Bisexual People Are Straight-Passing
What that means and why it doesn't matter.
If you’re at all involved in the MOGAI community, you may have seen the concept of being “straight-passing” thrown around, especially in regards to bisexual people (but also possibly in relation to pansexual and asexual individuals). This is the idea that, because bisexual people can honestly enter into relationships with people not of their gender, they can pass as straight and thus enjoy more privileges than other members of the MOGAI community.
There is some truth to this. Certainly, a bisexual woman dating a man has less to fear when it comes to PDA than a lesbian couple. But I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to call this a privilege or assert that bisexual people deal with less oppression or prejudice.
For one thing, “straight-passing” often means closeted, (White 2017) particularly when applied to situations where a person passes as straight among friends, family, and colleagues. Anyone who has ever lived in the closet knows that this is far from a privileged experience. Rather, it is one full of anxiety and self-loathing and questioning your own validity as a MOGAI person—especially when you’re bisexual. (Zane 2016; Bosworth 2018)
Bisexual people often deal with people challenging if they’re “really bi,” and this problem is only exacerbated by being in a straight-passing relationship. (Bosworth 2018; Zane 2016) There is a constant sense of having to “prove” one’s bisexuality, and these questions and demands come from straight and gay people alike. This puts bisexual people in a position where they neither feel like they are part of the straight community nor the MOGAI community. (Zane 2016) As video essayist Lindsay Ellis once succinctly put it on Twitter: “There's nothing more telling when other shades of the LGBT+ spectrum call bisexual people ‘allies.’ Like yeah we get it, we're in the club but not really.” (thelindsayellis 2019)
To be rejected by the community that is supposed to be a home and a support for people shunned for their identities and orientations is an extremely isolating and anxiety-inducing experience. (Zane 2016) Indeed, bisexual people suffer mental health problems (including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse) at rates just as high as homosexual people, if not higher—it depends on which study you look at. (Zane 2016)
And there are unique concerns, prejudices, and misconceptions that bisexual people have to grapple with if they come out or are outted. Many people, straight and gay, look down on bisexual people and refuse to date them. (Zane 2016) So being in a straight-passing relationship is not a readily-accessible thing for bisexuals, nor is being in any relationship. And even if they aren’t rejected outright for their sexuality, there is still the risk of instead being fetishized. (Zane 2016) This is perhaps of greatest concern for bisexual women, who experience dramatically elevated levels of sexual assault, abuse, and stalking compared to straight women and lesbians. (White 2017)
When bisexual people navigate these risks and prejudices in trying to decide if they will come out or pass for straight, this isn’t a question of enjoying privileges. This is a question of remaining invisible behind a painful lie about your identity, knowing that a false step or a slip in your disguise could lead to abuse and rejection—from all communities. Trying to point fingers about who has it better and who suffers worse benefits no one; creating divisions and exclusions only makes people more vulnerable to the systemic violence and oppression that surrounds us.
Bosworth, Abbie. 2018. ‘Being Bisexual in a Straight-Passing Relationship.’ Medium. Retrieved October 28, 2019 (https://medium.com/@abigailbosworth/being-bisexual-in-a-straight-passing-relationship-65d888a27028).
thelindsayellis. (2019, October 15). ‘There's nothing more telling when other shades of the LGBT+ spectrum call bisexual people "allies." Like yeah we get it, we're in the club but not really.’ Twitter. Retrieved October 30, 2019 (https://twitter.com/thelindsayellis/status/1184276877042573313).
White, Brittney. 2017. ‘The Myth of Straight Passing Privilege.’ Bi.org. Retrieved October 28, 2019 (https://bi.org/en/articles/the-myth-of-straight-passing-privilege).
Zane, Zachary. 2016. ‘Why Passing as Straight is Not a Privilege.’ Huffpost. Retrieved October 28, 2019 (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-passing-as-straight-i_b_9273978).