Feature: Monosexual Privilege

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Bisexuals belong to straight and gay communities yet are routinely left out of both

After reading over a male privilege checklist, Shiri Eisner, a bisexual activist, realized she had never seen a checklist detailing the privileges of monosexual people – those folks only attracted to one gender.

So she decided to make one.

Eisner had learned about the concept of monosexual privilege from a previous girlfriend, Lilach Ben David, a prominent trans-feminist in Israel.

“This idea, which she had mentioned in passing, stuck with me,” Eisner said. “Eventually I felt it deserved its own term and its own theory. This is what made me write about it in my blog and later book, ‘Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.’”

So what is monosexual privilege?

Being monosexual – either straight or gay – according to bi actvisits comes with a certain set of benefits that aren’t afforded to bisexuals.

Eisner said she sees problems associated with monosexual privilege all the time in her everyday life, especially in what she calls heterosexual entitlement and cisgender straight people’s secure position in society.

“One example that comes to mind is when straight people start talking about how ‘everyone is bisexual really’ or how ‘we don’t need labels anyways, we’re all just people,’” she said. “This sort of argument is a result of their privileged position because they do not experience oppression based on their sexual identity.”

She said that bisexual people’s lives stand apart from those of monosexual people because they don’t experience as much past trauma and exposure to violence and offences. She said gay and lesbian people deal with problems, but they have the most visibility.

“As it comes to cisgender gay and lesbian people,” she said, “I see [monosexual privilege] in the dominance that they hold over so-called ‘LGBT’ (actually GGGG) communities, in their representation in the media and the press, and in less exposure to the types of oppression that bi people have to face.”

Trav Mamone, a blogger at BiAnyMeans.com and host of the BiAnyMeans podcast, said while bisexual people are becoming more visible in pop culture, it’s not a significant difference.

“I can still only count with one hand the number of television shows that feature a bisexual character,” Mamone said.

Mamone also noted bisexual suicides and stories aren’t usually covered as much as gay or lesbian stories and that bisexual people don’t have the same access to resources as gays and lesbians.

Hannah Johnson, a bisexual activist and moderator for NonMono perspective on Tumblr, said that there are many misconceptions about monosexual privilege. She said gays and lesbians may think that bisexuals try to lump them in with having the same benefits as straight people, but that they need to instead focus on how privilege works on an axis with varying degrees.

Someone who is gay/lesbian would be privileged on the first axis and oppressed on the second, and someone who is straight would be privileged on both axes. Someone who is bisexual or asexual would be oppressed on both axes.

Eisner said she agreed and that cisgender heterosexual people usually have the most benefits.

“Centering the discussion around structural, heterosexual monosexism, rather than anecdotal, gay and lesbian biphobia, is meant to put our activist efforts in the right place rather than attacking other queer people,” Eisner said.

In 2011, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission created an article titled “Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations” in which they went into detail about the problems bisexual people specifically face.

According to the HRC report, self-identified bisexuals make up the largest single population within the LGBT community in the U.S. Their problems mostly deal with invisibility and erasure, and monosexual people benefit largely from acceptance within the larger community, according to the statistics.

It doesn’t take a report for bisexual people to realize monosexual privilege exists, Mamone said.

“We already know it’s out there, but we don’t quite know a word for it,” they said.

Eisner said that in order for monosexual privilege to be completely eliminated, the entire binary system of sex, gender and sexuality would have to be erased too.

“Monosexism is inextricably linked with misogyny, heterosexism and cissexism, and plays a large part in upholding them,” she said. “In practical terms, this means a lot of activist work that is intersectional and in solidarity with women, gay, lesbian, trans and intersex people.”

Mamone said in order for people to be treated equally all voices need to be heard and represented.

People who want to make is easier for bisexuals can start by getting informed and supporting bisexual people both personally and politically, Eisner said. People can also spread awareness about it and share information about monosexism and monosexual privilege through online and in-person activism.

Eisner also said people should be mindful of monosexual privilege when speaking with bisexual people.

“The first thing [people] can do is to avoid perpetuating monosexism and their privilege in their interactions with bi people,” she said. “They should remember to step down when bi people are talking about bisexuality and monosexism and to give bi people more room to talk about these things without having to defend themselves.”

Mamone said it’s the little things that count when trying to be mindful and respectful of bisexual people like calling same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage instead of gay marriage.

“Also, don’t automatically label people and say, ‘Oh, they’re gay,’ because they might be bisexual or pansexual or they’ll say, ‘I’m queer. I don’t like labels,’” Mamone said. “Little things like that go a long way.”

Johnson said she feels bothered when people try to deny that monosexual privilege exists or try to claim that bisexual people are privileged because they can pretend to be straight.

“Pretending to be straight is not a privilege any more than being closeted is a privilege because they are one in the same,” she said. “Bisexuals are not half gay and half straight. We are sometimes gay and sometimes straight, but always 100 percent bisexual.”

Eisner said she hopes to see more people coming out in support of bisexual people in the media and organizations.

“This goes for every context and every topic, but I’m also thinking especially about activist communities – for example, feminist, antiracist/ people of color, disabled, left wing or LGBT,” she said. “Monosexual people – and especially cisgender heterosexual people – should use their privilege to create more spaces for bi people and for conversations about bisexuality and monosexism.”

The monosexual privilege checklist:

  1. Society assures me that my sexual identity is real and that people like me exist.
  2. When I disclose my sexual identity to others, they believe it without requiring me to prove it (usually by disclosing my sexual and romantic history).
  3. I can feel sure that, upon disclosing my sexual identity, people accept that it’s my real/actual sexual identity (rather than assuming that I am lying or simply wrong).
  4. I am never considered closeted when disclosing my sexual identity.
  5. I am considered to have more authority in defining and judging bisexuality than people who identify as bisexual.
  6. Perception/acceptance of my sexual identity is generally independent of my choices of relationships, partners, and lifestyles.
  7. It is unlikely that disclosing my sexual identity in a non-sexual context will be taken as a sign of sexual availability or consent.
  8. I can be confident that people will not rename my sexual identity or use different words to describe my identity than I do.
  9. When seen with a partner I’m dating, I can be certain I will be recognized as a member of my sexual-identity group by members of my community.
  10. I do not have to choose between either invisibility (“passing”) or being consistently “othered” and/or tokenized in my community based on my sexual identity.
  11. I am never blamed for upholding heteropatriarchy or cisgender privilege because of the word that I use to identify my sexuality.
  12. I feel welcomed at appropriate services or events that are segregated by sexual identity (for example, straight singles nights, gay community centers, or lesbian-only events).
  13. I can feel sure that if I choose to enter a monogamous relationship, my friends, community, or my partner will continue to accept my sexual identity, without expecting or pressuring me to change it.
  14. I do not need to worry about potential partners shifting instantly from amorous relations to disdain, humiliating treatment, verbal or sexual violence because of my sexual identity.
  15. I can choose to be in a polyamorous relationship without being accused of reinforcing stereotypes against my sexual-identity group.
  16. I can fairly easily find representations of people of my sexual-identity group and my lifestyle in the media and the arts. I encounter such representations without needing to look hard.
  17. If I encounter a fictional, historical or famous figure of my sexual identity, I can be reasonably sure that s/he will be named as such in the text or by the media, reviewers and audience.
  18. I often encounter the word I use to identify myself in the media and the arts. When I hear or read it, I am far less likely to find it in the context of the denial of its existence.
  19. I can find, fairly easily, reading material, institutions, media representations, etc. which give attention specifically to people of my sexual identity.
  20. I can feel certain that normal everyday language will include my sexual identity (“straight and gay alike,” “gay and lesbian,” etc.).
  21. If I am cisgender, I am far less likely to suffer from intimate and sexual violence.
  22. If I am cisgender, I am less likely to suffer from depression or to contemplate suicide.
  23. If I am cisgender, I am far less likely to suffer from poverty.
  24. I am more likely to feel comfortable being open about my sexual identity at work.
  25. I have access to information about the prevalence of STIs in my community as well as prevention methods that are suitable for me. (For example, searching online yields many, accurate and accessible results).
  26. Information about the prevalence of STIs in my community as well as prevention methods suitable for me, are unlikely to be subsumed under those of any other sexual-identity groups.
  27. If I live in a city, I am more likely find medical care that will suit my own particular needs.
  28. If I am cisgender, I am less likely to risk my health by avoiding medical treatment.
  29. I have the privilege of not being aware of my privileges.

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