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Pride month 2017: Some notes on bisexuality

Purple and pink striped flag that represents bisexuality

This article was updated for Bi Visibility Day on 23rd September 2018.

In case you hadn't already picked up from following me on social media, I'm quite open about the fact I'm bisexual. This was originally meant to be posted during pride month 2017 but was delayed due to other commitments. Whoops!

This isn't something I've ever felt a particular desire to be an activist about, but there are a lot misconceptions floating around and I'm reliably informed that my visibility might be useful to people who are still figuring out their sexual orientation.

So, here are some of my thoughts on common myths about bisexuality. If you have any other questions drop me a line and I'll do my best to answer.

"Everyone/No one is bisexual"

Someone's sexual orientation is a deeply personal thing that we all have to decide for ourselves. It seems a bit presumptuous to tell other people who they're attracted to!

I've never been particularly "camp" so most people assume I'm straight until they see or hear otherwise. I would suggest that if you think no one around you is bisexual, you're probably not looking hard enough or you've made assumptions about people based on who they're dating.

For those who think "everyone" is bisexual, that's not true for the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph. But what you are right about is it's not always an exact 50-50 split for everyone, so our community is much larger than official figures would suggest. Some people prefer labels like "heteroflexible", "homoflexible" or "fluid" to better describe the gender split amoung the people they're attracted to.

"Isn't the term 'bisexual' transphobic?"

It depends on the definition you subscribe to. I opt for "attracted to more than one gender" rather than "attracted to both genders" (which presupposes that only two are possible). Others prefer less ambiguous labels like "pansexual", but I've found identifying that way myself in the past raised more questions from the "cishets" than it answered.

In the past I've had people break-off dates with me/start ghosting after I told them I was bisexual. Knowing how much that sucked, the idea of doing the same to other people on the grounds of their gender doesn't really appeal to me. I'm attracted to whoever I'm attracted to, and I'll behave accordingly.

"Can bisexuals be monogomous?"

Yes! They follow the same rules as everyone else if they're in a monogomous relationship. I tend to assume this myth that "bisexuals aren't great at monogamy" comes from the same school of thought that claims we're "greedy" or "sluts".

It also not uncommon for us to hear "you must like three-ways" from people who are confused about the difference between romantic attraction regardless of gender and very specific sexual preferences.

My experience is that bisexuals are no less happy or committed when they're in a relationship than anyone else. "I'm bisexual" is not a reasonable excuse for infidelity.

"Are bisexuals polyamorous?"

Some bisexuals are, just as some straight and gay people are. A polyamorous relationship is just a more complex version of a monogomous relationship, because it includes more people.

It's still not okay for those involved to hide relationships or "one night stands". Everyone involved is still committed to the individuals they're romantically attracted to, with no single relationship being any less important or valid than any other. "Three-ways" are definitely not a requirement, and neither is it a requirement for everyone involved to be in love with everyone else. All that's required is for everyone involved to consent and be fulfilled by the arrangement.

As you can probably gather this is not the same as an "open relationship" or "swinging", as these both still require a monogomous relationship with the agreement of both partners first.

"Bisexuals are just confused"

Growing up I was indeed "confused", but not about who I was or wasn't attracted to. I was confused because everyone around me seemed to think you could only be into one gender, and that it had to be male or female. As a result I spent a lot of time questioning myself and it took longer to "come out" (with a few false starts) because I didn't think calling myself 'gay' was accurate.

I came out to close friends in 2011 and have been open about it "offline" since around 2014. But I admit I'm still guilty sometimes of just saying I'm straight or gay to people I don't know for a quiet life. It can be tiresome having to convince everyone I exist and answer the same questions over and over again. Not everyone is worth the effort.

While I would never presume to doubt anyone's anecdotal "evidence" of closeted gay friends who briefly claimed they were bisexual before they were comfortable being open, in my experience those identifying as bisexual are usually sincere about it and just as annoyed as me about that particular stereotype.

I can confirm that for me being bisexual is not "just a phase". Admittedly I might sometimes spend a few months feeling like I'm attracted to one gender more often than another (I tend to assume that's just luck of the draw). But I've never found myself exclusively attracted to just one gender, and I've never suddenly discovered I'm not attracted to someone I was previously attracted to based on their gender.

"If you're in a same-sex relationship then you're gay, aren't you? (and vice versa)"

Imagine you support the Liberal Democrats. However you're told that you can only vote for the Conservatives and Labour, and that by choosing one of them you'll always be known to everyone as a supporter of that party and be expected to vote that way for the rest of your life.

That obviously doesn't make much sense. Your vote for either party wouldn't reflect your real political identity and the party you opt for could easily change between general elections. Who you voted for this election doesn't dictate who you'll vote for next time, and there are still a whole load of smaller parties you could opt for that weren't even mentioned as options.

It's not a perfect analogy, but it more or less illustrates the deal with bisexuality. It is a distinct sexual orientation I have about as much control over as you have over yours. It doesn't change because I happen to be in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship, and neither would my current relationship dictate the one that might follow it.

"You have bi privilege!"

There's a pervasive myth that bisexuals can just retreat into straight privilege on the grounds we can "pretend" to be straight.

I can understand where this myth comes from, as from the outside it can seem like non-camp bisexuals in straight relationships are "getting away with it". (I'm assuming we're all smart enough to agree that bisexuals in same-sex relationships experience all the same discrimination gay and lesbian couples do).

However, a few points worth bearing in mind:

  • A not small number of people (both gay and straight) just flat-out refuse to date bisexuals because of the preconceptions I've mentioned in this post
  • Fewer resources are allocated to dealing with the bisexual community's problems (particularly around mental health) so we have worse outcomes
  • We often find ourselves being criticised from all sides, so don't always feel like we're part of the LGBTQ community
  • When you come out as bisexual you're much less likely to be believed, which makes being open much harder
  • Dating sites usually assume everyone's only interested in one gender, so they're quite a chore for us to use

I've never been to a pride. This isn't because I'm opposed to them (quite the opposite!), but I don't see where I would fit in. Standing in the crowd at the side erases my existence, but visibly marching under the bi flag can also draw controversy and abuse. I hope one day to brave it and see how it works out for me, as it'll probably be much better than I expect.

The recent debacle around bisexual representation at London Pride kind of illustrates my point though that we're the least likely to be out and we're not particularly high up on anyone's list of priorities for outreach. Bisexual "erasure" is a significant problem, as are bad TV tropes that amplify the myths.

In summary, bisexuality isn't an "easy option" with special privileges. Anyone who is identifying that way under the illusion it's some sort of cop-out is in for severe disappointment!