AFTER LOOK BOTH WAYS, MY RAH-RAH BOOK ABOUT HAVING A LOVE LIFE WITH MEN AND WOMEN, was published last year, I pummeled by dating rejection from folks I had never met (and probably never would), as in these choice words responding to a review: "I offer a warning to anyone who finds himself or herself the object of Ms. Baumgardner's attentions: She appears to be incapable of sustaining any relationship," and "I don't presume to know whether Baumgardner is bi or gay, but based on this review of her book I wouldn't date her." One person just came right out and said, "Steer clear of bisexuals." The prevailing biphobia was almost charming in its retro-ness, prompting me to wonder, Is it 1980? I mean, really, do people, especially gay women, still think it's OK to hate bisexuals?
"Yes," said my ex Anastasia at the time. "Next question."
I laughed, because I thought she was kidding--or at least commiserating about the "steer clear" advice, given that lesbians and bisexual women fall in love all of the time. But in fact, Anastasia was speaking as someone who also distrusts women who look both ways. "I've been with bisexual women in the past who don't seem to be truly into girls, who needed to be drunk to have sex," Anastasia explained. "And the constant rejection wore me down."
Other women are suspicious of anyone who would identify herself that way. "I live in the South," says Lisa Johnson, a professor at work on a book about being a psycho girlfriend, "where you will not get any dates with women if you say you are bi." Johnson considers it a big-time red flag when a woman on Match.com describes herself as bisexual or bi-curious, similar to how I react when people list Gravity's Rainbow as their favorite book or express interest in tantric sex. "I don't want to spend time on people who have not developed a queer sensibility yet," says Johnson, whose town of Spartanburg, S.C., is so conservative that gay people go to meetings of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays because they are so desperate for community.
Both Anastasia's and Lisa's comments strike me as hard on the sexually inexperienced bisexual person, who, while annoying, has to start somewhere. (I too did the old drunken-hookup-with-women thing back in the day. Which might be why Anastasia is so frustrated by bisexuals.) Their words also strike me as interesting since both have been involved with men at least as much as with women; Anastasia, for instance, lives with her boyfriend, with whom she has a child. Self-flagellation, anyone? "It's true," says Anastasia, "my main issue with inconstant bisexual women is I fear I am one." Anastasia's trajectory seems to feed into the belief proffered by some lesbians that since partnering with men still trumps doing so with women in terms of social approbation and even household income, why would you count on a woman who could have a man? Isn't it just setting oneself up to feel like some straight guy's sloppy seconds?
Well, first of all, most bisexual women are partnered with women, according to Amy Andre, an expert on bisexual women's health. Second, such a justification for hating bisexuals relies on increasingly outdated notions of men being more able to "take care of" a woman financially. These days I doubt that many women--of any orientation--choose a mate based on earning power, and most people nowadays, regardless of gender, expect to take care of a partner as much as they are cared for. I grant that same-sex partnerships are often stigmatized while opposite-sex couplings are generally viewed as normative. However, it is one thing to acknowledge that it is difficult on a personal level to compete with the social approbation male-female couples still receive, and it's quite another to actively contribute to the disparagement of an entire social group.
There's evidence that bisexual women are suffering--in quantifiable terms that will be of interest to anyone who cares about human rights. …