‘Passing’ is more difficult than you think for bisexual women

Identity, appropriation and invisibility as a bisexual femme woman.

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This month is LGBT+ history month, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to smile as you pass the loud and enthusiastically placed rainbow flags that adorn many of our colleges.

However, this colourful display has far more complicated connotations for me. It reminds me that unlike my flatmate, this flag that means so much to the LGBT+ community is conspicuously absent from my room.

Ironically the problem lies within this word, ‘conspicuously’. Because I am very much not conspicuous.

Some of us can blend in…

I identify as a white, femme, bisexual, meaning that I have an incredible amount of privilege. Specifically, I can move through hetero-normative society, unencumbered by the daily onslaught of, homophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination. However, this very ability to ‘pass’ has meant that when it comes to identifying with, and sharing my queerness, the words stick rather uncomfortably in my throat.

The desire to put my thoughts into writing arose out of an intense (and admittedly rather intoxicated) conversation with a man who I had met a few hours earlier, in a Lucy Cavendish bop. I was trying to explain to him why his decision to approach me and tell me that it was ‘hot’ that ‘two beautiful women’ had just made out, was wrong. Let’s just say it took a while.

I explained the following in an undoubtedly more garbled way. In that moment, the intimate act (OK fine, it was someone I met on the dance floor but bear with me) was transformed into something performative, waiting for his approval. I was no longer a queer woman, but bolstered by my feminine appearance, I was brought back into the hetero-normative space.

To use feminist terminology, my sexuality had been appropriated by the male gaze. And it seems that this gaze is everywhere, from the fetishizing of lesbians in porn, to the jeers and slaps on the bum I have received in clubs after being with a woman.

My sexuality is not your fetish.

I therefore have an internalised belief that my sexuality is insubstantial, and even worse, that I’m not a ‘real’ member of the LGBT+, community because society thinks I’m ‘OK’. The community definitely partakes in this, with the popular caricature of the straight girl in the gay bar who can leave unfettered at the end of the night.

There is an expectancy that after a period of liberal ‘experimentation’, I can, and will, merely run back into the arms of a man. Therefore, to ‘come out’, a loud proclamation of difference that is a such seminal moment in queer identity, took me 19 years. To do so I thought, was at best unnecessary, at worst, attention seeking and narcissistic.

Not somewhere we leave unfettered.

This is an issue that I have been grappling with for years, but one that I have never had the confidence to discuss. This article is the first step in my acceptance that my voice is valid in the LGBT+ family, and I hope that it will add to the wonderful dialogue that is going on within and outside the community this month.

Oh, and this morning, I finally ordered a rainbow flag.