I’m bisexual, and I’m advocating for the invisible queer communities
By Clara How, Jun 18, 2020
Aarti Dubey’s Instagram account, @curvesbecomeher, is her platform to “engage, learn, and unlearn” about pressing social issues around the world. She advocates for body positivity, mental health, equality and educating people on what it’s like to be a spoonie (someone who has chronic illness). She is also a married bisexual woman.
In the second part of our series “I’m queer, and this is what I stand for”, Aarti, a 39-year-old former mental health therapist and now a freelancer and activist, shares what it feels like to belong to a community that is not only misunderstood, but also invisible.
This invisibility takes a mental toll: bisexual youth are more likely to suffer from mental health issues as opposed to their heterosexual, gay or lesbian peers, according to a report by The Trevor Project (an American organisation that provides crisis prevention to queer youth). Among bisexual youth, 48 percent have seriously considered attempting suicide. This is in comparison to 14 percent of heterosexual youth, and 37 percent gay or lesbian youth.*
As a queer woman married to a heterosexual man, Aarti has also had to battle misconceptions and prejudice about her identity. Today, she is a proud member of her rainbow family, and she is here to set the record straight. She wants you to know that her community is one that should be recognised and acknowledged.
Many heterosexual people are now aware about the differences between queer folk, such as what it means to be gay, and what it means to be transgender. However, there is still a tendency not to question stereotypes.
There are so many misconceptions that people have about being bisexual. People think we are confused, and wonder why we can’t just pick a camp. They wonder if we are “really queer”, or think that we are “not queer enough”. These statements have been said to me by both straight and queer people.
There have been many occasions where I meet fellow queer folk at events, and when I mention that I am bisexual, it’s laughed at, or disregarded. They crack jokes like: “oh, so you can’t decide then?” When they wave my sexuality off, and make statements like: “oh my God, so you’re bi”, it makes me feel bad. Initially, it made me wonder if being bisexual was seen as a bad thing. They may be saying these things in jest, but to me, it’s not funny.
Originally, to be bisexual is to mean being attracted to both male and female genders. However, with a greater understanding of gender fluidity and gender non-binary in present times, pansexuality (a subset of bisexuality) has emerged for those of us who are attracted to individuals regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. I identify as being both bisexual and pansexual.
In my experience, the judgements I hear from straight people stem from prejudice and ignorance; of not knowing what it really means to be bisexual. But for queer people, the judgment towards the bisexual community stems from a combination of ignorance and resentment.
I completely understand why the resentment exists. I’m married to a straight man, which automatically gives me privilege. I had the choice of being with either the same or opposite sex, which is not a choice that everyone in the community has. A lot of my queer friends have to fight for a legalised marriage or against discrimination, which is something that I can bypass.
But just because we enjoy a certain amount of privilege does not mean that our experiences matter any less, or that we should be less visible than our queer peers.
I first heard of the term ‘bisexual’ when I was 17 or 18, and immediately identified with it. I knew that I was attracted to boys, but the girl crushes that I had were no less intense. When a girl said that she liked me, I wasn’t angry or disgusted (bearing in mind that this was 12 years ago, and the climate was very different to what it is today). I was flattered, and my reaction made me think a lot about my identity after that. But the idea of coming out terrified me, so I remained in the closet.
I have dated both genders, and I could have easily fallen in love with a woman whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. This person happened to be a man, and who is now my husband.
After two years of dating, I told him that I was bisexual. He was surprised, but unlike the other men I had dated, he didn’t ask for threesomes (yes, this was broached multiple times to me upon sharing my sexuality). He did ask if this was what I wanted, and if he was going to be enough for me. At that point, I said, “I like you now, and let’s see where this goes.” It just moved on from there.
That being said, it took me a while before I agreed to marriage. I wondered: am I settling? Am I marrying a man to ‘save face’?
Am I doing this to ease the complicated relationship I have with my parents, whom I still have not come out to? To a certain extent, the answer is yes. But I also knew that if I had fallen for a woman, I would have fought tooth and nail for her. It was the right decision to make at the time, and it was based on love. He is the one person whom I feel like I could stay committed to, and he gave me the kind of acceptance that I needed.
Coming out to my friends was a different story. I had reached my 30s, and I didn’t want to hide anymore. The loss of a loved one also made me think that the life I wanted to leave behind needed to be authentic to who I was.
There was a group of friends whom I had known for ten years, and when I came out to them, I did so very casually, because I didn’t want to make it a big thing.
I found out a few years ago that they were having this ongoing conversation behind my back where they did not believe my queer identity. When I confronted them, they said that I was married, and there was never any evidence or indication that I was bisexual. I had come out on social media by that point, and they accused me of making it up to garner sympathy online.
It was incredibly painful to hear. That was also the first time I saw my husband truly upset, and stand up for me. He told my friends off, and since, I have not spoken to them.
This incident is one example of bi erasure, which is the act of ignoring, disbelieving, or perpetuating misconceptions about being bisexual. My queer friends who are transgender, gay or lesbian belong to communities that have been targeted with a lot of unjustified hate, but the unique challenge of being bisexual is that we are skipped over. We are invisible.
There are many other queer folk who face the same challenge, such as those who are asexual, or non-binary. But like everyone else who is queer, we too, want to feel like we belong to this larger community. All we want is for our existence and sexual orientation to be validated, and to feel like we can be proud of our identity, rather than be told that we are confused.
We care for queer rights, and we are just as well-informed as anyone else (or at least, we try to be). Bisexual female friends who are married to straight men tell me that they never want to come out publicly, because they feel like they won’t be accepted because of their privilege. They fear that no one is going to believe them.
There is a diverse spectrum of being queer, but there will always be stereotypes. Because we don’t fit in pigeon holes, people don’t know what to do with us.
This feeling of constantly wanting to feel like we belong or being misunderstood can give way to depression and anxiety. When people disbelieve your sexual orientation, you feel like the odd one out. You feel like you’re fighting against the tide. You don’t know who you can trust without being judged. It’s stifling and frustrating, and there’s also a lot of latent anger and sadness.
Since the negative experience I had with my friends, I have not openly spoken about my queer identity to other personal friends for fear of receiving judgment all over again. Perhaps one day, when I feel braver. For now, I speak about it on my activist platforms.
Being an activist was something that came organically. For the first few years of my marriage, I thought that it didn’t matter if I came out publicly or not. I was, and still am, in a monogamous relationship with my husband. But after some time, it didn’t feel like I was being true to myself.
I went alone to my first Pink Dot in 2014, and the experience was so liberating. After that, I wanted to be more educated, and feel more connected to my folks around the rainbow. I started to share more on Instagram about being a minority race in Singapore, my struggles with being body shamed, and eventually shared about this other important aspect of my life, which is being bisexual.
Since then, I’ve also spoken about my queer identity being questioned. I feel very strongly for my rainbow family and speak out against prejudice, and share educational resources where I can. Safety is such an issue in our community, and I want to put it out there that if anyone feels unsafe, or needs someone to talk to, there are places that they can go to.
The most commonly asked question I get is how I can stay in a monogamous marriage with a straight man, and I always answer that it’s about who you choose to love and commit to. There are those who struggle to understand how one can be bisexual and be married, or wonder if bisexuality is a phase prior to settling down. But being married does not mean that I do not find other people attractive, and my attraction towards both men and women speaks for itself. If it was a phase, the term would be bi-curious, and not bisexual.
There are people who write to thank me for sharing, who tell me that they don’t feel as alone. It makes me believe that the bisexual community might be much larger than we think it is.
Out of all the social issues that I advocate on my social media, I admit that my queer identity is talked about the least. It is a conscious choice that I made, because at times, it does feel like I am talking to a wall, and it is disheartening. I do get supportive comments from other bi people and straight people who want to be allies, but I wish I had more support from other members of the queer community. I wish we could be acknowledged, and be included in conversations and events without derision or sarcasm. Regardless of where we belong, my hope is for all queer people to work cohesively together. We can tackle issues that affect all of us, on top of what is unique to us.
Speaking out about my friends’ reaction was a huge step for me. But it was empowering, and made realise that storytelling is incredibly powerful. I want to keep pushing myself, because it’s important to see bisexual people and bisexual couples, whether they are in a same sex relationship or otherwise.
Representation matters. Visibility matters. When more people hear our voices, we can have a more well-rounded narrative. This way, perhaps more bisexuals will feel empowered to come out.
In the past, when people dismissed me when I said I was bisexual, I kept quiet. Now, I speak up. I tell people, “Yes, I’m bisexual, and I’m still part of our queer community.” When they claim that they’re just joking, I continue to stand my ground. Since I became more vocal, I’ve had people approaching me at queer events or online to thank me for speaking what they were afraid to say. It makes me feel happy that they feel comfortable enough to share this with me.
Now that more people like myself are sharing about our bisexual experiences, I do see a difference in recent times. There are more local queer iniatives trying to include bisexuals in panels and spotlight our challenges in discussions. In the past, we would have been excluded. Bi erasure is definitely still prevalent, but these shifts give me hope that there is more openness now.
We want people to understand that gender is fluid. Sexuality is fluid. We should be able to accept people of all colours of the rainbow, and not put them into little boxes. All we ask is not to be cast into stereotypes, and if there is anything you don’t know, please ask, and be forthcoming. We are here to answer them.
*These figures are as reported in an analysis from the 2015-2017 Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behaviour Survey. Approximately 15,000 American high school students took part in the survey in 2017.
Photos were provided by Aarti Dubey.
Part one of our “I’m queer, and this is what I stand for” series can be read here. Check in next Thursday to read about how advocacy manifests itself in different forms, and none of them should be seen as less.
My name is Clara, and you can find me at @clarahow on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about my thoughts about love, sex and relationships, and my struggles with mental health.
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