By A.J. Walkley
Up until fairly recently, I had a phobia that was specific to me, targeted at me alone. While it’s hard to admit, I experienced internalized biphobia from around elementary school when I felt ashamed for wanting to kiss my friend Mallory and my friend Anthony, until a little over a year ago. While I have always been completely accepting of all people of all sexualities, including other bisexuals, it’s been a long road to complete acceptance of my own bisexuality.
The few dalliances I had with the same sex in school up until college w,ere tamped down deep in my mind, buried until I was ready to deal with what they meant. Despite the leadership roles I took up in the Gay-Straight Alliance at my college from freshman year on, it took two-and-ahalf years to come out to the group as bisexual – and even then, my roller coaster wasn’t over. I was stuck on a fence, in many ways and to many people, and I wasn’t comfortable in that position.
In the spring of 2006, I attended my first True Colors Conference at the University of Connecticut, where I attended a workshop led by Robyn Ochs. At the beginning of the workshop, I vividly recall Robyn asking the attendees what we identified as “today” – she explained that we may not have identified that way yesterday and we may not identify the same way tomorrow. On that day, I declared, “I’m a lesbian” to my workshop partner – but it didn’t feel right.
Returning to my campus, I tried out that label, telling my then-roommate, “Maybe I’m a lesbian.”
She shot me down – “You’re not. You’re bisexual. Deal with it.” A self-proclaimed bisexual herself, she was irritated at my inability to accept myself.
There are plenty of reasons for my personal biphobia: concerns about family acceptance when entering into a relationship with a certain gender; worries that no matter whom I dated, I would always be missing out on something other genders could offer; uncertainties about how many people of any specific gender I would need to be with to be considered a “real bisexual” to greater society; and fears that all of the negative stereotypes and clichés that plague bisexuals would come down upon me in various areas of my life.
If I wasn’t with at least two people of differing genders at any given time, would I be considered a “true bisexual”? If I settled down with one person of one gender, would I be considered a traitor to the bisexual community? If I ended up with a male, cisgender partner, would I be a traitor to the LGBT+ community?
I directed all of these doubts within. When I started my now four-year relationship with a cisgender male after several years of dating a variety of people across the gender spectrum, many of those doubts escalated. At the time, I was trying to become more active in the bisexual community and was terrified that if anyone knew I was in a seemingly heterosexual relationship, it would negatively affect the way people viewed me.
As a result, I never spoke about my boyfriend.
At the events I went to in order to promote my books and speak up for bisexuals, I never spoke about him; I never let anyone know about my dating life at all. If anything, I wanted to come across as single. Even when I spoke at the True Colors Conference myself in 2010 with him sitting in the room, I barely acknowledged his presence – attendees either thought he was a friend or my assistant.
I truly believed that I would lose respect among my own community if they knew.
It took another bisexual activist – Lauren Michelle Kinsey – to approach me with the idea for a co-blog on The Huffington Post to change my mode of thinking on the subject. Lauren is in a long-term relationship with a woman and she noticed on my personal Facebook profile that I was in a relationship with a man. She wanted to use our bisexuality and our relationships as the jumping off points to frame our discussions on the news site. I felt like she was giving me permission to proclaim and celebrate not only my bisexuality, but my relationship, publicly.
In that context, I found a way to bring my internal biphobia to the surface in order to squash it for good.
Looking back now, it seems a bit silly. Who would understand me and my relationship better than my own community? If anything, the vast majority of the external biphobia I’ve experienced has come from the LGs of the LGBT+ community – which is upsetting. The clichés that we have all heard on countless occasions, which seem to be hiding around every corner, seem all the louder within the very umbrella community under which bisexuals should feel at home. If the LGBT+ community is spouting out negativity at us, is it difficult to understand why I and others like me might alter the direction of those insults and come to believe them about ourselves in some way?
I doubt I am alone in my experience with internalized biphobia. Despite the work of bisexual activists, many of the negative stereotypes persist, regardless of their fallacies. How am I supposed to feel if society believes me to be incapable of monogamy? What kind of effect would you expect when a bisexual teen hears, “I never date bisexuals. They’re cheaters and they have more STDs than everyone else”? Would you readily proclaim your current partner when you hear someone say, “Bisexuals can’t be with one person at a time,” or “You’re either straight, gay or lying.”?
The road can be rough for a bisexual – all the more so when the damaging myths and misconceptions about bisexuality arrive at your door. If I had had even a portion of the bisexual community to reach out to in the years of my past when biphobia started rooting itself in my mind, I highly doubt it would have taken me as long as it has to be able to readily proclaim my sexual identity and my partner’s gender, without apology.
Nevertheless, I am proud of how far I’ve come and I am happy to say I no longer harbor those same fears or phobias about myself. I understand them, though, and hope speaking out about them now and moving forward will help others with similar worries.
One day, I hope all bisexuals feel comfortable and safe enough to stand up and proclaim, “I’m here and I’m bisexual. This is me.”
A.J. Walkley is the author of such titles as Choice and Queer Greer. Based in Arizona, she currently blogs for The Huffington Post. Her third novel, Vuto, was published in Summer 2013.