Updated: Jul 24
J narrates how problematic gender stereotypes initially influenced her view on relationships and how she overcame them. In this essay, she also shares the privileges and disadvantages of being in a heterosexual relationship as a bisexual ciswoman.
Peeta and Katniss and Gale. Ted and Robin and Barney. And, of course, for the most recent one, we have Peter and Lara Jean and John Ambrose. What do these trios have in common? They are famous pop culture love triangles. In almost every book or film, we see a story arc that reveals a struggle between two people getting attracted to the same person. But this is not what this article is about. This time, let me show you what I call the Love Bi-angle.
Adopting the Toxic Gender Binary
I grew up in a conservative Catholic family and it was all about gender roles in our home. I am the only daughter and I have two brothers, an older one and a younger one. As the sole hija of the family, I was always tasked to accompany my mom in the kitchen before and after every meal. From the toys we played to the chores assigned to us, there was obviously a split between what a girl and a boy should do and crossing that line meant disrespect. Still, I was able to tiptoe around the edges as I enjoyed console games, beyblades, and crush gear mini tournaments with my brothers.
The game changed when I hit puberty. It was like I was put in a box stamped with the red “FRAGILE” sign but instead the ink read “WOMAN”. Everything I couldn’t do, my brothers were okay to do so. Staying out late with friends. Laughing loudly. Lounging around the house (instead of helping out with chores). Hanging out with friends who were of the opposite sex.
My dad always reasoned “babae ka kasi (it’s because you’re a girl)”. And whenever he said that, I always felt less. I felt like it was unfair.
It’s ironic how I spend so much emotion and time fighting with my dad (and many others) on these gender stereotypes only to find out I had actually embraced some of them. During my teen years came the age of endless crushing and pining over the cute girls and cool guys. I am not going to bore you with the details of my love life as an immature teenager but looking back, it’s interesting to me how most of the fights I’ve had with guys (or secret judgments I made in my head) are because of gendered expectations.
"There was obviously a split between what a girl and a boy should do and crossing that line meant disrespect."
Before, I looked forward to being swept off my feet with chivalry; if the patriarchal standards were not met, I’d be an angry ball of mood swings. I expected guys to open doors for me and give up their bus seats for me. I became overly jealous because I anticipated that “boys will be boys” - that they’d hit off with the next cute girl on the street. I deeply believed in the love teams I see on TV and film and books. That I deserved grand gestures all the time, too. That loving each other meant talking to each other every hour of every day. That being the right one meant being the only important thing in each other’s lives. I judged girls who had a lot of guy friends but played my own boy friendships as cool and platonic. Such a hypocrite, I know. It took almost a decade for me to really grow up and see the flawed nature of this thought process.
Eventually, I learned how to trust in love (the healthy kind) and trust in my own voice. When I overcame the years of toxic gender stereotypes taught to me by the community I grew up in, I felt much freer. When I stopped expecting to be treated like a damsel and encouraged instead to be equals in relationships, that's when my emotional toxicity level dropped drastically. The love I was able to offer my friends, my family, my significant other, though still imperfect, is no longer as selfish and unforgiving.
It was not an easy battle but I could say the turning point was when I decided to live with my boyfriend of almost 9 years (as of this writing). In the Philippines, living together before marriage is such a huge deal. I had relatives who judged me and got mad at me. Some even recited Bible verses and prayed over me. I also had friends who joked around and asked if I was pregnant (as if the only reason two people should get married or live together is if one of them was pregnant, but that’s for another article!) But probably the reaction that impacted me the most was my dad's. He said he was just protecting me, like all fathers do. At that point, I could understand where he was coming from. But when he told me that he needed us to be married first so he would allow me to do as we wished, I lost it. My feminist heart was shocked to its core. There were some screaming and crying and, you know, a mental breakdown. But as I composed myself (with great effort), I began asking him why he treated me as if I was a property that needed a contract (in this case, marriage) to be auctioned to the next buyer. I pleaded with him to see things from my perspective, to trust that he raised a good and independent daughter who knows what she’s getting into.
Despite all their judgement and my dad not talking to me for 2 weeks straight, I stood firm in my decision because I know I made this decision with my boyfriend wholeheartedly and out of love. Even though they couldn’t see past the gender binary roles they expected me to conform to, it was okay. I’m not even mad at all.
Under the Invisi(bi)lity Cloak
The thing about being invisible is while you can't directly be harmed, people are also oblivious to your presence. That pretty much sums up how it feels like to be bisexual in a cisheterosexual relationship*. Unlike my fellow LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, I don't have to hide my relationship with my family; to them, it's just your average boy-girl relationship. There's no need to be extra careful or afraid whenever I express my affection in public. I never get asked questions like "So, who's the guy in your relationship?" Probably the biggest perk for me is that I could get married (which I am next year yay! #engaged) here in the Philippines. This is how privilege works. For some reason, there are things we enjoy that people who belong to other groups simply cannot do or have usually because of prejudice. But this privilege also backfires sometimes. There are instances when people joke about bisexual folks with the usual "Di na lang kasi mag-out na bakla, kunwari pa bi (Why don't they just come out as gay; they don't need to pretend that they're bi)"
To a certain level, I get comfortable with people and actually let them know that I am bisexual. Most would think I'm just kidding. There are a few guy friends who start to offer threesomes (as if bisexual women exist solely to fulfill your sexual fantasies ugh). Some of them play it down and say "Diba may boyfriend ka? (Don't you have a boyfriend)" It's as if being in a heterosexual relationship masked or even trumped my identity as a bisexual.
"The thing about being invisible is while you can't directly be harmed, people are also oblivious to your presence."
But even as a young girl, I have been attracted to girls (masking them as girl crushes just to be "safe" back then). Around 2 years ago, I experienced what it felt like to like like a girl. And I remember thinking to myself that "Okay so this means I really am bisexual" but then I shrugged off the thought because my sexual identity should not be determined by the degree to which I liked another person. Or even who I'm currently dating.
"My bisexuality has not changed whatsoever since I've been in a heterosexual relationship." - Crash
Girls and guys, this is my perspective on love: the Love Bi-Angle. We learn toxic behavior like the ligaw culture and some gender steretoypes as we grew up but we can choose to unlearn them. By doing so, we're opening ourselves to more opportunities to experience a love that's free from prejudice. Being bisexual in a heterosexual relationship might have enabled me to see love from a privileged point of view but it does not stop me from fighting for gender equality and proving that #loveisloveislove.
*As a bisexual, I am attracted to the same and opposite sex, but I am in a loving cisheterosexual relationship right now, so we just appear to be a straight couple. BUT WE'RE NOT.
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.