Snippet #7: Bisexual passing

This is a excerpt from my book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. If you like this text, please consider buying a copy.

Hegemonic discourse* about what it means to be queer (and therefore, oppressed as queer) constructs queerness as a series of visual markers: certain appearances, certain gender performances, certain clothes, and above all – the proverbial “walking hand in hand on the street” (or simply being in a same-gender relationship). Bisexual people who, for any reason, do not give away these signs, are automatically read as heterosexual by default, because what people “know” about queerness does not include markers of bisexuality. […] However, the same social production of “queer” as this series of visual markers necessarily means that bisexuals who do give out these signals will automatically be read as gay or lesbian by default.

[…]

In both cases (unless the bi person in question is carrying a huge sign reading: “I AM BISEXUAL”), it becomes impossible to successfully pass as bi or to assert bisexual identity. […] Since our bisexuality is not “known” to have any visual markers, and because of the incongruence between what is “known” to be queer, and bisexual behaviour, we are routinely accused of fraudulence, perceived as invisible and are forced to deal with other people’s doubts regarding our identities and our oppression.

* Discourse means everything spoken, written, or otherwise communicated about a certain topic. Hegemonic discourse means a discourse created by those in power and which dominates social understandings about a given topic.

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6 thoughts on “Snippet #7: Bisexual passing

    • so veryvery true.

      i was part of a vibrant and loving (or so i though) queer community for several years. i was out as pan and as non-binary trans. i totally thought that the queer community respected and accepted my sexual orientation and my gender. i was wrong.

      after years of having casual sex with members of the queer community (mostly women and gender-variant individuals, coincidentally), i “settled down” with a “heterosexual cis man” and became a pariah. why?

      as it turned out, the queer community i was part of never really understood my pansexuality and non-binary gender. they assumed the cis man i loved was heterosexual, implying that they thought of me as a woman. plus, they must’ve assumed that i was a lesbian– why else would they get wierded-out when i went for a cis man? which makes me think that they didn’t think of trans men as men– because the queer community didn’t toss me out when i was with trans men. weird, right?

      that said, i definitely identify with the word “queer”. if i need to describe myself in a single word– i go with “queer”. i no longer automatically feel welcome in queer communities, though. too much monosexism, ya know?

      • I totally identify with this.

        Though I was never really ‘accepted’ by the queer/trans community around here, I’ve been hanging around the edges of it, for years. Before there was a bi community (which was only started about 2-3 years ago), the queer/trans community was the closest I had to a political or community ‘home’ – and yet I never felt accepted, since I “failed” to par up to the standard: I passed as a cis woman (for a long time, didn’t even feel like I had the “right” to call myself genderqueer, or queer, at all), which means I failed at the standard of being FTM*. I’m also Mizrahi (Arabic Jew), which means I failed at being white. And in addition to all this, I was seeing people who passed as cis men, so I failed at being a lesbian (which is how many FTM’s identify in my community, and is anyway a required standard of those who pass as cis women). These were all barriers in my way to being accepted in the community.

        Anyway, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) enough, I’ve felt more and more accepted/appreciated (or at the very least, less rejected, or more recognized) by the community, the more I spoke out about bisexuality. Since I began my bisexual activism, I’ve had quite a few chances to speak and write in public, which has led to an increasing acceptance or appreciation of bisexuality and of bisexual politics – and of me as an activist. I’ve also been relatively outspoken about my genderqueer identity, which I guess also contributed.

        Regarding the word “queer” – I’m very ambivalent about it. On the one hand, radical queer politics is awesome and shiny and revolutionary and all that, and my heart is right there with it… On the other hand, in many cases, I feel that “queer” is yet another tool for the erasure of bisexuality, as well as many other identities. For example, before I started thinking about bisexuality politically, for years all I talked/thought/did activism around was “queer” politics – because it was a convenient way of talking about bisexuality without talking about bisexuality. I try to be very careful with that word, since it can be very easily used to gloss over specifics and ignore differences.

        * I know that this term is considered politically incorrect in many US trans communities, but here this is how people in the community identify (themselves, and the community itself).

        • i know what you mean about “queer” being used as a tool of erasure. i still love the word, though. when i tell people i’m queer, it doesn’t immediately communicate that i’m a pansexual non-binary trans person– but it does tell them that their previous assumptions about me could be erroneous.

          i also love “queer” because almost anyone can claim it. i love “queer” because it’s a word of unity– it just means “all of us in sexual/gender minorities”. i think the problem with monosexist queer communities is that they don’t understand “queer”. they don’t get that “queer” is a rich term with infinite meanings and countless faces. sure, we have all these great differences worthy of celebration– but we also have a word in common. and that’s enough to make us family, in my estimation.

          of course, “queer” is often misused. “queer” is often bandied about as a way of dividing people. for instance, i’ve been told several times that i’m “not queer enough”. “queer” can also reinforce monosexist assumptions. i still love the word, though. i try to use it carefully and i try to help other people to use it carefully. queer pride!

  1. very true. it would be cool of we created our own ‘look’ or visual identity and spread it a bit to create visibility. people complain about stereotyping alot but in some ways those stereotypes have made gay community visible.

  2. Pingback: What my book is about | Bi radical

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