Here begins part two of my series on bisexuality, where I talk about hetero-leaning bisexuals (hence known as HelB, as opposed to the homo-leaning HoLB) or what many lesbians refers to as straightbians, pretendians, LUGs, etc.
Much has been made in certain corners of the lesbian community about hetero-leaning bisexuals, how they use lesbians for their own purposes and always go back to men after. I can’t speak to how true this is, although there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence. I have a few examples of such anecdotes myself. With that said, I believe this is a real phenomenon and would like to explore it.
The other phenomenon is a hetero-leaning bisexual who had fulfilling relationships with same-sex partners but who found “the one” in an opposite sex partner. This is fair enough, most people do not find “the one” right away, even if they only date within one sex. Most people do a little experimentation within certain parameters (flamers vs. bears, soft butch vs. hard butch, lipstick lesbian, androgynous, etc.) especially when they are younger before they realize their type. The problem seems to be that culturally, the declaration “I’m bisexual” conjures in the lesbian imagination the image of the sexually adventurous straight woman, the sexually repressed/religiously indoctrinated rebellious girl, damaged goods, or the LUG. Where do images generate? Only in the paranormal or psychiatric realm are images captured on film or in the senses with no external event to produce it. Therefore, we can only conclude that there is truth to the fear surrounding the Pretendbian.
In an Ideal World…
Before we can discuss what a bisexual or lesbian is not when touching on the subject of Pretendbians, let’s first discuss what a real bisexual, according to my theory and personal experience, would look like. I haven’t done much research, and there’s not necessary much reliable research out there that hasn’t been subsumed into queer academia. My theory is still being developed, but using myself as an example, here is my idea:
Let us discuss the relatively few legitimate bisexual women, who may or may not end up with a man after a period of dating, casually or seriously. Those who are old enough to remember, or curious enough to research it, remember the transsexual of old. These individuals were almost exclusively gay men who were very feminine and experienced crippling body dysphoria from an early age. Other methods of treatment, physical and psychiatric, had failed them over a period of years and the solution became to treat the dysphoria surgically. No medical procedure can change a person’s sex, but a facsimile can be created that partially relieves that dysphoria and the transsexual can feel just a little more normal. It’s like reconstructive surgery for someone in an accident…you probably won’t look the way you did before, but you feel a little more normal, a little more like the old you, and a little less a walking trauma trigger for the accident. I still hold that medical transition should never be pursued, because of the lack of effectiveness, the risks, and the primarily culture-bound nature of the syndrome. My point remains that transsexuality, at one point, could be assumed to have a biological basis legitimately experienced by a small minority of people. Just as there are many more people claiming gay or lesbian identity than actually exist, just as there are far, far too many people calling themselves transgender and actually insisting that the concept of transsexualism is transphobic, I feel there are far more women claiming bisexuality than actually exist, especially when those people didn’t sense a difference or conflict from early childhood, instead focusing exclusively on men until, say, college when it suddenly becomes “cool” to not be straight. The reason we see so many more people claiming bisexuality than claiming gay orientation or lesbianism is simply because it’s easier to get away with. Ending up with an opposite sex partner after years of building a personal profile of being gay is kind of a giveaway. If the person claims to be bisexual, however, scrutiny disappears and it simply becomes a matter of not finding the right one…who is coincidentally an opposite sex partner. They’re bisexual. It happens. Big deal.
To me, this is what a legitimate bisexual woman from birth would look like, if indeed they do exist: Legitimate bisexuals will know, like gays and lesbians, that they are different from early childhood. Their earliest romantic memories and intense attachments include same sex interests as well as opposite sex interests. They have a sense that they just don’t fit, not with women and not with men. I remember feeling like a changeling, not like a different kind of man or woman, but that I wasn’t really a man or woman at all. I was just…a sexless, genderless thing, a variation on the transsexual narrative of born in the wrong body. I found myself wishing that sex and sexual behavior did not exist. I would be curious if other self-described bisexual women have felt this way.
Women will not develop that boy craziness that stereotypically grips straight teenagers because their loyalties are divided. Women know, subconsciously, that allying with men in that way will deny a significant part of themselves, that men will demand total access to them. They discover and feel, from the bottom of their souls, that men need to be kept on a short leash, and that if they associate with men, it needs to be according to the woman’s (stringent) terms. At the same time, they are reluctant to barge into lesbians spaces because, again, their loyalties are divided and they know it. They are honest about their bisexual feelings and past behaviors because they don’t gain anything and have nothing to hide. What would a real bisexual gain from telling a lesbian partner that they are lesbian if they are not? They would cut off a very real interest in and potential for male partners to come out as lesbians and insert themselves in lesbian spaces.
I am not a man, so I cannot speak to the sexual trajectory of “real” bisexual men, but I imagine that they, like women, don’t feel an automatic draw to the opposite sex and may feel there is something wrong with them as a result. However, I feel their dating habits could go one of two ways: either they will not date or date very little, citing sports, their studies, etc. because they fear being found out by their girlfriends. Or they may date compulsively to prove that they are not gay. Unlike women, men have the option to play the field, to not be questioned, and to be believed. Being straight would not suit them as it would deny their true feelings, but being gay also would not suit them as within the gay community, they fear they may face cultural pressures that they not associate with straight people or date women. Like bisexual women, they know their loyalties are divided, they don’t want to hide it and more than anything, they want to be believed, not pressured to pick a side. Also, there are elements of misogyny in the gay male community, just as in the straight community, and a bisexual man with divided loyalties may not relate. Again citing “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” Bailey extensively documented incidences of misogyny in the gay community that expressed itself as a hatred of femmes or flamers. Bisexual men, like bisexual women, are likely to be gender nonconforming to an extent and it may very well manifest as a feminine man dating a feminine or masculine woman, something that will not go over well in many elements of a hypermasculine gay community.
I theorize that actual bisexuals may process sexual arousal differently, with less entrenched neural pathways that could, theoretically, fire in opposite directions or indiscriminately. Maybe something happened in their early lives that led them to eroticize paradoxically different sexual interests. Maybe they develop relationships and attachments differently, and those patterns lend themselves to a desire for bisexual behavior that’s not purely utilitarian. I don’t know. I don’t have any evidence. It’s just an idea, and an idea I may explore in its own post after collecting some research.
Now that we have covered what a small minority of “real” bisexuals would look like if we were to study them, what about the far more numerous people that claim bisexual identity in the absence of genuine sexual attraction to both sexes? It is here that we start focusing on the Pretendbians.
Many straight women feel sexual desire for men but know the inherent risks of heterosexual behavior, including disease, pregnancy, and intimate partner violence. They have already experienced these things from men after dating them for years or ending a marriage to a man. This creates conflict in the damaged straight partner and may lead them to believe that very few men are aware of their male privilege or sufficiently in control of patriarchal influence to be a suitable partner. Hence they “give up” on men but still have a deep physical and emotional need for intimacy. Hence they become “lesbians.” The process can be conscious or unconscious. A conscious choice is often the result of taking women’s studies in college, meeting a lesbian for the first time, or some other discreet defining event where they learn that being heterosexual isn’t all there is. They may consciously make the switch, call themselves lesbians, and refuse to date men, spend a lot of time deriding men either behind men’s backs or to their faces, partnering only with women as though they were allied forces fighting the axis of evil. Others make the switch unconsciously, raw from abuse or other failures with men and confiding in their girlfriends. Over time, in her brokenness, she develops an attachment that she either hasn’t felt before, or hasn’t felt is a long time. She mistakes it for love, and if the partner is a lesbian and looking, a relationship begins. Maybe the woman in question grew up in a religiously or socially conservative household where sexual or gender mores were strictly, and possibly abusively, enforced. Being free from that environment often leads people to behave like tigers just escaped from the circus. They may drink or use drugs heavily, act out sexually with men, women, or both, experiment with body modifications, drop out of school, or whatever strikes their fancy, trying every vice or curiosity, seeking every intense sensation to make up for lost time. This may lead to someone subconsciously rebelling, seeking new sensations and cultural experiences, by engaging in lesbian behavior. This is also commonly seen in people who have survived any kind of trauma, a recklessness born out of a sense of foreshortened future. I am going to enjoy life, and everything life has to offer, here and now because I don’t think I’ll live much longer. These people often have unprotected sex with opposite or same sex partners, spend large amounts of money impulsively, or do any number of other things out of a desire to live their lives all at one before their supposed expiration date. This is risky for the patient and everyone else they come across, including potential lesbian partners, who have a right to know the motivations and context of the relationship. Then there is simple rebellion and boredom. Women can date lesbian partners for the same bad reasons anyone might date another person…loneliness, gold digging, etc. and it’s not exclusive to pretendbians. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s a problem, or at least I hope not.
Lastly, there is simple confusion, again often seen in abused/negelcted women, who have backgrounds where the expression of intense emotion or physical contact is discouraged, or women who came from homes in which sexual and gender norms are stiflingly rigid. The first time a woman is free to feel a deep emotional connection and express it physically, in total safety and affirmation, very easily translates into mistaken sexual desire. In this place and time, Romantic partnership and marriage are seen almost universally in a positive way, where people who are single by choice or chance are stigmatized and not seen as “real adults,” and where romance and marriage are deemed to be the only emotional attachments that matter, that are sacred, and that deserve deference. This leads people to believe that they are obligated to be involved romantically and cannot be content with their own company, and it also leads them to think that any strong attachment must, therefore, be sexual in nature. Having a deep, complex, enduring, possibly physical bond that goes beyond just friendship, but that is strictly platonic, that isn’t about sex or romance, isn’t possible in most people’s minds. They think that if you can’t marry or copulate, it’s not worth your time. Women from the sexually conservative backgrounds I mentioned are more likely to have been socialized with these mores touting the superiority of romantic or married love and thus, when they feel similar connections with women, feel that they are sexual and that they must therefore be lesbians.
What Else Am I Gonna Do?
Aside from the obvious problem of treating people as halfway houses for damaged goods until said goods get repaired, go back to the place of privilege, leaving the halfway house empty and worse for wear, this attitude stems from a lack of knowledge and alternative options. Most women are ignorant of the real, deep history of feminism, especially of the more radical varieties but the ignorance extends even to old time liberal feminism. Remember, there was a time when liberal feminism was radical as well…think voting, property rights, retaining one’s name after marriage, etc. all highly disputed and damaging to the “natural” order in their time and still are today. Women in this day and age don’t know or care about these things, only the counterfeit, light-to-the-point-of-nonexistent “fun” feminism that emphasized validation and personal choice that we see in more feminist communities today. A feminism where I am raked over the coals for criticizing the fact that most women today still dump their unmarried identities and change their names after marriage, and noting the historically verified, sexist origins of this practice. No joke, this really happened. I was ambushed. Anyway, this level of ignorance of basic women’s history very much explains part of why the concept of feminist separatism is largely unknown, misunderstood and despised. People’s understanding of separatism is limited to claiming lesbian identity and not dating men, which is why straight women disillusioned by men are so attracted to the idea of lesbianism by choice.
The reality is that this option is no option at all. It certainly isn’t an option for lesbian partners who were mislead, abused, abandoned, or heartbroken by partners that were never really interested in them, that were merely, as I described earlier, a halfway house. I remember being a kid and being a target for all the new kids in school. They didn’t know anyone and saw me being mostly alone, and they thought I was safe. I thought they were my friends and poured myself into them in my hunger. Then, once the new kids weren’t new and got to know the student body, they left me for cooler, more popular friends and I was alone again. Intensify this times a few hundred and you can imagine how lesbians are damaged by dishonest partners. It also isn’t an option for the straight partner that isn’t being honest with herself, not addressing her trauma, not learning new skills, and essentially “settling” for a partner rather than seeking relationships that really satisfy her (and allowing the lesbian in the equation to do likewise).
So what can a straight woman do to divest? It turns out there is a rich history of heterosexual feminist separatism that has its focus on celibacy rather than lesbianism. Think Roxanne Dunbar, Lisa Leghorn and Cell 16. They advocated that, instead of denying sexual attraction to men, they remain celibate for life, and exercise celibacy at certain points in their relationships with men. They denied access to men who were not aligned with their feminist objectives and any contact with men was on their own terms. The idea is that they could reform the system from within, interact with men in a way that instructed them how to think and behave around women, that denied them special privileges based on sex and demanded that men share the burdens of women. They insisted on being self-sufficient and not tolerating abuse and exploitation to preserve family or feelings. In addition to protecting and serving women, it is instructive to men and can affect real change in men’s lives and behavior. In fact, they preferred this strategy over lesbianism, which they described as being a personal solution rather than a social revolution.
Even if this history was well known, though, I don’t think it would capture women’s imaginations right away given the culture they are saturated in. We live in a culture where celibacy is viewed solely as the purview of sexually repressed, socially conservative Catholic clergy, mentally unstable women, personality disordered men, as well as people who are just plain ugly, a cardinal sin in patriarchy (ever been asked, “Why are you still single? You could have any man you wanted!”) Our culture increasingly views people who choose not to have sex, or who have certain sexual boundaries, as being disordered and in need of invasive treatments or, alternatively, as bigots in some fashion. Nobody wants to be seen as stuffy, socially conservative, as bigots, or be left out of a sexually libertine culture. Indeed, any exhortation that people show self-restraint, delay gratification, take responsibility for themselves and their lives and work, or put effort, into anything isn’t received positively by many modern liberals. Being a “lesbian” by choice gives the straight partner a way out, a way to be different, be noticed and also be invisible to men, to have the emotional intimacy and sexual release that thy crave but cannot fully satisfy right now. Celibacy, simply, is too hard for them, hence why so many pretendbians joke about how EASY being a lesbian is compared to being straight. (Of course it’s easy for “choice” lesbians, but that’s certainly not true for actual lesbians!)
The misconceptions surrounding celibacy couldn’t be further from the truth. It enacts real change in men and society by refusing to meet the demands of patriarchy, in real life, in every facet of life including the home and the bedroom, and in a way that cuts deep to the heart of male entitlement. It’s obvious how separatism benefits women but what isn’t emphasized is how it benefits the most vulnerable women. Poor and minority women do not have the resources to take care of children left to them by men who cannot be bothered and do not have the legal representation to protest their abuse and exploitation. Heteronormativity encourages dependence and interacting with men and their institutions highlights women’s perceive inadequacies. If women focused on developing their own capital and new skills, especially those traditionally perceived as male, they have the tools to resist patriarchy. Their instructors and helpers may very well be men schooled in separatist feminism and seeking to make their contribution to the women they love and womankind in general. If not, women will be aided by other women who have the tools needed to survive and thrive in an arena where women are David and men are Goliath. Lesbianism cannot do this vitally necessary work. Lesbianism has its own, equally important job, primarily for lesbians but for all women, in creating a refuge and building women up. It is a definite, unassailable “No!” to men, which is why so many M2Ts want to co-opt lesbians as a conquest. Men need to be introduced to the idea that women are not universally available to them, which is what the word “lesbian” says, and that’s part of what is so destructive of distorting the meaning of lesbian to include bisexual women or pretendbians. It removes the potency of that “No!” Yet if you are not actually lesbian, it is not your place to say that “No!” Your place is to define and enforce conditions…”Yes to this, no to that,” “Yes, but only if,” “No, if xyz happens.” Lesbianism is where woman-centric sentiment is born and celibate separatism is the place and the instrument where it makes inroads. Celibate separatism challenges the idea that I talked about earlier that married, romantic, and sexual partnerships are the only real, deep partnerships that matter. Celibate separatism has the potential to foster genuine friendships and partnerships between men and women, and also between women themselves, that are not merely sexual and therefore challenge the dominance of sexuality in our cultural relationship narrative.
It takes courage to be lesbian in a sexist and heterosexist culture, but it takes just as much of a different kind of courage to be a celibate separatist. You deny yourself the privilege of sexual fulfillment and offer it up in principle to the suffering of women who are not able to deny men access, sexually or otherwise. You shun the privileges that come with marriage and men to serve women and in doing that, you invite the harassment and condemnation, possibly the violence, of men. You have all the reasons in the world to be involved with men, unlike lesbians, but you choose to forgo all that for a greater cause.
The satisfaction and genuine empowerment that comes from that stance is high above the temporary, superficial, and ill-gotten satisfaction of using lesbians as a halfway house. The time is long overdue that straight women tighten the leash or cut ties altogether. It’s time for women to push back.