The invisible closet: The hidden politics of bisexuality

The invisible closet: The hidden politics of bisexuality

“Bisexuals are greedy,” a friend once told me back in highschool, “They should just make up their minds.” Her statement didn’t make any sense to me at the time, I was just on the verge of identifying as bisexual, but nobody knew that just then, and now most people still don’t, but there doesn’t seem to be any point in coming out when no body I care about would really care… or is there? Apart from female bisexuality being the focus of gratuitous heterosexual fetish, bisexuality is largely invisible and invisible things are easy to ignore and difficult to talk about, which is probably why there are thousands of bisexual women seeking out internet forums, confessing to the ether of cyberspace their similar stories.

Many of these women are living what appear to be heterosexual lives but something is missing, they fall in love with their best friends but are unable to tell anyone. Telling friends could ruin a friendship, telling their husbands could ruin a marriage. Being public could mean being exposed to judgement. Many of these women are socially isolated, and have no connection to queer community, so the internet is the only safe space to express their hidden sexual identities, desires and the overwhelming longing that many of them share.

Often bisexuality isn’t taken seriously. Mainstream society doesn’t know quite where to place it, other than in heterosexual fantasy or some quirky marginal category. Bisexuals often experience discrimination from within the queer community, sometimes resulting from the ease at which they can ‘fit in’ to heterosexual society. Male bisexuality, not often being the subject of heterosexual fantasy and is more subjected to homophobia. Bisexual men are often regarded as a myth, and are seen to be in some transitional period between thinking they’re straight and realising they’re gay. The New York Times recently ran an article about the scientific quest to prove bisexuality, which demonstrates how marginalised bisexuality is, even compared to homosexuality.

For a lot of bisexual people, both men and women, it’s easier to ‘play straight’ and take on a heterosexual identity, at least publicly. Many still identify with dominant romance narratives about how life and partnership should go: find someone of the opposite sex, get married, have kids, and so on, as one friend of mine expressed: “I’m bi, but I still see myself setting down with a man in the long term because that makes sense for having kids and stuff.” Another friend, a bisexual feminist activist, expressed internal conflict over her identity when she found herself in a long-term committed heterosexual relationship: “I’ve always identified as bisexual, but now it just seems like I’m straight because I’m in this relationship.” She felt alienated from the queer community she had been part of.

Some people resent all identity labels, other people feel more closely connected to other communities and their sexual identity is submerged beneath labels like ‘mother’, ‘artist’, ‘lawyer’ or ethnicity and class related identity. Some people identify as ‘pansexual’ to include all the variances of gender rather than just two. ‘Bisexual’ is just one word to describe sexuality, which can be an intricate, fluid and complex thing. Since Kinsey, scales have been a common tool. People can be positioned or position themselves as a number or location on the scale, somewhere between heterosexual and homosexual. It’s quite simplistic, but it may be impossible to accurately map sexuality that differs from person to person and culture to culture.

‘Coming out’ as bi seems like nothing to shout about. The hesitation comes from questioning whether my sexual identity is private or public. I know some gay men who feel their sexuality is private and everyone assumes they are straight and other gay people who feel like it’s an important political statement – making a marginal group more visible. In recent years a few celebrities like Anna Paquin, Lady Gaga and Angelina Jolie have come out as bi in order to make such a statement. I don’t know whether these statements make much of a difference or whether they are just absorbed into the hetero fantasy or marginalised. Many of my historical heroines were bi including Frida kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Mead and Simone de Beauvoir, they were largely inside the invisible closet.

As a bisexual woman, ‘coming out’ is almost a non-event, hence the ‘invisible closet’. I haven’t been trying to hide anything, but no one can tell. Apart from the brief period of my life where I wasn’t attracted to men at all and was in a relationship with a woman, it has been easier for me, like the forum women, to perform a fairly ‘normal’ heterosexual identity, not particularly by choice, but because it is more difficult to swim against the current and because exposing the marginalised ‘personal’ makes us vulnerable. Either way, I will continue to live-out dual sexualities in whatever way makes the most sense to me at the time.

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2 thoughts on “The invisible closet: The hidden politics of bisexuality

  1. This is good stuff; you don’t see many bisexual women revealing how they feel about being bi, not like this anyway.

    “Bisexuals are greedy…” – this one makes me smile a lot and when I hear it, I usually respond by saying, “What, there’s such a thing as too much sex or too much love?” They get the stupidest looks on their faces and, really, shows how shortsighted they are and how utterly clueless they are about a great many things.

    A thought: If people think that I’m straight even though I’m bisexual, where’s the disconnect here? Am I ‘wrong’ not to scream to the masses that I’m bisexual or are they wrong for making an inaccurate assumption? I am of a mind that no bisexual, hidden or otherwise, is “acting straight” – it’s just one of the two “default” behaviors we can adopt and while we could get into a same sex relationship with someone, we don’t have to if we don’t want to.

    I think some people overlook the fact that when we’re not doing anything homosexual, we’re heterosexual and are we to be blamed for preferring to be heterosexual when we’re not being homosexual?

    I think not…

  2. Hey – thanks for writing this, it’s strangely comforting to see that someone else is having a similar experience of bisexuality. For me, coming out did feel like a non-event and it’s kind of frustrating to not have an important part of my identity acknowledged just because I’m in a heterosexual relationship. I totally get what you mean about there being an invisible closet, but I’m not entirely sure why I’m in there! I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just going to have to bust out of there and make myself visible, even if it makes others uncomfortable. I’m not entirely sure how yet, but I’ve started writing a blog too… in fact, that’s what led me here – to “borrow” an image. Then I saw you were from NZ also and felt the need to acknowledge your post. Thanks again.

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