Coming out in inverted commas because I'm unsure as to how I feel about the term. No one should feel obligated to declare their sexuality - it is a very personal thing. However, we live in a world where people are assumed heterosexual until they assert otherwise, and as such coming out is often a practical thing you have to do. How can we expect to obtain our rights, without first asserting that we exist?

Friday, 26 June 2015

LGBT Asia: Thoughts About Bisexuality

I promised a follow up post to the short talk I gave at the Southbank Centre a few weeks ago, so here it is. With anything we write or say beyond cathartic self-expression, I believe the reactions people have to our work are very important to note. Given the short amount of time we had for discussion, I wouldn't say any of us had the chance to fully articulate our positions. As such, I don't want to single anyone out or criticise anyone, and will rather be speaking generally. The below is an amalgamation of themes that arose from discussions after the event had come to a close, and I wanted to expand on certain impressions people seem to have of bisexuality that keep cropping up in my life.

One of the most honest things I've heard in a while was around jealousy, and how gay men and lesbians may be jealous of bisexuals given we are capable of having heterosexual relationships. As perceived by them, this allows us to gain access to heterosexual privileges and shields us from homophobic discrimination. And yet, our realities are often a little more complicated. It's true that heterosexual relationships are still more socially accepted - whether in Bangladesh or the UK. And in Bangladesh, some very significant legal barriers fall away as soon as you are involved with the opposite sex. And so to a certain extent, I can understand the jealousy. It's rooted in how our world is currently structured and not something to be dismissed - although it's important to note it's not this way because of something bisexuals have done. But there is more to it than that. If you're openly bisexual, the homophobia, and indeed the biphobia, don't suddenly go away. We merely face a different set of prejudices and stereotypes when we enter an opposite-sex relationship - the questions about when we're going to cheat, when we're going to “switch” sexualities again, and of course the "everlasting taint" of any same-sex partners from our past. So yes, while we may be able to get married, and get that couple's honeymoon deal no-awkward-questions-asked, acceptance itself can remain an elusive goal.

This brings me to another point often made about how the word bisexual is a label people use to hide behind and lessen stigma. I can understand somewhat, given what I've just written, how coming out as bisexual may sometimes seem easier. At the event, I was told that this was the reason certain gay men in the Asian community come out as bisexual, thereby creating a sense of mistrust around anyone using the term. People wonder if a man claiming to be bisexual is actually gay and I know the story of the bi-now, gay-later men is an oft repeated one. How these men navigate between these identities can vary, and I've been told by several that the label of bisexuality was in fact a safe halfway house for them. But for others, their sexualities have been fluid, and the change in labels was more an honest necessity. And beyond this are those who are in fact still bisexual, but the biphobia and lack of understanding makes it easier for them live out their lives as gay men. There's a myriad of possibilities here, and it's important to take each story and consider its merits without generalising. The truth is no one really knows what's going on in someone else'd mind, and so no one really know what someone else's sexuality is. Passing judgement is risky business, and often judgement passed is through a prejudiced lens. Effeminate men seem to be one of the biggest targets here – apparently some guys are such queens that there is no way they could be bisexual. However, the reality is someone's mannerisms do not define who they are attracted to or aroused by. If we stripped away the heteronormative assumption that traditionally defined masculine men are the only ones capable of being attracted to women, this would be easier for a lot of us to see.

Going back to the original point about stigma, I also question if telling people you are bisexual really does protect someone from prejudice within South Asian communities, diaspora or otherwise. Based on the personal experiences of myself and others, I cannot imagine how identifying as bisexual instead of homosexual would make coming out significantly easier. Any confessed attraction to the same-sex can be taken with surprise, seen as an abnormality or met with hostility – regardless of whether it comes packaged as bisexuality or homosexuality. To add a more specific biphobic dimension, when some Bangladeshi people hear I am a bisexual man they seem to assume not all hope is lost for me. I am seen as fixable, and continual suggestions to fix me are made - I can still find the right woman after all, unlike a gay man who is condemned to his fate.

I will end this here, as this is not meant to be an exhaustive post on the dynamics of bisexuality and prejudice, similar to how our discussions themselves were not exhaustive. I hope at least some parts of what I've written have been accessible and relatable. I know biphobia is a topic more and more people are writing about nowadays, and so I remain positive that we are moving in the right direction. I'd also like to thank everyone who attended on the day (if any of you are reading!), because it is events like these that also serve to build bridges where there may be none!

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