Smugsexual and the closet: two faces of feminist biphobia

Over the last few days, I have found myself experiencing a shuddering anxiety which had been at bay for years. I’ve been made to feel ashamed for my queer, poly sexuality. I have been made to feel like maybe I should just shut the hell up and stop being so open about this part of my identity, because it’s bad and wrong and whatever the hell else. I know, in my head, that this is just how heterosexist patriarchy wants me to feel so I will stay in my allocated place. That doesn’t stop it getting to me.

It all started with a complicated situation wherein a feminist blogger started attacking a feminist woman of colour, seemingly inexplicably. The aggressor then wrote a blog to defend her stance, in which she decided to air her grievances with a number of other women. It has been critiqued here, by Sam Ambreen. In it was the following line, which rang a few alarm bells for dogwhistle biphobia:

I will not go along with the lie that any white, cis, middle-class blogger who announces she is [made-up word] sexual is therefore just as oppressed as those she claims to represent.

When challenged, it became all the more obvious what she was driving at. I should note from later tweets, one of the people she means here is me:

Glosswitch  Glosswitch  on Twitter

All together, this “smugsexuals” rant displays a number of tropes which occupy the intersections of biphobia and misogyny, and I’m not even going to go into how blatantly little she doesn’t understand how intersectionality and privilege work, as this is fairly self-evident. First is the assertion that queer sexualities are “made up”, that any language we use to describe our experiences is somehow not real. I’d have thought we’d moved to a position where we could at least acknowledge that some people don’t fall neatly into little filing drawers marked “gay” or “straight”, but between this and the nonsense surrounding Tom Daley’s coming out, it is abundantly clear that we still haven’t even gained this little bit of ground.

Second is the implication that queer folk are attention-seeking, embodied in this mention of smugness. This notion of “attention-seeking” is levelled at bi and queer women far too much, and it’s tangled in all sorts of hideous assumptions about queer sex and what a woman should do. Heterosexist patriarchy wants us to be quiet, keep our pretty little heads down and if we stray outside the norms we must be doing it for the attention of men.

I am open about my identity because it’s a part of me that I spent a long time coming to terms with. And I also talk about it a lot because I know that when I was coming to terms with it, seeing people being out and unabashed really helped me understand, and gave me the courage and strength to be out myself.

My friend Charlie wrote this beautiful and heartfelt post a while back about how straight people often ask why her sexuality is so important to her. There is such an assumption amongst straight people that we’re just going on about it and obsessing over one aspect of ourselves, while nobody ever pays any attention to straight people talking about marriage and dating and so forth. It’s the same thing, our lives are just… well… queerer. Our love is important to us. This is a given.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what Glosswitch intended when she developed this brand new slur to smack down queer women with. What she has said takes place against the backdrop of policing of women’s sexuality, of a societal disgust levelled at queer people. This “smugsexual” slur is just a shorter word for what is usually yelled at us.

And it’s facing this, and seeing it go relatively unchallenged, hits me. It took me a long time to overcome all the horrible stuff I had internalised, and having it repeated and spat back into my face really fucking hurts. It’s enough to make me want to go back into the closet.

…except, according to the other face of biphobia considered acceptable in feminism, I’m already there.

Julie Bindel  bindelj  on Twitter (1)

This position is rooted in a feminism which likes to police women’s behaviour and coerce them into lesbianism, and it’s not like Julie Bindel doesn’t have a track record with this. It was because of the dominance of this feminism–in conjunction with general societal monosexual supremacy–that I still sometimes find myself saying I am a lesbian rather than being truthful about who and how I love. The expectation of this kind of feminism is that we should pack away a part of ourselves, stick it into a locked box and bury it under six feet of concrete, rather than living and loving to the fullest extent possible.

This kind of rigid feminism is, thankfully, in decline, and I expect to see less of this kind of rhetoric in the future. What we’ll see more of, though, is this new biphobia. As @nanayasleeps puts it, we’ve gone from “the love that dare not speak its name” to “the love that will not shut up”. Where once we were silent and we hid in the shadows of the closet, we are now too loud, too unreasonable, asking for too much and waving our sexuality in the face of others.

Bisexual people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than lesbian, gay or straight people, and it’s unlikely that our sexual orientation is a product of our madness. Rather, it is because we end up facing an ugly pincer manoeuvre of prejudice, from all corners. We are told we do not exist, and when we point out that we do, we are told to fuck off because we’re being smug about it. It is a grinding daily stressor, with little support offered to us, as most deny that biphobia even exists.

There is nothing more scary to heterosexist patriarchy than a queer woman who is not afraid to speak out, who cuts through the silence like a hot knife through butter.

I love people of all genders. I am satisfied with my sex life. I am at peace with the fact that I am not like the others. I am secure in the knowledge that I know who I am, and I kind of like it. If that makes me smug, so be it. I wish nothing but smugness on the rest of my queer sisters.

Edit 10/12/13: For the record, Glosswitch replied. Here are her tweets: 1 2 3 4. Here is how I responded: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.

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16 responses to “Smugsexual and the closet: two faces of feminist biphobia

  • syrbal-labrys

    How sad that women would find this terrible judgmental attitude among the very women they might turn to for support and help (feminists), and how utterly infuriating and pathetic at once it is that there is the insistence that people accept derogative labels for their sexual identities.

    Me? I am in a long term hetero monogamous marriage, but I always thought anything that limited the options for love and a vibrant sexuality leading to satisfaction and the solace that relationship brings was a bad thing. Love, even sexual love, should be without limits among consenting adults. And the idea that semantics should be the boundary is very repugnant.

  • Michelle Gaye Dyason

    i could be wrong but… isn’t placing an article in front a collective noun giving it artifice by which i mean giving it presence drawing out individuality and therefore can claim to represent something. alternatively if the article is dropped to become independent of representation so only the embodiment, a sexuality. equals

  • Amelia

    I’ve nothing of substance to add, but just want to mention my support and respect for you, and your not shutting up.

  • Melissa Thompson

    Isn’t this a bit misleading? I read the ‘smugsexual’ blog and the responses. To me it was a critique of a group whose intention isn’t so much about being open & celebrating different sexualities but rather showing off about them.
    I’m not straight, and aware my above comments could be misinterpreted as “I’m not biphobic but just don’t rub it in my face” but it isn’t that.
    I think it’s great people like to shag/form relationships with all sorts. But just do it, write about it if it need be but just don’t be so…smug about it. It’s not aa much of a big deal as you make it.

    • stavvers

      Ok, so let’s talk about the notion of “showing off”. When we seen that phrase levelled at women, it’s almost universally just to get at women for merely existing. Think, for example of how the Daily Mail says women are “showing off” their bodies for just wearing a bikini at the beach, etc, etc.

      This goes the same for existing while openly bisexual. As I said, this misogyny and desire to police women interacts with biphobia to produce narratives of an attention-seeking bisexual.

      It may not be that GW intended her comments to come across this way, but it is literally indistinguishable from stuff that has been said to me by men and women alike, and I know that a lot of queer women feel the same way.

      Ultimately, this “smugness” is being open about one’s sexuality. Of writing about it when it is pertinent. It’s nice for you that your sexual orientation isn’t an integral part of your identity, but for a lot of us it is. I hope that you read Charlie’s blog–which I linked above–to see just how it can be important for us queer women.

      • Spudman101

        The thing is, it’s not like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, shaming of non-mono non-heterosexualities, etc. are ancient history and it’s not like there aren’t people who think they should be ashamed of their sexuality. As such it is important to have people who are bi/queer/poly/whatever who can be seen to unashamedly enjoy their lives and their sexualities.

        Also there is the problem that this isn’t really aimed at smugness. It’s not aimed at smug ‘lads’ boasting about there sex lives or any attitudes about general sexuality. It’s not a case of ‘why are you so smug about your sexuality’ it’s a case of ‘why are you so smug about *that* sexuality’.

        Rather than smugness, it’s about the ability of people to speak openly about their sexuality in a world where not everyone is able to, and if a few people are comfortable enough to ‘show off’ then that doesn’t even go half way to offset the people who are forced to hide who they are.

        At least that’s how it seems to me. (Sorry this is a bit stream on consciousness).

        • stavvers

          I’d add that it’s explicitly aimed at non-normative sexualities. Her comment about “[made up word] sexual” makes this clear.

    • tinyorc

      “being open & celebrating different sexualities but rather showing off about them.”

      Who decides when being open and celebrating crosses the line into “showing off”? Is it straight people, by any chance?

      “write about it if it need be”

      Who decides when it’s necessary to write about it? Is it straight people again?

  • Argonne

    Please stay angry, stay out, and active. Almost everything you publish here teaches me something new, even if it’s just that there are people who find anyone who doesn’t fit into a neat little box to be wrong or odd. (Where have I been living? Under a rock?!)

    Anyone who wants to regulate other people’s sexuality, or anything else, is at least a little fucked in the head. Seriously.

    I don’t care what you do, so long as you do it consensually, and I wish that everyone else felt the same way.

    PS Please give your friend Charlie a hug for me. I won’t comment on that piece, but it also resonated for me.

  • Roz Kaveney (@RozKaveney)

    There’s always a smoking gun in a piece like Glosswitch’s. She refers to someone calling a woman who had been a victim of domestic violence ‘a transphobic piece of shit’. That’s not language I would use, but the fact of the matter is that Nigella Lawson’s anti-trans piece in the Times in 1996 was and remains pretty disgusting, In the matter of her violent abuse by her ex-husband Charles Saatchi, one is totally in solidarity; in other areas, like her transphobia, not so much. One of the consequences of intersectional thinking is that there is no get out of jail free card. people who are oppressed in one area can be oppressors in another, Glosswitch presumably knows this perfectly well, which would imply that, actually, she doesn’t regard transphobia as being quite as important as other oppressions.

    This is quite strong evidence that she is being specifically biphobic, since biphobia and transphobia do tend to go together,

    • stavvers

      I’ll hold my hands up and say I wrote the tweet in question, in reply to a man being a dick about Nigella. Here they are:

  • unchartedworlds

    Yay queer poly sexuality! and sending vibes of resilience your way for fending off the stigma applied to it.

    Also, thanks for this analysis. I was puzzling over the “smugsexual” thing and this does make sense, though I’m also waiting to see what Glosswitch says back about it. (just wrote a long comment at hers, though it didn’t appear straight away – probably in moderation.)

  • ischemgeek

    Yes. I get this.

    I’m pansexual. Until last year, though, I ID’d as bi.

    Biphobia where I live is annoyingly common.

    To the point that three years ago, the president of the local GBLTQIA association once told me that bisexuals are really just barsexuals and in it for the attention.

    And so I stayed closeted.

    In a supposed GBLTQIA safe space.

    The GBLTQIA people wondered why I quit coming around and brushed me off as a straight well-wisher. Yeahno. Biphobia is a turnoff for bisexuals. Fancy that.

  • wendolen

    Got here via your gaslighting post, so I’m commenting to say: I see it, too. (Except in this case, I literally don’t, because Glosswitch has deleted all the posts you link to! Too bad, so sad! But the structural biphobia, yeah, and I yell about it every day.)

  • Angela L.

    Reblogged this on classyasfemme and commented:
    Amazing thoughts on being pan/bisexual among the hetero community and LGBT community

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