Who are you? What is the story of your life? Are you the hero, the villain or some poor, misbegotten thing?
Along the way in life, our lives can pick up fragments of prevailing beliefs, judgements and narratives which, either consciously or unconsciously, we incorporate into our own identity's construction.
If you've been out long as bisexual, pansexual or queer, you've noticed the negative bisexual stereotypes which are the legacy of all people with fluid sexuality--the sum of these forms a narrative about bisexuals that straight and lesbian/gay people often rely on, unquestioningly, for information. The difficulty lies, not just in getting people to see you--the you right in front of them--past the narrative imprinted in their brains, but also not allowing that narrative to infect your own life in the form of internalized biphobia.
The dominant narrative about bisexuals is uncertainty, instability, and falsity, as if bisexuality were inherently impossible, imposing the impossibility of being true to yourself and, therefore, anyone else. The inherent instability of the bisexual state is depicted in goofy or stupid ways, like the below cartoon (created by bisexual cartoonist Melaina) characterizing the "confused bisexual:"
Or the narrative follows a more pathological path, wherein a bisexual character's instability shifts into depictions of madness, amorality, opportunism, manipulation and even murder. Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct is a classic example of this portrayal of bisexuality but it's latest, most popular incarnation may be Natalie Portman's tormented ballet dancer in Black Swan.
In fact, the mainstream entertainment industry may have an interest in portraying bisexuals as forever unbalanced--the better to draw bigger audiences, bigger revenue. Recently, a popular Latina author, of what has been dubbed chica lit in publishing circles, got disturbing news from the production company that had bought the rights to her novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club, for development into a TV mini-series for NBC. They planned to transform a lesbian character, who was in a long term relationship with another lesbian woman in her novel, into a single, scheming, trampy bisexual woman.
The women around the table seemed very uncomfortable with me after that. I’m not sure if it was because I’d objected to the change in my character, or because I was bisexual, a condition they clearly saw as pathological and depraved."
What are the consequences of a continual replay of this meme about unstable bisexuality? Believe it or not, one can still find modern mental health resources positioning bisexuality as a source for mental illness, even though the APA removed bisexuality from its diagnostic manual of mental illness a few years after it removed homosexuality. J. Michael Mahoney's work, Schizophrenia: The Bearded Lady Disease claims that schizophrenia is the result of "severe unconscious bisexual conflict and gender confusion" which "are the primary cause of all mental illness." Never mind that Mahoney is a journalist, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, one can still find the book listed as a current and unqualified resource for information about schizophrenia.
Now you'd think that being constantly labeled and depicted as a crazy, confused, untrustworthy, tormented bisexual would be be enough stigma to deal with--but wait, there's more.
The narrative that a bisexual receives from the lesbian/gay end of the scale is one of cowardice and treason. Certainly, the lesbian/gay narrative carries all the unstable, unreliable, untrustworthy elements of the mainstream one--where else does the LGBTQ community get its negative beliefs (about all kinds of queerness) except from the dominant culture? But the bisexual narrative in lesbian/gay culture adds on another layer, a layer of unvalorous perfidy.
In dominant lesbian/gay culture, the prevailing narrative is that the bisexual isn't real and is, thus, a perfidious liar. A deeply erroneous New York Times article from 2005, "Gay, Straight or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited," is still sited by gay pundits asserting the nonexistence of bisexual men and within the past few weeks, several gay male friends of mine have turned to it in conversation to validate the non-existence of bisexual men. Fortunately, when first published, GLAAD and NGLTF were both on the ball denouncing it--recalling that its head researcher, J. Michael Bailey, had previously published an equally specious study on transexuals.
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Just like the straight narrative for mainstream society, the dominant L/G narrative is always there to refer to as a guideline: too scared to adopt a "real" queer identity--lesbian or gay--bisexuals are liars. There's no valor in being a liar; hence, within gay and lesbian subculture, bisexuals cannot be true to others, not being true to themselves--connotations of being a "user" or "traitor" follow. The loyalty of a bisexual person, either to a lesbian or gay individual or to queer struggle in general, is perennially suspect. In the narrative, such a person is always cowardly and a risk to associate with. There is nothing honest, trustworthy or heroic about them.
Of course, lesbian and gay culture is not monolithic, nor are all lesbians and gay men the same--dialogue and education can always loosen the hold a defamatory narrative has. But one is, in a sense, standing against a tidal wave of disbelief about you. And all the faith in the innate goodness of people, especially lesbian and gay people, doesn't necessarily prepare one for the shock of overt biphobia when expressed by L/G queers attacking bisexuals who have come out to be a part of the struggle for LGBTQ rights.
It was with no small sense of relief that I received the news that San Francisco's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Advisory Committee (LGBTAC) approved a report on the impact of stigma on bisexual men and women, to recommend to San Francisco's Human Rights Commission--the first governmental body in the US to acknowledge our condition in social and civic life.
Cobble that with the presentation that I and other members of Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago were able to give to LGBT and straight mental health professionals in February at the Center On Halsted, plus the presentation of The Legacy Project by Victor Salvo at our March BQAC meeting, which includes bisexual along with lesbian, gay and transgender historical figures, and I begin to feel something like promise and hope.