Lush Basingstoke supervisor Arabella Kennedy-Compston discusses the lack of understanding surrounding bisexuality and the importance of breaking down sexual stereotypes.
Gender isn’t a concern of mine when I’m attracted to someone - if I like them, I like them. To me, being bisexual is simply a label for not being exclusively attracted to the opposite sex. But, as with anything on the fringes of what is considered conventional and heteronormative, a lack of representation and understanding has led to discrimination against people like me.
Discrimination in the media
It starts with what we are taught about the world around us. We are fed constant images of what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable’ every day by the cis straight white men who dominate the media and present ‘others’ through the male gaze. This means queer culture has historically been either erased, or, if included, mocked or sexualised for straight male pleasure. In recent years, more programmes including and celebrating gay men (such as Rupaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye) have become popular. Yet queer women are still grossly under-represented, and bisexual women in particular are almost completely erased from the media.
If we’re ever lucky enough to get representation, it’s typically the same old worn stereotype. Scott Pilgrim VS the World, for example, is probably one of the more problematic films I’ve watched. When Scott refers to Ramona’s bisexual relationship in high school as a “sexy phase”, I lost a lot of respect for Edgar Wright. I know the film is about a young man’s perspective, but it once again reinforces the idea that bisexuality is only valid when it is for straight men’s pleasure. SPOILER ALERT: it’s not.
Some rare programmes get it right. Brooklyn Nine Nine, for example, a show that has already made waves with its incredible representation and hilarious jokes, dedicated an episode to Stephanie Beatriz’s character, Rosa, coming out as bisexual in an authentic and validating way. The way they handled it, from her parents thinking it’s just a phase to seeing it as unnatural, made me feel a whole lot less alone. As it is such a grey area that isn’t regularly discussed in a positive and healthy way, it was really comforting to watch. I hope it encourages other shows not to shy away from these kinds of conversations.
A culture of shame and sexual excess
Growing up in a heterosexual household with little positive representation in the media had a big impact on how I came to terms with my bisexuality. I’ve never been educated on same-sex relationships or sexual relations with a girl and this has affected my confidence when it came to these new experiences. Even though my preferences are invisible, the shame I and my bisexual friends regularly feel and internalise is real.
Being a bisexual woman carries negative connotations of being sexually greedy. One incident cemented this for me, before I even came to terms with my sexuality. I was at a school party getting to know this lovely girl, venting about a guy I had a crush on, when one of the girls I knew better pulled me to the side. “By the way,” she said, “so-and-so is bisexual - just so you know, she may be trying to chat you up.” She was telling me that this girl who had listened to me vent for an hour was some kind of predator, and felt that it was her business to “warn” me.
Being bisexual doesn’t mean I’m sexually available to anyone and everyone - I’ll have people I’m attracted to and people that I’m not. Not so shocking, is it? Yet, no straight man I’ve been with has understood or respected my sexual preference other than when it suits them or turns them on. This just gets more and more frustrating with time, and makes me feel as though I’m only accepted when it is for other people’s benefit.
Prejudice within the LGBTQ+ community
Although included in the abbreviation LGBTQ+, the bisexual community is still not wholeheartedly accepted by all members. Some people see those who identify as bisexual or pansexual as not ‘gay enough’, as we are also attracted to the opposite sex. Many members dismiss our presence because we can pass as straight when we are in a relationship with someone from the opposite sex.
Some see bisexuality as a stepping stone towards admitting attraction purely to the same sex. Even if it was, I don’t see why that would be a negative thing. Others assume that people identify as bisexual because they want to appear sexually available to anyone and everyone, and want to use it as an excuse to have a ‘slutty phase’. All this does is further damage acceptance. If I can’t relate to my straight friends and feel I have no place in that community, where can I feel believed and supported?
The LGBTQ+ community is a space to feel welcomed and supported by others with similar experiences of not fitting in within heteronormative society. All members have had difficult experiences, and I only respect and support them, so why do some groups feel the need to belittle me? No one can speak on my behalf, as they haven’t had my experiences. I don’t understand why groups that have been ridiculed in the past wish to isolate a group that has always been under-represented.
We could instead put all of this energy into building a safe space to educate others, reaching out to other marginalised groups, and raising funds and awareness for other queer people across the world who have fewer rights than we do. We cannot breed the same hatred we fight against.
The negative interactions I’ve experienced throughout my life have created a voice at the back of my head that tells me my feelings are ‘unnatural’ and not right. But I’m distancing myself from this as I find new environments that welcome me for who I am.
My immediate family, friends, and work colleagues all accept me for me, and all I can do is give them the same love in return. Now, I will only give my energy and presence to those that I feel accept me, rather than those who require me to modify my behaviour, and I hope that soon bisexuality will be freely celebrated everywhere. After all, love is love.