Coming to terms with your sexuality is almost always a tumultuous journey. We learn from a very young age that being heterosexual is ‘normal’ and anything else outside of that isn’t; many children’s books and films have some sort of overarching romantic plot brewing between a male and female character. Rarely do we see LGBTQIA+ fairy tales – even less so featuring BIPOC – in the ignorant belief that somehow same sex pairings are ‘inappropriate’ to show to children, so when these children grow up and find themselves in adolescence, everything they know about their identities and sexualities comes into question.
But when you’re navigating the realms of sexuality as a BIPOC, there’s a whole new dimension of confusion and turmoil that White people don’t always experience. Already marginalised on the basis on race, LGBTQIA+ BIPOC face heightened levels of discrimination where racial discrimination meets sexual discrimination. Coming out as bisexual as a BIPOC is even more difficult, with the added layer of bi-erasure. Bisexuality is framed as being in the middle of heterosexuality and homosexuality, facing prejudices from all sides of the spectrum of sexuality despite it being just as valid.
But why is this the case?
A lot of BIPOC’s cultures are rooted in conservatism, unwavering despite progressive civil rights movements. Children are expected to grow up protected from the dangers of sexuality, then get married and have children. Being LGBTQIA+ is considered to be ‘unnatural’ and in the case of some religious families, ‘against God’s word.’ Many of these cultures originate from countries that have been impacted by colonialism – the implications of that has trickled down through generations of families, persisting throughout the years. During these times of empire, White settlers travelled from countries such as the UK and the US, ‘discovering’ lands and races of people. They then saw fit to forcibly impose their own beliefs onto them because they thought these other non-White races were ‘inferior’ in need of ‘civilisation.’ One of the most prominent ideologies they forced onto our ancestors was homophobia. According to them, being LGBTQIA+ was simply unfathomable, unacceptable in times where religion was intertwined with state affairs and politics. Scared and forced to assimilate in fear of their safety, these BIPOC from colonised countries adopted and practised these ideals.
The threat of racism hasn’t ceded over the years and this is why people of many non-White cultures have deep seated prejudices against LGBTQIA+ people. Using religion as a means to justify this prejudice, the remnants of a colonial past have shaped their views in modern times. It’s not unrelated that BIPOC that belong to the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to be victims of homophobic/transphobic violence in comparison to their White counterparts. YouGov and Stonewall found that 34% of BIPOC LGBTQIA+ people have experienced hate crimes compared to 20% of White LGBTQIA+ people, directly showing how race exposes BIPOC in the LGBTQIA+ community to increased amounts of violence and abuse.
Being a bisexual BIPOC in light of this becomes a much more complex identity to navigate. For many, it becomes easier to stay ‘in the closet’ and present themselves as heterosexual and for others, their internalised homophobia clashes with their bisexuality. Internalised biphobia presents itself as constantly questioning your sexuality. “Am I sure I’m not just straight? Or am I gay? Is this just a phase?” Questions like these can lead to an inner turmoil that we see a lot of BIPOC especially experience. Gabrielle Smith, an Afro-Latino writer, illustrates this brilliantly in her article posted on Healthline. In it, she looks back on her relationship with her bisexuality and how it’s changed over time.
Bisexuality is constantly erased even within the LGBTQIA+ community and it’s no coincidence that BIPOC feel excluded and unwelcome in these spaces. The blanket presumption that bisexuals are somehow ‘greedy’/’confused becomes intertwined with racial prejudices. Racism manifests itself within these spheres in the form of ‘racial preferences’ when it comes to dating. Dated stereotypes come into play: Black people are hypersexualised, whilst Asians are desexualised, thought of as ‘submissive.’ Hispanic people /Latinos are eroticized, deemed ‘feisty’ and Indigenous people are judged to be ‘savage’ or ‘sexually promiscuous.’ It goes without saying that all of these assumptions are completely untrue, but that doesn’t deter those inside the LGBTQIA+ community who purposely exclude potential partners based on their race, culture or even their religion. Not only is this incredibly dehumanising, but it reinforces the idea that being anything other than the ‘norm’ within supposed LG’B’TQIA+ spaces is inferior – which defeats the purpose of PRIDE itself.
The path of discovery and acceptance as a bisexual BIPOC is a winding journey that seems to have no end. Too ‘straight’ for some and too ‘gay’ for others, bisexual BIPOC face multifaceted prejudices. To make matters worse, there is a very limited pool of resources specifically created with bisexual BIPOC in mind – instead, they are forced to use those aimed towards heterosexuals or homosexuals. Until we as a society can acknowledge the additional prejudices BIPOC who identify as bisexual experience, we cannot take the steps needed for true equity and equality.
Davina Dang is the Founder and Creative Director of Omisté. An aspiring freelance writer based in the UK, she tends to focus on topics that concern the current political landscape, identity, mental health and culture. More of her work is available for perusal here, and she is also available to hire on a freelance basis taking on paid and unpaid work at this time.