This piece was part of the show “Queerology 101,” performed in April 2017 for Rowan County Pride. In the show, a misguided professor attempts to define each letter of LGBTQ, getting it wrong every time. For the B, he said, that like the Sasquatch, Appalachian Black Panther, and other “mythical” creatures, there simply was no proof that bisexuals are real.
Hey! I exist. I’m proof.
I’m one of those mystical creatures, those bisexuals. Most of you won’t see me even if I want you to. I can hide anywhere in plain sight, blend in better than a chameleon. It’s not that I try to disappear, but it’s the nature of THIS beast, you know?
You see, we bisexuals are INVISIBLE. Now, I don’t mean “Invisible Man” invisible. It’s not like you’ll see our coffee mugs go floating through the air across the room. We’re invisible in this way: there’s no way to recognize us for who we are because we always look like something we’re not. Our bisexual selves disappear from sight the minute we enter a relationship with another person.
Let’s say I’m walking down the street holding hands with a woman. Anyone who sees us will think we’re lesbians. I’ve been labeled a lesbian most of my adult life, and I never really minded that much. Even if I wasn’t recognized as a bisexual person, I was still part of the “family” under that giant rainbow flag. No one had to know about my attraction to men, or my occasional flings with them. My major public relationships were with women; so therefore, I was seen as a lesbian.
Then, I discovered something when I seriously (and publicly) started dating a man in my 30s. If I walk down the street holding hands with him, I look straight. Talk about terrifying! Not because I think there’s anything wrong with being straight. But I’m not and I have never identified that way. Suddenly, I was kicked out of the “family,” and I had to come out all the time so I could feel that sense of belonging. Even still, some people couldn’t—or wouldn’t—see me.
Like, one time, a young lesbian couple got excited about my support for marriage equality—they referred to me as a great “ally” instead of recognizing me as a queer activist who’d been fighting for civil rights since before they were born. These women knew I had a child with another woman but still didn’t see me.
THE WORST was when a person whom I love dearly uttered the phrase, “back when you were gay.” Now, there was no sarcasm or malicious intent in that phrase, but I’m pretty sure I had a minor stroke when I realized I was seen as a “hasbien.” (For those who aren’t in the know, that’s a woman who used to date women and now dates men.)
So, even friends and family who know, love, and accept me for who I am…sometimes, they still can’t see me. What does it take to be visible?
Do I need to wear a t-shirt that says, “Kiss Me, I’m Bisexual”? [Insert eyeroll here.]
Do I need to come out every time I meet someone? ”Hi, I’m Frankie, and I’m a bisexual!” Awkward.
Should I be strolling down the street holding hands with a man and a woman at the same time? Ahhh, I should be so lucky.
Now, wait: before the slut-shaming starts, let’s recognize that I can’t tell you that I’m bisexual without saying “sex.” Then you’re thinking about sex because that’s what people do when they hear the word “sex.” And now I’m thinking about sex…
But anyway, this focus on sex leads to an evaluation of a bisexual person’s morality, especially around committed relationships, and it blurs our true selves in others’ eyes.
Picture this: I’m on a first date (doesn’t matter with what gender) and my bisexuality comes up. I can almost guarantee that one of the first thoughts my date has will relate to fidelity. If the person across the table from me is a staunch monogamist, it’s probably going to be alarm bells: “She’s going to cheat on me!!!” If monogamy isn’t as big a deal, then it’s likely to be all bom-chicka-wow-wow: “Ooh, I get to have a threesome!”
So, without regard to my own opinions about or personal disposition toward monogamy, I’m put into one of two categories: either I’m someone who’s going to bring heartbreak or hedonism. Not that there’s anything wrong with hedonism, but threesomes are not guaranteed on the second date. Either way, I’m invisible again, reduced to a stereotype.
And there are a lot of stereotypes out there about us bisexuals. We can’t commit or be happy in a monogamous relationship. We’re promiscuous. We’re just trying to get attention. We’re going through a phase. We can’t make up our minds about which of the two genders we like better—as if there are only two genders to choose from!
Let’s be clear: I’m not confused. This is not a phase. I like to commit—I’ve married a woman and a man. And no, not at the same time. Also, my sexual history is none of your damn business.
What you need to know is this: I don’t make relationship decisions based on anatomy or gender identity. It’s all about the person who’s in front of me and the context of our interactions.
I know some of you still can’t understand why I don’t have a preference for one gender over another, why I don’t see much difference in being with a woman or a man, romantically or physically. The way I see it, people are people, regardless of which hormone dominates their endocrine systems.
So, let’s talk pizza, which is probably my favorite food. I don’t have a preference on toppings, and no one has ever stereotyped me for that. At a good pizzeria, I would just as soon eat a slice of meat lovers’ pizza as I would a veggie or a plain old slice of cheese. It’s all pizza, and it’s all delicious to me.
Now, do you see?
Frankie Wolf is an Appalachian myth-maker and teller of small tales. She was the first woman editor of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, the literary magazine of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. Her essays and short stories have been published in Nantahala Review, Appalachian Journal, New Madrid, and Still: The Journal. She was named a finalist in the Carnegie Center’s Next Great Writers Contest, has been a recipient of multiple Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment and Arts Meets Activism Grants, and earned an Emerging Artist Award for Nonfiction from the Kentucky Arts Council. She lives in Lexington, KY, where she is currently at work on a novel set in the Red River Gorge. You can sometimes find her teaching new writers aged 5 to 75 at the Carnegie Center. She shares her love of Kentucky literature on her podcast Kick Ass Kentucky Women Writers and blogs about vultures, bison, and other cool things at frankiewrites.com.
Header Image: Creative Commons, photo by Davis Staedtler