Bisexuality: The Punching-Bag Orientation

This article is part of the TNGG Sex Week series on Gen Y and sex. Read more from the series here.

By Lauren Schumacher

I’ve said it before and watched jaws drop: yes, bisexuals have it rough. Rougher than gays and lesbians in many cases. Now, before my queer-friendly peers burst a blood vessel and skip down to the comments, let me explain.

A friend of mine (and fellow bisexual) visited a local Pride march recently and reported back on fantastic floats featuring every obscure group and quirky facet of the LGBT community.  As he watched the riotously populated “Dykes on Bikes” and “Trans on Trampolines” floats go by, he waited eagerly for a float representing his orientation.  His spirits dropped to see six people ambling quickly by with a hastily-made sign.

The truth is that bisexuals aren’t very active in the LGBT community, even though our “B” forms a core part of the group’s constituency.  Bisexuals don’t feel fully at home in either the gay or straight communities, possibly because we don’t feel fully understood by either group.  Many people, straight or gay, understand gender preference with a Kinsey Scale mentality: a straight man likes women, a gay man likes men, and a bisexual man likes both.  But bisexuality isn’t a gender preference for both genders; it’s a lack of gender preference for either.  For most bisexuals, the gender of the person they find attractive is substantially less important than who that person is.  We’re not in the middle of the Kinsey scale; we’re off the chart altogether.

For people who understand sexual attraction on a binary scale, bisexuals will always be misunderstood.  This can lead to a lot of ugly misrepresentations and stereotypes perpetrated by both communities.  Bisexual erasure (reframing history’s famous bisexual figures as gay), bisexual denial (denying that bisexuality does or can exist), bisexual exploitation (the continuing portrayal of bisexuality as trendy or edgy “sweeps week” material within the media) and biphobia are all very real things.  You wouldn’t believe the number of intelligent, educated, open-minded people who have scoffed at my sexuality–yes, to my face!

“Bi now, gay later” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot.  If gay individuals are reluctant to come out of the closet, they may choose to label themselves as “bisexual” and until they’re ready to transition to “homosexual.”  It’s a really common occurrence, and it has led to a misconception that all bisexuals are in some sort of limbo.  A bisexual woman (such as myself) is really just a straight girl who likes to get drunk and make out with other women to attract a horny heterosexual male gaze, and a bisexual man is just a gay man who’s too full of fear and self-loathing to come out of the closet.  Bisexuality is also sometimes treated like a membership card that can be taken away.  If a bisexual woman has several long-term relationships with both genders but eventually marries a man, it’s not because she found her soul mate and he happened to be a dude–it’s because she wasn’t really bisexual all along.  But choosing to be part of a heterosexual relationship doesn’t mean we’re choosing to be part of heteronormativity, nor does it invalidate our feelings for previous partners.

My non-bi friends have sometimes implied that by being bisexual, dating should be easy because my dating pool is essentially doubled.  This myth of the bisexual slut (see “any old hole will do!”) is especially hurtful, because the truth is that a large portion of the population feels uncomfortable dating bisexuals.  Some worry that they won’t be able to satisfy all of their needs in the long term and that eventually they will leave for another gender.  Unless a bisexual is dating a fellow bisexual (which is hard, because we’re a statistically small group) they’re dating someone of a different sexual orientation.  Can you imagine how hard that could become over time?

Of course, some people refuse to consider bisexual partners altogether.  For some, it’s because of their disdainful attitudes toward opposing orientations; I once was told casually by a lesbian (who didn’t realize I was bi) that bisexual women were like rats bringing the plagues of HIV and venereal disease into “our” community–ouch!  Biphobia rears its ugly head.  Our unconventional sexual preference isn’t made easier because we can “pass” as heterosexual at least half of the time; biphobia, heterophobia, and homophobia can hurt us equally.

To facilitate a better understanding between bisexuals and our gay and straight neighbors, we need find new language.  The term “bisexuality” has been hijacked (not necessarily with ill intention) by those who are unsure of their sexuality, don’t feel comfortable defining themselves, or just want attention.  In other words, it’s become a label rather than a description.  I’ve picked up the word “pansexual” to avoid perpetuating the gender binary and its associated misconceptions.  Those individuals who feel unsure of their sexuality should be free to call themselves “Questioning” without pressure, from either community, to “hurry up and pick a side.”  No matter how well we think we can “tell” what someone’s true orientation will one day be, it’s not anyone’s place to cast doubt upon it.  And don’t assume that the man and woman walking hand-in-hand down the street are heterosexual.  We may blend in easily, but we’re here too.

Photo Credit: nerdcoregirl


Author: Lauren Schumacher was unable to submit a bio due to complexities involving a wildebeest named Frank, 126 penguins, and a bottle of toothpaste once used by Ernest Hemingway. She’ll have everything up to date shortly and is sorry for causing you such a fright.

Next Great Posts labeled as Next Great are generally submissions by various contributors, whose information can be found within the text of the article. Next Great posts without author information are the collective effort of the editorial staff: Christine Peterson, Alex Pearlman and Edward Boches.

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37 Responses to “Bisexuality: The Punching-Bag Orientation”

  1. Up2Eleven

    One way I've often put it is that I'm not homosexual or heterosexual, I'm just sexual.

  2. dropastory

    This is all very true to my experience as a bisexual. Thank you for writing it down so well.

  3. Lauren Schumacher

    I like that! It might imply that we're just SO sexual that it doesn't matter to us, but honestly I'd rather that than to perpetuate a gender preference binary…and it rings true for me.

  4. Carlee Mallard

    I like how you went ahead and practically created a new sexual orientation: “pansexual”. And I like it… I'd never really thought about bisexuals as really lacking a gender preference, but it makes sense.

    Now i'm curious where the term “bicurious” falls within all of this because it always seemed like a negative term as well. As if “hey, you're not actually bisexual or gay/lesbian, you're just exploring and so I don't have to take you seriously”.

  5. Kristen McHugh

    Too often, Bisexuals and Transgender people are left out of the LGBT equation. I also think that there is a huge behavioral component implied with in the community as a whole. I identify as Bi, but I've never had a relationship with a woman. To a lot of people this invalidates the identification. I think you completely hit the nail on the head, it's not a preference for both, it's a lack of preference. I'm attracted to a person, not a penis, breasts, or vagina. To reduce love or attraction to parts, vastly underestimates our humanity.

  6. jessdarb

    I'm so proud of you! This article is great: Well written, well researched, AND I learned a lot. I'm sharing it with my roomies (one of whom is bi). This is definitely an under-represented topic in the greater gender and sexuality discussion.

  7. scasey1109

    This is an amazing article, Lauren. My friend Conor posted this on his FB for us to read. I totally identify with a lot of this article and the issues that are mentioned. Like I posted on his posting, I've known I was Bi since my early tweens. I liked girls before I knew I liked guys. It eventually evolved into pansexuality, like you mentioned, because I really don't feel like there's a gender boundary on who I love. I just happened to have married a man, but I don't feel like I should have to surrender my bi card. If he'd been a woman, or heaven forbid, a trans, I would still love him regardless. I fell in love with Benjamin, not the gender he identifies with. Thanks for writing this :)

  8. W.S.

    You made me tear up. I've never had my feelings voiced so well. I could never find really the right words to describe it all. I don't care about which gender it is. I just care about the person. I love people, not their birth gender. I'm part of a GSA group, and I always feel a little hurt when bisexuals are never brought up. I feel a little left out and unaccepted. I ended up sending this article to my group president, and I really hope she'll let me bring it up.
    It's hard when both sides are pressuring you to make a choice, when really I just love the person. I've had gays and straights alike tell me that I need to make up my mind. Even on my first day of GSA (A now close friend of mine) loudly stated that bisexuals just need to make up their minds.

    Thank you so much!

  9. Kerplonk

    I can't speak for anyone else but I think bi-women at least have a significantly easier time than any other non-hetero orientation. I can't speak for any other gender/orientations but I've never met a straight male who looked at bi-girls as any different than straight girls. They might lose a little acceptance within the gay community but that's significanlty smaller section of society as a whole. Also I've never heard of any bi girls being murdered or “correctionally raped” so the intensity of any discrimination seems to be empiracly less as well.

  10. moiread

    I'm grateful that you're speaking up in defense of the minority group I belong to, because I too have been on the receiving end of a lot of crap for not being either 100% straight or 100% gay. But I do object to one particular statement that bisexuals make over and over again, which is that they only care about the people, not the parts. I CARE ABOUT THE PARTS. I like different things from penises than I do from vaginas! I think it is terribly important to be aware of the parts and the intricacies of *how those parts affect the person*, such as in the case of pre-op trans folks! Etc, etc. I am happy to be with any particular combination of brain + genitals, provided I am otherwise attracted to them*, but the parts matter.

    I just wish we didn't feel like we have to adopt some sort of moral superiority (see the first commenter who said that “reducing love or attraction to parts vastly underestimates our humanity”) to make up for the fact that we get invalidated so much. Especially since I think it's terribly counterproductive for getting accepted as being equal — as being just as valid — to the other sexualities. You cannot say you want to be the same but then also say you're better.

    (* And EVERYBODY has a “type” that they're attracted to, including bisexuals, which is sometimes similar straight across the board but in my experience usually differs based on gender or gender appearance. So again: The parts matter.)

  11. Lauren Schumacher

    Oh, pansexuality is a real thing! A term coined by people wiser than me.

    “Bicurious” as a term has mostly been co-opted by the pornography industry to connote cute girls making out who then have a threesome with some dude. So it's hard to use the term to define yourself without it evoking very different, very unhelpful attitudes.

    Actually, what I feel the term “bicurious” might be good to apply to is recreational bisexuality. There are people who are truly heterosexual or homosexual who occasionally engage in bisexual activities… The wife who makes out with a lady friend while her husband watches, or arranges a threesome on his birthday, for example. Sometimes engaging both genders in sexual play is a fun dalliance, and it should be! Tying your s.o. to the bed once in a while doesn't make you a hardcore dom and sub, and “behaving” bisexually isn't an obligation to reevaluate your sexual identity.

    Does that make sense? I feel the term Questioning covers a broader and more helpful range of sexual identity searching.

    I'm really glad this was interesting/enlightening for you!!

  12. Lauren Schumacher

    You are so, so welcome. I feel the same way. I heard the phrase “love the person, not the parts” somewhere in the comments, and that feels really right to me.

  13. Lauren Schumacher

    Wow. I am so, so touched and so happy to hear that my experience resonates with yours.

    It is a sad truth that those who understand gender preference on a binary scale (the majority of exclusively heterosexual people and exclusively homosexual people) often make mistaken assumptions about the nature of bisexuality and bisexual desire based on their own criteria. Because the gay community as a whole is so open-armed toward all sexualities, I think the problem isn't a deliberate prejudice but rather a lack of understanding and a perpetuation of stereotypes and misinformation. We're a minority within the gay community, and it's our responsibility to articulate ourselves, just as it's the membership's role to be open to new ways of thinking.

    My wildest hope for this article was that it might teach someone a different way of thinking about the mindset of the bisexual. We're not hole-hopping sluts, nor are we men/women who like both men and women. We're people who like people, and we prioritize personality, spirit, values, attraction, and chemistry above our partner's gender. I would be beyond psyched to have this be a point of discussion among GSA groups, because our enemy is a very simple lack of information.

  14. Lauren Schumacher

    I am a bisexual woman, and I was raised in a very small rural town in the Midwest. I have been shoved into lockers, kicked in the stomach, had my car vandalized with sexual slurs, and stayed locked in a bathroom while a gang of four men banged on the door and offered to sexually gratify me and “turn me straight” until the police arrived and broke them up.

    Luckily, I was never murdered or raped. But the distinction between bisexual and lesbian is a nonexistent one for anyone homophobic enough to enact violence against non-heterosexuals. And I sincerely doubt Matthew Shepherd would still be with us if he'd lied and explained he was bisexual. The narrow-minded and the violent really don't give a shit.

    The “intensity of the discrimination” is, as I mentioned, more intense than any other group. We suffer under homophobia, heterophobia, and biphobia equally. Just because there's a perception of bisexuality as being “socially acceptable” in the media and in the brightly-lit, open-mined places in the world does not mean that that's the case.

    I hope I have changed your mind, because nothing makes me feel like a less welcome member of the LGBT community than having people insist that I have an “easier time.”

  15. Lauren Schumacher

    Oh, certainly! I didn't mean to suggest that we don't enjoy the awesomeness of vaginas, or the awesomeness of penises. Both males and females have different appealing and unique qualities, and bisexuals are strongly in-tune with this.

    But I don't think it's “morally superior” to suggest that these traits are secondary. They're great! But secondary. I'm dealing in generalizations of my own experience, and the experience of people who I am close to. We're not “better” than people who do understand sexuality on a binary scale. We're just very, very different, and very worth explaining. If I thought my sexuality was superior to homo or heterosexuality, I would have few friends and zero lovers.

    To me, the parts truly don't matter. The human body is like a home-made birthday present…I don't really care what's in it, I'm already happy that I have it…and someone willing to give it to me.

    But you must be true to your own feelings, so your mileage may vary!

  16. Lauren Schumacher

    Holla! The bisexual who has only had relationships with one gender is probably the most scoffed demographic. A key part of understanding bisexuality is trusting people's word when it comes to their own preferences. I know it's hard! Especially during adolescence and young adulthood when our bodies, hormones, and identities are in turmoil. But taking people at their word is absolutely vital.

  17. ButMadNNW

    I like Questioning, too. Sums it up nicely. I usually try to include it when using the “LGBT” term – so use “LGBTQ” instead.

  18. Shannon Kidwell

    Thank You so much for writing this! I found myself literally going “Yeah!” after many of your points. I personally am relatively new to my sexuality in regards to becoming comfortable with being attracted to all genders. And due to many of the viewpoints out there, I've never been happy using the term “Bisexual”. I often feel like I'd just be treated like a heterosexual girl who's trying to be cool. And that's from both sides of the fence, so to speak. Many times I have felt very alone in this whole thing.
    ………I guess it's not just me after all. Thanks.

  19. Shannon K

    Thank You!!!! While on the surface, bisexuality seems more accepted, in all reality we have no social hearth or home to go to. We have no group with waiting arms to say “You're one of us.” I'm afraid, actually afraid, to try to become a part of the LGBT community here, because I just KNOW that I'll be treated like an outsider. I feel like there's no point. And I've never actually gotten to date another female, because I have absolutely no clue how to operate on that social level. And there's a high chance that even if I do hit on another woman, whether she's gay or straight I could still get the same amount of ridicule.
    I've been very lucky in the fact that violence has never been done to me. But I also rarely share my sexuality with people unless they're very close to me. I don't run my flag high because I feel like I have no flag. I'm just a weird little boat, adrift in the waters…..

  20. alexa

    “If he'd been a woman, or heaven forbid, a trans, I would still love him regardless.”

    I hope you don't mean that the way it sounds. I'm bisexual and my husband is actually trans. The point of Lauren's article is that we need to challenge the gender binary and the phobias it creates–whether bi-phobia or trans-phobia. Let's remember that each phobia helps to uphold and legitimize the other. And that both are incredibly hurtful.

  21. scasey1109

    oh my god. Reading that over again, it TOTALLY doesn't sound how I meant it. I meant it sarcastically. I have no problem with trans people. I have absolutely no phobia towards them. I meant how people are exclusive about other people… I meant to exaggerate the phobia other people have about it, not my own. I'm sorry if it came out the wrong way!

  22. Violet

    Saying “reducing love or attraction to parts vastly underestimates our humanity” is not a form of moral superiority.

    It is pretty much understood and accepted that heterosexuals or homosexuals will not be attracted to or fall in love with just anyone who is possesses the parts associated with their preferred gender. Bisexuals, however, get “so, you will sleep with ANYONE” blurted at them all the time, and get argued against when we point out how absurd that sounds. Many of us have been accused of “not really being bisexual” because we were not interested in group sex/open relationships. Yet no one gets contradicted when they say they don't have a hair color preference, for example, because they don't date a blonde and a brunette simultaneously. Society acts like because because bisexuals don't have a preference for those parts defined as primary and secondary sexual characteristics, all of a sudden the parts are ALL that matters when it comes to deciding and defining our attractions and sexuality.

    So we aren't saying we are superior because we have no specific part preference. It is a statement that bisexuals, just like everyone else, are attracted to whole people. Not just pieces/parts. It is a statement of moral equality.

  23. Amorette

    Very good article to start opening people's eyes. Another horrible assumption that I have encountered is that all bisexuals have threesomes, which is such a myth, because a bisexual person is just a person who can fall in love like anyone else. Preferences for threesomes does not make a bisexual. Also, the fear that all bisexuals will cheat on their significant other for full satisfaction. As for myself, it is my soul I want to satisfy the most, and I am not inclined to cheat. Think before you speak people.

  24. ScuzzBuzz

    Wow. Thank you so much for this. I’m bi, but I prefer women to men. I know people think “Just admit you’re a lesbian” when I tell them I prefer women, but I still like men.
    I would love to have a girlfriend, but I’m not attracted to the majority of butch women you see that are blatantly lesbians.
    I’m really attracted to feminine women.
    However, it’s hard to tell which if the feminine women are gay.
    It gets so annoying.
    I agree that bisexuals are misunderstood.
    We’re either “greedy” or “confused”.
    Those statements annoy me and are quite hurtful.
    Your article is bang on.


  25. Mizz Eizzy

    Oh wow, very enlightening article! I have a bi friend and i’ve put her in situations to ‘test her’ and her sexuality, because well i never really got it untill now…i was definitely hang up on the kinsey scale mentality!

  26. David

    If everyone who is homophobic or transphobic were locked away forever in mental institutions, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, and crossdressers would be able to live openly in society without any fear of violence. We should become like Europe – they are much less prejudice.

  27. Mat

    I am a big guy x-football jock and I have been punched and had my apartment vandalized, had a bunch of guys threaten me. Plus came out before DADT they asked and I said “I don’t know yet never had sex with a man or a woman.” his response was “well if you don’t know you can’t join” as he riped my linguist application for the army in half. Only to go to school and go to an LGBT meeting with my bi girl friend to be laughed at and told “is this a joke, will you guys come out already.” no more LGBT for us thank you. And the harassment has continued for 20 years! By professional people. It really has been a crazy lonely journey luckily I dated a lot of bi girls and some cool queer dudes along the way. But it shocks me now in my late 30′s that my orientation is still questioned. Very few will date me if they know I am bi. I am back to loving arms of a bi gal again. God bless us all and hope we find love and acceptance in our lives.

  28. DWBenfield

    Bi-sexuality is nothing more than a willingness to f&*k a man or a woman. There is no basis for any special rights for this behavior. Gays and lesbians only hurt their cause when they tie themselves to bi-sexuals and crossdressers (I refuse to use the p.c. term “transgender).


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