started experimenting with my girlfriends at sleepovers from around the age of eight. At the time I didn’t know what it meant – it just felt fun, exciting and natural. I came out as bisexual to my parents at 16 with a handwritten letter that I spent six weeks composing. After I handed my mother the letter, I ran away to my best friend’s house for three days in shame, expecting to be disowned.

I remember thinking that it would be easier for them to understand if I were just gay. For some reason, “bisexual” just sounded and felt hyper-sexual and dirty. Bisexuality is either the bridge to coming out as gay, or we’re greedy and can’t make up our minds. Bisexual women are not really into women, we just hook up in bars to impress men. Bisexual men are really just gay and haven’t come to terms with their sexuality yet.

image: Pinky Fang /RNZ

These are the stereotypes and fallacies we are inadvertently fed and taught to believe as a society. The media has always either hypersexualised bisexuality or ignored it. While male bisexuality is routinely erased under the misconception that a man cannot be genuinely interested in men and women, female bisexuality is almost exclusively rolled out to fulfil a male fantasy.

Even though I’m aware of the discrimination, I’ve still faced this internalised biphobia since childhood. I never even told my ex future-wife that I wasn’t exclusively gay, because I was so ashamed of it. I wish I were straight. Or I wish I were gay. Most of all, I wish I could be honest with lesbian women about how I identify. The truth is, in doing so, I face a very real risk of rejection and excommunication.

There’s an undercurrent in the lesbian community is that if you’re a bisexual woman, you’re damaged goods. You’re a little bit too close to straight and therefore, not one of “us”. I wish I had a dollar for every time a lesbian has said she’d never date a bi girl. It’s ironic that a community that claims to be inclusive and supportive can often be the most judgmental of all when it comes to those who don’t subscribe to their exact sexual identity.

The 2018 Wellington Pride Parade ( Photo: RNZ/ Reesh Lyon)

I didn’t get married. When you’re planning your wedding and already thinking “well, there’s always divorce…”, that’s a pretty good indication you shouldn’t be going through with. Also, if you can’t even come out to your own fiancé for fear of judgement, that’s not a great basis for a happy, long lasting marriage. I called off our wedding the week we were due to send out the invitations.

A month after we broke up, the first person I kissed was a boy. I hadn’t kissed anyone but my fiancé in five years, and I hadn’t kissed a boy since I was 19. I distinctly remember my full body tensing up and my face contorting itself into an ugly shape as I tried to make sense of it. After solidly identifying as a lesbian for five years, kissing a boy I found attractive was confusing. I had pushed down that part of me for so long that when it came out, I didn’t know how to react.

I kissed a couple more boys after that. Each time, the same reaction. My body tensed up, my face would contort and every time I’d ask myself what I was doing. I came to understand that the discomfort was a reaction to no longer understanding where I fit in the world. I had had this community of lesbian women who I identified so closely with, and dating a man felt like I was no longer a part of that. I felt adrift.

My straight friends slowly started to cotton on to the fact that I wasn’t exclusively interested in women. Their reactions were usually the same – you are so lucky! The dating world is your smorgasbord! I didn’t feel lucky, though. I felt like I was turning my back on the queer community by dating men and I felt like a fraud for dating women. I hadn’t told any of my queer friends that I was open to dating men. I gradually alienated myself from the community I had felt so closely aligned with.

In the months following the break up I went on a few dates with men and women and ended up in a sort of “situationship” with a close male friend. When we first met, I was with my fiancé. I was attracted to him and being attracted to a male was not part of the plan. I felt guilty and dirty. Once my fiancé and I broke up, he and I began to spend time together as friends. We had chemistry I hadn’t experienced with anyone else, but my self-imposed lesbianism meant I completely denied that I felt any attraction towards him. I was so deep in self-loathing biphobia, I denied the truth even to myself.  

Gradually we began to break through the wall of resistance I’d built up around dating men. I was able to relax and enjoy being with him. I was honest with him about my sexuality and the minor identity crisis I was having. He treated me with kindness, care and respect. Being with him was cathartic in that I was finally allowing myself to be cared for by a male which forced me to challenge my own biphobia.

A few weeks ago, I met a girl. Immediately I felt a strong connection and spark with her. After continuing to date for a few weeks and realising I was developing real feelings, I became terrified of her finding out that I didn’t identify solely as a lesbian. When we’d met it hadn’t felt necessary to tell her. I was so afraid that if she knew the truth, she’d back off in disgust. There is clearly still work to be done.

In gay culture, if you’re gay, you’re part of the gang. If you’re straight, you’re on the outside. But where do those in between sit? Although LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, in reality, bisexuals are not always included in this supposedly inclusive community. We are all fighting for the same cause. We all want freedom to love who we want and fuck who we want and go about our business however we want without judgement.

As a community we must do better to welcome all stripes of the rainbow. The queer community is all of us – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and more. To treat anyone as less deserving because they aren’t gay enough is engaging in the the exact prejudice that we have spent decades marching against. The only way we can combat biphobia is by recognising this is a problem in our community and talking about it.

Jenny Eastwood is an Auckland-based writer and content creator at

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