A while ago I was at a queer writers’ event, which really was a lot of fun. I got talking to a woman who was bisexual and I was about to say Hey wow, I’m bi too! Yeah, isn’t being bi great! Because, y’know, the whole world seems to hate bisexual people sometimes and it’s a little wearying (note the lack of any piece of any media ever using the word bisexual to describe a bisexual character, the ‘Oh, but everyone’s bisexual really, when it comes down to it’ from friends who mean well but do not identify as bisexual, strangers asking ‘But who do you see yourself ending up with?’, people making fun of the “indecision” of bisexuals before – or after – you point out that you identify as bisexual, I could go on).
But before I got to say anything, somebody else said that bisexuality was the potential attraction to men and women only, and so I decided to speak up, because fuck that noise. And besides, this woman would have my back! Comrades in arms, common enemy, etc. So I started with ‘But that’s not what bisexuality is—’ and then I was literally shouted down by the other people in the room. Apparently I didn’t know what the gender binary was (I am trans* and I completed my thesis last year on binary thought in queer YA fiction; I would say I know a little about the gender binary).
The woman who said she was bisexual then turned to me and said very slowly (so my poor, small mind could understand): I’m bisexual. I’m attracted to men, and women, and not trans people.
I then proceeded to stare at her in silence because this was literally the most offensive and ignorant thing I’d ever heard. The conversation continued on without me and I left the event because I couldn’t actually believe that she’d said that. I didn’t argue, didn’t correct her. I’m not very good at confrontation.
And, of course, you always think of the perfect things to say when you’re in the elevator.
Here’s the thing: if someone says that they are not attracted to trans people, there is no way in hell ever, ever, ever that they are not transphobic. What they’ve said implies a number of things, but there are two major points I need to bring up. The first: the idea that this person can always, one hundred per cent, unfailingly tell when someone is trans. Which is, of course, bullshit and buys into that cissexist notion of “passing”, as if there was a strict Code of Gender one must adhere to in order to achieve some form of “authenticity”. The second: that a trans man is not a “real” man and that a trans woman is not a “real” woman.
There is literally no other way to see the “not attracted to trans people” sentiment.
So, if I had the guts to stand up to this woman, the first thing I would have asked her is if I looked cis, which is a bullshit question in itself, but hopefully it would give her a moment of panic. Because I’m not cis. Does someone need a “special” label to be attracted to me? Or am I just a deluded genderqueer weirdo who is “really” a woman and can be included in her neat little binary package because I’ve got boobs?
My last point that I’d raise with her is that bisexuality means the potential attraction to someone who has the same gender identity as yourself, or someone who has a different gender identity to yourself. Bi, in this instance, just means “two”. Not “man and woman”, not “reinforcing the gender binary” but “same and different”.
So, long story short: if I ever become a time traveller, I’m gonna have these points memorised so I can go back and explain to this woman just how much of a bigot she was.
(Originally published in Wordly: IDAHOBIT edition, DUSA)
[pls note this is an old piece and I think the use of an asterisk after trans is super problematic and i will not do it again. sorry]