Double bind: on performing bisexuality

‘That’s the issue with bisexuals’ says my girlfriend, jokingly. ‘Double the choice, double the chance of cheating. You should be scared.’

She’s joking, of course. She’s bisexual, I guess; I don’t usually feel a need to express it so simplistically. She’s mocking the dialogue that goes on even in liberal circles. But she’s not offended as such. Like me, she recognises the trade off. Given the dialogue around bisexuality – that bisexuals are less real, more flippant the homophobia directed at you can feel somewhat less real, less harmful.

It’s awful to say, but sometimes when I’m with my girlfriend I can’t help thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m glad we are both so femme. Being femme shields you from a lot of things. It means you can hold hands and people will think you are sisters. It means you don’t have to worry about being heckled on the street. It means you can travel together. It means that people around you – even people who are to some degree homophobic – will tolerate your relationship because it plays into something that is already fetishised in our culture: the young naif, Lolita, schoolgirl-sleepover thing. As long as you are performing femininity, people will more easily accept your deviation from heterosexuality. If you stop performing, that’s when the issues start.

Bisexuality isn’t well represented in the works of queer theorists (April S Callis writes that the favourite strategy of theorists is ‘total silence’). Personally, I dislike the word: it reaffirms the gender binary. But also because of the connotations it instantly conjures: porn, some poor storyline in the second season of a TV show, and always, the sense of an inability to make a choice to really stick at something.

Why, then, when I go to a speech about bi-erasure, do I roll my eyes, saying ‘Oh god, I’m seriously so sick of hearing about this’? Why do that, when it’s about me, it affects me, and just last week some guy told me his summer plan was to have a threesome with me and my girlfriend?

I think it goes back to the way I present, and the luxury it affords me. Being straight-passing lets you skate right past the most dangerous homophobic tendencies of society. Sure, it’s annoying that I can’t kiss C in public and it’s irritating that my friend will ask me if I’m not just ‘waiting for Prince Charming’, but if I’m being entirely honest, I know I benefit from the way I’m seen. I know that being seen as a fake allows me to live without much interference. Being seen as fake is better than being shot in a nightclub, being called a slur in public, or being targeted by the vitriol that was inevitably going to follow a badly planned plebiscite.

In the article I mention above, ‘Playing with Butler and Foucault: Bisexuality and Queer Theory’, Callis notes that there actually isnt a very effective way to perform bisexuality. You are of course either performing heterosexuality by being in a ‘normal’ relationship, or homosexuality by being in a same-sex one. How could one attempt to perform such a loaded term as ‘bisexual’ without playing into its most common stereotypes?

Presenting straight but acting queer is destabilising to most people’s conceptions of sex and gender. Destabilisation can lead to anger, sure. But it can also lead to a sort of levity: where you are perceived as so unstable and so ridiculous that your entire identity is interpreted as some sort of performance. It is this levity that allows me to fit so easily into the world, to have my relationship seen as cute, photogenic, charming, whatever. If bisexuality is simply a performance, then like a play, it must come to an end: the costumes will come off, and each character will go home to their heterosexual marriage.

I’m acutely aware of how my relationship is seen, and I’m happy enough with that. Honestly, there is no simple way out of such a double bind. If the cost is a disconnection from the queer community at large, then that is a trade-off that I, for better or worse, have made.


Jemimah Tarasov

Jemimah Tarasov is a law student who is obsessed with Helen Garner, the intersection between pop-culture and academia, and anything queer. She works with Demos Journal.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *