When I first saw the title alone of the article Calling All Bi Women – Give Up The Men! published on Huffington Post, I'll admit I had a rather knee-jerk response. That knee-jerk may have involved a lot of profanity.
Full disclosure time: I am a bi (mostly) woman married to a bi man. I met him as a teenager and haven't had a long-term romantic relationship with a woman. As a result, you can imagine that my first, very strong emotional response was unfavourable to the article. At best.
I hesitated to click on the article itself – Huffpost's issues with clickbait and not paying their writers are well-known and I had no desire to reward them. But if I'm going to write a response, I should probably actually read the thing, shouldn't I?
Kylie Barton starts out by stating that many bisexuals lead a closeted heterosexual lifestyle. Broadly, I agree. She claims that she was one of these bisexuals, and in that case I feel deeply for her. Living closeted is not fun, and it starves something essential and beautiful in you.
Like Barton, I've known I was bi since a young age – 11, in my case – though I was aware it was ok much younger than she was because of a supportive and loving family with a broad acceptance of all kinds of LGBT issues. I too experienced men feeling as if my bisexuality was a fun game for them, and for curious female friends thinking I was a safe outlet for drunken urges, both things that hurt me very deeply.
Where we differ is in the basic idea that the answer (and the blame) for closeted bisexuality is who we date.
There are a number of problems with the argument Barton lays out. Even ignoring the casual cis-sexism of her language (which we shouldn't), her statement that a "bi" relationship is a same-gender one is ironically buying into the very bi-erasure she rightly condemns.
She seems to assume that all bi women's experiences are the same as hers – that those of us with men have settled or never tried out a relationship with a woman. This is demonstrably false, and any interaction with a large group of bi women will prove it so. And while heteronormativity is a real thing and dating and loving women with no men involved needs to be promoted and admired wherever possible, I don't think real, individual people should have to corral their hearts and loins in the direction other people want.
Barton falls into the trap that same-gender relationships are inherently more genuine if you're multi-gender attracted than mixed gender, a trap that's especially infuriating given recent messages that male-partnered bi women are fakes, traitors and undeserving of support from within our own community.
It is not my job to fix bi erasure by breaking off a completely happy and healthy relationship and going out to pick a random woman from the crowd. It's not my job to make sure the way I love is respectable to either the straight worlds or the queer ones.
I also have issues with her statement bisexuality is loving people regardless of their genitals. This is not my experience of my sexuality, and it has unpleasant transphobic undertones. These may not be intentional, but they're there.
Barton states that bisexuality is loving people regardless of their genitals. Other writers who have more expertise than I do have talked about how this is a transphobic way of explaining bisexual attraction. To narrow bisexuality down to "likes men and women" and to narrow men down to 'has penis' does the sheer complexity and variety of our community a disservice. I, and many bisexual organisations, prefer to say that our attraction is to multiple, but not necessarily all genders. I do not experience love or attraction or my own gender in the narrow way Barton asserts as the universal bisexual experience.
While sex or gender doesn't effect WHO I am attracted to, it frequently effects HOW I am attracted to them.
Her argument also ignores polyamorous and non-monogamous sorts, it ignores anyone not on a plain, linear gender map.
Most of all, not all bi people dating different genders from themselves are closeted. I'm not closeted – I am aggressively, obnoxiously out. I remain so no matter who's sharing my space and heart.
And even when I'm dating "straight", I am not – and my attraction to men doesn't feel any more or less bisexual than my attraction to women or non-binary folk.
Ultimately, I feel the article was supposed to be a condemnation of heteronormativity and bi erasure, but ended up supporting those damaging things due to a lack of consideration of other ways of living. In general, it's best not to assume your own choices and life experience reflect the whole of the community.
The main thing I got from the article is that Kylie Barton would have been a lot happier and coped a lot better with a community of supportive bi people around her, regardless of her relationship status. We're out here, Kylie – and despite my disagreeing with you, I hope you can find us.