Let’s Get This Straight: I’m Bi
“Do you have a boyfriend?” they ask me in Chinese, because you’re always assumed straight until proven otherwise. Like me, this could go two ways. I could just be honest, but it wouldn’t be the whole truth. I could somehow shoehorn that I’m into girls, but it’d open up a huge, nuanced conversation I couldn’t hold in my second language. I answer instantly.
At first glance, I probably wouldn’t beep on anyone’s gaydar. I’m an average, female- presenting cis woman whose last partner was a cis man. I am also in the middle of my year abroad in Shanghai, China: a country that’s not the most LGBTQIA+ friendly place on the planet. Combine these two circumstances, and through a series of omissions, everyone in China is under the impression that I’m straight.
It’s created something of a rift between my morals and my instincts. I’m often so quick to criticise white people who pull the privilege over their eyes, but drop me in the middle of Shanghai and I’m suddenly using my own privilege as a shield. I’m a hypocrite.
It’s very easy for me to pretend I’m straight, and I sometimes wonder if it’s an insult to those whose identities are not so easily concealed. It’s like I’m only part of the LGBTQIA+ community when it’s convenient to me. I am contributing to the systems of privilege I vehemently detest in the west; I should loathe myself. But when my life and general wellbeing is on the line, it’s hard to.
My identity as a queer woman is something I’m certainly proud of and want to share, but I also think there’s a place – namely that where I am certain of my safety. I don’t want to feel like I’m breaking my moral code for wishing to live a smooth life this year.
Because the thing is, I’m in China to study Mandarin, not be their Eastern Ellen Degeneres. Being out and proud in a country like China would automatically make me an ambassador for the LGBTQIA+ community, and I think I’m within my rights to not want to carry that cross. Let’s be honest, a little Filipino-Australian girl who also likes girls isn’t going to change the views of the Chinese population. We all watch the Hunger Games thinking we’d be Katniss, but when the time comes most of us would probably be cowering in fear, awaiting our fate. I’m no revolutionary.
If I do have an obligation to embrace my identity no matter the climate, it implies that my identity exists to serve the best interests of the LGBTQIA+ community at large, rather than my own. But that just opens floodgates bigger than the Three Gorges Dam.
I’m also a woman of Asian/Western experience, and no one is coming for my head cause I’m not out championing women’s rights. Sure, maybe I should be, but maybe I should also be serving soup in homeless shelters, or helping orphans, or doing more than having inner monologues with myself on the internet. A line must be drawn somewhere.
In saying this, I don’t want to discredit the work of those who came before me. People have died for me to even disclose the fact that I’m queer on a western publication such as this. They undoubtedly faced harder circumstances than I likely ever will. But there’s a reason why more people are openly identifying as queer now than in the past – not everyone is built to withstand blatant oppression. Not every member of the LGBTQIA+ community is going to be a beacon of hope or avant-garde icon, nor should they be.
Ultimately, my identity is mine, and I’m free to do with it what I wish. I can appreciate and pay homage to those who paved the way before me without mirroring their efforts, and do what I feel is appropriate for me to live my best life this year.
So no, I don’t have a boyfriend.
Cover by Adi Constantin