Opening up and showing your true self on dates is hard enough without having to hear this sentence: "Prove it."
But that's too often what gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals hear when they open up about their sexuality.
This incredulity about people's sexuality, particularly oft-misunderstood bisexuality, isn't just a sign of ignorance; it's based on the faulty assumption that sexual behavior is automatically linked to sexual identity. In other words, sexuality has to be seen to be believed. And as a new study reveals, it puts real pressure on individuals to actively "perform" their sexuality for disbelievers around them.
As if dating wasn't filled with enough judgment and scrutiny already.
Pressured to perform: A new study published in the journal Psychology and Sexuality talked to 84 cisgender individuals age 18 to 25 who identified as a sexual minority: bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, questioning and "other." The participants were asked about times when they "performed" their sexuality, from make-out sessions before an audience to major PDA with a partner.
The findings? People were most likely to engage in same-sex sexual performance when they were drinking or when they felt pressured to "authenticate their sexual orientation label." Sexual minority women were far more likely to be asked to perform their sexuality (especially by straight men) than men were.
Where does this demand for a performance come from? "Our assumptions about sexuality are heteronormative," Paz Galupo, lead researcher, told Mic. Galupo added, "Heterosexuality is assumed to be the natural, default orientation. Sexual minorities are often held to this behavioral standard to provide external authenticity for their non-heterosexuality."
Two lesbian women in the study reported that observers "were excited and eager to know that our relationship was truly official and they wanted proof. The observers wanted to see what would happen."
The need to "prove it": This demand for proof is especially acute when dating, when LGBQ individuals may be questioned and judged by their potential partners.
"Even within the gay community, I can't tell you how many people have told me, 'Oh, I wouldn't date a bisexual.' Or, 'Bisexuals aren't real,'" Brad Kane, a gay-identifying lawyer in Los Angeles, told the New York Times. "There's this idea, especially among gay men, that guys who say they're bisexual are lying, on their way to being gay, or just kind of unserious and unfocused."
These assumptions are fueled by the assumption that one's sexual identity is always linked to observable behavior — something actress Anna Paquin confronted when she had to assure Larry King that, yes, even though she's married to a man, she is still bisexual.
"I've been told that I present as pretty femme and sometimes feel like I need to overperform my sexuality in order to prove that I'm indeed queer," Caroline, a queer-identifying woman told Mic. "I've been asked by guys on dating sites to be their third or 'unicorn' with their girlfriend, which kind of makes me feel objectified," she said.
"When I come out as bisexual [on a date], it creates confusion. Either people won't believe that I'm bisexual or they'll mistakenly believe I'm not good dating material," writer Eliel Cruz told Mic. "On one date, I came out as bisexual to a gay man and he told me I had vagina cooties. We didn't go on a second date."
Even the folks at OkCupid doubt their own users' claims of bisexuality if they're not actively demonstrating it. In 2010, the site's data blog, OkTrends, cited "I'm bisexual" as a "big lie people tell in online dating." According to dating site's analysis, only 23% of bi-identifying users send messages to both men and women, prompting OkCupid founder Christian Rudder to write, "This suggests that bisexuality is often either a hedge for gay people or a label adopted by straights to appear more sexually adventurous."
We need more trust: "The 'prove it!' mentality keeps sexual minorities feeling like their dating lives and relationships are always on display and up for the judgment of others," study author Galupo said. "It's a no-win situation."
Dating involves getting vulnerable no matter how you slice it. But for queer individuals, opening up shouldn't be met with an added layer of skepticism. Being honest should be enough.