Misunderstood and misrepresented… Being bisexual means learning to deal with what non-bisexuals think you are, what your problem is, how you can be fixed, and how you should be living your life.
While the Ls, the Gs and even the Ts have achieved a level of recognition and acceptance in recent years, the Bs are still regarded with scepticism. The LGBTIQA+ world is not always a safe place for all of us.
William Goh is bisexual and he has something to say about biphobia, bi-erasure and bi-invisibility.
Myth: “It’s Just A Phase”
Once the term “bi” comes up in conversation, there’s always a few questions that follow, and they’re generally pretty predictable…
“So, what split are you, 50/50?” “How many guys/girls have you had sex with?” “On the street, who do you notice first?”
And, especially from gay men: “How can you be sure you are bi? It could be a phase. I was bi at some point, too! You are really gay but just making a pit stop at bi while you get used to the idea.”
All of a sudden, instead of people accepting you for who you are, you’re having to defend your identity and give an account of yourself to people who want to interrogate you on how you live your life. This is the hostile environment that many bisexual people come out to daily.
Well, guess what? Bisexuals do not have a gender quota split. They do not keep a balance sheet of who they’ve slept with to make sure both genders are evenly represented. They do not even need to present these numbers to The Bisexual Central Committee to get some bisexual membership card stamped. They just live life and go about their business.
The phrase “bi now, gay later” implies that bisexuals are on a journey from “straight-dom” to gaydom. It’s cute, but not accurate. If it were a phase, surely some people would be “phasing” away from gaydom towards straight-dom?
Conversion therapy had a go at that. The latest news: it has not yielded the expected results.
Research confirms that people who identified as bisexual when they first came out, still identified as bisexual decades later. If it is a phase, it’s very slow moving [Three Myths About Bisexuality, Debunked By Science, by Samantha Joel Ph.D, Psychology Today.]
Whether these questions are asked out of ignorance, defensiveness or hostility, the end result is the same: they invalidate bisexuality. “It just isn’t a thing,” some say. This is known as “bi-erasure”.
Myth: “Bisexuals Just Can’t Make Up Their Minds”
It sometimes feels that whatever court decided on what bisexuality is forgot to consult any bisexuals.
Very confidently, people who aren’t bisexual will tell you what bisexuality is all about. “They just can’t make up their minds!” Or, “They’re just oversexed, promiscuous, incapable of monogamy.” “They’re just greedy and are chasing the best of both worlds.”
You know how annoying it is, as a gay person, to be told by a heterosexual that you “chose” a gay lifestyle? You know you had no choice in being gay. Well, same for bisexuals. So don’t be annoying and tell bisexuals they’re being too horny or greedy or that their attractions are a choice.
Another adjective often applied to bisexuals is “experimenting”. It probably comes from the term “bi/curious” which lumps the bisexuals and the curious in together. It’s no bad thing to experiment, but to diminish the whole sexual identity of a group of people as an experiment is, well, not your call.
Myth: “They Spread Diseases”
In some crazy fantasy land, bisexuals served as “a bridge” transferring HIV from gay men to straight people. The same applies to all sexually transmitted diseases, right? After all, bisexuals will breed any moving soul, threesomes are their favourite sport, they are incapable of monogamy…
It’s hard to even speak to these accusations as they’re simply not well thought through. To be clear, promiscuity is not a bisexual speciality. Straight people, lesbians and gays can all enjoy orgies, anonymous sexual encounters, and booty calls, too. Why are all the fingers pointed at bisexuals?
Myth: “Bisexual Attraction Isn’t Real”
It’s been said that it takes a lot of energy to think, and that’s why so many people just judge. People like easy concepts. That’s why they ask gay male couples, “Who is the man in your relationship?”
The idea that some people are neither gay nor straight is very uncomfortable to some. It’s confusing. It challenges their binary view of the world. How can someone be neither? Or both?
But just because you don’t understand something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Myth: “We’re All Bisexual, Aren’t We?
The opposite and equally confounding position to “it doesn’t exist” is “aren’t we all bi?” Here’s how this theory goes: sexuality is on a spectrum with straight at one end and gay at the other and somewhere in the middle is bisexual.
Presumably there’s a slide rule you can move back and forth on this spectrum towards “more gay” or “more straight”.
Again, research findings help here (Jennifer E Germon, 2008, Kinsey And The Politics Of Bisexual Authenticity, Journal Of Bisexuality) suggesting that, given the right circumstances or opportunity, some people, not all, would be open to experimenting with same-sex activity. Do people have blurrier edges to their boundaries than they are willing to admit?
Yes. Do bisexual people become either gay or straight depending on who they are dating? No. They stay bisexual, and it is a thing.
The bottom line is that bisexuals are attracted to the person and not their genitals. Isn’t it a beautiful thing that love and attraction can transcend anatomy?
Just as gay people do not need all of gaydom populating their bed, and straight men do not want all women as concubines, bisexuals can settle for that special one and, if they cheat, well, they cheat because they’re unfaithful not because they’re bisexual.
The idea that bisexuality is somehow incompatible with monogamy is widespread. The logic is that bisexuals are incapable of staying faithful to one partner because they are somehow “unfulfilled” being in a relationship with one gender. Hence, they must surely need to stray to satisfy their carnal needs. The popular cultural trope here is of the bisexual man, married to a woman, sneaking out for a bit of cock on the side, or wanting to bring in a second man for a threesome. Again, this idea reduces bisexual attraction down to a matter of genitalia when, in reality, attraction works on many more levels.
Some bisexuals enjoy monogamous relationships with either gender, and some only have intimate relations with one gender.
Now For Some Real Bisexual Issues
Dating can be hard. Woody Allen’s famous joke that bisexuality doubles your chances of a date doesn’t work in real life. Contrary to popular belief, the dating pool for bi people is smaller, not larger, because many people, gay and straight, are not ready or willing to date a bisexual. (Probably due to a bunch of the myths explained above.)
For a gay man, once the pick-up in a bar is made or a Grindr date set up, there are no further questions. But a bisexual man in the same situation has to consider if or when he will disclose his bisexuality to his date. Is it during their first encounter? Or is it two weeks into a budding relationship? In this sense, bisexuals are constantly having to come out within the LGBTQIA+ world. Having to disclose another layer of their sexuality comes with
the associated risk of rejection and anxiety –a detrimental outcome that means not all in the LGBTQIA+ space feel as safe as they should.
Some even consider bisexuals traitors to the LGBTQIA+ cause, who run back to their “heterosexual privilege” when it’s convenient, and make it a point not to date them.
Let’s Discuss Heterosexual Privilege
Passing as heterosexual is something that can happen when bisexual people appear to be with opposite-sex partners. But gay, lesbian and trans people can also pass as straight – our survival has depended on it.
There is also the false assumption that bisexual men are not read as camp. They can be. Or that all bisexual women present as femme rather than butch. They don’t.
More research (The Journal Of Sexual Research, Vol 55, 2008), shows that bisexuals have higher rates of mental health issues compared to gays and lesbians – and we know that gay and lesbian mental health issues already occur at an even higher rate than the broader population.
Coming to terms with one’s bisexuality can mean feeling doubly abnormal. An individual may wonder, “Some people are either gay, straight or trans. I feel different to all these people. These are not my reality. There must be something very wrong with me.”
Rather than enjoying heterosexual privilege, bisexuality can trigger a broader identity crisis.
For self-preservation, bisexuals tend to hide in either the straight or gay community, which contributes to the invisibility of bisexuality and therefore the lack of support groups within this community.
Gay men and lesbians come out into wellestablished communities. There are womenonly lesbian spaces. There are spaces for gay men exclusively. And there are shared G and L spaces, which are almost always inclusive of the trans community, too. But there is no dedicated place for the Bs. Think about it, there are no bi bars, and no real bi subculture to create and maintain a bi identity.
Bisexuals are expected to exist quietly within the LGBTIQA+ space and there can be a very real danger of being ostracised for being too outspoken around a bisexual identity. The phrase “A-Gay” refers to gay men with no sexual history with women. Obviously this is reductive and diminishing to the bisexual men in a gay male space.
A man revealing his bisexuality to his male lover could face as many negative repercussions as a man revealing his bisexuality to his wife.
Should the word be reinvented? Like the word feminism, bisexual comes with a certain amount of baggage.
Many people who are attracted to both men and women don’t feel comfortable with the word “bisexual” because it comes with a whiff of hemp and hippies from the ’60s, or swinging suburban couples from the ’70s.
Bisexuality has been reinventing itself in recent years, and there’s no shortage of new words including pansexual, ambisexual, sexually-fluid, non-binary, solo-sexual, sapiosexual, heteroflexible, bi-curious, experimental, bromance, downlow, and more. Do these define and/or contextualise bisexuality? Will people ever understand what they all mean? Who has the power to decide?
While these labels may seem confusing, it’s important for subcultures to be visible and name themselves on the way to acceptance and recognition.
Where Are The Bisexual Role Models?
There are plenty but, to put it bluntly, the gays have stolen them!
Many of the men we claim as gay heroes are, or were, most likely, bisexual. And it’s been like this from the very beginning of the modern age of the homosexual, starting with Oscar Wilde.
It was his gay love affair that was his undoing, but when claiming him as a gay saint we conveniently forget that he was married, loved his wife very much, and fathered two sons.
Surely this makes him a bisexual saint?
Cary Grant and fellow Hollywood leading man Randolph Scott met on the set of Hot Saturday in 1932 and moved in together, sharing a house in Malibu for 12 years. Insiders say they were a couple. And the gay world likes to remember just that part of Grant’s life. But, he married four times, and fathered children. He was probably bisexual.
Anthony Perkins is rarely described as bisexual, usually just gay, because we like to picture him when he was dating Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. But at 39 he had an affair with actress Victoria Principal, and then married female photographer Berinthia Berenson at age 41.
Actor Alan Cumming, famously gay, married his male partner in 2012, but told Instinct, “I still define myself as a bisexual even though I have chosen to be with Grant. I’m sexually attracted to the female form even though I am with a man, and I just feel that bisexuals have a bad rap.” US model, actor and deafness advocate Nyle DiMarco (a former DNA cover model) is regularly described as gay, however, in interviews says his sexuality is “fluid” as a way of describing his bisexuality.
Looking back to the ancient world, Alexander The Great, born 356 BC, went on to create the largest empire the world had ever known. We love claiming him as one of our own and there’s little doubt that the love of his life was his male lover, Hephaestion. However, historians note that while he married women twice for political expediency, he likely married a third, Roxana, for love.
Even Queen front man, the deliciously and audaciously gay Freddie Mercury, had what many people describe as a wife. Her name was Mary Austin, they briefly dated, and they remained close all their lives. Freddie’s longterm male lover, Jim Hutton, and Mary shared in his estate upon his death. Whether Freddie and Mary’s relationship was anything more than platonic is not known (despite how it’s depicted in the film Bohemian Rhapsody) but his dedication to her suggests a very strong connection.
This short list suggests it’s time we took the blinkers off and addressed our tendency towards bi-erasure. Every time we refer to a bisexual man as gay, we’re doing a disservice to the next generation of bi-identifying kids who don’t see themselves represented positively within the LGBTIQA+ world.
Let’s turn our denial of our bisexual brothers and sisters into a celebration instead.