This post was written for the current #BiTalks. You too can submit, but only if you write really fast, because Queenie is a slowpoke and is submitting on the last possible day.
At Pride this past June, two people from the Boston Bi Resource Center dropped by New England Aces’ table. They wanted to make sure NEA had their information, and one of them gave me her business card and invited me to join the Bi Women of Color group, assuring me that they accepted both bisexual and biromantic folks. I carried that business card in my wallet for the entire summer, but when I made it back to Boston, I hesitated. Would it really be okay for me to go? Yes, she said they were ace-friendly, but would I really be welcome in that space? (Was she just saying that to be nice?) Would it be uncomfortable or awkward for me to inhabit that space as an asexual person? Would I make others uncomfortable by inhabiting that space as an asexual person? (There was also the ever-present fear that because I’m mixed race I’m “too white” to inhabit PoC spaces and would make other people uncomfortable with my presence.)
Several long conversations with my girlfriend, two more invitations from the group organizer (including one in person), and a whole lot of angsting later, I went, everyone there was lovely, it was a great experience, and precisely zero of my numerous fears were founded.
Here is the truth: I am extremely anxious around LGBT spaces. I don’t have any particularly horrible anecdotes to back up my fear–the worst thing that has ever happened is that I went to the grad LGBT club at my school and it turned out to basically be an excuse for gay men to go husband-shopping, so I stood awkwardly in the corner and was mostly ignored for the entire evening. But the fact remains: I am afraid of entering LGBT spaces, because I am afraid that I will walk through the door and someone will scream, “IMPOSTER!”
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a new postdoc, and over the course of a half-hour conversation, we began doing the “Queer? Queer?” tiptoeing dance around each other. He oh-so-casually mentioned his (male) fiance, and I mentioned my girlfriend with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. We had a bonding moment, which was pretty quickly shattered when he asked me a question about being a lesbian. I froze. “I, uh, I’m, um, a bit more of the, uh, b-bi…ish…persuasion,” I stammered. He apologized for assuming, and I felt awful, because I had lied. Okay, yes, I’m biromantic (ish), but I’m asexual, and now here he was thinking that I was bisexual, and, oh my god, Queenie, you are the worst, the absolute worst, the number one worst in the entire universe.
Obviously, I am probably not the number one worst in the entire universe, but the above anecdote probably demonstrates how incredibly careful I try to be with my language. There’s no logical reason for me to feel like an imposter. I’ve known I was attracted to girls since I was 15, and I started IDing as bi when I was 16. I’m currently in a same-gender relationship. I may be asexual, but I’m in the group of asexuals who most people agree are unconditionally queer.
But, on the other hand, I grew up in a context where bisexual kids weren’t allowed in the GSA except as “straight allies.” I was told that bisexual women were faking it for attention. I was told that bisexual Latinas were just nymphomaniacs. I’m still told that asexual people don’t belong in LGBT spaces, that we’re taking resources away from people who really need them. I’m told that I don’t belong, because I’ve never been disowned by my family or threatened with violence because of my sexuality (which goes to show how little these people know about me). I’m told that if I am to be allowed in, it’s because I’m biromantic, not because I’m asexual, and I have to prioritize my biromanticism over my asexuality to be accepted. I may be neurotic about LGBT spaces, but I’m neurotic for a reason.
A few weeks back, I saw this post going around about why we need safe spaces for bi people. A lot of it hit close to home for me, but particularly this part:
Because everywhere else requires us to narrow ourselves down, to hide and disappear
Because we can’t talk about ourselves fully, ever, anywhere
Because we are forever partial
The idea of feeling “forever partial” struck a chord with me, because it’s something I’ve been feeling for…pretty much as long as I can remember. Part of that is because of race–it’s not an uncommon experience for mixed race folks to feel like they don’t quite fit in anywhere. But part of that is because of a feeling that I’ve discussed elsewhere–in queer spaces, I feel flamingly ace, and in ace spaces, I feel painfully queer. I feel like an imposter in gay spaces, and I certainly don’t belong in straight spaces, but in bi and ace spaces, too, I often feel as though I’m only able to tell part of my story. I don’t see my biromanticism and asexuality as separable from each other, because they inform and affect each other, so trying to talk about one without talking about the other is often an exercise in futility. The first adult I ever tried to come out to took my bi-ness as proof of my sexual immaturity (because all mature people have a gender preference), which meant that my “asexuality” was “adolescent pre-sexuality.” (I was 19 at the time.) Since I started dating my girlfriend, people have asked me, “So are you done with the asexual thing, then?”; when I was dating people who were being read as men, I was asexual (and heteroromantic???) but now that I have a girlfriend, I must be a lesbian. Bisexuality is, as always, an impossibility, and asexuality is something I’ll eventually “grow out of.” You want to talk about the hypersexualization of bi women (especially certain groups of bi women of color) clashing with asexuality? I do too, but I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like I’m trying to speak two languages at once (three if you’re counting gender, four if you figure in race and ethnicity), and I can’t tell whether people don’t understand me because they don’t speak my mash-up of a language or because I’m not making sense.*
I feel partial in bi spaces because of a self-imposed silence; I often feel that I am not allowed to talk about my asexuality, because it’s not “relevant” to the other attendees. This is mostly my fault; I don’t speak because I have certain neuroses about LGBT spaces, afraid that the moment I slip up and admit that I’m asexual I will be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. I am getting better at this, mostly because of the kindness of the folks who have opened up their spaces to me and who have listened to me mumble my way through stories with good humor and no judgement.
I’ve felt partial in certain ace spaces recently because the offline spaces I’ve been inhabiting have been dominated by discourse that skews heavily toward heteroromantic (and, to a lesser extent, aromantic) perspectives. And while I care deeply about my heterorom and aro buddies, sometimes some of them just…don’t get it. Sometimes some of them start 101 panels with “Asexual people don’t face homophobia, like LGBT people, but we do face invisibility and erasure!” and I remember all the times that my girlfriend and I (a pair of aces if there ever was one) have been harassed on the street. Sometimes some of them talk about how they’re asexual, nooooooot gaaaaaaaaay. (I don’t particularly like it when people think I’m gay either, but I don’t talk about being gay as though it’s the Worst Possible Thing.) Sometimes some of them try to convince me that because they’re afraid to come out as an LGBT ally on Facebook, they understand exactly what it’s like for me to be extremely closeted in academia for fear of losing my research contacts (and my job by extension). And, yes, once in a blue moon some of them may say some pretty messed up, homophobic stuff, under the impression that they’re surrounded only by people like them. That is, thankfully, an extremely rare occurrence; it’s much more common for people to just not consider that aces in their space might be homoromantic, might be biromantic, might be panromantic, might have been disowned by their families, might have experienced anti-gay violence, might, unlike them, be kinda gay (or bi or pan or have their attractions inclined in a less than normatively gendered direction, regardless of what label they choose to use). And I think, sometimes, there’s this assumption that LGBT aces can just go talk about their “LGBT stuff” in LGBT spaces, when A. it is, as previously mentioned, really difficult to talk about identities as discrete entities and B. a lot of “LGBT” aces don’t feel like they are welcome in LGBT spaces. So I wind up feeling partial in certain ace spaces for many of the same reasons that I wind up feeling partial in bi spaces–I feel like my experiences aren’t “relevant” to the larger conversation, and so I keep quiet.**
Recently, I’ve tried to start reaching out more to the bi community. I, fortunately, have only had positive experiences with bi spaces thus far. But I’m still afraid. I’m afraid that I’m taking resources away from “real” bi people. I’m afraid that I’m unwelcome, but no one is willing to tell me. I’m afraid because every six months or so the “are aces queer” debate flares up again and I am reminded that some people will always see me as an interloper. I’m afraid because I have had fear pounded into my brain non-stop since I was 15, and I’ve never really learned how to be unafraid.
If you’re a bi community organizer and you want to open your space up to ace spectrum individuals, here is the best advice I can give you: Be explicit about your commitment to ace inclusion. Many of us will assume that we’re not welcome unless we hear otherwise. Some of us may still assume we’re not welcome even when we hear we are. If we’re nervous in your spaces, please don’t take it personally–there’s a non-zero chance it’s because we’ve been told for so long that we’re transgressing on spaces not meant for us and making them unsafe for the people who really need them. If we’re reticent, it might be because we’ve been taught to “narrow ourselves down, to hide and disappear.” I’m sure that some of you have had similar insecurities and worries, so maybe you already know how to deal with people who are worried that they don’t belong and are unwanted. The best advice I can give is if you want us, let us know.
And to those bi organizers, bi friends, and bi bystanders who have been kind enough to remind me that they do, in fact, want me: Thank you. Sometimes I need the reminder.
*This is, of course, where I have to say that there have been several bloggers tackling the bi/ace intersection whose work I’ve found really helpful in thinking about my own experiences: tristifere wrote a piece on sex-aversion and the ace/bi intersection and Fox, at thedragonandthefox, has written a number of pieces, including this piece on the ace spectrum/bi intersection and this piece comparing Jewish atheists and bi aces.
**I should note that I’ve been a lot more successful in finding online spaces that make me feel like I can be a whole person (at least in terms of the bi/ace intersection), although occasionally I run across some of the same sort of rhetoric I highlighted above, where it’s obvious that the author hasn’t thought about the fact that there are aces who might intersect with LGBT. On the other hand, the majority of my blogroll is composed of people who are very aware of the existence and needs of LGBT aces. If you’re one of those rad people, especially if you haven’t necessarily experienced that particular intersection but remain aware that others have, thank you.