I’m a 28 year old bisexual femme woman living in San Francisco. I had my first sexual experiences with women in college, and while I initiated and enjoyed them, I was hesitant to identify as bisexual because these hookups occurred with men present. Involving men in the sexual events provided both my female partners and me the opportunity to explore our attractions to each other in a heteronormative context, which felt safer and less intimidating, but also somehow had me feel like it delegitimized my desire for women. I was also hesitant to identify as bisexual because, at that point in my life, I didn’t want a relationship with a woman and I thought I must be equally attracted and want the same types of sexual interactions with both women and men to be bisexual.
My last year of college, I entered a long-term monogamous heterosexual relationship and was thus able to shelf all of my confusing feelings for women for quite awhile. After college, I entered a PhD program in sociology to study gender and sexuality and, while preparing to teach an undergrad class on LGBT identities and expressions a few years later, I came across an article called “Two Many and Not Enough: The Meaning of Bisexual Identities” by Paula Rust. In this article, Rust argues that it is not experience that defines a bisexual identity, and that one does not need to be equally attracted to men and women nor does one have to want the same kinds of interactions in order to be bisexual. It was while reading this article that I came to fully accept and own my identity as a bisexual.
While I had come out to myself, it wasn’t until my relationship ended a year later that I finally came out to others and looked to find a place for myself in the queer community, a community to whom I was already a long-time ally and advocate.* Finding acceptance in this community has proved to be a very difficult process, and three years later I am still struggling. I attribute my experiences of exclusion to the following three dynamics: distrust of my femme appearance, bisexual invisibility and the delegitimization of bisexuality, and my preference for other femme women.
* I realize that there is not one queer community, but I am resisting the pressure to further divide and exclude.
Strike 1: Distrust of Femme Appearance
At worst, my femme appearance can cause my queer brothers, sisters and others to associate me with those who have judged, shamed, and bullied them. At best, I am assumed to be an obliviously privileged heteronormative ally who could never fully understand the hardships of the queer community. It is true that my ability to pass as a “normal” straight woman affords me many privileges in our society. My passability, however, also means that I often am denied access to the queer spaces I so desperately seek. Common experiences of social exclusion are the bonding adhesive of the queer community. In true ironic fashion, my inexperience with exclusion from heteronormative society means I am often excluded from the queer community.
Two weekends ago was Pride in San Francisco, and I spent that Saturday afternoon blanket hopping from friend group to friend group in Dolores Park. When I met up with a female lover, I felt like several of her lesbian and trans friends viewed me with skepticism and mistrust, as if I was an outsider infiltrating and contaminating their space. Of course I am sensitive to feeling excluded from queer spaces and it is impossible to tell how much of my fear of being excluded colors my experience and may even create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless, I can objectively state that I was not invited into many conversations or invited to join them in their evening Pride plans. On a day when we are supposed to celebrate love and our pride for our queerness and our community, I felt excluded, and that hurt.
Strike 2: Bisexual Femme Invisibility and Delegitimization
Working in conjunction with the widespread distrust I experience within queer circles, my invisibility as a bisexual is another force that serves to exclude me from the queer community. As a bisexual femme woman, I am almost always assumed to be heterosexual. When I’m out with a guy, even if he’s just a friend, I am assumed to be straight. When I’m out with a girl, I’m assumed to be straight. Even if I’m making out in public with a girl, I’m often assumed to be a slutty straight girl. It is very difficult to feel like a part of the queer community when no one knows I’m queer. I often feel like I need to shout it from the rooftops wearing my “I’m queer. Yes, seriously.” T-shirt.
I end up coming out over and over again, usually facing people doubting the legitimacy of my sexual identity. Even my mom, a liberal psychologist without a homophobic bone in her body, told me that she thought I wanted to be bisexual because I thought it was cool. Biphobia, while often unacknowledged, is rampant. I know several closeted bi women who publicly identify as lesbians because they don’t want to face exclusion and ridicule from their lesbian friends. The sexuality of those who identify as “straight” and “gay” is polarized to tail ends of the spectrum as bisexual behavior is effectively policed with shame by both communities. This delegitimization of bisexuality serves to further conceal our presence in the queer community and contributes to my feelings of being excluded.
Strike 3: Femme-Femme Relationship Preference
One last, depressingly oppressive barrier to inclusion in the queer community is my desire for femme-femme relationships. It is very difficult to find other femmes who want to date femmes, and gender dynamics have often proved difficult to navigate. My attraction to femmes is on a physical level, not necessarily on a behavioral or personality level. I want a partner who enjoys playing with the gender spectrum, sometimes taking the more submissive “bottom” role and sometimes taking the more dominant “top” role but most often taking neither.
I recently joined OK Cupid in hopes of finding a femme partner and my experiences have not been successful. Many butch women have contacted me, and although I love their attention and the feeling of actually being seen as queer, I have not been sexually interested in them. Many women in relationships with men have messaged me, hoping that I would join them in a kinky triad, but again I am not interested. Not one femme has initiated contact with me. So I’ve scoured the site for potential partners, vulnerably sending messages in hopes of a possible connection. Out of the many women I’ve contacted, few responded. Some told me they were looking for a more butch partner, another said she wanted to be the only queen in the relationship, and a few said they were open to being sexual with another femme but did not want to date one. Only one femme was willing to meet, but after she flaked on our plans twice, I gave up. I have had such difficulty finding a femme partner, and my lack of experience contributes to my inability to access the queer community. This exclusion serves to only increase the difficulty I experience finding a femme partner, thus creating a cycle of increasing exclusion.
I have decided to vulnerably share my coming out story and my painful experiences of exclusion because I am committed to raising awareness and sparking dialogue around the challenges queers face in finding acceptance within our own community. Have you ever felt excluded as a result of your gender presentation or sexual preferences? How do other identities, such as race and class, also serve as barriers to inclusion in the queer community? Have you ever policed boundaries, segmenting the queer community in a way that excludes members of our queer family? Are you willing to consider the ways in which you may have perpetrated the same intolerance you’ve experienced in your life? Although I realize my experience and these questions may be triggering for you, my intention is not for anyone to feel defensive or alientated. Rather, it is my hope that this trigger will generate the necessary conversations around this important issue that will ultimately serve to positively impact and strengthen our community.