As a bisexual woman, like me, Amber Heard is statistically more likely to experience intimate partner violence than a straight woman or a lesbian.
I want to start by saying, without equivocation, that I believe Amber Heard.
You know this story. You’ve heard it before. You know what both sides are saying; you know what you believe. I hope you believe Amber Heard. I want to think that you do, that your default setting is “believe the survivor” and that even if it’s not, the physical evidence and corroborating testimony are enough to convince you.
I wish we were not still having a national conversation over whether “innocent until proven guilty” is a legal standard or a social one, whether we should assume abuse survivors are lying even though the statistical probability is overwhelmingly that they are not. I wish I didn’t know that Amber Heard’s allegations would be taken even less seriously if she were not a white, cis, thin, beautiful, wealthy woman; I wish I didn’t know that she has almost every kind of privilege a survivor can have, and she still has to fight to be believed.
As a bisexual woman, like me, Amber Heard is statistically more likely to experience intimate partner violence than a straight woman or a lesbian. I want to tell her that we, the LGBTQ community, are here for her. That we are listening and loving and believing her. That she matters to us, that we will do what we can to protect her. Unfortunately, my words are just words when stacked up against a history of rejection and erasure from the queer community toward bisexual women who partner with men—even though it’s precisely those women who are in the greatest danger of experiencing abuse.
You hear a lot about straight-passing privilege in discussions about bisexuality, biphobia, and bi erasure. The notion of passing privilege is fraught and complex, and varies from one marginalized community to the next, but in this context it’s the idea that bisexual (and pansexual and queer and otherwise multi-gender-oriented) people who partner with someone of a different binary gender are, as far as our homophobic society is concerned, functionally straight. The benefits of being perceived as straight are real and they matter, but they absolutely do not negate a person’s bisexuality, nor do they negate their need for LGBTQ-specific communities and resources.
Bi women who partner with men may not be oppressed for the relationships they’re in, but that does not mean their experience is not fundamentally different than that of a straight woman, and it does not mean they don’t experience dangers and difficulties because of their orientation. As evidence, we don’t need to look any further than Amber Heard herself, or the narrative some are spinning around her divorce and her allegations of Johnny Depp’s abuse—a narrative wherein, because she is bisexual, she is untrustworthy and therefore at fault.
Biphobia hurts bi women, even those women whose relationships are read as straight by mainstream society—which is most bi women, because the men-interested-in-women dating pool is bigger than the women-interested-in-women one. Bisexual people don’t just suffer from homophobia when they’re in a gay-looking relationship and slide under its radar when they’re in a straight-looking one. Bi erasure and the pressure to stay closeted may limit their intimate relationships (both romantic and platonic) and leave them with fewer resources to turn to in times of trouble; that may, in turn, contribute to the fact that bi people, no matter the gender of their partners, are disproportionately likely to experience depression and substance abuse issues.
Biphobia means we experience many of the adverse effects of homophobia without the mitigating influence of a strong LGBTQ support network, and this is particularly true of bi women with male partners, who are often made to feel unwelcome in queer spaces, as though it’s their partner’s gender rather than their own identity that decides whether they belong. And bi women are more likely to experience sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence than either straight or gay women—most of that at the hands of male partners.
No single cause has been teased out for why bi people in particular experience these ill effects, but it’s not hard to come up with theories. Amber Heard’s brave public statements about her abuse and her abuser make one possibility plain. One of the most popular biphobic tropes is that bi people are promiscuous, unfaithful, prone to cheating because they can’t be satisfied with just one person or just one gender. Do I need to tell you that this is pernicious bullshit? I hope not. But when you read speculation that Depp abused Heard because he distrusted her relationships with female friends, a picture starts to form.
Maybe bi women are in danger of harm from their partners, especially their male partners, because our culture tells so many lies about bi people who just can’t keep it in their pants. Maybe those stories bring out the possessive, abusive tendencies some people keep hidden; maybe they make it easier to justify abuse. Maybe the idea that bi women are insatiable sex machines makes it easier for predatory men to tell themselves “she wanted it.” And maybe bi women are more likely to be isolated, more likely to be vulnerable, more likely to lack a strong network of resources, and predators notice that and gravitate toward it.
Without further research, this is all speculation, but at least it’s a place to start. Maybe if we work to dismantle these harmful myths about bisexuality, to create loving and supportive LGBTQ resources that truly welcome all queer people regardless of their relationships, to support and affirm bi women rather than writing them off as straight girls who want attention, to hold up bi women not as porn archetypes or villainous cheaters but as whole, complex, valuable people, we’d find that the world becomes a safer place for bi women like Amber Heard, and me, and maybe someone you love. Maybe not. But I think it’s worth a try.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).