The Other Side of the Closet

BCN 88 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 88, Dec 2007.

I live off King Street, in Newtown, Sydney, Australia.  Whilst some have heard of Oxford Street, the main gay drag in Sydney, less have heard of King street, which in my experience is more generally gay friendly.  It has an alternative, community feel with retro clothing, indie music shops, book stores and an independent cinema.  There are a variety of queer venues, and rainbow stickers in the windows of shops ranging from chemists to travel agents.

I was walking along King Street with my partner, when suddenly I saw someone I recognised.  Despite my best Bi Pride principles, I immediately stiffened, and had the urge to leap away; to try and look platonic as possible.  As it was I managed not to but looked away, pretending to be absorbed by the shop windows, and hoped that, with my sunglasses, I would not be recognised.

A common enough experience for people in same-gendered relationships even in this day and age?  Maybe, but I am a bisexual volunteering for a ‘gay and lesbian’ charity and my current partner is not the same sex as me.

This particular organisation campaigns for equal rights for gay and lesbians in Australia.  I want to be involved as bisexuals as a whole will also stand to benefit from changes to the law that equalise relationships regardless of gender.  Having seen the changes occurring in the UK, I know that it could be possible here in Australia as well.

I didn’t sign any forms declaring my sexuality when I started volunteering.  I also know that many organisations who rely on volunteer support don’t care if you are straight, gay, or a sponge-cake loving lama, the support is what they need.  So why is it that I feel guilty?

It’s that ‘internalised biphobia’ demon.  In my gut I feel that somehow, being in a ‘straight looking’ relationship disqualifies me from the world of the queer.  That I can be a proud bisexual when in a same sex relationship, but as soon as I hook up with a guy all those spiteful things I’ve ever heard about bisexuals come propelled back to me, from that nasty little voice in my head.  When talking about past partners I use the term ‘they’, avoiding gender based terms, a habit I got into a long while back to obscure my sexuality from people.  I’m still in the habit now but generally when I am talking about *male* partners.  Somehow I’ve finally got more comfortable revealing same sex relations and yet I tend to be more oblique about the others.  I’d like to think that it’s because I’ve moved from hiding the gender of all my partners, to challenging the consistent presumption that I am straight, but sometimes I’m not so sure.  I feel a complex mix of emotions when lesbian friends use the label ‘lesbian’ for me.  On the one hand I feel included in their social world, but at the same moment I feel that I am living a lie.

When I first heard about this organisation I immediately tried to assess their bi friendliness.  Did their website mention the B word?  Do they have any other signs that they are inclusive rather than elusive?  I’ve done this test on organisations before.  If the answer is no, then I’ve got onto my bi high horse, and the closest I’ve come to being involved with the organisation is sending an email pointing out how they exclude bi people.  This time I’ve tried something different.

Taking a leaf out of the book of bisexuals that have gone before me, I volunteer for the organisation, despite there being no mention of bisexuality in any of their literature.  In fact I know of people who have got involved with a queer group precisely because bisexuality was ignored by them.  A single person inside an organisation can sometimes make a much bigger difference to their attitudes than lobbying from external people they don’t know.

Since becoming involved with this particular organisation I’ve heard rumours of biphobia being called on them in days gone by.  I cannot presume current prejudice however, I must go on my observations.  If any members are, then hopefully they will judge me on my work, and not my sexuality.  Involving myself with them, rather than boycotting, means I will be in a position to challenge biphobia if i see it. Or at least I will be if I can get over my own fears about peoples reactions to my bisexuality.  I’ve started to come out as  bi more to friends in the gay community, but I’m still at the stage where I say things like “yeah, being a filthy bisexual…”, which I hope shows some humour, and not the self denigration that it sometimes feels.