It’s a great thing that LGBT issues have started being discussed more – especially with Trump in office, threatening the rights LGBT people have fought and bled to gain, bringing back the outrageous conversation of conversion therapies of homosexuality, and putting the lives of trans and bisexual people at an even bigger risk than they already were in the turbulent and hostile social climate of the US.
With homophobia and transphobia on the rise, now with the official support and encouragement of people in favor of the current system – see the alt-right and “alt-facts” – we can have nothing left but our voices which we need to raise against a system of intersecting oppression aiming to prevail upon us, to demonize us and limit our expression, sometimes in the very name of their “First Amendment rights”, religious freedom, and so on.
However, in this discourse, we need to constantly remind ourselves that the only way this can work, is through the maximization of inclusion, representation, and visibility for all different intersectional identities within our vast and diverse community.
Which brings us to: where is the B in LGBT?
Bisexual people face discrimination outside the LGBT community, with the added burden of the invisibility and erasure that often takes place within the community.
So, let’s start from the very beginning: who are bisexual people, and why are they invisible? Are we mythical creatures, are we unicorns, are we dragons? Many of us are just as fabulous, but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist! Bisexuals are those attracted to more than one gender (and I’m not saying to “both” genders, because there do not exist only two: there are people whose gender falls out of the man-woman binary, and many ways to experience, express and perform your gender).
People can also identify as pansexual: it means that they can possibly be attracted to any person, no matter their gender. Another way to say this, is that many things may influence the possibility of me feeling attracted to someone, but their gender isn’t one of those things! I identify as a pansexual, and for me the slogan goes along the terms of “I am attracted to people, not to a gender.”
In general, polysexual is an umbrella term under which bisexual and pansexual people fall, and it includes people attracted to more than one genders (“poly” meaning “many” in Greek).
Now, for many people within the community, all these labels may feel unnecessary, even oppressive, like “putting people into boxes”, or posing limits to their experience. I agree that we should discuss – and perceive – identities in a more fluid, individual-based system, rather than a series of models or archetypes imposed on people to – once again – conform with, but at the same time it is useful to speak about the different ways in which we experience our sexualities, and how these differences affect our lives.
In addition, we can’t only focus on speaking about lesbians or gay people, assuming that what we say about them includes everyone, because sometimes people use different labels in order to phrase the different nature of the issues they face. We need to name bisexuality and pansexuality, in order to give bi and pan people to speak about their own, specific problems, concerns, and needs. Bisexual people face biphobia. It is a complex form of oppression that shares most common elements with homophobia, but also includes other, unique parts of the bisexual experience that need to be addressed.
Thus, speaking up about bisexual and pansexual issues within the LGBT community is important in order to raise awareness and expand visibility. The reason why we need this, is because feeling invisible or having your identity erased is the worst thing that can happen to you in your journey towards self-acceptance – plus, most of us know first-hand how vital it can be to find somewhere to belong; a group of people to accept and validate you.
For all these reasons, let’s talk about some misconceptions that remain alive and well out of – and within – the LGBT community, and to which direction we can all work to better include bisexual and pansexual people.
Misconceptions and Myths about Bisexual People
Our society has been constructed on the idea of Monosexuality: the notion that we can only be attracted to people of one specific gender. This is why so many times it is hard for people to grasp that sexuality – as well as gender – work in spectrums, or that some people’s attraction simply can’t be that easily limited to either men or women and bisexuality is a thing on its own. This is why there exist many myths on bisexuality and bi/pan people, and we must all work hard to fight with our pre-existing stereotypes, and educate ourselves on diversity and inclusion.
Here are some of those myths and misconceptions:
- Bisexual people are just confused.
We’ve heard it all: Bisexuality is just a phase. We may have been told by our conservative family who wishes for us to end up straight, or by our gay fellas, who think we’re just confused and will eventually figure out that we’re really gay. Bisexual people are often accused of confusion, lying, or merely experimenting in the sense of fooling around, as in “I too made out with a girl in college once”.
We’re not confused straights who’ve lost the path of God. We’re not confused gays who’ve lost the path of our holy Lady Gaga. We belong in the community as much as everyone. When people call us simple “gays” or “straights”, they’re erasing some part of our identities. It’s something that happens all the time, and it can have severe effects in the self-esteem, sense of belonging, and mental health of bisexual people.
This “othering” of bisexual people, which translates to us being excluded from conversations on human rights and equality, or being considered as indecisive, lost, or fake, isn’t helping anyone. Actually, it is the creation of a more diverse and inclusive environment that is going to cater to the issues of the entire community!
- Bisexual people have bisexual privilege.
Bi and pan people are often told by their homosexual friends that, especially when in a heterosexual relationship, they enjoy some kind of privilege.
In some sense, that’s not something completely untrue or something that I’ve never considered before. I completely recognize that, when perceived by society as a girl who is in a relationship with a guy, my everyday life is, in many aspects, easier than the life of my lesbian friends’. People may not bully me for my sexuality – if I hide it well enough – and I probably won’t get catcalled when walking on the street holding my boyfriend’s hand. My parents have even started getting along with me!
Still, it doesn’t exactly work that way. Coming out in my family was as tricky and hard – and with equally bad consequences – as the coming out stories of many of my gay and lesbian friends. My mother freaked out and said some horrible things that hurt me deeply and I never think I will forget – even though I came out as a bisexual on a time when I was in a heterosexual relationship. We spent a tumultuous period at home, between not speaking for days and being shamed for who I am, hearing that people like me are abnormal, sick and perverted, being repeatedly told by my parents that I will never be able to form a happy, monogamous relationship. When I appeared on TV in a demonstration outside the parliament for the civil union for same sex couples that was being voted for in my country, my parents got furious.
To this day, I’m afraid to tell them that I’m a LGBTQ+ rights activist and give most of my time volunteering to a youth organization. I’m still afraid to be recognized at Pride. Long story made short, I experienced my parents’ homophobia in the exact same way I would have if I had come out as gay, and I keep experiencing homophobia in many aspects of my life.
At the same time, I often have to deal with the erasure in my own community: that’s not privilege. Bi people are often made to feel like they don’t belong in a community they feel as their own, a community in which they wholeheartedly wish to contribute and help – erasure by our own siblings!
And yes; now finding myself again in a relationship with the guy means that I have also – unwillingly – reassured my parents and caused them to treat me with more trust and affection than before. But that also comes hand-in-hand with the fact that my identity was never accepted by them in the end: I just ended up exhausted of not being understood, something to which many of my LGBT friends may be able to relate, so I started hiding a very important part of my identity from them – I erased myself, and many things that concern my everyday life, my feelings, my partner, and my sense of self.
Additionally, many bi people experience rejection in new – both homosexual and heterosexual – hookups or relationships, just because their potential partner finds out that they’re bi.
This is not what privilege looks like.
- Bisexual people are promiscuous/greedy/polyamorous/disloyal
This is one of the most common set of misconceptions: that bi people are greedy and promiscuous, that they will cheat on their partner or that they are polyamorous by default.
While it is true that many bi/pan people may be non-monogamous or form polyamorous relationships, there’s also many others who form monogamous bonds and stay loyal to them. When my mother feared that I’d cheat on my then boyfriend with a girl, I told her that the possibility that I’d cheat on “John” with “Mary” when I’m bisexual, is the same with the possibility of me cheating on “John” with “Jack” if I was straight. Cheating is certainly bad, but it’s not a thing that’s exclusive for bi people.
- Bi/pan people will sleep with anyone.
Last but not least: the threesome Facebook requests that never cease once the Internet gets a grasp on the fact that you identify as bi. Obviously, that can also happen to gay men and women, but it’s necessary for all of us to understand that, my being bisexual doesn’t mean that I will by default be attracted to you. Yet many straight guys have objectified my identity, translating it to me just being “kinky” and “promiscuous”, meaning that they might have a chance to get me do what they want.
And obviously, my being pansexual doesn’t mean that I’ve previously slept with a frying pan!
The Importance of Representation
Most misconceptions are encouraged by harmful stereotypes promoted by the problematic representation of bi people in the media. Bi men are often represented as going through a phase before eventually coming out as gay. Bi women in films and TV series are often used as tropes; they are overly-sexualized, and most of the times shown to have been waiting for the guy all along. Both are shown to be οn a stage prior to realizing that they were either gay or straight all along. They are often depicted as the “straight girl” who will break your heart, or the experimenting girl who makes out with other girls as candy for men’s eyes. Orange is the New Black was an example of a series with well-developed bisexual characters, yet with a fear of ever admitting it, or even mentioning the word ‘bisexual’. Celebrities such as Freddie Mercury, are often called gay or straight, usually depending to the type of media platform referring to them.
For all people coming to terms with our identity, it’s extremely important to see people like is out there; people with similar experiences, and a name to reassure us that we’re true, that we exist.
How you can be a great ally to bisexual people!
First ally rule for any identity: Listen to us, get to know us, believe us when we explain to you how we experience something in our lives. Give credit to our words and step back when our own issues are discussed, so that you can give us the space to articulate our needs.
Help us see ourselves represented. Include us in your speeches, in your community spaces, in your advocacy and external politics and communication. We are your siblings. We are here for you: to volunteer in your group, to help in our common causes, to offer our home and a shoulder to cry on when you fight with your family, or our voice and signatures in protest when you are discriminated against in your workplace.
Let’s raise visibility, share our stories, stand up for each other, and try not to leave anyone out: this is the only way our community can bring the change we need to see in the world!