Comics are a great way to reach people. If you can say something in six panels with cute illustrations that makes someone feel validated, or less alone? That's an art. It's also tricky. People who make comics - especially women make comics - often find their work cut up, taken out of context, or even edited just to mock them for daring to have an opinion and drawing it. It's a silencing attempt, and it works. I've had this happen for years, as have many of my friends. It no longer sends me into a days-long panic, it just annoys me, and I block the offender. The panic only lasts maybe several hours.
But here's a thing, and I want to say it, and I'm tired of starting and then erasing comics because I'm afraid my words aren't right. (I don't mean I'm afraid of people being mean to me, I mean I'm afraid of saying something that would hurt or erase somebody or their experience). So, here, in an essay, that you can read with the caveat that I know it's not perfect:
I have talked to dozens, if not hundreds, of bi- and pansexual people throughout my life, and others who identify somewhere along the glittering spectrum. The comics I make and the circles I run in inevitably lead to conversation, and one concept just keeps rearing its ugly head:
"I don't count."
"I don't count because I'm in a relationship." "I don't count because I've only ever kissed one girl." "I don't feel like I count in the queer community because I have a boyfriend." "I want to go to pride but people always scoff at me and my partner." "I'm not gay enough." "I'm not straight enough."
It's not something any of us bring up at the dinner table unprovoked, but I have heard it over and over again. Women in long-term relationships with cis men who are absolutely attracted to other women but don't feel like they're allowed to admit it, much less embrace it. Men who hide their status from partners for fear of being rejected. It's everywhere, like an epidemic. I certainly have felt from time to time like I'm encroaching on queer spaces by being so vocal, but every time I think of closing up shop on the subject, someone will shyly approach me at a con to tell me it's important to see. I falter a bit at this (I hate anyone thinking I have self-esteem) but then I think of how much it means to me to see any bi representation in media that isn't totally cringe-worthy. I guess it's something. But the problem itself runs deep.
This whole idea came to me again (for the silliest of reasons) when Overwatch released a comic where its main female character Tracer was established to have a woman for a partner, and the entire internet screamed "SHE'S GAY!" - including me. After a few hours of revelling, I thought to myself: what if she's bi? Immediately, I had a fluttering sense of disappointment. That wouldn't be good enough. That's lesser. My own identity, rendered unsatisfying. I know there are plenty of people who would agree with that sentiment, but how could I internalize that kind of self-hate? Part of it's that I'm starved to see WLW in media, but the other part is learned.
I have a theory about this - a few, really. They're not scientific, just based on experience. The first is that people do not like complicated ideas. "You're dating a man BUT you've slept with women?" "How can you KNOW if you've never kissed a man?" (For the record, nobody asks heterosexuals this question). I've seen heads spin. Maybe it's that the majority of the world is monosexual and in the same way I can't imagine someone's gender affecting my attraction to them, they feel the opposite. It's a fundamental difference, and a lot of folks don't like looking outside themselves. They've picked a side, why can't we?
The second is that there's no slang. You can say both "gay" and "straight" without the "-sexual" suffix coming to mind. There's no commonly-used, widespread, accepted version for "bi" or "pan." Sure, some of us use "queer," but it's an umbrella term and not everybody's comfortable with it. As much as we'd like to think we're all opening our minds to gender and sexuality, bi and pan folks are still hanging out in the margins. And most of the time, we aren't complaining, because we feel like we deserve it.
When I struggle with my sexuality, it's not because I'm confused about what I like. I know who I am. It's that I feel left out. I feel uncomfortable when people assume I'm straight, and with the privilege that brings me. I hate having to explain it. I hate that I think I deserve to feel bad about it. I have a kind of "passing guilt," and I know from experience I'm not alone. It happens in both straight and gay communities. Bi folks just feel like we're not allowed. That's not an unwarranted or imagined feeling, either; biphobia is rampant among both straight and gay communities. Stereotypes and prejudice run the gammut from "she's going through a phase" to "he'll leave me for a man" to "they're doing it for attention," and then some. It's everywhere. How can we help but feel it sometimes, too?
Bi people count. Women who've never kissed a girl and are married with four kids but are attracted to other women, they count. Men who live in the gay community and feel like they can't ever talk about women they're attracted to, they count. Trans folks who were already tired of explaining shit to you before this came up, they count. QPOC who already face considerably more discrimination without having to justify their attractions, they count. We live in isolated pockets. We keep our struggle to ourselves most days. There's a lot to deal with right now. But we count.
One thing I think hurts us the most is the lack of community. We exist like the center of a Venn diagram - in many circles but at the same time, none. We're both straight and gay, lopping sides like a ping-pong ball, never settling. People rarely talk about the depression and suicide rates amongst bi people , but they're extraordinarily high . I think part of that comes from the uncertainty, the lack of belonging. Where do we fit? Especially when you add in the worry that "bisexual" as a term reinforces a binary (and therefore transphobic) ideal. I don't want to do that, but it's how I've identified since I was 11, and is rejecting the term just further erasing bisexuality? It's a loop I've caught myself in for hours at a time. Not wanting to exclude or be excluded. There's a lot of writing on this subject, but no real consensus.
(Personally, I like "attracted to both same and other genders," which is slowly becoming more widely accepted.)
So how do we fight that feeling of being ostracised? Well, I think, with communication. Information. Inclusion. Being vocal, if we can afford it. Creating spaces. Telling our stories. Connecting. I swear, I wish there really was a bisexual community the way there is a gay one. And yet, even thinking that, a twinge - do we really deserve it? Do we count? I have to snap the elastic at my wrist to quit this awful habit.
I say we do. At the very least, I say we work harder to have each other's backs, to validate our feelings and attractions, whether we act on them or not. It's a little thing, but little things add up. The world is changing. Aubrey Plaza came out last year! Stephanie Beatriz! Our visible numbers are growing, and things CAN get better. We just have to start small, and together, even if that simply means starting with ourselves; the world is already invalidating us, why should we do it for them?