Not long ago, I realised that I am, in fact, not straight, but queer. I have never used that term to identify myself with, as I have always believed myself not to be “queer enough” to describe my sexuality in that way. I have always had an attraction towards women, but haven’t previously really thought about it in much detail for three reasons: 1) because I have been extremely fortunate to have grown up amongst people who are not homophobic and therefore sexuality hasn’t been something to wrestle with, 2) because I have so far only dated men, and 3) because I have not yet experienced deep romantic feelings for women.
Whilst many people have grown up being made to feel ashamed of their sexuality if that sexuality is anything other than heterosexual, my teenage years were filled with friends and acquaintances of varying sexual and romantic orientations. I went to parties where girls kissed girls and boys kissed boys for reasons other than trying to impress the opposite sex. No one batted an eyelid at people having one night stands with the same gender, and no one passed judgement on the gender of who someone was dating. In fact, far from feeling ashamed, I wanted to like girls, because who wouldn’t want to like girls? They’re beautiful and sensual and pretty damn awesome.
However, I’ve never felt the same way romantically about women as I have about men. When I came across a description of the sexuality “heteroromantic bisexual”, I mostly identified with it. A heteroromantic bisexual is someone who is sexually attracted to both genders, but only romantically attracted to the opposite gender. It means that whilst I am sexually interested in women, I have so far only felt strong romantic feelings towards men. I suppose for a long time I thought that made me straight, so I did not feel I could claim the identity of being a queer woman. I didn’t put much thought into the matter past that, until recently when I saw a couple of women who I follow on Instagram come out as bisexual. It got me thinking about my own sexuality, and I decided to ask my fairly substantial amount of followers how they felt about it. I did a poll asking only queer people to respond, and put out the question of whether they felt that someone who is sexually attracted to both genders but only romantically attracted to the opposite gender is queer or not. 97% of those who responded answered that to feel that way makes someone queer. I felt welcomed.
However, I then encountered a somewhat tense conversation with a bisexual woman who I greatly respect, who has some issues with heteroromantic bisexuals, and by all accounts, this is shared by other women who date women. She voiced concerns that many lesbians and bisexual women who date women have been led on and then left by heteroromantic bisexuals who just wanted a quick fling. She expressed anger over gay and bisexual women firstly being sexualised by men just for being women, for having their relationships with other women sexualised and invalidated by society, and then for feeling sexualised by heteroromantic bisexual women. She talked about how many gay and bisexual women who date women have been treated as someone just to have sex with and then to leave. She mentioned the many women who are just “experimenting”.
All of those points are valid for sure, especially for someone who has been hurt by women identifying as heteroromantic bisexuals. However, we could all be mistrustful of certain people or their attributes because others like them have hurt us in the past, and to tar a whole group of people with the same brush would be a mistake. Queerness is discriminated against in society. Bi-erasure is rife within the queer community. To then try and erase heteroromantic bisexuals as “just experimenting” would be to try and erase their identity too. This is a continuous chain of intolerance and discrimination that worms its way deeper and deeper inside our communities.
I find the definition of heteroromantic bisexuality (finding both genders sexually attracted and only being romantically attracted to men) a simplistic description, and I don’t feel like it fully encapsulates my experience (and probably the experience of a lot of heteroromantic bisexuals). I don’t say “I don’t date women”, and would never rule out having a relationship with a woman; I just haven’t felt that way about a woman as of yet. I wouldn’t have a problem with being in a relationship with a woman. I am not ashamed to tell anyone about my sexuality, and that would not change if I dated a woman. I am sure that there are heteroromantic people with internalised homophobia who are actually just plain bisexual, and that sucks for them and I hope that they can work through that so that they can be fully themselves, and also so they can not mess anyone else around. I am sure there are some people who aren’t queer, but are just experimenting – which is totally fine too as long everybody involved is clear on the nature of the venture, and that those people don’t expect a seat at the queer table. To me, being a heteroromantic bisexual is not a “one time” sexual encounter with someone of the same sex just to see what it is like. It’s not feeling curious, trying it, and then never thinking about it again. It’s not looking at someone of the same sex and only ever being like “I want to fuck him/her”. Being a heteroromantic bisexual to me (and this is my personal experience here so I am not speaking for anyone other than myself except to say that it is more complex than just wanting to have sex with the same gender) feels so much more multifaceted than that. It feels like having always had attraction to women. It feels like looking at a beautiful woman and thinking “oh my, I’d like to kiss her”. It means having very similar feeling crushes on both men and women when watching movies (one of my strongest crushes is Camina Drummer from The Expanse, who’s with me?). It means feeling nervous going and ordering a drink from the woman behind the bar because she is super pretty and I feel drawn to her. I have also felt more than just platonic emotions towards a few women, but the feelings were so mild that they felt confusing and I wasn’t sure what it was that I was feeling towards them. Sure, wanting to sleep with women, and doing so, can be part of being a heteroromantic bisexual, but that isn’t where it ends.
I also have been – and would be – very clear about my intentions about sleeping with someone if I wasn’t interested in developing a relationship. Lots of people engage in casual sex, whether that is between men and women, women and women, or men and men (or any other genders), and as long as that is done in a fully-informed, respectful, and consensual way, then there shouldn’t be an issue with either person (or persons) feeling sexualised, as that is why you are both there. Finding women sexy is also not the same as men objectifying queer women, or sexualising their relationships with each other. Respecting women whilst also finding them sexually attractive is different from objectifying and fetishising queer women (or women in general).
Nobody should be excluded from queer communities because of the nature of their queerness. Every queer person deserves space in the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, in any marginalised space, there will be those who are more oppressed than others, and privilege needs to be acknowledged, but it would be wrong to assume that heteroromantic bisexuals do not experience oppression. They are probably the group who experiences the most privilege in the LGBTQ+ community, but homophobia is still directed at them when being open about their sexuality. They are also fetishised by men, and have their experiences invalidated as something to get men horny. Unfortunately, this can result in other queer people – especially bisexual women – having their relationships with the same sex invalidated and hypersexualised too. But this isn’t the fault of heteroromantic bisexuals, and the anger and hurt should not be directed at them, but at the homophobic idiots perpetuating this idea. Heteroromantic bisexuals are not adding to or fulfilling a stereotype: we are just living true to who we are, and it is those who fetishise us that are the problem. When we direct our anger and hurt towards other queer people, we are not only misplacing those emotions, but engaging in the erasure of other queer people. Just because people experience queerness differently does not make them oppressive, or mean that they are perpetuating homophobia by being who they are and feeling what they feel. Our homophobic society, and the patriarchy are responsible for invalidating queer women. To shut people out who experience queerness different to yourself is gatekeeping.
In the end, we should all be supporting each other, not fighting about who is “queer enough” to qualify. We should be sticking together and fighting homophobia, not gatekeeping others. Blaming queer people with different identities for other queer people’s oppression rather than blaming those who are homophobic makes no sense. Asking people to tick a list of specific boxes to be “queer enough” to “qualify” is only continuing to discriminate against others in the same way that queer people have been discriminated against. No one should have to face exclusion by other queer people just because they are “less” queer, and no one should have to defend their sexuality. Within the LGBTQ+ community, there are those with more and less privilege, but it doesn’t make anyone else’s queerness any less valid. There is space for everyone, regardless of what form their queerness takes.