LGBT+ Spotlight

I Am Not Your Porn Tag – The Weight of Bisexual Fetishisation

A wlw couple are set against a background of wavey lines in pink, purple, and blue
Illustration by Rahima Bhatti, @rahima.creative

By Rahima Bhatti

“Aren’t you a bit young for that girls?”

A middle-aged man smirks at me at age 15, standing outside school, holding hands with my girlfriend. It makes my skin feel like it’s going to turn inside out, but I just smile in hope that he’ll leave us alone.

These experiences stick with you, they ingrain themselves in your consciousness, making every man that looks at me in the same way take me back to that moment, and how dirty and uncomfortable it made me feel. That man wasn’t an anomaly or an exception. He’s there when I’m walking home in a skirt, he’s watching me and my girlfriend dance in the club, he’s asking us for threesomes, he’d follow us down dark streets on the way home. He does this because he feels entitled to my body, my girlfriend’s body. Women’s bodies.

The hyper-sexualisation of bisexual people is ultimately dehumanising, and invalidating of our feelings and experiences, allowing for interactions like these. It isn’t as innocent as a lighthearted joke or passing comment. We were children on our lunch break in our school uniforms, we were vulnerable in a situation where an older dominant male could sexualise and humiliate us, implying that there is an ‘age requirement’ to love someone of the same gender. As if same-sex relationships, especially between women, can only be sexual or for male consumption, even if you’re a child.

In retrospect it’s still so clear, I can still remember how he made me feel: uncomfortable in my own skin, dirty and insignificant, like this man had intruded into my universe and spat on it.

 I realise now that he had made me feel this way because he had projected onto my relationship and my feelings, and tainted them with a dirty misconception or assumption he had made from porn. It’s uncanny because this 15 second interaction will probably never cross his mind again, and yet it’s affected me enough to still be analysing it 6 years later. This has enabled me to view it as a symptom of wider patriarchal systems that already objectify and sexualise women despite their sexuality.

He had taken something that was mine, something innocent and exciting and beautiful as a young person experiencing feelings like that for the first time. He came into my world and took something that was complex and multitudinous and diminished it into something dirty. To me, this reinforced the narrative that my space as a woman, and specifically a queer woman, is less dominant or valid in this world than his, or people that look like him.

The problem is that these incidents that you experience as a queer person, do not exist in a vacuum. They occur within a system that still upholds patriarchal narratives, enabling the objectification of women, and reinforce it through the pornification of culture, as R. Amundsen would describe in Feminist Media Studies.

The fetishisation of bisexual women neglects their capacity to love without male influence, and by extension dehumanises them. It is the direct result of a narrative constructed by pornography, which becomes problematic when you realise that this is the key educational tool for young people and it is this that reinforces and shapes these perceptions of queer people as commodity, while also aiding male entitlement.

’Lesbian’ porn is within the top 5 most searched categories on PornHub, and although it’s also popular with women, it could be argued that it is predominantly manufactured for the Male Gaze, as Laura Mulvey may describe, rather than focusing on female pleasure. It is literally produced by men, for men as the consumer rather than gay women. So, within a culture where men are consistently bathed in the narrative that women are for their consumption, with it being considered more attractive when men aren’t even involved, it is unsurprising when men in the street bring that into real life and think that your relationship is also for them.

More personally, an ex-boyfriend told me that he wouldn’t mind if I got with a girl, because it just “wouldn’t be the same” as if it were a boy, because when boys think of bisexual, or same-sex attraction they think of a hyper-femme, for the male gaze dynamic. They would not have the same feelings if the girl I ‘got with’ didn’t fit this trope, if it wasn’t attractive enough for them.

Pornography through the lens of the male gaze can be argued to reinforce oppressive narratives about women, specifically queer women, that translate into issues of bi-phobia in wider culture and more specifically, the double standard for bisexual men.

Bisexual women are seen as exciting to straight men, but bisexual men are seen as repulsive. Sexualisation is not acceptance, although sometimes it can feel like it is, it’s another form of dehumanisation through objectification. Bisexual women are often seen as a challenge or component to a threesome fantasy, and bisexual men are seen as secretly gay – insinuating that there is no valid option other than having romantic and sexual relationships with men.

This assumption that both bisexual men and women either perform for men, or will ultimately end up with a man, is an example of bi-erasure and assumes that sexuality is binary. So although bisexual women are sexualised by the male gaze, bisexual men tend to have the ‘confused’ card projected onto them much more consistently. However, both experiences are incredibly harmful growing up when you’re trying to navigate your identity.

Something so complex as human sexuality and emotion cannot be reduced to two distinguishable categories, and as a bisexual person it’s hard to find your identity even within the LGBTQ+ community. It’s easy to believe that you’re sitting on a metaphorical fence in between two options, when every narrative within culture  that you are consumed by leads you to believe that you’re confused and must ‘pick a side’. But we’re human beings, and we’re allowed to just be.

You are not confused. You are not going through a phase. You are not just actually gay, or actually straight. You are a conscious being with the capacity to love, and if you’re currently grappling with your sexuality, this is a reminder that it is completely valid and normal to feel what you feel.

Human nature, relationships and the extent of emotion and sexuality are incredibly complex, and fluid. To be able to love so vehemently is powerful and beautiful, to love someone for their being rather than their gender is incandescent.

You are allowed to just be, you are allowed to love and to be proud of that. I am proud of that.


Have a read of the first in our ‘I Am Not Your Porn Tag’ series here.

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