The Myth of Straight Passing Privilege

By Brittney White

October 07, 2017

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Photo credit: Photo by Jenna Jacobs on Unsplash

I have a bone to pick with the LGBTQ+ community, and that bone is named straight passing. You see, a common thing bi people hear is that we're privileged because we can pass as straight. I don't buy this. I don't think that being viewed as straight by people, queer and straight, is a privilege. It's invisibility. It's a life of being forced to live in the closet. That, in my opinion, is the opposite of privilege.

It's amazing to me how this phenomenon is called straight passing when it comes to bi people, but it's correctly called being in the closet when applied to gay men and lesbians. When someone references being in the closet, there's an immediate negative connotation to it. It's seen as a bad thing. You're not usually there because you want to be, and if you are there by choice it's because you've deemed the closet as being safer than being out.

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For bi people, the latter is usually true. This is especially true for bi women. The numbers for sexual assault, rape, abuse, and stalking are astronomically high for us. For example, a 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a full 61.1% of bisexual women had experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. That's 26.1% more than straight women and 17.3% more than lesbian women.

When you use the phrase straight passing there's this image of, well, privilege. It makes it sound as if we're purposely pretending to be straight in order to get all the special things straight people get. It makes it sound as if we're somehow ashamed of our bi-ness and trying to run and hide from it. That couldn't be farther from the truth. The invisibility forced upon us from being in the closet and seen as exclusively straight or gay is damaging. Being seen as only straight or gay means that we're grouped in with these groups and issues directly affecting us are either severely underfunded or completely overlooked.

In addition to all of this, it simply does not make sense to claim passing as straight (i.e., being in the closet) is a privilege. I get to live the rest of my life in the closet, never acknowledging my love for or attraction to people of the same gender? That sounds just peachy! Deliberately limiting who I allow myself to express love and attraction to? That's just the greatest.

It's such a privilege to have a major part of myself rendered invisible for the rest of my life and into the afterlife. Why into the afterlife? Because no one will say the dreaded b-word after I'm dead and gone. I'll just be straight (or gay depending on who I last slept with) for the rest of eternity.

We need to divorce ourselves from the idea that queer oppression can only be experienced in one particular way. While I may not have to worry about holding my partner's hand in public if they happen to be a man or perceived as a man, I do have to worry about my bisexuality being instantly erased. For the bi non-binary person, they have to worry about being misgendered as either strictly a man or woman so they can be packaged neatly into the gay/straight binary. Once people find out that we don't fit neatly into their little sexuality boxes, things don't tend to go well.

Stop and think for a moment before calling a bi person straight passing and claiming they have privilege because of it. We're not. We're in the closet. We're either in the closet for our own safety or because we've been forcibly put there by people who don't believe us when we say we're bi. If everyone else isn't straight passing when they're in the closet, neither are we.

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