What’s wrong with that? - My Experiences Navigating Biphobia
Writer: Denise Lee
Edited By: Anna Mohan
“家姐, did you see those two girls in the movie just now?”
my mom asked as she pulled me aside at the end of a movie playing on cable. Two schoolgirls in uniform in a hazy, sepia-tinted scene, holding hands in secret and stifling hushed giggles, looking at each other with young love. “Yes.” “Don’t ever do that okay?” More than 15 years later, and I will never forget her saying those words, and making me wonder what was so wrong with their love. She might not have said it out loud - that she thought it was wrong and I know now that a lot of what she does is her way of protecting me or doing what she thinks is best for me.
But biphobia doesn’t only show itself through hurled slurs and outright rejection.
It can also come in the form of constant discouragement.
It can come from turning a blind eye to the suffering of those that you love.
It seems strange to think that less than a decade ago, someone being gay or queer was even more controversial than it is now. In the 4th or 5th grade; we were asked to gather the opinions of people around us on whether or not they thought same-sex couples should have the right to marry. The majority of my knowledge and information came from the immediate world around me: my parents, my family, my peers, my teachers and my culture.
There was no attempt made by our teachers to explain why people from the LGBTQ+ community faced discrimination and backlash for loving who they loved and little to no attempt to clarify that this discrimination was wrong. Thinking back on it now, I can only imagine the fear and pain it would have inflicted on children who had to listen to parents and relatives spout hateful rhetoric and ignorant comments.
I remember thinking, what was so wrong about loving someone of the same sex? Surely it would be lovely to spend the rest of your life with someone like your best friend?
It was not until much later, in my late high school years, that I began to question my own sexuality. I remember thinking and feeling things and realising my peers did not share this experience. I recognised or thought that my behaviour could make others “uncomfortable” because they didn’t feel the same way as I did. As I came to terms with my own sexuality, I had yet to find someone of the same gender whom I connected with romantically despite finding many physically attractive. I would hear comments from friends and peers, especially male peers, about how they found physical intimacy between women “hot”, whilst the same intimacy between men was deemed “unnatural” or “gross”. I wondered why I felt so viscerally uncomfortable hearing these comments, now I understand it’s because of how objectified women are by both men and women. I would also come to understand the intersection of being objectified as a woman and being fetishized as a bisexual woman.
At some point in their lives, every woman comes to terms with the fact that she will experience unfairness in her life solely because of her perceived gender - whether that is access to birth control, the pink tax, experiencing a pay gap, victim-blaming etc. We can be angry and upset and ask for change, but at the same time, we acknowledge that for now, we need to take precaution if we want to survive. I, like many other women, experience all these things but this inequality is magnified when you have more than one “facet” to your social identity - which can range from race to sexuality to gender to disability. Not only am I objectified as a woman by both men and women - I also experience fetishizing by others as a bisexual woman i.e. there can be multiple layers of discrimination. An example of this is that often bisexual individuals are perceived as hypersexual and it is assumed that they want to participate in sexual acts like threesomes; the “unicorn hunting” phenomenon where couples on dating sites try to find bisexual women to be that “third” party in their sexual fantasies.
Being queer, and a woman of colour means that besides navigating a sexuality outside of heteronormativity, we also have to navigate the toxic stigma and stereotypes that follow with the culture and traditions from our ethnic backgrounds. An oft-discussed topic in the Facebook group “Subtle Asian Traits” and other sub-groups such as “Subtle Asian Women” is the normalised way in which Asian parents communicate or express themselves to their children. As the eldest daughter of a Cantonese family, I was brought up with a strict set of expectations and I was taught to believe that falling short of these meant that I was disappointing my family. I am not here to ridicule or question the way my parents raised me and this is not a piece on the nuances of parenting. However, I will not pretend that their comments and actions undoubtedly implied their distaste and rejection of a non-heterosexual lifestyle did not condition me to turn away from these feelings whilst growing up. I was often given conflicting comments: “Why did you hug that boy goodbye but not your other friend?”, “You need to be careful how close you get to that boy, they will get the wrong idea.” “Don’t do what those girls did in that movie!”. Rather than comments, these were demands and I know they were said with the expectation that I would oblige.
Many topics are taboo in my culture and although many Hong Kong locals pride themselves on their fierce belief in freedom, there is very little leeway to living freely when you are gay. Bullying, demeaning and insulting those who did not fit the mould is not a new concept, and it certainly wasn’t new to my peers who were out; what I found bizarre was that despite my coming out, I was not bullied or made into a social outcast like other students I knew and it made me think about what really constituted as “too gay” or “too queer” for hetero social norms - or perhaps even if I was “gay enough” to need to be treated that way. Perhaps because my past relationships made me a very straight passing individual and that I had yet to engage in behaviour that was deemed “too gay”. Whatever it was, I was once again reminded of the fact that so much of my intersecting identity relied on how others perceived me and it seemed almost as though the way I perceived myself did not matter.
The recent years have seen a gradual increase in representation across the board for different minority groups, whether it’s people of colour, the disabled or the LGBTQ+ community itself in different forms of media. From movies like Crazy Rich Asians to shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race or animated ones like Steven Universe to the global success of BTS’ music - we are seeing more and more, a variety of different bodies on screens. Recently I stumbled across a webtoon “Big Jo” and I realised I had never come across a main character in mainstream media who was explicitly bisexual. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places- but I shouldn’t need to go looking for media that explores the nuances of living as someone who is bi. After all, I’ve never had to actively search for media that reflects the struggles or lives of someone who is straight. Reading about the character’s struggles and conflicting thoughts, seeing her staying steadfast in her morals and judgement and almost experiencing (vicariously) through her what it would be like if queer relationships were more normalised in day to day life - I was intrigued and enamoured, where would I be now if my high school life looked remotely like hers?
It has only been in recent years, with more members of the LGBTQ+ community demanding representation in mainstream media that we see more gay, lesbian and or trans characters - but there still aren’t many bi characters. Even within the queer community, biphobia and bi-erasure exist.
This sometimes hurts even more as - the community that is supposed to accept you is also rejecting you
Even though I am much further along in my journey of acceptance, I still frequently doubt my own sexuality and have pervasive thoughts about the legitimacy of my own sexuality because of so many factors: from cultural stigma causing internalised biphobia to lack of representation in media to bi-erasure in the LGBTQ+ community. Coming to the end of the article, it definitely seems like there is so much bad in the world, but I promise that there is also a lot of good! At the age of 24, I have friends who unconditionally accept who I am and have never made me uncomfortable because of who I am attracted to or who I love. I am in a wonderful relationship with a man who accepts me for who I am, is not threatened by my being bi and does his best to support my endeavours and brings out the best in me.
I am still unlearning my own prejudices, and even learning that I am harbouring some that I was not aware of - it is a constant journey of continuous learning and understanding so that you can take steps to become a better version of yourself.