Heterosexual Privilege and Bisexual Hearts

11/13/2012 11:14 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
  • Amy Andre Co-author, 'Bisexual Health: An Introduction'; speaker on bisexual health and LGBT issues

In response to an article I recently wrote about bisexual celebrities, a commenter raised the question of bisexuals flocking to heterosexual privilege through different-sex relationships. This person wrote:

I think with many lesbian or gay people who date bisexuals, there is an inherent fear: the bisexual member could easily terminate a same-sex relationship for an opposite-sex one that is more readily received by society. At least, that's my own experience and my friends' experiences. Heterosexual privilege is a factor here. It's time we acknowledge it.

I have four responses.

Firstly, if bisexuals really experience "heterosexual privilege" when they are in different-sex relationships, why are the rates of domestic violence victimization so much higher for bisexuals, in particular bisexual women in relationships with men, compared with women of other sexual orientations? I wrote about this here, where I referred to it as a hate crime in the home. Wouldn't a bisexual experiencing heterosexual privilege also experience the "privilege" of not being disproportionately victimized by domestic violence? The fact that this is not the case shows that bisexuals don't actually get to have heterosexual privilege -- only heterosexuals do.

Secondly, romantic relationships tend to be inspired by love, not convenience. But with phrases like "the bisexual member could easily terminate...," this comment suggests that the bisexual heart is somehow different from the monosexual one. It's almost like the comment is implying that bisexuals are coldhearted, and that we make relationship decisions based on a need for societal approval. (If we take this to its logical conclusion, someone -- not the commenter, necessarily -- could even argue that gays and lesbians would do the same thing if they could.) That seems not just biphobic but basically homophobic. It implies that same-sex love is influenced and regulated -- in some hearts -- by social norms. By extension, it also implies that that's how different-sex love happens, too. But that's not how love works. If love worked that way, then Romeo and Juliet would never have been written, because the concept of a free-standing love wouldn't exist -- that is, unless the comment is also implying that only monosexual people can experience pure love. Not only is it unacceptable to say that bisexuals love differently, or falsely, or fickly, but it's also a statement that comes from a place of privilege, namely monosexual privilege, because, in this case, a monosexual person is describing an entire sexual orientation in a negative and pejorative manner. One way that majoritarian privilege is exercised is through painting members of a minority with one brush. To see what I mean, substitute the name of any other minority group for the word "bisexual" in the comment.

Thirdly, if bisexual hearts were so malleable and bisexuals were so hellbent on heterosexual privilege, then wouldn't the ex-gay movement be focusing on converting bisexuals, and wouldn't it be using this bi quest for privilege as a dangling carrot? In fact, they're not doing either of those things. I've never heard of an ex-bi movement. Have you? And yet there are so many of us that we would be a gold mine for them. Surely they've read the same stats that the rest of us have, the ones showing that there are as many people who identify as bisexual as there are those who identify as lesbian and gay combined. The ex-gays could double their potential clientele! But that's not how the ex-gays work. And why not? Because they probably know that our hearts are not that malleable, and that we don't and can't bend love to will, even if we did want heterosexual privilege.

Fourthly, why would any bisexual person want heterosexual privilege? There are many people, in many situations, who can access privilege, exercise privilege and even revel in privilege. But do they all do that? The idea that a bisexual person would be predisposed toward ending a loving relationship for an opportunity for privilege comes from a place of assuming that those who can access privilege are likely to do so. But the fact is that many socially conscious people, including many members of the LGBT community, are actually more likely to do things like examine privilege, disavow it, work to dismantle it or resist it. Furthermore, statistics reported on by Dr. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, among many others, show that, compared with the larger population, bisexuals are disproportionately women and people of color. It's pretty clear that these groups are less likely to have access to privilege in the first place and are more likely to be engaged in feminist, civil rights and social justice causes. Rather than assuming that we bisexuals are looking to gain unfair advantage over other non-heterosexuals by clamoring for a piece of the heterosexual privilege pie, I would suggest that we are more likely to be working on ways to throw the pie in the face of the system of oppression that tries to keep us down. And that's love. Queer love is revolutionary, and bisexuals are just as capable as anyone else of leading the revolution.

By the way, I'm not trying to invalidate the commenter's experience or this person's future decisions on whom to date. Monosexual people are under no obligation to date bisexuals if they don't want to. We can -- and do -- date each other, so we'll be fine. Instead, I'd like to suggest that one way to avoid any messy breakups is to ask each other these two questions on the first date: 1) Are you bi or an ally to bisexuals, and 2) are you biphobic or resistant to dating bisexual people? Figuring out whether or not to have a second date can be influenced by the answers. Problem solved.