I’m a 28-year-old bisexual femme living in San Francisco. I had my first sexual experiences with women in college, and while I enjoyed them, I was hesitant to identify as bisexual because these hookups occurred with men present. Involving men in the sexual events provided both me and my female partners 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 confused because, at that point in my life, I didn’t want a relationship with a woman and so I felt like I'd be a fraud if I identified as bi.
My last year of college, I entered a long-term monogamous heterosexual relationship and shelved my confusing feelings for women for a while. After college, I entered a PhD program in sociology to study gender and sexuality. While preparing to teach an undergrad class on LGBT identities and expressions a few years in, I came across an article called "Two Many and Not Enough: The Meaning of Bisexual Identities" by Paula Rust. Rust argues that it's not experience that defines a bisexual identity, and that you don't have to be equally attracted to men and women to be bi, nor do you have to want the same kinds of relationships with each. 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. (I realize that there is not one queer community, but I am resisting the pressure to further divide and exclude.) Finding acceptance in this community has proved a difficult process, and three years later, I'm still struggling. I attribute my exclusion to three dynamics, which I detail below.
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. Ironically, my inexperience with exclusion from heteronormative society means I am often excluded from the queer community.
A few weekends ago I went to SF Pride, and spent 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 their space. Of course, it's 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.
2. Bisexual Femme Invisibility and Delegitimization
My invisibility as a bisexual is another force that excludes me from the queer community. As a bisexual femme, 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 who doubt 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 further conceals our presence in the queer community and contributes to my feelings of being excluded.
3. My 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 a more submissive "bottom" role and sometimes taking a more dominant "top" role, but most often taking neither.
I recently joined OKCupid 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 decided to 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. Now I have some questions for BW readers:
- 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, I don't intend for anyone to feel defensive or alienated. Rather, I hope this trigger will generate conversations around this important issue that will ultimately serve to positively impact and strengthen our community.