If you’re anything like me, navigating queer relationships as a bisexual woman is no easy feat. Although many of us know we’re attracted to women in some capacity years prior to dating one, it’s very, very hard to find validation in that attraction alone. Looking at a woman through the lens of a woman is much different than looking at a woman through the lens of a man.
Growing up we’re taught women are supposed to be sexy; so when I looked at woman and thought, “Wow, she IS sexy,” it wasn’t some big revelation in the way it should have been. Instead, it was “Yup, that checks out. She looks just the way she should and men are lucky to look at her in a way that is natural and Catholic.” I’d soon come to find there was nothing natural or Catholic about me. I liked the look of women. And not just in the way that the male gaze taught me to in movies. I didn’t think, “Men definitely think she’s beautiful” anymore. I thought, “I think she’s beautiful.” I looked at women through the lens of a bisexual woman, and I liked what I saw.
If it weren’t for internalized homophobia, that would’ve been it. I’d be set on the road to coming out, finding a girlfriend, living happily ever after in our gay cottage with our adopted babies and rescued farm animals. But for many bisexual women in the queer community, that life is so far off from their reality because of, yes, outward homophobia and discrimination; but nowadays, more intensely and harder to dissect, internalized homophobia.
What is internalized homophobia? Do I hate gay people? Is that possible as a gay woman myself? According to MedicalNewsToday’s article “What To Know About Internalized Homophobia,” it “occurs when a person is subject to society’s negative perceptions, intolerance, and stigma toward people with same-sex attraction. They then turn those ideas inward, believing that they are true, and experience self-hatred as a result of being a socially stigmatized person.” Consuming ideas that being gay is wrong, a sin, gross, predatory, etc., from a young age skews queer people’s view on their sexuality. Gay people are compared to pedophiles; they’re labeled as sinners.
Even in an accepting environment it’s hard to dodge negative ideas about homosexuality. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where my parents told my siblings and I that being gay was okay; yet I still struggle, feeling like my sexuality isn’t natural. I can’t imagine how someone in a homophobic home may feel.
Art by Hayley Barnhard
How does internalized homophobia affect the bisexual community specifically?
In a country where white men hold a substantial amount of power in continuing discrimination and misogyny, both socially and systematically, bisexual women – especially WOC – face specific consequences. Not only are they objectified because of their sexuality, but invalidated. Bisexual women do hold a level of privilege, especially white women, myself included, and it’s imperative that we acknowledge the way bisexual women are able to “opt out” of homophobia when they date a man. They face less discrimination than a bisexual woman would dating a woman. However, their sexuality still stands regardless of their current partner’s gender, and people seem to get this very simple concept confused. When I first came out in high school, girls would tell me I was only faking it to get attention from guys. Boys who I thought were my friends constantly told me I wasn’t a real bisexual until I ate pussy. They managed to invalidate me and sexualize me in the same sentence.
Because women in general are so invalidated by men, they often compete with other women for attention from men. I used to be this way until I dismantled my internalized misogyny. What I’m saying is: straight women may discriminate against bisexual women because bisexual women are especially sexualized, and male validation is almost a commodity for teen girls. Because men want women’s sexuality to be palatable for themselves, they objectify bisexual women by watching lesbian porn, telling girls to kiss each other at parties, asking to have a threesome with lesbian couples, etc. All of these instances invalidate the legitimacy of bisexual women’s feelings toward women and further push the narrative that bisexual people don’t exist, or exist in only some sexual capacity. These outward aggressions manifest into internalized homophobia. The narrative that women exist and perform in fake queer relationships, solely for men’s sexual pleasure, damages the LGBTQ+ community immensely. It tells us that we operate in terms of male validation instead of our own free will.
What does the manifestation of outward homophobia look like on the inside?
How many times have you heard a bisexual woman say, “I could fuck a girl, but I don’t think I could see myself dating one”? When first hearing that, some might find it offensive and misogynistic. It sounds problematic. It sounds like bisexual women are only fetishizing the gay female experience. And as a bisexual woman myself who felt that way for many years, I faced lots of shame in this ideology. I didn’t want to only be sexually attracted to women. It wasn’t something that I wanted instead of loving one completely. I wasn’t “trying on” bisexuality as an aesthetic or a trend that made me practice some form of oppression; it was all that I knew. I knew how to be sexually attracted to women; it was innate. It was a part of my identity, and thanks to the male gaze, I learned that women were sexual – and oftentimes overly sexualized – beings. No one has to learn how to sexualize women today. We pick it up in every form of media we digest; in magazines, porn, movies, TV shows, books. It’s taught in schools when we have to change our shirts in case boys can’t focus because they’re too busy looking at our prepubescent shoulders. Women are supposed to be hot, but only for the sake of men. Being bisexual is hot, but only for the sake of men.
As a baby gay, I didn’t think that a romantic monogamous relationship with a woman was possible for me, but not because I didn’t want it. It was because I didn’t know what that looked like. And when I did see what it looked like in the limited queer content I watched growing up, they always had some sort of crisis to deal with as a gay person. They faced discrimination by their peers, they were called slurs, they were kicked out of their homes, so on and so forth. Why would someone voluntarily subject themselves to that treatment when they could just hide their sexuality and continue to date men? For many bisexual women, this is the hardest part about being bisexual. It scares a lot of people away from coming out and living as a proud queer woman. Internalized homophobia keeps bisexual women in the closet. It tells us that our lives will be so much easier if we just hide these cute little feelings we have toward women. They aren’t valid anyways. Especially in a misogynistic culture.
Women’s feelings toward women aren’t legitimate. Or...at least that’s what we’re told as young impressionable girls. A man’s girlfriend can hookup with another woman and many people don’t consider that cheating. Instead, it’s just hot. Being a woman with a woman sexually is the only acceptable way to function as a bisexual. It’s hot until it’s not for men anymore. That’s when you switch from a target of oversexualization to a target of discrimination. Holding hands with your girlfriend in public is only okay if the men watching can also picture themselves being your third. Nothing in a misogynistic culture is for you—even your own queer relationship.
So, we know what internalized homophobia looks like, where do we go from here?
It’s easy to hide who you are, and it’s easy to continue living a lie. Coming out is a long and grueling process that you, as a queer person, are going to practice with every person you meet until you die (LOL). It’s daunting, and a lot of times for bisexual women, it seems unnecessary. But if you want to shed off some of that internalized homophobia, coming out is a great start. It’s scary and you’ll face all sorts of scrutiny from family, friends, coworkers, homophobic people you went to high school with, etc. But once you start allowing yourself to love who you want to love outwardly, internalized homophobia starts to subside. Until we stop shaming queer people and spewing hate backed by the same priests who molest children, we will continue to struggle with these feelings of self-hatred and invalidation. But internalized homophobia can be dismantled with time and acceptance. Gay people aren’t pedophiles. Gay people aren’t unnatural. Bisexual people exist. Bisexual women aren’t performers. As cheesy as it sounds, the cure to internalized homophobia is living authentically and loving who you love.