By Maisha Z. Johnson for Everyday Feminism
Let’s start with the good news: We exist!
I wrote this, you’re reading this, so we – bisexual people – are both real people.
Whew. Glad we got that covered. Because there’s this nasty, unfortunately popular belief that orientation includes only two categories: “gay” and “straight.”
Which leaves a whole lot of LGBTQIA+ people out of the loop – and we, bisexual people, are one of the unmentionables.
If you’re just beginning the process of learning about your bisexual identity, I wish my job was as simple and pleasurable as welcoming you to the club, letting you know we go bowling every Tuesday (in my dream world), and sending you on your merry bi way.
But unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news: There are a lot of myths, lies, and stereotypes about us that can bring you some serious frustration and heartache – case-in-point: the fact that I had to start a conversation by asserting that we exist.
And when you’re beginning to figure your sexuality out, it’s hard to get past all the inaccurate information about it.
Especially when people turn that false information into judgment against you. Like saying you can’t be faithful, or you’re being greedy, or your bisexuality’s invalid because the gender of your partner makes you gay or straight.
Your identity is totally valid, and society’s limits around gender and sexuality are just plain wrong.
Here’s a popular definition of bisexuality from Robyn Ochs:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
This definition shows that bisexuality has nothing to do with those judgments.
The most important thing is that your sexuality is your own. But it’s not easy to own your sexuality when you’re getting all kinds of awful messages about it. So here are some biphobic comments you might get – and why they’re all wrong about you.
1. ‘You’re Just Confused’
This myth is all too common because we’re all surrounded by heternormativity – the assumption that everyone is straight.
Which can make figuring out your orientation confusing for anyone who isn’t heterosexual. Add the belief in only monosexuality to the mix, and then people think everyone’s only attracted to one gender – meaning, if you’re not straight, you must be gay.
So even people who think they’re being helpful suggest that “confusion” is what you’re dealing with, because they don’t know that it’s possible to feel attraction to more than one gender.
When I was a little girl, I used to think I could only be attracted only to boys – because heteronormativity says that all girls are. Even when I learned that not everyone is straight, I only learned about what it means to be gay.
So yes, by the time I was sure that I wasn’t gay or straight, I felt confused – about why there didn’t seem to be another option.
When I did learn about bisexuality, what I learned wasn’t good. It all came in the form of snide remarks about bisexual people, like jokes about women “experimenting” in college before they ended up straight, or about guys claiming to be bisexual until they admit they’re gay.
I believed those negative stereotypes, and I didn’t want them to fit me. For a long time, figuring out my orientation was a frustrating effort to pin my identity down as either gay or straight.
It never worked. I’d be lusting after the hero of the movie, convinced that my desire for him confirmed I was straight, and then along came the movie’s heroine to throw that theory out the window when she also set my bisexual heart aflutter.
You can save yourself this trouble. You know yourself better than anyone else does, so you don’t have to try to fit your sexuality into a box that doesn’t feel right to you.
It’s also okay if you’re still figuring things out, if your sexuality is fluid or your identity changes as you grow and learn more about what language feels right. That’s possible for everyone, whether they’re monosexual or not.
But “bisexual” doesn’t automatically mean “fluid,” and it doesn’t mean you’re just trying to figure out if you’re straight or gay. Your identity is as real and autonomously valid as anyone else’s.
2. ‘You’re Immoral’
Like many other people, I learned early on that anything other than heterosexuality is wrong.
Even when people said being gay is okay, some of them still believed that there’s something wrong with bisexuality.
I had straight friends who’d adamantly stand up to homophobia, arguing that “homosexuality is not a choice” so it shouldn’t be demonized. But when it came to bisexuality, they’d forget what they believed about acceptance and treat my identity as a choice – and an immoral one at that.
Some bisexual people do make decisions based on gender, and some see it as a deliberate choice to be visibly bisexual. But most of us also understand our bisexuality just like how others see their sexual orientation – it’s not something we chose, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
Advice columnist Dear Prudence recently advised a married bisexual woman to keep her orientation private, treating bisexuality like a fetish that would only make her loved ones uncomfortable.
This terrible advice sends the message that while monosexual people can share their sexual orientation as a defining part of their identity, bisexual people should be ashamed and keep it to ourselves.
You have nothing to be ashamed of. Your bisexuality doesn’t make you a bad person, but you can feel that way when nobody seems to understand you.
That’s why it’s helpful to reach out for bisexual community, whether it’s in person or online.
We’re out here. And so are reminders like this: Your bisexuality makes you pretty rad.
3. ‘You Have to Answer These Invasive Questions to Prove You’re Bisexual’
I thought I spent a lot of time thinking about my sex life – that’s nothing compared to other people’s curiosity. For some reason, when I say “I’m bisexual,” people seem to think I actuallysaid, “I’ll answer the most invasive question you can think of.”
These questions are nosy as hell – and do you know what makes people think they’re entitled to know such private details of my sex life?
It’s the “othering” of bisexual people. It’s one way monosexual people sometimes treat us as some kind of oddity, exotic creatures they can be free to objectify.
Some questions are worse than nosy – they’re also policing your sexuality.
Take the myth that you have to meet certain criteria to really “count” as bisexual. Some people believe that bisexuality means being equally attracted to men and women – “50/50” attraction for each.
So they ask questions to judge how your sexual experience matches up. For example: “How do you know you’re bisexual? Have you ever actually had sex with another man?”
Your sexual orientation isn’t about who you’ve slept with, or whether you have equal attraction to all genders, or any other arbitrary criteria. It’s about who you are. You don’t owe anyone an explanation that your sex life “proves” you are who you say you are.
So when you’re feeling pressure from people who feel entitled to know about your sexuality, it’s totally okay to set boundaries.
Let people know if you’re not comfortable answering personal questions. Your sexual identity is not an invitation for invading your privacy.
You can also point loved ones to resources on supporting you. If you do want to talk, you get to set your own terms, and you don’t have to share anything if you’re not safe, comfortable, and giving consent.
4. ‘This Is Just a Phase’
I’d be such a blissful bisexual if I never had to hear this one again.
In spite of our glorious existence, some people still hold the belief that bisexuality isn’t real – so we’re just going through a phase.
For example, those good ol’ heteronormative ideas come up again with the idea that bisexual women will eventually settle down with a man and “no longer” be bisexual.
This bisexual “phase” has lasted my entire life – if I were gay or straight, people would refer to it as my sexual orientation, not some experiment.
I shouldn’t have to give “proof,” but scientific studies confirm that bisexuality is a thing.
For bisexual men, a persistent myth says they’re gay men in the closet.
Some people do identify as one orientation before settling on another. For example, when popular columnist Dan Savage was a teenager, he told people he was bisexual before coming out as gay.
Unfortunately, Savage now uses his own experience to spread biphobic messages, claiming that young bisexual men are actually gay like he was.
But lots of proud bisexual men are proving him wrong.
Your existence is enough. You don’t need anyone else’s validation that the attraction you feel is real.
But it could help to learn more about what bisexuality means to you.
For instance, since you’re not limited to heteronormative ideas about who your gender “should” be attracted to, what does attract you to people? It might be fun to spend some time thinking about what grabs your attention.
5. ‘You’re Just Being Greedy’
If I lived up to every myth about bisexuality, I’d sure be busy.
Like the belief that we’re trying to have sex with “anything that moves.” Do they think I have time for all that?
The first thing wrong with this idea is that it’s obviously inaccurate. Not every bisexual person wants a super active sex life.
Just like you can’t assume that a gay man or straight woman wants to have sex with every man they come across, it’s ridiculous to say that a bisexual person wants to have sex with every person of every gender.
As Eliel Cruz put it, just because you’re bisexual, that doesn’t mean you don’t have standards.
The statement that bisexual people are “greedy” is also really judgmental. Those who choose to be sexually adventurous shouldn’t be shamed for it.
At least, ahem, that’s what a sexually adventurous friend of mine says. What the hell, the cat’s out of the bag – that’s what I say as a kinky, bisexual woman who knows there’s nothing wrong with you even if you do have an active sex life.
Personally, instead of entertaining the absurd idea that my sexual orientation makes me “greedy,” I prefer to think of myself as open-hearted and adventurous.
Which doesn’t mean I’m having orgies every night – but the point is, it’s not fair to judge anyone’s sex life, even if they are having lots of orgies. As long as everyone involved consents, you’re not hurting anyone with sex that makes you happy.
In fact, by calling sexually adventurous bisexual people “greedy,” people insult one of the LGBTQIA+ community’s most legendary figures: bisexual sex-positive activist Brenda Howard.
Howard was known as the “Mother of Pride” for her role in organizing the first Pride events, and she was also openly polyamorous and involved in BDSM. Her activism shows that having the sex life you want isn’t about greed – it’s about being free.
6. ‘You Can’t Be Faithful in Relationships’
Here’s another sex-shaming message: the one that says bisexuality and fidelity are incompatible – as if we’ll always cheat on our partners.
Excuse me as I roll my eyes and recall the monosexual ex-partners who have cheated on me.
There’s all kinds of information mixed up here. Like the misconception that being faithful is in any way connected to sexual orientation. There are people of all orientations who cheat on their partners, and people of all orientations who are totally faithful.
Then there’s the assumption that because you’re attracted to more than one gender, you want relationships with multiple partners.
Some folks do like having open relationships or multiple partners – that’s known as non-monogamy, and people of any sexual orientation can practice it.
But non-monogamy isn’t cheating. Like monogamy, it requires trust and communication.
And like gay and straight people, bisexual folks are perfectly capable of committing to relationships, whether they’re monogamous or not.
At the end of the day, the only people who need to know about your relationship terms are you and any potential partners – and even they don’t have the right to police your sexuality.
If a partner judges you or suspects you of cheating just because of your orientation, there’s nothing wrong with you – they’re not showing you the respect you deserve.
But don’t give up hope if you want relationships – bisexual people build healthy love and sex lives all the time with partners who respect us for who we are.
7. ‘But You’re Dating a [Gender] – That Makes You Straight or Gay’
Heteronormativity has created a huge myth that your sexual orientation depends on who you’re dating. For example, when two women date, they’re both assumed gay, and if a woman and a man date, they’re both assumed straight.
This one really gets to me, because my identity’s invisible either way.
A few years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman, and people often assumed I was a lesbian.
Some time after our relationship ended, I went on a date with a man. A friend of mine – who knows I’m bisexual – asked, “Does this mean you’re not queer anymore?”
Her question stung, and it still stings to know that some people make assumptions based on the gender of my partner.
It hurts even more when people outright refuse to recognize my identity, insisting that I must be gay or straight even when I tell them I’m bisexual. My perspective as a bisexual woman informs so much of my social, political, and sexual identity that denying the truth of my queerness is erasing an essential part of who I am.
Lots of situations prove that policing sexual orientation by gender in relationships is all wrong.
For instance, if your gender is non-binary, there’s no way to judge if your partner is the so-called “opposite” gender. And if you’re single and not having sex with any one at the moment, that doesn’t mean you’re asexual.
More than half of LGB-identified people identify as bisexual. So your place in the LGBTQIA+ community is solid.
But it hurts when people try to exclude us or make our identities invisible – it feels like you don’t belong in either predominately straight or predominately queer spaces.
Luckily for us, there are (and have always been) communities that don’t define queerness in such limited terms. They welcome a range of sexualities, genders, and expressions.
Dive into some bisexual history to find out about the amazing legacy you’re part of. If you want to be part of queer community, this can help you find or create the space that’s right for you.
8. ‘You’re Transphobic’
Some people think the “bi” in bisexual stands for binary – as in two genders, male or female. Some think we’re saying we’re not attracted to transgender people.
That thought is actually pretty erasive of trans people’s identities, because trans women are women and trans men are men, so of course they’re included as women and men.
Some also think that we’re not recognizing non-binary people who don’t fall into the binary of male or female. But non-binary and intersex people are also included in bisexuality because for most bisexual people, “bi” doesn’t stand for only two genders.
People define their bisexuality in different ways. For some, it means attraction to two or more genders. I like the definition of attraction to people of my gender and of other genders.
Some bisexual people are transphobic, just like some gay and straight people are. But that’s because our society upholds being cisgender as the norm. It’s not because bisexuality is inherently transphobic.
There are plenty of bisexual people who date trans folks, and plenty of bisexual people whoare trans folks.
This myth is inaccurate, but it also shows that cis allies in our communities need to be vocal about our support for trans folks, and give visibility to trans, non-binary, and intersex people among us.
We know how it feels to be erased, and it takes all of us to make sure none of us are invisible.
Speaking of erasure and invisibility, sometimes it feels like when people aren’t spreading misconceptions about us, they’re not talking about us at all.
Bisexual erasure is a real struggle. It’s the tendency to ignore or outright deny the existence of bisexuality, making us invisible.
Bisexual erasure shows up in the media, like when characters on popular shows like Orange Is the New Black are attracted to more than one gender, but they never say the word “bisexual.”
It shows up when famous and historical bisexual people are labeled as lesbian or gay.
It shows up when queer activism looks like supporting gays and lesbians, but not addressing issues like higher risks of suicide, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence against bisexual people.
Making us invisible hurts our physical and mental wellbeing – and then we can’t get support because nobody’s paying attention to our struggles.
These issues are examples of how we don’t have monosexual privilege – the benefits society gives to people who are attracted to just one gender, but denies to non-monosexual folks like bisexual people.
So if embracing your bisexual identity ever feels hard, that makes sense. You’re living with a system that deliberately discriminates against you.
But with all the people working to debunk these myths, there’s hope for change.
There are also ways to take care of yourself and heal from the impact of all these discouraging misconceptions about your sexuality.
If you’ve read this far, you’re already off to a great start with some ideas on how to do that. You could:
Read about bisexuality to understand more about what it means to you.
Get inspired by learning about bisexual activists, historical figures, and community leaders.
Connect with campaigns supporting bisexual people’s needs.
Define your identity only for yourself and nobody else.
And don’t forget to have fun!
Being bi isn’t all about shame and misunderstanding. When I think of the ridiculous lies, I remember it’s society that has a problem with bisexuality.
Bisexuality itself is a beautiful thing.
Express it however you want to – whether that’s flirting, rocking the bisexual flag, or just being your lovely self and knowing bisexuality is something nobody can take away from you.
Only you can decide what being bi means to you. Rock on with your beautifully bisexual truth.
Maisha Z. Johnson is the Digital Content Associate and Staff Writer of Everyday Feminism. She is also an apprentice editor with Black Girl Dangerous and a blogger for Pyragraph, and she facilitates empowerment groups with incarcerated women as part of Fired Up!, a program of California Coalition for Women Prisoners. Through her own project, Inkblot Arts, Maisha taps into the creative arts and digital media to amplify the voices of those often silenced. Read her blog or follow her on Twitter @mzjwords.
This article was originally published at Everyday Feminism. Reprinted with permission from the author.