Personal Stories

Biphobia and Other Struggles of Queer Women

It’s Pride Month!  To celebrate, Jess and Tricia talk about their experiences as women who identify as bisexual and/or queer.  Having come out later in life, they find themselves dealing with very similar issues of internalized biphobia despite the fact that Tricia is dating a woman and Jess is dating a man.

Realizing We Were Queer

Jess:

I came out as bi when I was 28 (which I would later change to queer because the fluidity and nuance of sexuality fit in much better with my idea of being queer rather than being bi) and also wrote a blog about it. I didn’t begin to seriously think about my sexuality being something other than straight until I met Tricia, who had just begun her questioning.  Everything she said felt familiar and something that had been running through my head. I even remember the first time we met over pizza and listening to her story I literally thought “… Am I bi?” As this revelation came on the heels of my deconstruction from Christianity, I didn’t want to invest too much energy and thought process into a new change in my life and so I moved on with the occasional nagging thought at the back of my head reminding me that I had to eventually dive into this. I remember experiencing sexual attraction to women but chalked it up to just noticing their beauty and since I never had a crush on a girl (as we later talk about sexual vs. romantic attraction) I was hesitant to take this label on, letting it further feed into my internalized biphobia. 

Tricia:  

I came out as queer when I was 30 (I wrote an entire post about it here).  Although I had had “friendship crushes” on women since childhood, it wasn’t until I was drawn to a lesbian – someone who might feel something romantic back – that I stopped to think, “What if these are just plain crushes?” It was both a shocking revelation and a comfortable one, as so many of my past decisions now made sense (That’s why I felt so strongly about not using pronouns to describe potential partners!).  My coming out was tied specifically to one person – the woman I had fallen in love with.  This made things easier in some ways, as I had a concrete person to point to and say, “I’m queer because I’m with her!” but it also made it hard to understand and explore the more nuanced parts of my sexuality.  Am I gay? Bisexual? Queer?  Does it even matter?

Sexual Attraction vs. Romantic Attraction

Jess:

Something that I had not been prepared for when coming out was making a distinction between sexual and romantic attraction. Looking back, this should have been pretty obvious as there have always been men that I may have been sexually attracted to but not romantically. I have considered the idea of dating a woman or a AFAB non-binary person and have been having a hard time imagining what it would be like. I have to ask myself whether that may be because of a lack of romantic attraction or yet another example of internalized bi-phobia. I have never had an actual crush on anyone other than a man but is that because it genuinely didn’t happen or because I have always been told that this wouldn’t even be a possibility? 

Tricia:  

So much cultural emphasis is placed on sexual attraction that it was easy for me to ignore the romantic attractions I have felt toward women my whole life.  However, even my “sexual attraction” to men throughout my life was mostly reserved for fictional characters (Loki!) or gay men (sigh). For a while I thought I was asexual, incapable of the kind of fiery lust that other people described.  I was also a deeply satisfied rules follower in a Christian tradition that placed lust at the top of the sins list, so I was good at pushing down anything that felt vaguely sexual.  When I was first considering whether I was bisexual or queer, I would stare at people’s butts with scientific focus to determine if the person’s sex affected the level of attraction that I felt.  My anxious overthinking still means that I’m not entirely comfortable as a sexual being, so apart from my actual relationship, the way I feel about everyone else is largely a giant question mark.  In a lot of ways, I think the label “demisexual” fits me pretty well.  If I’m emotionally and romantically attracted to someone, they then become sexually attractive to me.

Attraction or Admiration? 

Jess:

Do I want to be with her or do I just want to be her? There are many times I have wished I was someone else and it’s easy, as a woman, to compare yourself to other women as we have been taught to do since we were little. There will always be someone who is smarter, funnier, cuter, hotter, more talented, more outgoing, etc. For someone who is bi it gets infinitely harder to figure out, however, if you just want the person’s traits as your own or if you can see yourself being intimate with them, especially if it’s a person whose gender presentation is the same as yours. Are you maybe actually just envious? Do you wish you could trade lives with them? Or is there a part of you that wants to explore things with them together? Of course this has a lot to do with your own self-esteem. The more secure you are with yourself I imagine the easier it is to figure out the distinction. 

Tricia:

I second everything Jess said!  It makes me laugh now, the number of times I looked at a woman with metaphorical heart eyes and thought, “She is so cool” with no queer awareness.  Maybe straight women do this?  But there is truly such a fine line between admiring a woman, wanting to be around her all the time, wanting to know her thoughts, feelings, opinions, desires, and…hey, that’s a straight up crush!  Compulsory heteronormativity is a powerful drug.

Queer vs. Straight Aesthetic 

Jess:

Another way biphobia shows up, especially in today’s media, is the pressure to conform your aesthetic to your sexuality. You’ve heard the stereotypes of bisexuals: the cuffed jeans, the flannels, the coloured hair, the septum piercings, the weird way we supposedly sit in chairs, etc. Some of that I genuinely enjoy (especially contorting my body on a chair) but, at the same time, I wonder if any of this is actually me and not a version that is begging to be accepted by the queer community and desperately wanting to fit in instead, particularly as I am femme presenting. Especially as someone who is in a straight passing relationship with a man, I have found it important to “flaunt my queerness” so as to not get swallowed up in heteronormativity. “I don’t want to look like just another straight woman” is an awful thought I’ve had before. But what if my partner doesn’t want me to look “too queer”? Am I still going to be attractive? Which pressure do I give in to? Looking more straight or looking more queer? But then again, is it necessarily wrong to adopt a cultural aesthetic for the purpose of identifying yourself to the community? Is it virtue signalling? I mean, just like styles, sexuality is also fluid, on the spectrum, and ever changing, so is it actually an issue of biphobia? I don’t have an answer but I certainly think it’s a question worth asking. 

Tricia:  

I am also femme presenting; although I love a good bulky boot, I would ideally pair them with a flowy dress.  When I started dating a woman and becoming a part of the queer community in Vancouver, I felt a lot of internal pressure to dress more “queer.”  What did that mean?  Cutting my nails (practical and queer-signaling!), mostly.  I went without makeup for a while, but I hated it and quickly went back to my trusty eyeliner.  The combination of queer freedom and COVID freedom meant I finally got around to dying my hair varying shades of pink and purple.  But mostly, I look the same as I always did.  Do I want an undercut?  Yes!  And cutoff jeans and flannel shirts and all the rest, but every time I dress a little more butch, it feels like a costume.  No one has ever pressured me to “look more gay,” so I know this is my own issue.  I do think I’d like to find spaces to explore a more queer aesthetic, but ultimately, I’ve always been me, and dating a woman doesn’t change that.


Language – How Do We Define Ourselves? 

Jess:

I find the discourse on labels especially the difference between bi, pan, and queer exhausting. I have come to my own conclusion that there isn’t one universal definition of these sexualities and the fact that there is infighting within the queer community about this makes it a lot more difficult to find actual roots in this community. My own evolution of language has taken me from bi-curious to bisexual to queer because I refuse to pinpoint my incredibly fluid sexuality and find that the umbrella term “queer” fits best. I have used “gay” before but that seems to be another sore point in the LGBTQIA group especially when used by bisexuals. 

Tricia:  

I prefer to go by queer or bisexual, though I also don’t often correct people who label me a lesbian.  I don’t know if I’ll ever FULLY know where I fall on the Kinsey scale since I don’t plan on having sex with a man (or woman) while in a relationship with my girlfriend.  There are definitely times when I wish I had the team solidarity of choosing one definitive label – think of all the merch I could buy if I knew my specific pride flag colours!  But mostly I’m just anything that is “not straight,” and that’s good enough.


Bisexual Gatekeeping

Jess:

There is the age-old question of: Can you call yourself bisexual if you haven’t actually had certain experiences? This one has haunted me the most as I was in the beginning stages of figuring out my sexuality. I had casually kissed girls before but nothing ever went beyond that so how could I know that I was into them? I felt invalidated every time I saw discourse about “straight passing” relationships and how you’re not actually queer if you’re dating someone who is not the same gender as you. “You have no right to call yourself part of this community.” I am certainly privileged due to the fact that I can still explore my bisexuality because my straight, male partner and I are non-monogamous, but what about those individuals who, for whatever reason, are not able to explore that for themselves? Does that invalidate their queerness? Absolutely not. If someone who is straight takes a vow of celibacy we wouldn’t necessarily call them ace, would we? They might still have sexual desires towards the opposite gender, but simply choose to not act on it. Bisexuals without experiences are still bisexuals and I wish this discourse would end already. 

Tricia:

I am in the exact opposite camp as Jess.  I am technically a “gold star lesbian,” though I do not identify as a lesbian.  I had intense crushes on guys throughout my life; does the fact that I almost always chose men who were unattainable mean I was subconsciously saving myself from having to actually be sexual with a man?  I will never know for sure, and it ultimately doesn’t matter.  I still think those experiences were meaningful and valid, and I remember them with much fondness and angst.  If I never had sex with a man, and I don’t plan to in the future, why label myself bisexual or queer rather than lesbian?  For me, it simply comes down to the fact that “lesbian” just doesn’t feel like it fully fits me.  Honestly, the whole conversation of labels exhausts me, and I can only assume other people who find themselves outside of the binary often feel the same.  I think that we are moving towards a space that allows for nuance and even conflicting feelings/experiences, and I hope that this continues.  Sexuality is a complicated beast; I’m all for trying to understand it, but we should respect that we will probably never know all of its contours and iterations and be kind to people who experience sexuality differently than we do!


1 comment on “Biphobia and Other Struggles of Queer Women

  1. Pingback: June Monthly Round Up – Roar Cat Reads

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