Femme Bisexual Invisibility and Passing
I have been hiding from writing this essay for three weeks as much as I have been hiding out in the straight world for the last three years. Dating a man after being married to a woman who died young. Experiencing what it is like to have one’s relationship not be questioned by relatives, one’s marriage plans approved of, hate crimes avoided. I admit it is easier. But this choice has its own baggage.
I am a femme cisgender bisexual with invisible psychiatric disabilities. While I date a man I pass as straight. While my disabilities hide out in my brain I pass as non-disabled. With a migrant worker grandmother and a caucasian father, I am a white-passing Latina. This precarious intersectional identity allows me all of the goodies of straight cis white privilege while alienating me from activist solidarity. Trump would have me deported. Jeb condemns my former marriage. I am between worlds.
And this is fine. It is what it is. As Ke$ha sings, “We are who we are.” But I think a lot about passing guilt. What it is to pass. What it is to feel as if you have sold out dual identities by being unable to be recognized as a duality without judgement being passed.
As a lifelong queer bisexual, I am continually confronted with bisexual erasure. My ex-wife urged me to say I had become a lesbian. When a bisexual celebrity switches gender of partner they are said to have “switched teams.” There is never an issue of switching from gay to straight. That doesn’t actually happen. The person has simply always been bisexual, and will continue to be, no matter who they are dating. Miley Cyrus, Kristin Stewart, Lindsey Lohan, these young bisexual celebrities who have been accused in the media of “turning gay” then “switching teams”– It doesn’t work that way.
It baffles me that both gay and straight people say they don’t understand bisexuality or that it doesn’t exist, when in actuality it is as plain as day if you happen to be that way. I have always been attracted to people of both genders, I have switched gender of partners alternately throughout my life. There is never an issue of turning my queer identity off or disavowing it.
I stopped identifying as straight when I came out at 15 in the late nineties. We didn’t have the word queer then, it was still a slur. Later I came to embrace the word queer because it was an umbrella term where I was included in the club with my gay, lesbian and trans brothers and sisters. We are strongest together as allies. We are fighting for many of the same things, and can aid in each other’s struggles.
Bisexuals have a hard road though, because they are often rejected by both the straight and gay worlds. We are bedeviled by stereotypes about being unable to be faithful, requiring polyamorous triads, existing as threesome-bait. I can attest that bisexuals are capable of being faithful to either a man or a woman, whomever they are seeing. Simply because I am capable of being attracted to both genders does not mean I need to pursue both or be actively involved with both concurrently. That is a damaging stereotype. Simply not true.
Being femme carries with it a load of complex issues as well. While the makeup, heels, glitter, long hair and nails are certainly a lot of fun, the psychological weight of being both the object of desire and symbol of female oppression is heavy. I watched the YouTube video “Shit People Say to Femmes” with a sigh of recognition, because people really do say those things. I cannot escape my femme identity. I am a womanly woman. I embrace my femininity. I enjoy camping it up to drag queen levels to queer the femme. As much as I curl my eyelashes and collect Urban Decay palettes I understand that when you assume the femme role and then date a man, you disappear as a queer.
Femme bisexual invisibility is real. With passing privilege it can be a difficult identity to navigate. I recently read an “Unpopular Opinion” on XOJane entitled, “If You Only Date Men, You Don’t Get to be Queer.” Luckily, it was shredded in the comments. The opinion was certainly unpopular with me. You get to be whoever you feel you are. If you crave a woman’s touch but have only ever had the opportunity to be with men, you are still bisexual/queer. Are we obligated to prove our queer card with every new friend or acquaintance by narrating one’s bisexual sexual history to authenticate oneself as belonging at the gay bar, the gay performance art workshop? I sometimes feel that I must. This does not feel good.
I would say after having my wedding announcement in the Los Angeles Times with a photo kissing my soon-to-be-wife, with hers and hers Louis Verdad wedding gowns splashed lavishly on Facebook, my queer card can never be revoked. Imagine my consternation when my current boyfriend asked if there was an actual card. I laughed and then I wanted to cry. We bisexuals joke about having to bring our queer card under review by the LGBT council every six months to verify that we can still keep it. I make an effort to participate in the gay community. I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. I romanced women when my boyfriend and I were broken up. Yet why do I still feel that I am on unsteady ground?
The fundamental difficulty of the precarious intersectional identity of the femme bisexual. You have the privilege of passing but also the guilt. I asked a straight friend who had only known me after my wife passed if I read to her as straight or gay. She said I seemed straight. Her gaydar may be broken, but it did give me pause.
To be femme is treading a gilded cage of privilege and hiding out in a flimsy disguise of femininity. It is difficult sometimes that I pass as so many things yet am not purely or essentially any of them. There is a feeling of convenient disguises. There is a feeling that I may be betraying my allies who cannot pass simply by the act of passing but I cannot deny this fact. There is a feeling of needing to apologize for my identity when it is unavoidable and real. All of this is uncomfortable.
I acknowledge that my discomfort with passing guilt is the weight of the society that we live within. Am I just complaining that I have it easy but feel guilty about it? Perhaps. With time these attitudes can change and we can become a more accepting society of all forms of gender and sexual fluidity. I long for this day.
Thank you for sharing this. You are not on your own.
I really appreciate this message because it helps me understand who I am as a girly girl in the process of coming out as bisexual. I thought about it since high-school and is now my junior year at college and I’ve only told 4 people so far. I really like hearing from someone who has faced the invisibility that I feel and the guilt as well.
Thank you for this article. I was never an internet blogging type and have never written any readers’ comments of this sort before. I was desperately searching for some information about invisible bisexual femmes troubled by a lack of sense of belonging, recognition, or legitimation, due to bouts of my recent depression. And I chanced upon this piece. I was tearing up as I read your words. Thank you.
“I am a femme cisgender bisexual with invisible psychiatric disabilities.”
When I read that sentence I gasped – me! You’re somebody like me! I actually got to this page by googling “Can a bisexual woman be femme?”. So, yeah – thankyou for writing this. Not only did you reassure me that, yes, I can be a bisexual femme, but also the deepness of the feelings of always having to prove your queerness, that you qualify, that what you are does not change every two weeks based upon who you’re dating or not dating or whatever.
I also identify with this post. Thanks Andrea.