About a month ago, I was told by a girl I know from college that “white people have never experienced what it’s like to be oppressed.” (She’s Latina.)
To which I replied, “Well, I’m bi.”
She flapped her hand dismissively. “That doesn’t count. What gay people experience doesn’t compare to what it’s like to be a real minority in America.”
I shrugged and made a non-committal noise. It is a sentiment I have heard before from people of color, and a sentiment I am sure I will hear again. But it is a dangerous sentiment, one that devalues my experiences and indeed my very existence, not to mention the experiences of those LGBTQ people of color, and the particular hardships they face because of their orientation or trans* identity.
I’d be the first to admit that I haven’t experienced racism in any meaningful way, and I can’t really imagine what it would be like to be judged immediately in any negative way based on the shade of my skin, but I promise you, I know what it is to be oppressed. Just because my oppression is different from the real and troubling problems of those who have non-porcelain-colored skin doesn’t mean that it is any less real.
I am oppressed each time I see a member of my family. I lie about a fundamental aspect of my existence each and every time I see them. Each time I see my mother’s face, I think about how crushed she would be if I came out, how disappointed, and how angry my dad would be. I think about how many times I’ve heard a family member say that bisexuality doesn’t exist. I think about how confused my siblings would be if I came out. I think of how my surviving grandparents would disown me, and how I suspect that my cousins probably aren’t any less conservative than our mothers.
I am oppressed each time I come out to somebody, and they tell me that “I’m just going through a phase” or tell me that “Please, everybody who bi in college winds up marrying a man and having his kids.” I am oppressed each time somebody condescendingly calls me “bicurious” even though I am not, I am not curious, or questioning (though these are valid states of being) or anything. I am sure.
I am oppressed when I walk down the street of my hometown, knowing that I spent 18 years there lying to everybody I knew. Knowing that even though I am out at college, I am still closeted here. Knowing that I am closeted for a good reason here. Knowing that when I grew up in a school of 2,400 students and didn’t know a single LGBTQ person aside from myself, I was actually part of a group 240 strong. Knowing that I and 240 of my peers were isolated from comfort and solace because of hatred and fear. If that isn’t oppression, what is?
What is oppression, if not being forced to choose between hiding who you are, and passing as straight, and coming out and facing the open hatred you see directed at anyone else who had that courage? What is oppression, if not my “Ally” t-shirt? (And I’d like to note that I can’t wear even that in my hometown without being called a “fucking f*g-lover”). I am not an ally. I am bi, as bisexual as they come. What is oppression, if not the messages I get on OKCupid saying—and I quote—“Damn, your [sic] cute. Love you bi girls” and “So you’re bi? That’s fucking hot ;)” and even “Do you want a guy who can ‘straighten’ you out?” No thank you.
Oppression is staining your pillow with salt because you know you don’t have a prayer of being able to come out peacefully until your grandfather dies, because this man just told you last week that he is leaving yet another church, this time because his pastor’s daughter came out as lesbian, and now his pastor “is preaching acceptance and saying that type of love is acceptable”. Oppression is crying even harder because your grandfather is in good health.
Oppression is wanting to say to your Latina acquaintance that her parents knew what their child would be, that they weren’t surprised when she spoke Spanish and had black hair, because they gave those things to her, just as they gave her a fantastic recipe for enchiladas. Oppression is not saying it, because you still can’t admit to yourself how much you want to come out to your parents, and how much they wanted a straight girl who would get married and pop out little babies and live in a house with a green lawn and a fresh white coat of paint.
Oppression is facing bitterness from your lesbian and gay friends because, after all, “You can just fucking marry a guy and still be happy, you can pass without lying.” Let me tell you, each time I bring a boyfriend home, I still feel like a liar, even though I am more than happy to have beautiful, fulfilling, straight sex with him, I still feel like a liar because sometimes I touch his flat chest and crave something else. Oppression is knowing that my romance prospects are limited not by who I am attracted to, but by who I can comfortably connect my name to on my Facebook page.
Oppression is how, when I came to my liberal college, I was so shocked to experience acceptance and love from my community that I fell into a deep depression, unsure of how to act or what to do not that I wasn’t lying about who I was anymore.
Oppression is coming out to my best friend of 12 years, a girl who knows me inside-out, and her saying, eyes wide, “I never would have guessed.” Oppression is her not telling me that she herself is bi for another three years, after we graduated, and knowing that, I too, would never have guessed. We were both too scared for this type of honesty for such a long time.
Oppression is how I cry every time I hear Macklemore’s “Same Love” on the radio, and how I can’t say anything and have to hold in my tears if I am in the car with my sister when I hear it. Every time. It is how my gay co-worker and cried after we sang it together in the car. Oppression is how that second is one of the few experiences of unity and hope that I can ever recall relating to my bisexuality.
Oppression is the fact I have tried to kill myself two times. Oppression is how my even my liberal, well-meaning college sent me home on forced mental-health leave, not understanding how dangerous this was for me, even as I literally begged them not to send me back to my homophobic hometown. Oppression was the misery of a month at home, away from any support, away from the only other LGBTQ people I’d ever known.
Being bi hurts a lot. I can only hope that time helps heal this pain, just as I hope time and change helps heal all types of oppression. There are nights I cry myself to sleep, days that I consider trying to ignore my attraction to women, and a constant, low-key wish to be different, to be more acceptable, to not have to wince when I’m told that I haven’t experienced oppression. But I have, and I do, and I can’t take that back or change it any more than a person of color can choose to be white. The very idea of changing is absurd, ridiculous, and still something I sometimes want. One day I hope that I can feel better about being bi. One day, I hope that I no longer struggle from years of depression and suicide attempts stemming in part from my “abnormal” sexuality.
I believe that I know what it is to be oppressed. But I, just like my frustrated Latina acquaintance, hope one day for change, for when we can both walk down the streets, holding our heads high. She hopes for the day where she can walk speak to a salesgirl without trying to hide her accent. I hope for the day I can casually flirt with that salesgirl, even if I’m shopping with my sister or a friend from home. One hope is not any less valid than other.