“Straight passing privilege isn’t privilege, it’s erasure.”
I’m in a screenwriting workshop. My more socially aware classmate, who makes me feel like my face lies beside “problematic” on wikipedia, has just dished out her newest critique. I am mapping out a pilot, and one of my characters is bisexual, as is she.
“I know,” I say.
She has no clue how much I mean it.
Although this happened months ago, the moment keeps replaying in my head, with the response I wish I gave.
“I know…because I’m bisexual. Because your comment on erasure is the familiar sensation of being rear-ended by pencils I feel every day. I know because every day I clench pencils I never have the chance to draw out myself out with.”
This is not my coming out piece.
This is my I wear dresses six days a week and don’t feel entitled to be gay piece. This is my perfect face of makeup piece, the always feminine, always girly, always drowning in my own straight passing piece. This is the piece for the first lesbian I ever befriended, immediately talking to her about cute boys and how months later she got the “butch” pixie cut so no one else would make that mistake.
I’m writing this because I don’t want that haircut. Because I love my ophelia getup and for so long I didn’t want to look queer because I didn’t want to be queer. Bisexuality made pretending to be straight bearable.
I had a recipe for deceit and all the ingredients: skirts, lipstick, and an attraction to men. My desperation to adhere to a straight image and lifestyle came from my traditional family – my little sister saying she would disown me if I was gay at 7, my parents not supporting same sex marriage at 13, my mom declaring she doesn’t believe in bisexuality at 17.
Although they’ve grown with society, society hasn’t grown so much, particularly in bisexual acceptance. My sexuality is often reduced to a confused phase. People say bisexuals just want to fuck everybody, want everything for themselves, are selfish. Even within the LGBT community many translate bi into slut.
I resisted the stereotypes by caging myself in another. I don’t look queer. So I convinced myself I didn’t have to be queer.
￼Me leaving the closet will shock many – one because I’ve maintained a straight feminine image and two, my audience is used to me putting my shit out there all the time. My writing explores my intimate struggles with abuse, body image, and romance.
And that was part of the problem. I’ve become addicted to forcing myself into love to compensate for hatred I felt towards my capacity to love both sexes. I amped up my emotions to replace the ones I didn’t want and published them, each poem a proclamation of my clear cut straightness. Even though I exaggerated, it’s not that I haven’t felt sincere passion and affection towards the men in my life. My bisexuality is liking both vanilla and chocolate, but always choosing vanilla so no one can tell you chocolate is gross. But you find yourself craving chocolate, shoveling shameful spoonfuls under moonlight.
I feel a constant lump in my throat from swallowing pieces of myself.
My whole life I’ve been told – you’re confident, bold, you don’t care what people think. I’m naturally outspoken, and with that has come an expectation to not care about anyone else’s opinions of me. To a degree it’s true; I own my values. But speaking up is not synonymous with emotional impermeability. I’m a highly sensitive person; anyone who really knows me would tell you that’s obvious.
But being a blunt woman makes ordinary business a battlefield, creating the need for a front.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve experienced hostility from boys for speaking my mind. In middle school it got particularly bad. On the school bus, guys would throw things at me, sexually harass me, kick me into the street and then take photos of it all. My mom always repeated, “Look at Sarah, she’s a chubby girl with glasses and no one bothers her, because she doesn’t give them a reaction.”
But I was not Sarah. I flashed a middle finger back at their cameras. Victim was a title I would only wear in my shower, which remains my sacred crying place. They hated me for expressing strength in a dress. For wearing red lips as bold as the words that leave them. When the only thing that makes you stronger is societal norms, when your only tie to strength is machismo – there’s nothing more infuriating than a girly girl with more fight than you.
Now what does this have to do with feminity and bisexuality? I’ve realized that defying the predestined ideals of feminine in some ways and conforming to them in others brings hostility. I couldn’t have it both ways. We’ve projected a specific image of what a queer woman looks like and I don’t see it in the mirror. The title of this piece is extremely problematic – as is the sentiment. When I say I’m sorry I don’t look gay, I am expressing how not looking like the butch stereotype has in someway denied me my own sexuality. We make snap judgments on people and throw them into demographics. Being labelled straight protected me from prejudice, encouraging me to conform to it. I locked myself in a closet full of dresses.
But today I am coming out, in eyeliner and heels. I’m tired of the scrape of erasers. I’m using my pencil. I didn’t have the courage in class – I was too afraid that I hadn’t created entertaining dialogue I lost the chance to start a meaningful one.
Let’s fight for our own visibility by deploying our voices. Let’s talk.