"I think there’s this idea that bi people just struggle with the same things as gay people. I don’t think people realise that the bi experience is fundamentally different to the gay or straight experience, instead of being a 'half-and-half' thing. There’s a feeling that biphobia is just taken care of when progress against homophobia is made which is far from the case. Biphobia is a lot more insidious than that, and it takes proud bi voices within the community to make a difference". Felix O'Connor is a student, trans activist, aspiring screenwriter and occasional slam poet.
You identify as a bisexual, non-binary trans man – can you offer some insight into your journey so far? I came out originally as a bi woman in the summer of 2014 [right out of secondary school] and spent a little while getting to know the LGBT+ community from that perspective through youth groups like BeLonGTo. When I started college I joined Q Soc [Trinity’s LGBT+ society] immediately and I started considering that I might be trans.
I came out [again] that November and asked people to start calling me Felix and use he/him pronouns. At the time, I considered myself predominantly interested in women. I’d even contemplated just calling myself a lesbian for ease before I realised I was trans, because I didn’t see myself dating any more straight men. I mean – I wasn’t wrong.
I started testosterone hormone therapy in June 2015. As I started to be recognised as more masculine and I felt less dysphoric, I also became more comfortable expressing my attractions to men. The queer community is where I’ve always felt kinship and I did, for a little while there, have to grapple with the possibility of being [shock horror!] a straight man and feeling less at home in the community. Some of that was internalised biphobia, something I definitely struggle with.
Biphobia is a depressing constant in our community. What is your experience of it? I think the larger 'marketing' of the queer community is overwhelmingly white, cis and monosexual [only being attracted to one gender]. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely less confusing to those outside of the community but since when have we cared about palatability? I think that desire to be 'normal' is where a lot of the large scale bi erasure comes from. The fact that bi folks aren’t just 'something the kids are doing these days' is something even veterans of the community aren’t convinced of – it runs pretty deep. And that feeds into little things, like assuming that couples at pride who appear to be straight must be allies instead of really belonging there. That sense of having to 'seem gayer' to belong in your own community is exhausting.
What, in your view, are people ignorant to re: bi experience? Oh, so much. The number one thing people don’t know or forget about is the mental health effects of biphobia. Bi people are consistently shown to have the poorest mental health compared to their gay male and lesbian peers, with the highest rates of suicide attempts and the highest rates of sexual assault victimhood.
We’re often seen to be untrustworthy, 'promiscuous', and undesirable as partners. If we’re in a monogamous relationship, we’re seen as either straight or gay, depending on the perceived gender of our partner. If we’re single, we’re defined by how 'gay' or 'straight' we look or act, not by how we actively identify. It’s that lack of recognition, often feeling like you’re lying or concealing something while in either gay or straight spaces, that can really take a toll. It can push people into a different closet all over again – it often goes undiscussed and unacknowledged.
You have described coming out as bi in the trans community as a more positive experience than in the queer women's community. Can you expand on that? I imagine the trans community to be more welcoming overall than the LGB community. Yeah, absolutely. I think, funnily enough, there’s almost an assumption of bisexuality in the trans community. I think because there’s a greater understanding of gender not necessarily meaning one kind of body or another in the trans community, it kind of breaks down concepts of monosexuality a little bit. Even the straight trans folks I know don’t necessarily identify as monosexual, many identify as attracted to genders other than their own, which for a trans man might mean women and non-binary people. Many trans people also have trans partners [myself, included] which can mean there are a whole bunch of gender norms being transcended at once.
There are a lot less 'rules' for trans dating, it’s a lot of uncharted territory so you can’t just turn to films and television to tell you what 'normal' is – normal can be what you make it. There are lots of people in the trans community in polyamorous relationships. There are lots of asexual people in the trans community, many of whom identify as bi or panromantic. People work out what works for them. It’s more difficult in the gay and lesbian communities I think because they’re divided by gender and often see themselves as sort of self-sufficient. When I originally came out, I knew some lesbians who weren’t friends with gay men at all, and vice versa. That gendered divide, even when not as severe [it often isn’t] can create an environment where cis bi folks have to choose between which community they’re going to grow their social group with, and in doing so, inevitably feel boxed in. The trans community has less of that, I think.
As someone who identifies as bi, what steps would you like to see taken to minimise biphobia. Well, I’m very biased because it’s my industry but I think media representation is vital. Gay representation in film and tv has improved greatly in the last couple of decades, and bi and trans visibility are slowly catching up, but there’s still a long way to go. A hugely common trope in media is having characters who show attraction to multiple genders throughout the film or show but they never openly identify as bi. It’s almost always a case of 'I don’t like labels' or the character is confused, and while people like that definitely exist in real life, the fact that open bisexuals are rare on tv is troubling. Casual jokes about characters not really being bi but using the label as a stepping stone to gay, or the 'slutty bisexual' are overall, pretty harmful and their reappearance in pop culture again and again hurts people.
How has your experience as someone who identifies as bi and trans shaped the way you live your life? I consider myself very fortunate. I’ve experienced lots of different kinds of relationships with different kinds of people and I think having a supportive community around me has helped that a lot. I’ve also witnessed change around me, which I think is towards the better. My generation seems to be a lot more willing to embrace bisexuality as a label, and explore queerness in general. I think my bisexuality helped while questioning my gender, I’ll often joke that it’s one of the things that hasn’t changed with my transition. I think the intersection of the two identities has helped me be open to love wherever it might be found, and while I still have some shame and hang ups around my own queerness [hangovers from a catholic upbringing] I’m able to recognise and deal with that instead of repressing it.