“I’m Not Queer Enough”: Women and Bisexual Erasure

Giulia Calvi has just finished her final year at KCL with a degree in Philosophy, and from this autumn she will be studying for her Master’s in Curating the Art Museum at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is passionate about history, art, queerness, LGBTQ+ rights, war and family narratives, genealogy and anything else human.

[Featured Image: Egon Schiele, Group of Three Girls (1911), detail]

“Who are you?”

There are many things worth listing that I believe define myself as a person. I could say that I am a woman, that I’m a student. I’m passionate about art. I am a friend, I’m a good listener, I am lazy, I’m a night owl, I am a heavy sleeper. I’m curious, I am determined, I am a bit socially awkward and I’m a little touchy. I am queer too and being queer is a big part of my identity, for better or worse.

I have been very lucky, all things considered. I am part of a minority because of my sexual orientation, but my parents have always been so welcoming towards diversity that I never really had to come out to them, because they never assumed that I was straight in the first place. I never really experienced some of the horrible things that queer people are often subjected to. I have never had my privileges taken away because I am queer, I never had to compromise. 

I wish this were because the world is becoming a better place -and it is, in a way-, but mostly I believe that it is due to two simple facts. That I am white, and therefore privileged, and that I identify as bisexual. And because I identify as bisexual, most of the time people don’t take me seriously in the first place. Even in the queer community, sometimes I feel like people look at me with some of the resentment reserved to straight people.

To straight people, most of the time I exist to be sexualised. I am a bisexual woman, which means that that portion of society that is still, sadly, upheld by the structures of the heteronormative world cannot make sense of my sexuality. The reason why bisexual women are seen as an opportunity to have threesomes by straight men, and bisexual men as gay folks who are not brave enough to come out of the closet, is that society cannot make sense of a world that doesn’t revolve solely around men or solely around their refusal. 

I came out to myself when I was 14, and I came out at school immediately after. In my small, provincial town, there was a certain vibe around bisexuals: we weren’t queer enough to be actually gay, but we still had something that made us different and interesting. And because of this, the first thing I got told when I came out, was that I was just trying to follow a trend.  The first feedback I ever received implied that I was fake. That I was doing it for the attention.

I had a fling for a girl that would become my best friend, a couple of years later. I don’t think she was (or that she is, now) necessarily queer, but she was definitely straight in a very non-conventional way. Nothing really happened, and we slowly transitioned from the maybe-thing we had going on to being really good friends, and between us that was it. But I remember talking to a friend of mine during that period, and one day he said something along the lines of “Yeah but you’re not really bisexual…I mean, it’s a phase.” 

I don’t think I ever told him how much that hurt, how much that undermined me. By that point I had only had one serious relationship with a guy, some flings here and there with a couple of guys and girls, but that was it. And my impression is that, somewhere along the lines of me not having a serious relationship with a woman on my list of experiences, and my slight preference towards men, something there made my friend feel entitled to think that my experience, that my identity was just a phase and it was time to move on from it. What is funny -it’s really not, to be honest, but it has a striking kind of irony- is that he was queer too. But, I guess, in his mind he was ‘the right kind of queer,’ because he was gay, and I wasn’t.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Orchid (1982), © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

It’s like this: if you are a bisexual woman, and you don’t have a relationship with a woman every so often, then your sexuality is erased. If you are a bisexual woman, and you are in a relationship with a man, then you’re not queer anymore. If you are a bisexual woman, and you have a preference towards men, then you’re faking it. Doing it for the attention.

What people do not realise is that the constant undermining of a part of my identity that makes me me, leaves scars that are deeper than what we would normally think. I started feeling guilty every time I thought of going to a queer bar, for instance. I felt like maybe I wasn’t as entitled as other queers to be there. I feared that they would see me as straight and be angry at me because I was usurping a place that had been denied to ‘true’ queers for so long.

Even after all these years, I keep thinking that maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m not as entitled as them to say that I am queer. I feel like I’m stealing their world, their terms, their legacy. I feel like maybe I’m not queer enough. And that’s the worst thing.

Gustav Klimt, Water Serpents II (1904)

I know I’m not straight. I know I am not. And yet. 

And yet why do I feel like I’m faking it? Why do I feel like I need to date a woman every couple of months, otherwise people will think that I am not, in fact, queer? Why do I even care about what other people think? Because the queer community should be about diversity, should be about inclusivity, should be a safe place to celebrate our uniqueness and our divergences and a place where we can be our true selves. As human beings, we need to fit somewhere, we need to have a community of our own. But what if I don’t fit nor here nor there? I’m not straight, but I’m not queer enough, am I?

But the thing is: yes, I am. And it should be enough. I am in no ‘no man’s land,’ no sir. I am queer and proud to be, and it pains me to my bones to realise that knowing that I deserve to belong and feeling that I’m entitled to this space as much as everyone else, that I am entitled to fit in, are to very different things.

Images

Orchid: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/256274/robert-mapplethorpe-orchid-american-negative-1982-print-2005/

Group of Three Girls: https://frieze.com/article/politics-seeing-egon-schieles-glowing-pulsating-bodies

Water Serpents: https://www.copia-di-arte.com/a/gustav-klimt/serpi-d-acqua.html

One Comment Add yours

  1. Nina says:

    Wonderful essay, thank you for sharing something so personal and profound. I agree with you and can relate ❤

    Like

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