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I don’t identify as straight or gay: let’s break through the stigma

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If you read my last article on LGBTQIA+ media representation, you’ll know I identify as pansexual. What you don’t know is that I am currently in a monogamous long-term relationship with a cisgender male. As I identify as a cisgender woman, that makes our relationship a heterosexual one. My partner is straighter than an arrow, while my sexuality is fluid – I’m capable of falling in love with and having sexual feelings for many different gender identities. He knows this about me and is comfortable with it.

Society, however, is a different story. What really gets my gears grinding, makes steam blow out my ears and my face turn pink with anger is when people assume that I’m straight because I’m dating a cisgender man.

It is possible that this occurs due to society’s lack of knowledge around pansexual people. Not many studies or forms even allow participants to identify as pansexual and this is debilitating to the visibility and understanding of pansexuality in society.

Although this could be a factor, considering that the same thing happens to a lot of individuals who identify as bisexual, it seems there’s a higher form of discrimination at play.

stigma
via Canva

There seems to be this stigma attached to those of us who identify as anything other than straight. This is especially true for those of us who are in heterosexual-appearing relationships. People say we’ve chosen a ‘side’.

I have not chosen a ‘side’, I have chosen a person. My relationship status does not change my sexuality. You don’t magically stop being bi or pan when you’re in a heterosexual relationship. This stigma is more common in general society, but not totally absent in the LGBTQIA community either.

There are already so many myths and misconceptions about people who identify somewhere in the spectrum between heterosexual and homosexual, and this is a really complex issue that is underlined by a simple solution – stop assuming anything about anyone. You don’t know them, and it’s rude to assume.

This issue of assuming someone’s sexuality based on who they’re currently dating is problematic due to it feeding into bisexual and pansexual erasure, as well as bisexual and pansexual phobia. Bi/pan erasure is defined as “the act of ignoring, explaining away, or otherwise dismissing bisexuality or pansexuality in culture, media, or history”.

An example of it in popular culture is singer Freddie Mercury from Queen being seen as a homosexual icon when in fact Freddie openly identified as being bisexual, not gay.

cries perfect freddie mercury GIF stigma
via Giphy

Bisexual and pansexual phobia is seen as different to homophobia, this is evidenced through statements such as “You’re either straight, gay or lying”. Both the LGBTQIA community and general society can sometimes have trouble accepting those of us who don’t fit nicely into the gay or straight binaries constructed by society’s norms.

Biphobia is officially defined as the fear and dislike of bisexual people and others who have the potential to be attracted to more than one gender. It is so very important to have an open mind in regards to gender and sexuality. The shaming of bisexual, pansexual and other sexualities that are attracted to multiple gender identities can lead to triggers and stressors that can manifest in intimate partner violence in these relationships.

As a society, we need to stop trying to explain away these sexualities as either phases or lies. We need to help boost visibility and the only way to do that is to be accepting and make society a safe space for people to feel comfortable enough to openly share their sexualities, whatever they may be.

There have been many studies that have linked the prevalence of biphobia and bi-erasure to increased rates of mental health issues, sexual assault (especially for bisexual women),  substance abuse and suicide rates.

The take-home message here is simply don’t judge someone’s sexuality based on the person they are currently dating as you are taking part in biphobia/panphobia and the erasure of alternate sexualities which is highly debilitating. Visibility is key. Be brave and speak out against stigma and attitudes like this.

Stay strong everyone and remember tomorrow is another day with the potential for a brighter future with less stigma.