You don't need me to tell you that bi people are often excluded from the larger LGBTI community. The research that illustrates the drastic health disparities bi folks face makes this abundantly clear. Not to mention the countless personal narratives that detail our exclusion from larger LGBTI spaces.
I've been thinking more and more as to why we're excluded. Why, according to so many people, we don't deserve a seat at the queer table.
Often, I hear gay folks say one thing in particular as to why they believe bi people aren't a part (or shouldn't be a part) of the larger LGBTI community: We have the "option" to be with someone of a different sex. Gay men who are only emotionally and physically attracted to other men don't have that option. This is undoubtedly true and something I cannot argue against.
However, I don't agree with how they view bi folks' "choice." It implies a level of logic and level-headedness with whom I fall in love. As a gay, straight, or person of any other sexual orientation knows, attraction isn't a rational and logical emotion. It's not something I choose. I don't "choose" to fall in love with a man or woman; I simply do. Just like gay men can't choose which man they happen to fall in love with, I can't willingly choose a gender. I could deny myself love in the hopes of a so-called "less resistant straight path," but then is that really a free choice? That's simply me denying my attractions to a person. That doesn't sound like a privileged, less resistant path or real choice at all.
So while we can be attracted to various genders, I disagree that we choose who we fall in love with. Nevertheless, as I briefly touched upon, bi folks can choose to deny our attractions to a gender, although, as nearly every bi person will tell you, this doesn't end well. In fact, it's a large part of what contributes to bi individuals' higher rates of depression and anxiety.
Now a parallel note to this idea of "choice" is this idea that we're on "teams." This is another thing I hear from monosexuals. So if you are a gay man, you are apparently on "team gay," and if you are a straight woman, you're on "team straight." When it comes to discussing sexuality, particularly bisexuality, this notion of teams comes up often. When I've told people I'm bi, I've received a follow-up question of, "So you play for both teams?"
For bi men, this isn't necessarily a huge problem, but for bi women, it can be. I've spoken to bi women time and time again who have been ostracized by their lesbian peers when, after years of dating women, they start dating men. I've learned that many lesbians see this as an act of betrayal. In fact, it seems like the cardinal sin of the lesbian code: Don't date a man. However, these women never lied about their identity. Either they claimed the bi label while dating women, or unexpectedly, they fell in love with a man. As we know, who we fall in love with isn't a choice. So while they've only dated women before, for some ineffable reason, they fell in love with a man this time.
This is unacceptable in many lesbian circles and can lead to ex-communication from a lesbian friend group.
Now the idea that we're on teams is ludicrous. First of all, if we want to continue with this dreadful analogy, athletes get traded from team to team all the time. There's never any "loyalty" to a certain team.
But second and more importantly, this creates an antagonistic viewpoint of sexualities that are not your own. In other words, gay people should not feel that they're against straight people. Yes, gay folks need their own communities, their own safe spaces, their own places to express themselves freely, but they do not exist in active opposition to straight folks. Similarly, I would say you're homophobic if you're a straight person who believes that your existence is against gay people. That being a part of the "straight" team, it is your job to "defeat" the gay team. Whatever the hell "defeat" means in this context.
I believe this all goes back to the idea of "choice." If a gay person believes that you can "choose" to be in a "straight relationship" (I hate this term, but that's too often what folks call it), then you are actively choosing to reject being part of the "gay" team. I can imagine this hurts. I can only imagine the pain I would feel if I was a lesbian, who fell in love with another woman, and that woman left me for a man. I would undoubtedly feel betrayed. I would feel that not only was I rejected but the larger lesbian community was also rejected as well.
So I see why we use this language of teams when discussing sexuality. I understand why we feel hurt and betrayed. But that's exactly why we need to change the language, and subsequently, our viewpoints on sexuality.
Being hurt is not the equivalent of being betrayed. Happening to fall in love with someone of a different gender doesn't make you any less queer, as whom we fall in love with isn't a logical or rational choice. Dating someone of a different gender doesn't mean you're no longer a part of the LGBTI community.
It's time we stopped thinking we're people on teams and instead realized that we're just people. As people, our attractions, emotions, and feelings towards various genders can change. It's not an act of betrayal; it's simply an act of being human.