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