Bisexual women face unique challenges in both dating and advocacy within the LGBT community. Even the term bisexual itself is loaded and some women who others may consider bisexual prefer to identify in other terms due to negative connotations that are sometimes associated with bisexuality.
Jimmie Luthuli, a D.C. resident and secretary of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, is bisexual, but prefers to identify as queer. “I feel queer is more useful than bisexual because it allows for more diversity and solidarity in the community,” Luthuli said. “It doesn’t separate me from lesbians in the quest for equality. Queer gives us a sense of camaraderie. Queer leaves room for the fact that human sexuality is diverse and fluid. The terms lesbian and bisexual are limiting.”
Anna Bavier, a D.C.-based event planner, also prefers the term queer over bisexual because it’s a broader term that she says describes her more accurately.
“Queer is more encompassing of the different types of people I’m attracted to,” Bavier said. “Lesbian is limiting because it’s not just women and bisexual is limiting because it’s not just women and men because I have dated trans men and I’m in a relationship with a trans man now.”
Bavier also sometimes refers to herself as a “lesbian-identified bisexual” because she is “much more comfortable in lesbian spaces since [she has] mainly dated women. It’s a more welcoming space. Up until the last couple of years, bisexual was a negative term,” she said.
Both women have encountered prejudice from being bisexual. Many bisexuals face stereotypes from both the heterosexual and the gay and lesbian community. Luthuli has encountered both men and women who have refused to date her when she tells them that she is bisexual. She says that she often has to battle stereotypes that “bi women are promiscuous, disease ridden, untrustworthy, confused and unable to be in a committed relationship.” She mentioned that she faces some of the same discrimination that lesbians face from heterosexuals, but also encounters bigotry from lesbians as well.
The difficulties are not just limited to dating. The LGBT activist community often neglects to put bisexual women and men in the forefront.
“Bisexual voices are silenced by the mainstream LGBT community and our voices are not seen to be urgent to be put front and center. The legacy organizations have advocated for gay and lesbian rights. They have prioritized issues of the exclusively gay male and lesbian woman over issues exclusive to bisexuals,” Luthuli said.
Bavier agreed that being bisexual presents unique challenges.
“Women ask me when was the last time I slept with a man, some have said that I wasn’t real, and some ask why I throw lesbian parties,” she said. “I’ve had to come out twice. I had to come out as dating women and I had to come out as bi.”
“In this area, it’s more challenging to say you’re bi both for women and men than in other places I’ve lived,” Bavier said. As an example of the region’s rigid nature, Bavier noted “you don’t see many couples where two masculine or [dominant] women are dating here.” Even women who have recently been in relationships with men have questioned her. “I have tried to date women who have a child under 2 with an ex-husband or boyfriend and they’re challenging me on how real I am. People need to check their discrimination or aversion to someone’s self-proclaimed label. It’s ridiculous. I didn’t date men for many years and still claimed that I was bi.”
Bavier has also had heterosexual non-transgender men that she has dated overstep their boundaries. “I have had someone say some derogatory things about lesbians and I had to let him know that just because I’m dating you doesn’t mean I’m any less involved in the community.” The one group that she dates and has never faced discrimination from is transgender men.
One takeaway from the bisexual or queer women profiled here is the desire to not be defined by inflexible terms that do not fully capture the spectrum of human sexuality. Bisexual women are out here and they are a key component of the LGBT community. The community, as a whole, needs to do a better job of embracing these women and understanding their issues.
Lateefah Williams’ biweekly column, ‘Life in the Intersection,’ focuses on the intersection of race, gender and sexual orientation. She is the immediate past president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @lateefahwms.