Bisexual Health Awareness Month [aka. love your fellow queers!]

March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month, so I thought I would celebrate by spreading a little bit more bisexual awareness! (Because y’all can never get enough of that, right…?) Right.

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[Instagram: @erinmckenziee]
Coming out is a process that every queer person experiences differently, especially in terms of support. Luckily for me, I don’t have a lot of people in my life who are not 100 percent supportive of me, or who do not value my whole self.

Even still, it’s impossible to go through life as an openly queer person—gay/lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc.—and not experience, intentionally or not, some form of homophobia, transphobia, or even biphobia. What I’m here to talk more about, because I am a bisexual woman (and therefore can’t speak for lesbian women) and have already shared my coming out story with you, is biphobia, and my experience with various forms of biphobia.

So let’s get started!

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First, the definition of bisexuality [via. UC San Diego LGBT Resource Centeris fairly simple:

  • Bisexuality (or the “B” in LGBTQIA) is the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one gender/sex. A person who identifies as bisexual affirms this complexity and acknowledges a reality beyond the either/or dualities of heterosexism.

But biphobia is a little different:

  • Biphobia is the dislike or prejudice against bisexual people, often due to fear or lack of understanding.

So what does biphobia look like?

Biphobia exists among straight people AND within the LGBT+ community, and can present itself in forms ranging from inappropriate or overly personal questions or comments (otherwise known as “microaggressions**”), to doubting or second-guessing the experience of bisexual people, and even to hurtful or aggressive comments or acts of physical violence against bisexual people.

  • **A microaggression is a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype. [via. dictionary.com]

On a more personal note, I’ve listed below some questions, comments, and statements that have been directed at me since I came out a couple years ago:

“But how do you know…like really know?”

“I don’t trust bisexual people.”

“Wouldn’t your [insert gender] partner be afraid you’d cheat on them with a [insert gender]?”

“Wouldn’t your [insert gender] partner be afraid you’d leave them for a [insert gender]?”

“But if you married a [insert gender] you’d technically be straight/a lesbian.”

“How do you know you’re not just confused?”

“I don’t mind…so long as you’re not in my face about it.”

“I could never date a bi person because I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to satisfy them and they’d leave me for a [insert gender].”

“We’re all sinners.”

“You don’t look bi.”

“But how would you have kids if you marry a woman?”

“No thanks, I choose Jesus.” [said to me after I offered to explain what it means to attend an LGBT+ affirming church]

“So…does that mean you’d want to have a threesome?”

My reaction 99 percent of the time:

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More examples of biphobia [via. UC San Diego LGBT Resource Center] include:

  • Assuming that everyone you meet is either heterosexual or homosexual.
  • Supporting and understanding a bisexual identity for young people because you identified “that way” before you came to your “real” lesbian/gay/heterosexual identity.
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  • Expecting a bisexual person to identify as heterosexual when coupled with the “opposite” gender/sex.
  • Believing bisexual men spread HIV/AIDS and other STDs to heterosexuals.
  • Thinking bisexual people haven’t made up their minds.
  • Assuming a bisexual person would want to fill your sexual fantasies or curiosities.
  • Assuming bisexual people would be willing to “pass” as anything other than bisexual.
  • Feeling that bisexual people are too outspoken and pushy about their visibility and rights.tumblr_ndzoyi4ldk1qm3gr4o5_250
  • Automatically assuming romantic couplings of two women are lesbian, or two men are gay, or a man and a woman are heterosexual.
  • Expecting bisexual people to get services, information, and education from heterosexual service agencies for their “heterosexual side” (sic) and then go to gay and/or lesbian service agencies for their “homosexual side” (sic).
  • Feeling bisexual people just want to have their cake and eat it too.
  • Believing that bisexual women spread HIV/AIDS and other STDs to lesbians.
  • Using the terms “phase” or “stage” or “confused” or “fence-sitter” or “bisexual” or “AC/DC” or “switch hitter” as slurs or in an accusatory way.
  • Thinking bisexual people only have committed relationships with “opposite” gender/sex partners.
  • Looking at a bisexual person and automatically thinking of their sexuality rather than seeing them as a whole, complete person.
  • Believing bisexual people are confused about their sexuality.
  • Assuming that bisexual people, if given the choice, would prefer to be within an “opposite” gender/sex coupling to reap the social benefits of a heterosexual pairing.
  • Not confronting a biphobic remark or joke for fear of being identified as bisexual.
  • Assuming “bisexual” means “available.”
  • Thinking that bisexual people will have their rights when lesbian and gay people win theirs.
  • Being gay or lesbian and asking your bisexual friend about their lover only when that lover is the same gender/sex.
  • Feeling that you can’t trust a bisexual person because they aren’t really gay or lesbian, or aren’t really heterosexual.
    Love GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

    Love GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

  • Thinking that people identify as bisexual because it’s “trendy.”
  • Expecting a bisexual person to identify as gay or lesbian when coupled with the “same” gender/sex.
  • Expecting bisexual activists and organizers to minimize bisexual issues (i.e. HIV/AIDS, violence, basic civil rights, fighting the Right, military, same sex marriage, child custody, adoption, etc.) and to prioritize the visibility of “lesbian and/or gay” issues.
  • Avoid messaging to friends that you are involved with a bisexual person or working with a bisexual group because you are afraid they will think you are bisexual.

Anyway! I hope this blog was at least somewhat informative for you all. Especially considering that it’s coming from someone who is in no way an expert. I guess if I could end with a piece—or pieces—of advice, I would say to please just check yourself before making comments or asking queer people questions about their sexuality. For example:

  • Is it your business? (Most likely not, but if a queer person is choosing to engage in or initiated conversation with you about their sexuality then, arguably, it’s probably fine).
  • Is it something you could easily find out through a Google search?
  • Is it judgmental?
  • Are you making an assumption?

Also, please do your best to stand up for your queer brothers and sisters (and non-binary siblings) when you hear biphobic (or trans/homophobic) comments being made. Challenge yourself and your fear of speaking out. Challenge yourself to move away from the mindset that “both sides deserve a platform,” because hate speech and free speech are not the same thing. Trans/bi/homophobic language is dangerous, and can result in physical violence against queer people, and so no, both sides do not deserve a platform. Hate speech does not deserve a platform.

I will say it again: hate speech does not deserve a platform.

I have been lucky in that the majority of comments made toward me, or questions I’ve been asked could be classified as, at worst, microaggressions, especially considering I am also a white “feminine” woman. But I know there are others out there who have not been so lucky, and as humans it is our duty to fight for them, and love them no matter what.

And so, finally, let me just narrow down this entire message:

Go forth and love your fellow queers!

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I am rainbow, hear me roar.

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Photo by: Dallas Clayton

Six years ago at the start of my freshman year of college I met a girl living a few dorms down from me who identified as “bi-curious.” I had no idea what it meant but I was intrigued.

“It means I’m straight but also interested in women,” she said.

Okay, I thought to myself. At that point in my life I had never dated…anyone. Sure I had crushes on boys throughout middle and high school, but once I hit high school I wasn’t exactly what you would call “dating material.” I was 25+ pounds overweight, hiding my body and my extremely low self-esteem behind baggy clothes and jackets and a “straight-A-student/know-it-all” persona in the classroom. I wasn’t an outcast but I wasn’t really popular either, I was just kind of there.

Needless to say, no one was really knocking down my door.

For my entire life (leading up to that conversation in September of 2010), I had always assumed that gender and sexuality were black and white. You were either gay or straight, male or female, etc etc. There was no in-between. After all, everyone in my family and circle of friends was cisgendered, and either gay or straight (although mostly straight). “Bi-curious” or “bisexual” were terms that lived in the far-off undiscovered territory of my brain, and despite my lack of exploration in the dating department I had always assumed that I would like boys.

I believed that being straight was “the norm” and what everyone expected me to be, despite my mom telling me more than once that she would “be fine with it” if I weren’t.

In middle school I had crushed on this one particular guy hard, and for about two years. My first kiss was with a guy. I had an easier time talking to girls and felt self-conscious around guys, which had to be a sign, right?

But then there would be moments when I was 16 and my friends would go on about so-and-so hot male celebrity and I found that I had to force myself to feel “attracted” to him, and pretend to be all gaga over a picture or movie. Even still today, it’s rare that I see a picture of someone and feel an immediate “connection” or whatever (unless it’s Tina Fey, but I digress). I had dreams where I would be in a relationship with a guy, but then the next night with a girl. The first relationship I was ever in was with a guy, at 19 years old, and I started second-guessing it about a month in. I felt jealous of people in relationships who seemed to have their sexuality “all figured out.”

I was confused, but I didn’t realize it.

Needless to say that conversation my freshman year of college blasted me off into reflection, self-education, and a new way of thinking; that it was entirely possible that I could be attracted to two genders (and that the first guy I dated just…wasn’t the right guy).

Five years ago, I realized I was bi. 

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Since then the journey to figure out who I “really am” has been both liberating and exhausting at the same time; liberating in the sense that I’ve become aware that sexuality is fluid, and just because society wants to place me in a box does not mean that a box is where I belong, but exhausting in that…

…I’ve realized, for me, coming out is not and will never be a “one and done” type of deal. Adopting the identity of a bisexual woman will affect me one way or another for the rest of my life. 

In my dating life. In the way people perceive me once they learn this information (and it then becomes my “obligation” to explain it to them). In my family life. In my religious life.

This year, I think, has been the most defining for me as a member of the LGBT+ community. I came out to all of my closest friends, and to my parents. I began to feel comfortable texting my best friend not only every time I saw an attractive guy, but girl too. I changed my Facebook information to publicly say that I was into both men and women (minor, I know, but nonetheless a step forward). I referred to myself as bi in my online writing.

Then the PULSE night club shooting happened in Orlando last June. Guns in general have always frightened me, and I have never wanted to be near one or in possession of one, but this time, after hearing that a man with a gun deliberately attacked people because of who they were and who they loved scared the hell out of me. Because for the first time I realized it could have been my two gay relatives. It could have been one of my former students. It could have been me.

I no longer felt liberated; instead, I wanted desperately to erase all of the progress I had made in my journey of coming out. I felt like there was this part of me that, no matter how much I loved and embraced it, would never be safe in this world. I have only ever (publicly) dated men—three men total—and never once felt afraid to hold their hand in public; at dinner, on the beach, at church. But what if that partner had been a woman? Would we have felt just as comfortable with PDA, or would we ignite a rage so intense that someone would feel justified in killing us? I don’t know. I will never know, and that terrifies me.

After Orlando, I had a family member to whom I am not out say to me:

“I don’t care if someone is gay, just don’t do it in front of me. They shove it in your face. I don’t like that.”

In that moment I felt like I could never trust them with who I really was, and wondered if they said that to all of their straight friends and family too.

I have identified as a Christian long before I ever identified as bi. I was baptized into the Churches of Christ at age 15, without any family with me or ever having gone as a child. Technically, it was “my choice.” It never occurred to me that I would or should have to choose between my sexuality or being part of a church community. But in the nine years since then I’ve had people ask me:

“Why did you join the church if you knew they believe marriage is only between a man and a woman?” (I didn’t necessarily “know” this but let’s also remember that at 15 I’d barely explored my sexuality and assumed I’d be straight. Also a good number of Christians support same-sex marriage, accept that it’s not a choice, etc.).

[Insert question from church here that presumes I can speak for all LGBT+ people]

Did this mean my place at the table with Jesus suddenly became conditional because of who I might love?

Conversely, I’ve had LGBT+ people ask me how I can identify as Christian when [all] Christians are so “hateful,” meanwhile I know that’s not true. It’s a constant “one foot in one door one foot in another” situation that really came to light four months ago, and I will admit I’m still struggling to reconcile.

Like I said, coming out as bisexual has not been a “one and done” type of deal for me. There are so many steps forward that I feel like I made this year, only to be shoved halfway back down the mountain. But it’s a process, and if I could have only one goal it would be to make sure that every single person going through this process knows how brave they are.

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It’s not a phase, and it’s not a choice. You are who you are; beautiful, and brave, and a motherf***ing warrior.

And for all of you lovely non-LGBT+ people out there, my advice to you: be a positive, supportive, and safe presence in our lives. Accept and love us for who we are, unconditionally. Create spaces that empower. We appreciate it, more than you know.

We are rainbows, hear us roar.

Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this. – Mark 12:31

We exist all around you.

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I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I wanted to address Orlando. I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but this is all I got.

**trigger warning**
homophobia, gun violence.

I remember the last time I had a major panic attack, openly, in a public space. It was last December, and a friend and I were eating dinner at the Culver City In-N-Out when suddenly, the restaurant (and a few neighboring buildings) lost power. It was clear right away that no one, including the employees, had any idea what was going on, or why it had happened. There hadn’t been an earthquake, and let’s be real, when was the last time weather made the power go out in Los Angeles?

At first, after the building darkened and the whirr of potato peelers and deep fryers quieted, I felt little elementary school Erin come out, thinking “how fun this is! We can all take out our phone flashlights and play one big game of hide and seek!”

Unfortunately that feeling only lasted about ten seconds. I looked around me: people were muttering concernedly, employees were struggling to unlock the side door (which had automatically locked us in when the power went out), the block was dark. My heart began to race; it’s beginning to race thinking about it now. My palms began to sweat. Tears stung the backs of my eyes. This was no longer fun for me, and not just because of my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and intimate relationship with panic attacks.

This was no longer fun for me because this is the United States of America, the only First World country where there are more mass shootings in a year than there are days.

History has proven time and time again that no place is safe, no place is exempt from these tragedies, and thus we have all been taught—however unconsciously—to always be prepared for the worst. Lockdown drills at school. Safety drills at work in case someone walks into our writing lab with a gun. Think twice before attending a large-scale event. Don’t walk alone at night, or during the day for that matter. This is our reality.

“We have to get out of here,” I said to my friend that night at dinner. “I have to get out of here.”

Poor guy. I could tell he knew I was about to spin out, but didn’t know how to comfort me. There was no calming me down, no telling me that NO ONE in that restaurant had a gun and was about to open fire.

Lucky for us, no one did. But that’s just it. We were lucky. Anything could have happened that night, and it was lucky that all it was was an electricity fluke down the block. And now I sit here tonight, heartbroken because 20 hours ago, 103 people at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida could not be so lucky.

As President Obama said a few years—and probably a couple hundred shootings—ago, “we don’t have to live this way,” and I for one am tired of living this way. I am f**king tired of watching my fellow Americans take these tragedies with a grain of salt, furious but helpless, immediately resigning to the idea that this will just keep happening and there’s nothing we can do about it. That our government—the very people who are supposed to protect us—will never do anything about it, because there are people out there in positions of power who value their guns and an out-of-context Second Amendment more than an actual human life.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, my heart is in pieces. What a beautiful and resilient community, where all anyone wants is to be seen and heard, and to love each other. Although I am bisexual, I recognize my privilege in that I haven’t been on the receiving end of an extreme amount of direct hatred, “merely” microaggressions; still, I ache for those who have. I ache that there’s not more I can do to stop it. I ache that there are people out there who would actively want my friends (or, hell, even me) dead just because of who they (or I) love, and arguably could have an “easy” means to make that happen.

This was NOT an isolated tragedy. This happened in a space that is ~supposed~ to be inclusive and safe for us. This is the direct result of the homophobic statements, comments, and “jokes” that go by unchallenged, and create a mentality of “otherness” or “us vs. them” between queer folks and non. Exhibit A: “no homo.”

So when you’re sending out your ‪#‎ThoughtsAndPrayers‬ to Orlando, Florida, you make for damn sure you know WHO you’re sending them out to and say it OUT LOUD, because we’re here. We exist all around you. We work with you. We’re sitting in your pews at church. By ignoring us, and the profound effect this has had on us, you invalidate us, and perpetuate this cycle of hatred.

Don’t be that person. Think twice before you speak, think twice before you act, and think twice before you hop to your computer screen to tell me your Second Amendment rights trump my right to live freely. THEIR right to live freely.

I stand in complete solidarity with you, Orlando. Much love. SO much love.