Wow, what a magnificent couple of days! The Supreme Court has struck down state bans on gay marriage, effectively legalizing it throughout the entire country, a decision that will see far-sweeping repercussions and is a huge victory for civil rights advocates everywhere. What else happened? Well, the full trailer for Brian Helgeland’s Legend was released. Of course if I can find a way to jam too-precious-for-this-world cinnamon roll Tom Hardy into any conversation I will do it, and I spent a fair chunk of the last twenty-four hours shamelessly perving on the dapper be-suited Toms Hardy, but in light of the SCOTUS decision I found my thoughts stuck on one of the topics the film touches on in its marketing – that of Ronnie Kray’s alleged bisexuality.
I was having a discussion on my private Facebook wall yesterday with two of my friends who are professed Kray aficionados. I expressed excitement at the idea of Hardy portraying a bisexual character, and that I was a little bit surprised that the trailer put Ronnie’s sexuality into some focus (“I prefer boys, actually”). One of these friends – also a bisexual woman – while happy that the film wasn’t omitting Ronnie’s alleged attraction to men altogether, was concerned that the film would erase his bisexuality. Another friend admitted that he had mistakenly considered Ronnie Kray for years to be homosexual, not bisexual, and that this is something that is sort of taken for granted for fans of true crime. Yep, Ronnie Kray, he were the gay one. Gay, gay, gay. No women here, move along.
In the media, and indeed in our culture as a whole, there tends to be an undercurrent of skepticism where bisexuality is concerned, as though it is somehow less real than being gay or straight. The agnosticism of sexual orientations, so to speak. Bisexuality tends to get erased when someone “picks side”; Alan Cumming married a man so he is “gay now”, Anne Heche is with a man so she is “straight now”, etc. I kind of shrugged off her concern, because I just really liked the idea of Tom Hardy making out with Taron Egerton regardless of the context (I thought the movie was going to be hacky mindless eye candy anyway- why care about bisexual erasure?). Twelve hours later I feel a little bad about that. Dead-eyed in a bar in the West Village while everybody celebrates, me staring at the cracked, dusty mirror on the other side of the bar behind the bottles of liquor like, “I am part of the problem.” “The Sound of Silence” starts playing. Hello darkness, my old friend…
Okay, it wasn’t actually as bad as all that, but I do feel a little bad.
I cannot speak for all bisexual women, but I’ve always felt divorced from “the struggle” as it pertains to bisexual people. I’ve always bristled a bit when people call me straight, or on occasion saying that Chez Apocalypse is run by “straight, cis women” when while, yes, we are cis women, none of us are straight (Nella and I are bisexual, Elisa is asexual). I suppose a part of my detachment from this feeling of struggle is my personal suspicion that “true Kinsey 0’s”, or completely and utterly straight people, are in fact much rarer than we’d like to admit. I’m not the weird one, you are, Mr. Straighty McLyingToSelf.
But the big reason I’ve never seen fit to turn my sexuality into a Thing as it pertains to public discourse is because I didn’t think it was anybody’s business but my own. Bisexual people are not respected – they are seen as being in a confused state of transition. Perhaps this is, in part, a result of bisexual erasure from our media dialogue. Bisexuality is not an orientation, it’s just the word you use until you figure your shit out. Is this the reality? No, it is not. But try telling that to the vast majority of people. It’s easier just not to deal with it altogether.
Liquor bottles between me and the mirror. The liquor bottles are a metaphor. The familiar acoustic guitar riff starts playing. Hello darkness, my old friend…
No, no, stop talking to me, liquor bottles of metaphor. I’m not that bad because I don’t give that much thought or discussion to this aspect of my identity, am I? It’s nobody’s business but mine, goddamnit. Stay out of this, Simon and Garfunkel!
The idea of bisexual erasure has never particularly burdened me. Perhaps I’ve spent so much time giving fucks about other forms of representation I had no fucks left to give about this one. Or perhaps it is because, despite the “B” in “LGBT”, I don’t think we “B”s quite know our place in the movement because we are in some ways the most privileged group – we can opt out, and many of us do. It’s the sexual orientation version of “passing.” I don’t think the reason most bisexual women tend to date men is because that’s always been their preference – that certainly was never the case for me, but just because it’s easier. The cultural machine is already designed this way; why rock the boat?
But most of all, I feel the lack of solidarity stems from a feeling that bisexual people reap the benefits from the LGBT movement while contributing the least. This isn’t necessarily true, but that undercurrent still exists. Of course they are assumed to contribute the least, because their struggle is less. They can “opt out” of their non-heternormativity should they so choose. I’ve been a vocal about LGBT issues since before I had a platform, but in a distant sort of way, as though it didn’t really have anything to do with me. I played the part of “ally” rather than member of the community, because I didn’t feel I was a part of it, because maybe my partner at the time was male, or because I was in denial about that aspect of my identity, or whatever rationale I opted for that day. I suppose this might count as a form of bisexual erasure, the internalized kind. In a culture that abhors nuance and erases bisexuality, I suppose it is somewhat inevitable that some of us would do it to ourselves. Yes, there is a struggle, but it is not mine, because I can opt out of it. We bisexuals are only part-time members of the community–at least, that’s how it feels sometimes. And when you look at the abject hell the “T” part goes through in our meat grinder of a world, it seems a bit petty to abloobloobloo about bisexual erasure in a Tom Hardy movie, doesn’t it?
And then I remember how the gaslight crowd uses that exact argument against me when I talk about gender representation in the media – usually something along the lines of “how can you be mad at gendered slurs in a movie when female genital mutilation exists” or something like that. And in my own confusion surrounding bisexual privilege (which I do believe exists) I’ve fallen into a trap of my own making; one group doesn’t feel they have the right to point out an issue that affects them because another group has it worse in a very, very different way. Which is to say nothing of overlap – an awful, awful lot of “T”s are also “B”‘s – bisexual erasure affects them as well, does it not?
But these are not mutually exclusive discussions. Just because we still have so much further left to go and there are a wide variety of horrors befalling the LGBT community the world over does not mean bisexual erasure is not a thing, or that bisexual people are not an important part of the movement. We humans are complex animals, beings of light and multitudes. We have enough brainspace to talk about all angles, and right now I’m talking about this one.
Because the truth is – I don’t know what to do with it. I really, really don’t.
Bisexuality has always been a part of my identity. I was probably in my mid-twenties before I came to terms with the fact that you can be something other than absolutely gay or absolutely straight, which is sad in its own right, but there it is. And now that I’m in my 30’s, have been single for almost a year now (and to those of you who find this surprising, again, it was none of your business) and the LGBT movement in America has been handed its greatest victory yet, I’m coming to a point where I wonder – why don’t I allow this to be a part of my identity? Is it still out of a subconscious fear of being fetishized? Like, dude, I’m 30-years-old. I’m starting to look like your dumpy aunt who’s an adjunct at the local community college. I’d like to move past this thing where I let fears of how the worst of the worst will respond dictate my place in the public discourse.
I’ve guarded my bisexuality pretty closely, even denied it at times, and therefore I’ve never been discriminated against, or suffered for it. I’ve kept it from my older and male colleagues because I didn’t want to deal with being corrected and told that it was a phase, or, worse, being fetishized for it. I’ve been aware of my own silence, and excused it because I told myself that it wasn’t worth it to deal with. After all – there are far, far worse things in the world than being a bisexual person whom everyone assumes is default straight for lack of being corrected. Battles must be chosen, and moreover, it never really bothered me. Internalized bisexual erasure.
Hello darkness, my old friend…
This isn’t really a proclamation or a coming out post so much as a discussion with myself – as I said, it isn’t something I really know how to contextualize, in part because contextualizing bisexuality isn’t something we allow much room for in our culture or in the media. But now that I am older, I think perhaps it is time that I allow myself permission to actually wear the Pride flag as a member of the community, and not as an “ally,” when I join the march on Sunday. And I am really, really looking forward to the march on Sunday. Happy Pride, everyone!
And Hilary – I’m sorry I was dismissive about the issue of Ronnie Kray’s bisexuality and the potential for bisexual erasure because shh shh shh just enjoy the eye candy shhhh. I stand with you; bisexual erasure is still an issue, an issue that affects us both directly, and it needs to be a part of the discussion.
But context be damned I am still excited to see Tom Hardy do sex things with Taron Egerton.