Friday, March 7, 2008

Polyamory and Lesbian Views About Bisexual Women

A recent post to the Bisexual Forum at, When You Want Both, brought to mind my feelings of ambivalence as an out bisexual polyamorous woman and my sometimes discomfort in the past at feeling like my polyamorous side wasn't welcome in my local bisexual women's community. The AfterEllen post in question addresses lesbian community shyness about dating bisexual women for fear of being left for a man and suggests that maybe bisexual women who want relationships with both a woman and a man are polyamorous. What a concept!

There was a time in my local community when I heard more than one bisexual woman insist that she wasn't polyamorous but was instead "duogamous". As best I could tell, this term basically was intended to communicate a monogamous nature but with, um, more than one person. As a woman who embraces her poly side, I always felt it was hair-splitting and sensed that the term "polyamory" made some bi women uncomfortable.

Lesbian stereotyping bisexuals as at best unreliable, worse as fickle, and at worst as promiscuous is such an unfair burden. And the difficulty is obvious for monogamously inclined bi women who would like to be accepted by the lesbian community as potential monogamous partners.

Stereotyping polyamorists as promiscuous also creates problems for polys who aren't and don't like being portrayed as such. And we bi polys, well, we're the sleaziest, sluttiest of all - or so some assume. As a polyamory advocate I often find myself making the point that for many polyfolk, polyamory is no more about sex than monogamy is about sex. When I do, I'm usually rebutting the stereotype that polyamory is just an excuse for promiscuity - just as bi women are similarly stereotyped. The reason we feel a need to defend ourselves, whether bi or poly or both, is the same - we are all victims of a highly sex-negative culture.

What if we - both bisexuals and polyamorists - were to take a more sex-positive approach? Rather than buying into the age-old societal stereotyping of anyone who has a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time, what if we were to stand up for ourselves and challenge the stereotyping instead of bending over backward trying to convince others that we're really virtuous? I often think that virtue is overrated.

The term sex-positive is often misinterpreted to mean promiscuous, but it's really more about refusing to be shamed and choosing to see sexuality as a wholesome, healthy, positive part of life, no matter what form of sexual expression we choose or prefer, as long as it is among consenting adults. It surely would be nice if we could do so, especially within the bisexual and polyamory communities where there is so much crossover.

I get that some bi women who have both a male and a female partner don't like the idea of being labeled as polyamorous, but I also very much regret that there is such bias from one sexual minority against another. I wonder whether that was because they didn't want to be doubly saddled with the slut label. I am always hesitant to apply the polyamory label to anyone who doesn't want it, yet from a behavioral point of view, if a bisexual person has two partners with whom they are engaged in loving relationships, there is no difference between polyamory and duogamy, at least not that I can tell. Bisexuals in the polyamory community do exactly that all the time. Yet I can also see how some may think that being stereotyped as a slut simply for identifying as bisexual should be burden enough.

As a bi poly woman this has at times represented quite a conundrum for me. Sometimes as an out bi poly woman I felt a bit like the elephant in the local bisexual women's community living room. I perceive that some bi people can be uncomfortable because I raise by my very presence uncomfortable questions for them and am perhaps a reminder of the outside discrimination and stereotyping to which bisexuals are subjected both from the mainstream and from the queer community. I can see huge value in bi community as a safe haven where one can find respite from being misunderstood - at least if you don't also identify as polyamorous.

As to the lesbian stereotyping of bisexual women as more likely to leave them, ostensibly for a male partner, it seems to me that this may be an understandable but unreasonable fear. People leave relationships for all kinds of reasons. Is it really that much more likely that a monogamous bisexual woman partnered with a lesbian will leave her lesbian partner for a man than it is that the lesbian partner will leave the relationship for another lesbian? I get that the odds may seem greater simply because people attracted to both men and women have twice the options, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily more likely to want to exercise them. And I get het privilege and the resentment surrounding that issue.

Once again I have to wonder whether it's not time for monogamous and polyamorous bisexual women to stand together in solidarity and say this is who we are. We are as ethical and reliable as any other partner regardless of gender, and we are easily as capable of making a commitment - whether we are monogamous or polyamorous - as anyone else. If we prefer to have one of each (or more), we'll say so up front and not split hairs over what to call it. That's who some but not all bisexuals are. The women we date deserve to know where we stand on this subject, and whether monogamous or polyamorous, we ALL deserve first and foremost to be treated with respect as ethical, honest, sexual individuals.


Anonymous said...

This is awesome.

Anonymous said...

I was just thinking the other day other bisexuality is being more accepted and people aren't viewing them as nymphos anymore but somehow people living in a poly society are. Do we have to just wait for "our turn"?

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome article. I am in a conventional marriage, my partner is bi, in a long term relationship with a dearly loved (F) friend of both of us, and yet they are both afraid of openly acknowledging their relationship.

Unfortunately, bi people are seen to enjoy both the bread and the cake, to want the best of both worlds. It doesn't help that the lesbian communicty is so fragmented (why should lesbians and bi's be associated with transgender, xdressers and other 'misfits' when they are actually already mainstream?)

Great article, thanks