Two years ago, I was introduced to a term that quickly found its way into my vocabulary. I’ve used this term in discussions, in my 101 classes, and in various critiques about society. Last year I used the term in a post on Tumblr to describe the importance of MGA-only support groups for bisexuals/pansexuals/multisexual+ individuals and was confronted by a lesbian woman about my use of the term. The word was “monosexual”.
Monosexual has been a useful term for me. It’s allowed me to describe those that did not identify as multi-gendered attracted while highlighting the difference between the social issues faced by bisexual/pansexual/multisexual+ individuals that non-MGA individuals do not face or do not face to the same degree.
But the term monosexual, and more importantly, monosexism, is not one that has met a warm welcome in the discourses on various social platforms. A quick scroll through the “monosexism” tag on Tumblr can show you that much. Shiri Eisner, the Bi activist who can be credited with the popularizing of the term in recent years, has faced a lot of personal backlash in this tag. This backlash has mistakenly given Eisner credit for the creation of the term, as well as inaccurately placed gay individuals on the same level of power as straight individuals.
This inaccurate leveling out of power between gay individuals and straight individuals seems to be a key part of the hatred towards the term “monosexism”, and by taking a closer look at the actual term, as well as the occasional necessity of placing non-privileged and privileged groups under a term intended to critique the pervasiveness of society, it may be possible to see the usefulness of the word “monosexism” in discussions of social systems.
I don’t expect to sway those who have a full and complex hatred of the term, but to educate people about monosexism; what it is, how it effects bisexuals/pansexuals+, and how it differs from bi/panphobia.
Before I get into the main content, it may be helpful to some if I introduced some of the vocabulary I’ll be using in this article.
Monosexism: the social system according to which everyone is, or should be, monosexual. Including social rewards for monosexual people and punishment against bisexual and other non-monosexual people. (Definition taken straight from Shiri Eisner’s Book “Bi; Notes for a Bisexual Revolution”, which can be purchased on Amazon here)
MGA: a shorthand term to describe individuals with, and sexualities involving, an attraction to multiple genders. These include bisexuality, pansexuality, multisexuality, polysexuality, and omnisexuality.
Heterosexism: The social system under which everyone is, or should be, heterosexual. This is enforced systematically.
Biphobia/Panphobia: defined most simply and accurately as an aversion, fear, or hatred of bisexual/pansexual individuals.
As previously mentioned, “monosexism” has gotten a lot of pushback from the LGBTQIAP+ community, mainly (in my experience, I don’t expect everyone to be able to relate to this statement) from lesbian activists, who see it as a dangerous “catch-all” kind of term that lumps LG individuals in with their oppressors. I’ll get into that later in the article. Right now, let’s focus on exactly what monosexism is, and how it’s enforced.
Throughout this article, it is important to remember that monosexism is perpetrated by both gay individuals and straight individuals, in similar ways but not through the same power structure.
When a straight-cisgender individual enforces monosexuality, they do it through popular culture and social stigma. These individuals use the overarching power structures their privilege allows them to access to actively perpetuate monosexism. In fact, in one of many questions they were asked about monosexism, Shiri Eisner states that monosexism “first and foremost comes from heterosexism and the patriarchy.”
“99.999999999% of it comes from heterosexual culture. So for me, monosexism is a term that allows us to look at it all the ways that the “broader” culture created oppression against bisexuals*. In addition, it allows us to consider monosexism as a structure that affects everyone instead of just bi* people – for example, by limiting other people’s options.” – Shiri Eisner, on the difference between monosexism and biphobia.
The post can be found here.
When gay or lesbian (and in some cases straight transgender) individuals enforces monosexuality, they do it within the LGBTQIAP+ community. People within the LGBTQIAP+ community do not have the access to complete power structures that those outside of it possess. In many cases, their monosexism is simply reinforced by the straight/cisgender community through indirect action. Most of the direct action of the LGBTQIAP+ community could more accurately be classified as biphobia/panphobia*, because of this lack of power structure. That said, as the most dominate forces of the LGTBQIAP+ gay and lesbian individuals have a kind of power within the community.
Many of the following examples are perpetuated by the power structure held by those outside of the LGBTQIAP+, as well as the LG (and, as previously stated, some straight transgender individuals) within the community. The examples I am about to go into are not nearly all of the ways in which monosexism is perpetuated, merely a select few that I decided to discuss.
All bisexuals/pansexuals are actually straight (girls)/gay (boys)
This is one of the most common forms of bi erasure, but also is often used through monosexism to enforce other the examples I will discuss. The belief that all MGA individuals are actually straight is biphobia that directly stems from monosexism, as it reinforces the idea that being attracted to a single gender is the true norm, and that people claiming otherwise are lying. By this stereotype, bisexuals and pansexuals alike are told that there are only two true sexualities, both monosexual. Because of this belief, many multisexuals are excluded from events, community, and access to aid unless they revoke their multisexual status in favor of gay or straight (a point mentioned again in another example).
Bisexuals being labeled according to the gender of their partner
Quite frequently, MGA individuals are labeled according to who they are involved with. While this may result in a bisexual individual being labeled as a lesbian, or as gay, it most commonly leads to an enforcement of a heteronormative relabeling of bisexuals/pansexuals. This means that many bisexual women, bisexual men, and nonbinary bisexuals will be seen as straight by those outside of the MGA community. Because of this, MGA individuals are told they maintain a level of privilege over non-MGA individuals. I won’t go into the specifics of “passing” privilege in this article, but it is vital for people to look at the ways in which the idea of “passing” privilege is influenced by reinforcing of heteronormativity and monosexism.
A lack of funding towards Bi and Pan nonprofits
Bisexuals need funding, pansexuals need funding. Yet we more receive very little from both outside and within the LGBTQIAP+ community. According to a study by the Funders for LGBTQ Issues, in 2010 $0 out of $97,189,139 went to the Bisexual community. Out of over $100 million tracked from 2008-2012, only $5000 went to Bi specific projects. Without the financial assistance that gay, lesbian, and some transgender groups (a group experience an increase in funding, but still incredibly underfunded compared to LG groups), Bisexual organizations are limited in their ability to help other MGA individuals. We end up relying on studies done by LG organizations, and LG Allied orgs, for information about demographics, while simultaneously fighting for recognition in these same studies.
A recent example of this happened last year. In a summary report of a demographic study, the news outlet LGBT+ News took the results of the study, which included numbers specifically for Bisexual individuals, and used the Bi numbers to pad the numbers of LG findings.
Leaving Bisexuals/Pansexuals out of LGBTQIAP+ Causes and Events*
This example doubles up with biphobia and panphobia, but is heavily influenced by monosexism. When organizations have names that are focused on the LG, or use exclusive language like “gay marriage” rather than “marriage equality”, they are aiding in the exclusion of MGA individuals from these causes. Gay individuals are not the only ones that want to have the freedom to marry who they want, bisexuals/pansexuals and other MGA individuals do to. Like I stated in a previous point, MGA people are not defined by the gender of who they are in a relationship with. While these organizations may be filled with good intentions, and accomplish much in their advocacy and activism work, inclusive language is important in fighting monosexism.
*It’s also important to note that transgender individuals also suffer as a result of this.
Monosexism fuels biphobia, but it isn’t inherently something that can be interchanged with biphobia/panphobia.
Lacking the access to preexisting power structures available to those who have the privilege of being cisgender and straight, much of what the LGBTQIAP+ community perpetuates is biphobia. The cisgender-straight individuals bisexuals/pansexuals interact with daily also perpetuate a lot of biphobia through their actions. Some examples include, but are not limited to…
- Refusing to date bisexuals
While this is an example that is hotly contested by non-MGA individuals, an exclusion of bisexuals from a dating pool is not only biphobic, but it’s built directly on a foundation of monosexism. The sole reason (again, something I’ve seen in my own experiences*) that people exclude bisexuals from their dating pool is because of a fear that they will cheat on the with another gender; often represented by a fear some lesbian women have that bisexual women will “go back to men”. This is monosexist as it perpetuates an idea that bisexuals are actually straight and that bisexuality does not actually exist.
*As an individual that does not have an intimate connection with the struggles of bisexual men dating gay men, I cannot speak towards their struggles with specifics.
- Violence against bisexuals/MGA individuals from their partners
This form of biphobia is also an example of the violence used to enforce not only monosexism, but heterosexism as well. Bisexuals are often seen as untrustworthy by their partners. This stereotype creates dangerous situations for all bisexual individuals, and result in extremely high statistics of intimate partner violence. Because bisexuals date people of various genders, it depends on the gender of the partner as to whether this violence is a monosexist enforcement or a hetersexist enforcement.
The key to stopping biphobia may seem to be simple education, but with biphobia being based off monosexism, we must work to tackle monosexism and heteronormativity. Activists need to remain vigilant of their actions, and allies have to work to address monosexism in the way they interact with their LGBTQIAP+ friends as well as non-LGBTQIAP+ friends.
I can’t sit here and say I don’t understand the disdain for the term “monosexism”, despite my own opinion on the term, but as one of many terms that could be seen as “lumping victims in with their oppressors” it is the most debated one.
In reality, we lump victims in with their oppressors through many different descriptive terms during our examinations and critiques of society. Trans individuals can be straight, and work against gay/lesbian/MGA/asexual individuals. Cisgender gay/lesbian/MGA/asexual individuals can be transphobic and work against transgender individuals.
Terms like “cisgender”, “straight”, “monosexual” simply describe a certain group connected by a demographic descriptor. They do not take into account the various layers in these groups, because when critiquing certain privileges and aspects of society, the other layers don’t often matter.
The terms are not designed to make those inside of the category feel comfortable, rather they allow the other group to critique various parts of the social systems they are a part of and effected by. All cisgender individuals benefit from the fact that they are cisgender, just as all straight individuals benefit from the fact that they are straight. Ignoring the benefits of being attracted to a single gender, in a society that punishes MGA individuals through exclusion, heightened violence, and erasure of identity, is ignoring the very real effects of that exclusion.
Bisexual individuals face higher levels of sexual violence than other sexual orientation groups. They face higher rates of poverty and homelessness than other sexual orientation groups. They face higher rates of mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and use of unhealthy coping techniques (alcohol, smoking tobacco, other kinds of drugs and addictive substances).