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A Rigged Outcome—Why Bisexual Women Struggle In Lesbian Relationships

jenny_bisexual_thelwordWithin every lesbian community there exists a tale as old as time, a proverb as common as it is contentious: Bi women cheat, betray, and ultimately leave—never for another woman, but for a man. Like those who flee the tumults of city life for quieter and less complicated pastures, bisexual women may seem destined, in the eyes of gay women, to trade the grit and hardships of queer life for the suburbs of heteroville. As a bisexual woman myself, I can’t deny that something about this stereotype that rings true; bi women do seem to romantically engage, or “end up” with men far more often than with woman. But is this really because we prefer a life of white-picket simplicity and comfort? Or could it be that, when it comes to romance between queer women, the game has been rigged from the start?

Like many stereotypes, the lived experiences of one group have almost certainly colored the perceptions of another, however unfairly or inaccurately. But I believe that it’s time to examine the pervasive, inner workings of heterosexual conditioning that, whether any of us in the bisexual community want to admit or not, have doomed so many bisexual/lesbian pairings to failure. While I understand that I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences, I’ve written this article with two particular perspectives in mind:


1. I spent the first two decades of my life living as a closeted trans woman—a bisexual male to the outside world.


2. I have since transitioned, and now live as a bisexual woman.

Lost In Translation

Where is my prince?

Where is my prince?

My experiences with dating, both before and after transitioning, have magnified the differences in how courtship and sexual pursuit are modeled for both genders. From an early age boys and girls are taught that relationships are successfully obtained by performing “complementary” roles of cat and mouse, pursuer and pursued, the actor and the acted-upon. Consequently, girls learn to define romance as a noun—a subjective experience brought about by a man’s actions. Boys, on the other hand, learn to define romance as a verb—something they must actively do to earn a girl’s affections. This socialization has immediate implications for all queer romance, but presents an even greater obstacle for a potential lesbian and bisexual pairing, as illustrated by the following quote from a very good friend of mine (who’s also a bi woman):

“Honestly, I don’t even like men all that much. Physically, I mean. But they make me feel wanted and desired in a way that very few women ever do. Even when a particular girl is gay and says she’s into me, it’s like pulling teeth just to get her to flirt with me or make a move…”

One of the most pervasive challenges I’ve experienced with dating after I transitioned has been maintaining the interest of cisgender bisexual women without having to perform romance in the same heteronormative manner I’d been taught back when I lived as a boy. In this situation, if I approach romance even slightly more passively, or deviate from heteronormative standard practice in any way, the momentum between us fizzles out in a hurry. Now no one is driving the process forward; no one sets up the next date, leans in for a kiss, or “buys the flowers,” so to speak. Any digression from the beaten path of straight romance leaves other bi women feeling as though I’m not interested, even if I am interested but showing it in a different manner than she’s used to. (Conversely, my relationships with straight men go haywire the moment I try to take a more active role in romance or courting. A lot of men say they want that in a woman, but that has certainly not been my experience!)

My relationships with gay women, on the other hand, have felt much more egalitarian to me. Particularly with those who’ve known their orientation from an earlier age, and/or those who’ve had little, if any, experience dating men in their past. While lesbian women are certainly bombarded with the same messages about romance as everyone else, I wonder if perhaps they don’t internalize them to the same extent. The gay women I’ve dated don’t expect me to perform romance as a man would, because their relationships have never or rarely included men, and as a result they’ve created their own version of what romance looks like. In this situation our interactions feel less scripted and more ad-libbed, and I feel so much more like an equally invested—and involved!—partner.

If dating gay women has worked for me, why hasn’t it for the friend I quoted above, or possibly for other bisexual women as well? Consider that I was not socialized as a woman from birth; I never learned to expect the heteronormative tropes of romance and showing attraction. I suspect that at least a few gay women actually have made attempts at “making a move” and romance with my friend, but not in the manner she’d been conditioned to understand. Conversely, many of my lesbian friends have complained of bi women disappearing after a few dates, or “ghosting”, as it’s called these days. I can’t help but wonder how many bisexual women do this simply because they don’t believe—or haven’t even noticed that—the other woman is actually interested. Both parties then go their separate ways, bemoaning what seems like a lost cause.

And nobody wins.

More Than A Numbers Game

“There are more straight men out there then gay women; simple math tells us that a bisexual woman is more likely to end up with a man than another woman.”

The above point is frequently cited in an attempt to explain why so few bi and lesbian pairs exist. And while the sheer number of available partners may explain some aspect of why bi women partner more frequently with men, the heteronormative socialization described above is almost certainly as responsible, if not more so, for this phenomenon.

Bisexual_Amber_Heard_Marries_Johnny_Depp

Bisexual actor Amber Heard married Johnny Depp

But an even more insidious hurdle to a bi and lesbian pairing is plain, old fashioned misogyny—the disdain for the feminine vs. the admiration of the masculine. For instance, accusations of deceit are leveled at bi women as well as bi men, ostensibly insulting both groups equally: Bi women are actually straight, and bi men are actually gay. But note that while the claims appear to be opposite from one another, the underlying fears are the same: In both cases a given bisexual is sure to end up with a male partner, as our society dictates that sexual relationships are only viewed as legitimate when they involve at least one man. This leads to the perception that sex requires a penis to be considered “real”—or, put another way: only sex that involves a penis is seen as “threatening”. As a result one rarely hears these concerns echoed in the gay male community; why would a gay man ever fear losing his bi male partner to a woman? This principle can be explicitly observed in how most heterosexual men view a woman’s bisexuality as exciting and acceptable, because in his mind no sex involving two woman can truly be a threat to him, as his penis would be the only one around. I have personally seen this in action several times, as many polyamorous men have been all too excited for me to date their wife or girlfriend, only to suddenly refuse when I disclose that I am transgender. (See: The “One Penis Per Party Rule” as applied to polyamory: https://sexgeek.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/theproblemwithpolynormativity/ )

It isn’t difficult to imagine that most gay women have internalized some of these awful messages, and it’s even less difficult to imagine the resultant feelings of insecurity regarding their sexual power or agency. As a result, is it really so hard to see why some gay women might feel wary or reluctant to begin a relationship with a bisexual woman?

What Biphobia Is Not

Recently, I sat down for coffee with a lesbian acquaintance of mine who’d been dumped a month earlier by a bi woman. “I just don’t feel comfortable dating bi women anymore, like I’d never be able to settle down and feel secure,” she told me, exasperated. “When they leave, they leave for men. I’m just sick of being burned by it…”
“Has anyone ever called you biphobic for feeling that way?” I asked.
Her eyes got wider than the saucer holding her cup of coffee. “Yes! Do you think I am?”

After thinking on it for a moment, I told her that I didn’t. And after having thought about it in the time since, I’m even more certain that it is harmful and reductive to instantly shout biphobia! when a gay woman declines to date a bi woman—in much the same way that I don’t believe it must be necessarily called transphobic for someone to decline a partner who doesn’t possess their anatomy of choice. No person or group of people is entitled to the affections or intimate spaces of another, and nobody should be expected or even asked to expand their own boundaries solely for the sake of inclusivity. Particularly, in this instance, because the pressure to be more inclusive falls to gay women far more than any other marginalized group.

In this context it is critical to remember that lesbian women, both as individuals and collectively, have endured a long history of their sexual preferences being denied, policed, and, in so many tragic cases, “corrected” via acts of sexual and/or political violence. Is it any wonder that they may feel angry or frustrated upon experiencing even slightly similar pressures in a supposed safe space? Desire and love are not subject to popular vote, and as members of the queer community, we ought to know better than to inflict these kinds of pressures on one another. My acquaintance at the coffee shop wasn’t oppressing bi women with irrational hatred of us as a group—she was acting in her own self interest, responding to negative experiences in a manner that seems very understandable.

Making It Right

If bisexual women hope to be seen as a more viable relationship option for gay women, we should remember that heteronormative socialization does give them a few good reasons to be wary of us. And while some in the lesbian community have certainly expressed unreasonable prejudices towards bisexual women as a group, I would challenge us not to automatically claim biphobia in response, but to focus instead on rethinking what it means to both perform and receive romance. Of course, I am not unaware that being transgender has made doing this work somewhat easier for me than it might be for a woman raised from birth to view romance as a passive process. But I believe that everyone in the bisexual community should take the opportunity to re-examine our habits and perceptions, to expose and dismantle the rigged game of heteronormative romance and the misogynist foundations supporting it—to tilt the odds in favor of queer romance, a game with new rules, better prizes, and far more winners.

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About Vee Kinsley

Vee Kinsley is a registered nurse, writer, and musician; she lives in Texas with her wife and only child, a ball python named Sir Hiss.

Discussion

8 Responses to “A Rigged Outcome—Why Bisexual Women Struggle In Lesbian Relationships”

  1. Do they have any second thoughts about their Relationships.

    Posted by Bangalore Diva | May 29, 2016, 8:02 pm
  2. There are two very powerful quotes from you that, as a fellow queer woman, I appreciate so very much.

    “I don’t believe it must be necessarily called transphobic for someone to decline a partner who doesn’t possess their anatomy of choice. No person or group of people is entitled to the affections or intimate spaces of another, and nobody should be expected or even asked to expand their own boundaries solely for the sake of inclusivity.”

    “Desire and love are not subject to popular vote, and as members of the queer community, we ought to know better than to inflict these kinds of pressures on one another.”

    I am a cisgender lesbian who was never attracted to men, began to show interest in girls, and was shortly after “corrected” by a guy who was angry that I didn’t want him.

    I have PTSD from it, and I definitely responded by being a lot more leery of cis straight men, because most of the hate and violence I’ve suffered has been at their hands.

    I think you’re completely right, acting in ways that are self-preserving, self-protecting, and self-defensive after negative experiences are not oppressive, rather than acting in ways that are self-destructive in the name of ‘inclusivity’.

    I hope you find love, acceptance, and all the best in the world of romance and sex, because you deserve nothing short of someone who loves you and all of you, for who you are, and is attracted to you. You seem to be one of the more well-versed and wise of those of us in the LGBTQ+ community, and I can’t thank you enough for sharing that with the rest of us <3

    Posted by Thank You | August 29, 2016, 10:12 pm
  3. First of all i would like to congrat the writer / author of this article. A good one in many i have read by now! Everyone has to accept otherones taste! If you dont like mens why they should do criticism or call you in no mather ways … Still people are working and day by day i see new changes… Hope someday they will all understand that each person has the right and can choose the life style or the gender he/she wish for ! Best Regards

    Posted by BbwBlack | October 12, 2016, 2:43 pm
  4. Thats exactly why i dont date bi girls, they are always on the more guys spectrum and they never take women seriously. We are just toys that they can call or find at a club with your hideous ass bf. Every girl that was ever bi in my life was a not at all about hearts, all about parts. A total cock hungry hooker. I had to get tested actually. They like til they get bored and move to the next best thing. No i dont want to fuck your man, of course he is going to be open about you liking women are you kidding me?

    Posted by carla rits | December 16, 2016, 11:41 pm
  5. I am 100% Lesbian and only date 100% lesbians. First, I’m not judging, however I feel that lesbians feel betrayed by bisexual women. The reason will always be that nagging thought in the back of their minds: bisexual women will always return to back to men. Just sayin!

    Posted by Verna | December 26, 2016, 2:19 pm
  6. I don’t think that it’s a good idea for bisexual women to date lesbians. Even if the lesbian is 100% supportive, her friends are going to criticizing her decision, and berating bisexual women non-stop. The hatred of bisexual women in the lesbian community is ubiquitous, and it’s frankly toxic to the well being of bisexual women. We should be supportive of each other and create resources for other bisexual women, and completely avoid the lesbian community.

    Posted by Ivy Krautraugh | January 21, 2017, 11:42 am
  7. I’m a lesbian (well, mainly…I’d say about 80 percent into women, 20 percent into men, which is maybe why the following will sound a little strange…)

    Until about 3 or 4 bad experiences, I was totally open minded and wouldn’t have thought twice about dating a Bisexual girl. Really. Note I’m not talking about all Bisexuals- had a bi boyfriend who never once made me feel insecure, I’m going to talk about the girls here.

    It may be unfair to say all bi women eventually want to go to a man. In fact for many it may be untrue. But after seeing a correlation in my experiences, I’ve come to believe that there may be something in it.

    I was actually more eager to date bi girls when I first came out ten years ago, as I’m very femme and tended to get cold shouldered by more of the butch types, who I suspect didn’t think I was properly gay (and no its not just my paranoia either., I did get told after several dates “you’re too femme” and “don’t you ever wear hoodies sometimes?”.). So I thought a bi girl might perhaps feel closer to home, as it were.

    How wrong I turned out to be. The following ensued.

    Bi girlfriend number one:

    We were set up by a mutual friend and I thought we would get on great. Same interests, same study etc different enough to have a spark of attraction. Three weeks into dating me we were having dinner together, all romantically by candlelight, as she openly mused that she “didn’t know what she wanted and maybe shed date a man again”. I prayed it was all hypothetical but the week later she dumped me. Yes, you’ve guessed it, for a man, after having had a succession of girlfriends. They’re now married although apparently she still misses girls and bangs them on the side without him knowing about it. He’s a nice guy too..I don’t wish him harm. He’d be devastated if he found out but it’s not my business to get involved. She told me if she wasn’t with him shed definitely be with a girl but he gives her security like none other…

    Bi girl 2

    This was only a couple of dates, but nevertheless within that time shed told me that actually she just came out of a 3 year relationship with a girl, who’d she’d cheated on…yes with a man. And that she’d go for a man again because women are weak and too sweet. Oh and girly girls were out, definitely. The fact that you could be both strong and feminine hadn’t crossed her mind I suppose.

    Bi girl 3

    This was an older woman who chased the fuck out of me while still with a man because she missed women (classic hasbian). She explained at some length to me how she couldn’t be with a woman because they are too manipulative and needy, while she then proceeded to act according to her description of her female exes. She whined at some length about bi women were misjudged etc etc because her female exes were afraid she would leave them for a man because she couldn’t decide. I reassured her that I thought it was perfectly fine to be bi (even though after the last experiences I was starting to have my doubts). Some weeks later she confided that “well the problem with men is that they don’t have breasts and the problem with women is that they don’t have a dick” and that basically she always missed one while having the other. Which blew the last of my open minded optimism away.

    My theory is this- bisexual indecision over partners and liability to cheat is more pervasive than gay-gay or straight-straight cheating because there’s that constant appeal of the the 180 of the other gender, and the role it offers. Nearly all the bi women I met had daddy issues and wanted to feel like strong women but also to be protected by a father figure at the same time. Those girls who has scorned me for being femme and tried to dominate me in a lesbian relationship turned all meek and mild and yes honey when paired with a man. It gave them a sort of relief, a kind of giving up of responsibility. Cheating between partners of the same sexuality spectrum doesn’t offer that same advantage of role reversal and the benefits it confers. I believe a lot of bi women like to “play gay” to confirm their self vision of their strong feminist selves when they are younger, but ultimately in relationships seek the comfortable dynamic of a straight relationship. Although given my experiences with the above women, their lingering sense of dissatisfaction and certain longing for lesbian sex remains…

    Posted by Nicole | January 23, 2017, 10:30 am
  8. Wow, you guys suck.

    How am I supposed to increase my repertoire with lesbian women when I’m battling bisexual stigma and automatically labeled a cheater, dishonest? I’m a cis queer femme and homoflexible. I much prefer women and I have ALWAYS preferred women, but when women find out that I’ve dated men, they ghost ME? I have primarily only dated men because of availability and I haven’t been able to form meaningful relationships with women, either because they perpetuate heteronormative behavior (masculinity, dominance, controlling) or the fact that I’m not a gold star lesbian instantly deems me untrustworthy.

    As a queer femme I end up ALWAYS taking the initiative so I know that my reliance on gender norms of femininity equaling passivity is not the case. And my relationships with lesbians have all ended up being abusive, whether emotionally or sexually.

    By these experiences I should be able to come to the conclusion that lesbians are controlling, abusive, and inconsiderate. I should be able, by virtue of learned experience, say that I don’t want to date lesbian women (cis, trans, or GQ) because they are petty and nasty and untrustworthy. BUT I DON’T. Why? Because I fucking LOVE women. I don’t give a shit about who you were with before me as long as when we’re together WE’RE together.

    And honestly as a queer femme I dated a self proclaimed hetero guy. He cheated on me with men. Was I upset that he cheated on me with a man? No… I was upset that he CHEATED ON ME. My other ex got married to her ex, who was a man. Did I care that he was a man? NO! I was just sad I wasn’t married.

    Honestly, why does gender have to play such a huge part in the equation? Why the fuck do you care if I hook up with a guy or a girl or a non-binary person AFTER we break up? And would you be as upset if your bi girlfriend cheated on you with another girl as you would be with another guy? If the fact that she cheated on you with a guy makes dealing with the fact that you were cheated on WORSE there’s some internalized misogyny and prejudice there.

    I have been faithful to all of my partners, but it’s my lesbian partners who accuse me of deception. I am completely transparent in my sexuality and expression, I’m not fooling anyone. If I let every single time someone hurt me deter me from dating an entire population of people I’d never date anyone for the rest of my life.

    But the fact is that I have so much love to give and every new partner is a new way to discover myself and connect with someone on a deeply emotional level and THAT, the inevitable knowledge that one day I will find someone who won’t hurt me, is enough to keep me giving chances to shitty men and shitty women. Because you MUST be hurt to find the one. Because those experiences help you grow. And each break up brings you closer to the person (or people, if you’re poly) you belong with.

    Posted by Roo | February 11, 2017, 3:07 am

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