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Sophie ([personal profile] sqbr) wrote2010-02-03 05:12 pm

Won't somebody think of the (mostly) straight girls?

EDIT: The more I think about this the more I worry it's derailing :( I shall leave it unlocked, of only so I can link to it the next time I am annoyed by a boundary policing straight person. But still, apologies.

So, I think homophobia and heterosexism are bad. I'm against any sort of oppression on principle, but I've also seen the terrible hurt these prejudices can cause, both in the wider world and to my LGBTQ friends in particular.

But without meaning to minimise or distract from that (because it is definitely more important), I was recently struck by the way in which a particular form of heterosexism hurts me as a straight woman as well.

Namely, the way that the impossible bind bisexual women are put into (any interest in the same sex-> lesbian! Any interest in the opposite sex-> straight!) also, in a less extreme way, erases the sexuality of those of us who have some same sex attraction but still identify as straight.

Thus, my rambling somewhat self-centered thoughts. This is definitely not a complete analysis of bi erasure! And the primary target of my ire here is boundary policing from straight people (including the little boundary policing straight person in my head), since I feel skeevy lecturing LGBT people about how they should be more inclusive of me. Only talking about women since that's where I've seen it play out, but a lot of this applies to men too1.

PLEASE let me know if I'm being a straightsplaining jerk, and I apologise in advance if I am. I really hope not, but it's a complicated topic.

EDIT: And I am! Am in the process of editing based on people's criticisms, see the comments.

This is the conversation which inspired this post (and expresses pretty much everything I want to say much more succinctly :)), but is definitely not the first time I've encountered these ideas.


So, sexual identity is hugely complicated. But I know enough about LGBT/queer/etc identities to know that (a)I don't identify that way and thus can't really understand them and (b) You can't and shouldn't ever judge anyone else's identity for them. This post totally glosses over all the aspects of sexual identity that have nothing to do with who you want to have sex with. My point I guess is that even if we DO only only concentrate on that aspect, and act like there's any objective measure people's sexualities can be measured by, people's attitudes are still impossibly hypocritical.

The "who you're attracted to" aspect of sexual identity can be measured by Kinsey Scale. Depending on how you measure things I'm somewhere between a 1 and a 2, though apparently I come across as total 0 (or I did before I started squeeing so much about femslash :)) The test is flawed (asexual people aren't on it for example) but helps get across my point.

Accusations I have heard leveled at people who aren't a total 0 (unambiguously straight) or 6 (unambiguously gay/lesbian):

  • She claims to be a lesbian and has only dated women but is attracted to guys and thus must be bi2
  • She claims to be bi but has only dated women so must be a lesbian (admittedly, I've only seen the male version of this in person)
  • She claims to be bi but has only dated men so must be straight
  • She claims to be straight and has only dated guys but is attracted to women so must be a lesbian.


And this affects me, though not as much as a lot of other people. Not that anyone has actually sincerely accused me of being a closeted lesbian/bisexual3, but every time I poke at my own sexuality (which I've been doing every now and then since I hit puberty) I have two spectres in front of me: The repressed bisexual who thinks she's straight, and the wannabe bisexual who's actually straight (I like men too much to suspect myself of being a lesbian :D).

And it's only with the recent discussions about sexuality in slash fandom and all the comments about "fandom bisexuals" that something really obvious struck me: they can't both be true at the same time. And what seems to happen in conversations that rely on these ideas is that they will both be in play: Anyone who claims to be bisexual and hasn't acted "lesbian enough" is straight. But anyone who's straight (an identity which has just been defined as containing a large potential for same sex attraction) is assumed to fit into neat little heteronormative boxes, as if the Kinsey scale jumps straight from 0 to 6 or maybe (if people are being very open minded) 3 with nobody in between4.

There is a difference between being in denial about your sexuality, being unsure, and it being in the fuzzy area between definitions. I am pretty sure how I feel about women (attractive sometimes but not generally as much as men, would probably only be able to judge if I'd want to date one if I was single again5) and there's not much I can do about the remaining unsureness. The fact that some people assume from me identifying as straight that I have no attraction to women, or that someone identifying as bisexual has had relationships/sex with both men and women, or that someone identifying as a lesbian has no attraction to men does not make us liars, it just goes to show they shouldn't go round making false assumptions (and also that language is ambiguous). And of course people's identities change and that doesn't make them liars either.

(This section has been heavily edited because it was crap)
Choosing to be closeted is an entirely valid response to the homophobic society we live in, and definitely not a decision any straight person is in a position to criticise.

If the "closeted bisexual" is happy in their relationships with men, is it that big a deal that they're not dating women too, even if they might (in your opinion) get something out of it? What business is it of yours how they identify? (this also applies to any lesbian "in denial" about her bisexuality etc)

The issue of straight women pretending to be bi is a HUGE minefield, which I shall leave to the actual bisexuals to poke at. But as [personal profile] sanguinity pointed out someone "pretending" to be bi only when it's safe might in fact just be "pretending" to be straight when it's not. The homophobic society we live in does that to people. And if a straight girl enjoys making out with other girls that doesn't make her a "fake bisexual", that makes her a straight girl who enjoys making out with other girls.

For context, here is the article I linked to.

1)I'm not sure how it works for men in this boat since I haven't talked to many men who identify as straight but are openly attracted to other men. I think the fact that such men are so rarely heard from says a lot in and of itself. Normally I wouldn't just talk about men and women, but "straightness" becomes a less useful term when talking about non-binary gendered people. Also for simplicity I've acted like it's a simple straight/bi/lesbian continuum which ignore pansexual people, omnisexual people and probably others that aren't coming to mind.
2) I know lesbians who've dated men etc have it even worse, but they don't illustrate the hypocrisy quite so well. Also "dated" here may just mean "had sex with" :)
3)Other than maybe my ex, and I'd say he was at least half just saying it as an insult
4)I personally haven't seen the inverse of this conversation, erasing 4 and 5 on the scale, but I'm sure it happens.
5)The last time I was single was eleven years ago, and I was sufficiently mired in heteronormativity that I couldn't fully get my head around the idea of women as possible sexual/romantic objects and put it in the too hard basket. And now I have trouble seriously imagining myself with anyone other than Cam, which while unambiguously heterosexual definitely isn't my full potential :)

I'm going to ramble. No idea how offensive it is.

[personal profile] gretel 2010-02-03 03:12 pm (UTC)(link)
I can't really help answer your questions. So I'm going to ramble. I hope that's okay.

I have been accused of being a lesbian a lot. Apparently being a hairy-legged, grumpy, oftenshorthaired, non-makeup wearing motorcyclists is something of a stereotype. To the point where people won't believe I have a boyfriend. :P

Which is annoying, mostly because it's not as if I'm against the idea of being bi, or lesbian. What I do hate about the idea of identifying as bisexual when I've only ever fooled around briefly with girls, after several serious and serious-ish relationships with guys. Associating with the idea of being a girl who kisses girls for the attention annoys me.

There's also the issue of being pretty seriously harrassed at varying points of my life due to the assumption that I was a lesbian. Weird times.

[identity profile] furikku.livejournal.com 2010-02-03 03:40 pm (UTC)(link)
1) You misnumbered a footnote:
(attractive sometimes but not generally as much as men, would probably only be able to judge if I'd want to date one if I was single again4) should be 5.

2) From the conversation link:
Don't have labels for "girls who like to kiss girls and cuddle with them and have never had spark & opportunity to find out if they'd like more/other than that."

I really could've used that label growing up. :/

3) Given how much crap bisexuals get given, would anyone really pretend to be one? (The answer: Yes, but only when they think no straight people are around. This has not been the case with the accusations I've encountered)

Is there room in this conversation for the thing around that one Katy Perry song, or would that just be opening a stupid can of worms? (Srs post, I don't really know much about that area, on account of having no life.)

4) If the "closeted bisexual" is happy in their relationships with men, is it that big a deal that they're not dating women too, even if they might (in your opinion) get something out of it?

IMO it's a bigger deal that they're actively discouraged from dating women too, and the subject should not be pressed unless/until there's a safer space for queer types in general culture.

5) I've had a lot of similar trouble with the Kinsey Scale Jump thing; I think we're kind of in the same range, so yeah. (With some additional complications, at least on my part, where I like looking at sexy folks in general, but I only get Hot And Bothered by sexy guys on an objectification level.)
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)

[personal profile] sanguinity 2010-02-03 06:18 pm (UTC)(link)
:: And the primary target of my ire here is boundary policing straight people ::

I misread that on first go, as if the primary target of your ire is straight people being boundary policed, instead of straight people doing the boundary policing. The latter is what I think you meant, yes?

:: Given how much crap bisexuals get given, would anyone really pretend to be one? (The answer: Yes, but only when they think no straight people are around...) ::

I've encountered other times that people will pretend; it has more to do with whether or not one can scrape social mileage out of it, not whether the audience is straight or not. I don't want to get into cases, because itemizing feels too much like distributing a convenient set of boundary-policing pre-authorizations to the straight people who might be reading this.

(BTW, re the case you linked? I'm not convinced she was pretending/lying to AfterEllen; she may have encountered a backlash she did not anticipate and could not withstand, and is attempting to closet herself again. Closeted LGBT people will sometimes privately self-identify to out LGBT people, and she might have been assuming that the LGBT press is ghettoized enough that the story would have stayed in-community. [Naive, yes, but if you click the Shankbone link, it seems clear that there's something not-sense-making about how she makes her decisions about her public statements.] Anyway, she may be a vigorously closeted bisexual, or she may be straight. There's no way for me -- or you -- to know. You'll notice that AfterEllen doesn't claim that she was pretending/lying in that first round of emails [although it's pretty clear that there are difficult-to-account-for inconsistencies between earlier and later emails]; they claim that she took from the community without giving back. In fact, worse than that: she took from the community and then attacked the community. That is not a claim about whether she was pretending to be bi; that's a claim about whether she's a trustworthy member of the community.

...which is the long way of saying that I'm uncomfortable with a straight-identified woman framing that link as if said author is "really" straight and was only "pretending" to be bi. Please leave the identity-policing to LGBT-identified people.)

Which almost segues into what I wanted to say...

For me, LGBT identity is as much or more about identification with a community -- publicly or privately -- than it is about who someone has romantic / sexual / whatever relationships with. Ted Haggard is clearly nowhere near a Kinsey 0, but I do not consider him to be gay or bi in any meaningful way. People who refer to him as gay or bi irritate me, because they usually seem to be trying to shame him with those words, and I am so over using LGBT identities to shame people. LGBT is not a clinical description of someone's sexual desires; these are social identities that people earn.

...which is why I agree with you that it is irritating when straight people assume that other straight people don't experience same-sex desires: that thinking essentializes the spectrum of so-called "sexual" identities to sexual desire. Which, no. LGBT-and-so-forth are social identities that refer to individuals' sexuality-and-more. LGBT-ness isn't about who you boink; it's about how you operate socially with respect to who you boink. As far as I'm concerned, it's wholly possible to be "100% straight" and experience same-gender sexual desire. The one isn't really indicative of the other.
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[personal profile] fred_mouse 2010-02-04 01:39 pm (UTC)(link)
LGBT is not a clinical description of someone's sexual desires; these are social identities that people earn.

I think I have to disagree with you. The implication that I have to do something that other people respond to before I can Identify as LGBT (which is how I read the word 'earn' in this sentence) is offensive.

Sexual identity is about a person's own take on their own preferences. I am no less gay for living a heteronormed lifestyle. I'm still gay, even if *no-one knows*.
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)

[personal profile] sanguinity 2010-02-04 09:14 pm (UTC)(link)
The "earning" doesn't have to be, and often isn't, public. And it is absolutely not a matter of proving oneself to a community.

I said that these identities come from "identification with a community -- publicly or privately," and I do mean exactly that. Private identification counts, and yes, one can be living a heteronormed life and still be gay.

And yes, I would still say that you have "earned" your identity. Calling oneself gay -- even privately -- is not an act that happens without social cost. And that is true even if no one but you knows.
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[personal profile] peasant 2010-02-04 03:31 pm (UTC)(link)
For me, LGBT identity is as much or more about identification with a community -- publicly or privately -- than it is about who someone has romantic / sexual / whatever relationships with. Ted Haggard is clearly nowhere near a Kinsey 0, but I do not consider him to be gay or bi in any meaningful way...LGBT is not a clinical description of someone's sexual desires; these are social identities that people earn.

I have to say this attitude puzzles me, and I may be getting the wrong end of the stick (especially since I've never heard of Ted Haggard before). I assume by community you don't just mean the scene, so I'm not sure exactly what you do mean. Are you saying someone like Ted Haggard doesn't count as LGBT because he has tried to become straight? How exactly does one earn the LGBT label?
sanguinity: woodcut by M.C. Escher, "Snakes" (Default)

[personal profile] sanguinity 2010-02-04 09:43 pm (UTC)(link)
No, I don't mean identification with a scene. I mean self-identification as a member of the "othered" group. I mean things like understanding anti-gay pundits to be talking about you, as opposed to understanding them to be talking about them-that-you-are-not-part-of.

Ted Haggard was a high-powered U.S. evangelical, one with a fair amount of political clout; one of the things that he did (and does) with that clout was use it against gays. Then it came out that he'd been routinely seeing male prostitutes: Haggard is clearly not a Kinsey 0. I wouldn't say that he's "trying to be straight" -- he identifies as straight, period. He understands gay people to be them. He might use "us" to refer to straight men who are tempted into lustful thoughts/acts about other men, but he doesn't ever use "us" to refer to LGBTQ-identified people. To him, LGBTQ people are them.

:: How exactly does one earn the LGBT label? ::

By hearing yourself included in it, by hearing it as a term that means "us." The "earning" part follows automatically, from making your life in a society that you know thinks of you as lesser/broken/despicable.
peasant: sweet pea (Default)

[personal profile] peasant 2010-02-05 03:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, now I understand where you're coming from - thanks for clarifying.

I think your definition is maybe a tad restrictive because I don't fit all of it - the society I live in doesn't think of me as lesser/broken/despicable, it's just the odd phobic individual who thinks that, so to the extent that I am 'othered' it is only as a result of being a minority and having to be cautious of the phobic. But I like your 'them' and 'us' definition, that works well for me.
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[personal profile] firecat 2010-02-03 11:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Fuck. I wrote a long (I would like to believe) thoughtful entry and DW ate it. Here are a few bits.

I think there are a few subcultures where there is pressure to identify as bi, and a few people might pretend to be bi to have social cachet in those cultures.

I also think there's absolutely no way to tell, at least over a short period of time, whether an individual person is pretending or sincerely experimenting or naturally moving along the Kinsey spectrum.

I think that people get to identify as bisexual and still be in monogamous relationships. I think that people should use labels as a way to start conversations, not fend them off.
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[personal profile] fred_mouse 2010-02-04 01:42 pm (UTC)(link)
absolutely. bisexual does not imply polysexual, nor is the opposite true. If we could get that out into the general community, it would be an improvement.

(derailing slightly, I've known at least one person in a same sex relationship with a person who identified as heterosexual. I believe that jokingly, ze referred to zer partner's sexuality as 'tourist').
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[personal profile] firecat 2010-02-04 08:11 pm (UTC)(link)
For the record, I'm one of those "poster" bisexuals, kinsey 3 and have had LTRs with both men and women.
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[personal profile] peasant 2010-02-04 03:51 pm (UTC)(link)
If sexuality is a big tangled messy ball of string then labels are like finding one loose end and tugging on it to try to free something. You may get a freed length of string for a foot or two, but after that the internal knots pull tight and the rest of the tangle is left even more tangled than it was before. But sometimes we can't resist tugging because it is so tempting to see if we can just pull a bit free.

So when I hear you describe yourself as straight I immediately grab the 'straight' string in my head and yank until it tangles on your 'but sometimes attracted to girls' and then I have to mentally backtrack and spend a long time teasing at complex knots.

I can see that in some social contexts there is a social cachet to claiming one of the letters in LGBT. That's probably a good thing because it's a mark of how far we have come.
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[personal profile] tsukinofaerii 2010-02-05 02:57 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm a Kinsey 3. Gender isn't even on my checklist when I think of what's sexy and what's not. I (obviously) can't speak for all bisexuals, but here's my thoughts on yaoi my experiences.

1)If I am not dating anyone at all, I will be presumed heterosexual.
1a) If I correct this, I will be told I'm confused/experimenting.
2)If I am dating a man, I will be presumed heterosexual.
2a) If I correct this, I will be told I'm confused/experimenting.
3) If I am dating a woman, I will be presumed lesbian.
3a) If I correct this, I will be told that I'm closeted and attempting to retain straight privilege.
4) Do Not Get Me Started on "bisexuals are all sluts" and "proving" I'm not straight/not a lesbian.

In short, I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Unless I want to "pass" as straight or lesbian, and deal with the guilt of what amounts to lying about myself, I Am Wrong. I'm not allowed to define my own sexuality, because no matter what I do, I'll be perceived as one box or the other, and even tattooing "BISEXUAL" on my forehead won't help. If I make a point of being vocally bi, I'm a "straight girl trying too hard for the street cred", an argument I'll buy when there's actually cred attached. And yeah, I feel horrible about that, because I'm letting down LGBT causes when I pass as straight—even though I've no choice but to pass. And when I don't pass, I'm still not being honest.

I'm not in the closet as bisexual because I choose to be. I'm in the closet because people keep shoving me into it.

Sorry for ranting at you. :(

Deleted & reposted for HTML fail. (facepalm)
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)

[personal profile] carmarthen 2010-02-13 11:57 pm (UTC)(link)
What you said.

I've pretty much come to the conclusion that there is no way to "prove" one's bisexuality to people who don't think bisexuality exists.

What really gets me is other bisexual people who start in on that "Oh, well, I'm real, but those other people are just experimenting/confused/wanting to be trendy" for, I dunno, monosexual cred?

[identity profile] sabonasi.livejournal.com 2010-02-14 12:30 am (UTC)(link)
OMG THIS! This a thousand times over!
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[personal profile] were_lemur 2010-02-14 11:14 pm (UTC)(link)
*nods* So much this.

I tend to swing between a Kinsey 2 and 4 (there are times I'll be more attracted to men, and times when I'll be more attracted to women, but I'm always attracted to both [with the occasional "not quite sure, but cute either way" thrown in for variety]).

I'm poly (at least in theory; I don't even have time for one relationship right now.

My current presentation swings from "pretty damn dykey" when I'm dressed down to "cute haircut!" when I'm dressed up.

I don't feel all that comfortable with the local LGBT community, because I've seen them throw bi and poly people under the bus when it's politically expedient to do so, but I spent a lot of time volunteering for No on 8 because even through monogamous marriage isn't personally important to me, it's vital to people who want to protect their families.

I identify as Queer, because even though the GLBT community doesn't want me, we all share the reality of being Other.
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[personal profile] linkspam_mod 2010-02-13 09:58 pm (UTC)(link)
Your post has been included in an Linkspam Roundup.
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)

[personal profile] carmarthen 2010-02-14 12:02 am (UTC)(link)
And it's only with the recent discussions about sexuality in slash fandom and all the comments about "fandom bisexuals" that something really obvious struck me: they can't both be true at the same time.

I confess, I'm seriously tempted to make a Schrödinger's Bisexual icon now. Only I have a feeling people would take it to mean that when you open the box, you find out whether she's really gay/straight.

And if a straight girl enjoys making out with other girls that doesn't make her a "fake bisexual", that makes her a straight girl who enjoys making out with other girls.

I think huge parts of this come out of a lot of people being fundamentally unhappy with the idea of any non-simple sexualities. 100% gay and 100% straight are (to these people, not necessarily in reality) simple. Everything else? Complicated, and therefore suspect. (It reminds me a bit of people going "Well, it's colder than usual this winter in my area, therefore global warming is FAKE!", because a climate system more complicated than the entire world changing in tandem is incomprehensible to them.)

...this whole aspect of the conversation is just exhausting me incredibly.
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)

[personal profile] carmarthen 2010-02-15 03:57 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, I have definitely heard a lot of biracial Americans going "Aaaaaargh!" over that one.