2018 Bisexuality Awareness Week (9/19 – 9/26)
Today marks the last day of Bisexual Awareness week! Social media has been ablaze with the pink, purple, blue flag that represents the bisexual community all week. I wanted to do my part to help put an end to bi-erasure so I wrote an impromptu post! Let’s have a quick discussion on how we can support our bisexual friends and family as a part of our community, as they fight just as hard as the rest of us do for queer rights.
For the last few years, I have seen plenty of articles and social media posts from bisexuals feeling as though they’re excluded from the majority of the LGBTQ+ community. The list of grievances that bisexual individuals have with the LGBTQ+ community is long, including lesbians and gays not wanting to date them, refusing to acknowledge the validity of their sexual orientation, and even going as far as telling them that they don’t have a right to be at pride if they’re currently in a heterosexual relationship, and so much more. It seems that in the hierarchy of the queer community it is often forgotten that the B in our acronym stands for bisexual (and that the T stands for transgender, but that’s another post entirely).
Bisexuals often have to dispel myths about their orientation. Some of these myths include:
- Bisexuals aren’t/can’t be monogamous, are cheaters, and are promiscuous;
- Bisexuals are always down to join your threesome;
- Bisexuals are in denial of their “true” sexual orientation;
- Bisexuals can only ever be women – men are just gay and unwilling to identify accordingly;
- Bisexuals can’t be satisfied by just one gender alone;
- Bisexuals are only interested in cisgender people;
- Bisexuals are transphobic (or the word bisexual is transphobic, as it perpetuates the gender binary being only two (bi) options);
- Bisexuals are attracted to males and females equally (i.e., 50%);
- Bisexuals’ orientation change when they’re in a monogamous relationship;
- Bisexuals aren’t as oppressed as gays and lesbians because they have heterosexual privilege or can pass for straight;
- And, unfortunately, so much more.
None of these myths are universally true. Period.
Some of the things listed above might be true for some individuals who also happen to be bisexual, but it is not their orientation that makes them act that way or experience their bisexuality in that manner. Again – bisexuality is not a personality trait or some sort of moral compass. It is a sexual orientation. The only universal truth we can safely say about bisexuals is that they experience varying levels of attraction to more than one gender.
We could go into detail about why all of the myths listed above are not true point by point, but all we need to understand is that making assumptions about someone based solely on their sexual orientation is never going to give you accurate information about that individual. Ever. Not for bisexuals, not for gay men, not for lesbians, not for transgender individuals, or even heterosexuals for that matter. People are individuals and every single one of us is unique in our own way.
There are 5 myths, however, that I would like to go into a little more detail about:
Bisexuals are always down to join your threesome.
Just because someone is capable of experiencing attraction to more than one gender does not automatically make them interested in specific types of sex. Sure, some bisexuals might be into it, but so are some heterosexuals – heterosexuals who outside of a threesome would never do any kind of sexual act with someone of the same gender. I wrote about this in a previous post, but I’ll repeat it here: the sex that we may or may not have does not define our sexual or romantic orientation.
If your first inclination after hearing that someone is bisexual is to ask if they’d be down to join your threesome, stop and ask yourself this very important question:
“Would I be asking them about a threesome if I didn’t know they were bisexual?”
If the answer is yes and the bisexual individual has expressed interest in partaking in sexual activities with you, then ask away. We’re all consenting adults here.
If the answer is yes and the bisexual individual has not expressed interest in partaking in sexual activities with you, maybe don’t ask immediately after finding out their orientation. Save asking them about it until a conversation regarding sexual activities comes up naturally and extend an invitation at that time.
If the answer is no, don’t ask. Period. Bisexuals should never be fetishized for their attraction to multiple genders and they are most definitely not bisexual for your explicit enjoyment.
Bisexuals are in denial of their “true” sexual orientation.
Although many lesbians and gay men have had a “bisexual phase” while they were coming to terms with their gayness during their coming out process, that does not invalidate individuals who are bisexual. If someone tells you that they’re bisexual and your first response is “oh, I was too – now I’m a full-grown lesbian,” or “you’re just confused,” or some other derivative, do everyone a favor and just don’t. Regardless of if bisexuality is a stepping stone or if it isn’t in their coming out, they should never intentionally be made to feel confused or bad about their sexuality or feel that they’re “too slow” to come to terms with their sexuality. Everyone comes to terms with themselves in different time frames and in varying ways.
Bisexuals are attracted to males and females equally (i.e., 50%).
Every person experiences attraction differently. Here are some examples:
- A bisexual female who is attracted to males about 25% of the time, women 70% of the time, and gender nonconforming individuals 5% of the time. Simply because she experiences more attraction towards women does not make her a lesbian. She is bisexual.
- A bisexual man experiences attraction not based on gender or appearance, but on how he feels when he is around people but his last few relationships have happened to be with men. He is still bisexual.
- A heterosexual man is attracted to women 95% of the time, gender non-conforming individuals 3% of the time, and other men 2% of the time. This man can still be heterosexual – just because he feels attraction towards genders other than female, he may choose not to act on it or doesn’t feel any romantic attraction towards genders other than female. Remember – romantic attraction and sexual attraction are two different things.
- A trans woman experiences attraction to individuals who are masculine, regardless of their gender, about 90% of the time; the other 10% of the time she is attracted to individuals based on their sense of humor. Guess what? If she says she’s bisexual, then she is!
Some of you may be saying “Heeeey – the bisexual man in your example is pansexual, not bisexual.” Nope. Not correct. The labels that we choose to use for our orientation are our choice. If bisexual is the label or term that he feels most confident or comfortable with, then he has every right in the world to use it. There are some people who use the term bisexual and pansexual interchangeably and that’s okay, too. We each experience different relationships with our orientation and the words we use to describe it.
Bisexuals’ orientation change when they’re in a monogamous relationship.
This is a myth that directly perpetuates bi-erasure – bisexuals’ sexual orientation being ignored because they are assumed to be a lesbian or gay or heterosexual for various reasons. Here is the definition for bi-erasure that GLAAD posted on their website:
Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is [when] the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.
What does that look like? An example would be a bisexual female in a relationship with a cisgender male or perhaps two bisexual men in a relationship. For the female, when her friends say or assume she’s straight, she objects and says that she’s bisexual. For the men, when their friends say or assume that they’re gay, they object and say that their bisexuals. In both scenarios, the bisexuals are often told that they’re straight or gay because they’re with a man and that their orientation doesn’t matter because they have a partner of a specific gender.
Having a partner doesn’t change your orientation. Whether you’re a male bisexual in a relationship with a woman, or a female bisexual in a relationship with another woman, or an asexual in a relationship – our orientations are not defined by the relationships that we are or aren’t in. Just like pronouns, never assume someone’s orientation based on their outward appearance, the gender of their partner, or any other factor. You can only know someone’s orientation after they have told you.
Bisexuals aren’t as oppressed as gays and lesbians because they have heterosexual privilege or can pass for straight.
I am not one to compare plights, but what I will say is that bisexuals get discriminated against from the gay and straight sides of the aisle. Many of the social media posts and articles that I’ve read from bisexuals talk about their experiences and how they’re attacked from within the LGBTQ+ community which is supposed to be their community, too. Bisexuals are not “better off” than anyone else in the queer community simply because they have the possibility of “passing for straight.” Being queer can be hard, no matter what your orientation is. Let’s not pit ourselves against each other.
Now that we’ve talked about some age-old bisexuality myths – how do we prevent ourselves from falling prey to myths we’ve never heard before? Lucky for you, I have four hand tips for you!
Tip #1 – There is no such thing as a bisexual universal truth (except that they are attracted to multiple genders). Each and every bisexual you meet will have a different relationship with their sexual orientation and the terminology that they choose to use. Some bisexuals may interchange pansexual and bisexual terminology; some may tell you that they are mostly attracted to one gender over the other; some may be polyamorous; some may be asexual or aromantic. The point is – just like every other orientation in the queer community, each individual relates to their sexual and romantic orientation differently.
Tip #2 – If someone tells you their orientation for the first time, whatever their orientation may be, don’t question it. If someone is telling you what their orientation is, chances are they have spent enough time questioning it for themselves (whether recently or prior to initially coming out). If they’re deciding to tell you it can be a huge step in their coming out process or they’re telling you because they trust you and want you to know that about them. Be a good ally, friend, or family member and make them feel validated and supported. Thank them for telling you and ask if they’re open to having a discussion about their orientation so you can better understand how they relate to it. If they’re not up to conversing about it, don’t push it. If they’re a hugger, hug them. Tell them you’re proud of them. The worst thing you can do is make them feel bad about their orientation so they feel as though they shouldn’t speak about it.
But what if their orientation changes later?
That’s fine! Don’t be an asshole. Don’t say “but I thought you were bisexual,” or “oh I knew you were gay!” or whatever else might come to mind. Sexual orientations are complicated to understand and there is now an abundance of information to sift and read through out there thanks to the internet. And although having readily accessible information about all thing queer is amazing, it is still a ton to get through and some people get lost in all the material and they might pick something to simply start out with. As their knowledge grows their orientation gets more specific and may change. That is completely valid. There’s no breakthrough method for realizing and understanding your orientation, whatever it may be. There is no singular authority on sexual orientations. There are no queer applications to be reviewed and labels to be issued based on how you’ve answered a questionnaire after paying a fee. We each use the language that works best for us. The label you chose to use (or not use) is yours to decide. No one else can tell you what your orientation is. Anyone who tries to tell you what your orientation is isn’t worth listening to.
Tip #3 – Be open to having conversations to better your understanding. Have a conversation with your bisexual friends, acquaintances, and family members to understand how they relate to their orientation and what being bisexual means to them. You’ll find that not every bisexual you know experience their bisexuality in the same way. By talking with them, if they’re willing, you can learn how to be more supportive and how to help make them feel welcome in queer spaces. And remember to listen to understand, not listen to respond. This conversation isn’t about you. It’s about them.
Tip #4 – Never assume anything about a person based on their sexual orientation. This is a universal tip. Seriously. Ash Hardell put it beautifully in their book, The ABC’s of LGBT+, which we reviewed earlier this month:
“Labels are descriptive, not prescriptive.”
Each and every queer individual has their own relationship with the labels they choose to use just as much as the labels they choose not to use. Our orientations are so much more than our outward appearance. And people are so much more than their orientation. Don’t limit your understanding of a person based on what stereotypes try to preach. Ask people what their pronouns are and when it’s appropriate to ask them what their orientation is – never assume things about people. You’ll miss out on so much if you do.
Okay – so this “let’s have a quick chat” ended up being not so quick. But that’s okay because this is important. Our queer community needs to appreciate everyone that makes up our community. We are strongest together. So, go hug your bisexual acquaintances, friends, and family (if they’re the huggin’ kind) and have a conversation with them about how you can better support them within the LGBTQ+ community.
Thanks for reading, Queerders. We’ll see you next week!