As many are aware by now, actors Amber Heard and Johnny Depp are currently embroiled in a messy divorce that has had the media buzzing with speculation and theories as to what began their fall out of love. The public was not held in suspense for long: a few weeks ago Heard filed domestic abuse charges against Depp and requested a restraining order, spousal support, and a protection order for her dogs. According to Heard, she filed for divorce shortly after an episode of abuse in which Depp came to her home and assaulted her with his iPhone. She has procured police reports, photos, text conversation with Depp’s assistant, and anecdotal evidence from Depp’s previous relationships – which should be more than enough to put to rest any confusion about the cause of the divorce and the nature of Depp’s behavior towards her.
And yet, despite the evidence, many are accusing Heard not only lying, but also of causing the relationship’s breakdown because of her sexuality. In 2010, she came out as bisexual at a GLAAD event, an incredible move given the stigma that bisexuals still face even with years of LGBT advancements. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, her sexuality and previous relationship with a woman have been used as ammunition against her claims that Depp was an abusive husband. Even Heard’s dog has been caught in the crossfire- one of the canines for which she requested a protection order was a gift from her ex-girlfriend. But that is as far as the relevancy of Heard’s romantic past should go. Bisexuals do not cease being bisexual when they are dating members of the same or opposite sex. Heard was not a lesbian when dating her ex, and she’s not straight now (nor is she a lesbian now because of her previous relationship). And being able to experience attraction to multiple genders also does not preclude monogamy, contrary to claims that Heard’s “lesbian friends” were reason enough for Depp to feel distrustful and uncomfortable. Depp’s status as beloved actor hasn’t helped matters either, and he has company among many beloved male celebrities who have maintained their careers despite years of abusive behavior (including but not limited to: Sean Penn, Bill Murray, Chris Brown, and David Bowie).
Although this is obviously in part the result of misogyny, biphobia is inevitably involved in the vilification of Heard and her allegations. Many of the claims about Heard’s role in the divorce, such as her being untrustworthy or causing Depp to feel uncomfortable with her friendships, are common examples of biphobia. But this is more insidious than even microaggressions: this is about the physical violence and fear to which bisexual women are disproportionately subject. Bisexual women are twice as likely as heterosexual women to be victims of domestic violence, abuse, sexual assault, or stalking (and 27% more likely than lesbians). Of the bisexual women who face abuse, 90% of their perpetrators are men. This issue is not isolated, and the way we treat Amber Heard reverberates. Bisexual women are already at a higher risk, but when even high profile individuals like Heard, who are backed by police reports and photographic evidence, are disbelieved and shamed for reporting abuse, then the women who need help the most are less likely to receive it. By shunning LGBT survivors in the public eye, we are sending a message to other survivors that their pain is irrelevant and their suffering is theirs alone to bear. We are perpetrating abuse and creating an environment that cultivates abuse. Amber Heard deserves better, as do all bisexual women.
Update: According to TMZ, Amber Heard was accused of domestic violence when she grabbed and struck her ex girlfriend’s arm while in an airport in 2009. This is a reminder that women can also be physically abusive, and their being a woman and LGBT does not excuse that. This new information does not negate Depp’s wrong doing, nor does Depp’s abuse negate Heard’s wrongdoing. If you or someone you love is being abused, you can call or chat with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which also has resources for LGBT individuals.
Update on the Update: Heard’s ex, van Ree, has spoken out in Heard’s defense. According to van Ree, the airport incident was blown out of proportion and Heard was not abusive during their relationship.