As Bisexuality Awareness Week comes to a close, we celebrate Bisexual Visibility Day
( Ale Orozco / Rowdy Magazine Graphic Designer)
I (Katie) didn’t know what gay meant until I was 11. But even before then, I had gay experiences.
I daydreamed about kissing girls, all the while pretending to be a boy. I had no idea two girls, or even boys, could be together. Like most parents, mine probably assumed the idea was a conversation for later, or something I would unravel on my own.
I wasn’t introduced to it in a pleasant way. In fourth grade, some boys berated another boy by calling him “gay”. They used the term as an insult, just like many do now. That was how I learned what it meant. (I also caught glimpses of girls kissing on Degrassi.) The whole time gay relations felt like a secret buried deep underneath the screen of heteronormativity.
Growing up, I also liked boys. Most of my attraction leaned toward them, as it does now. For a long time, the questions “what if I’m actually straight?” or “what if I don’t fit because of my experience with men?” circulated in my brain. I paraded as a rainbow ally. Finally, I claimed my place and began to examine the internalized biphobia I held onto.
Historically, bisexual individuals have been ostracized by heterosexual and gay/lesbian communities, according to a study by Mimi Hoang. Bisexual people are often called indecisive, confused and actually gay, or cheaters. For women, being bi is often also sexualized. Their woman-loving-woman relations are undermined to a sexy spectacle, and people –– men, usually –– greedily want to see.
I (Morgan) know several bisexual women in relationships with heterosexual men who are given the OK by their boyfriends to hook up with women whenever they want. This shows how casually biphobia penetrates our society, with wlw relationships being viewed as less “real” than heterosexual ones, often being told their experiences are “just a phase” or stem from curiosity.
For men, the stigma of bisexuality is more piercing. According to The Hill, prior studies even denied the existence of male bisexuality. Beyond hate and discrimination, biphobia takes the form of ignoring and dismissing bisexuality as a sexual orientation.
J. Michael Bailey, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, said in a study from 15 years ago that there is no proof of bisexuality for men. A study published July 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) journal, validated male sexual orientation “contains a range, from heterosexuality, to bisexuality, to homosexuality.”
Whereas some men enjoy the idea of dating a bi woman, many heterosexual women won’t date a man who identifies as bisexual because they assume he’s “actually gay.” Both stereotypes about bisexual people assume the default is attraction to men, a dangerous and misguided way the patriarchy seeps into people’s personal relationships and identities. It’s another way heterosexual expectations and toxic masculinity are drilled into men.
Because they may not receive much support, the bisexual community may confront identity confusion and internalized shame. Many studies have found that internalized homophobia leads to mental health issues, identity development issues and relationship and intimacy problems among gay men and lesbians, the study by Mimi Hoang said.
The same applies to bi people with biphobia. (The questions I, Katie, mentioned earlier are all tied to biphobia.) The study said bisexual people also face suicidality, greater childhood adversity, less positive support from family and more negativity from friends than gay/lesbian peers.
A common misconception is that bisexuality means 50/50 attraction toward men and women.
In truth, sexual orientation is ever-evolving and fluid. However, fluidity does not inherently mean that bi people switch from men to women.
I (Morgan) have personally experienced times in my life where I feel way more attracted to one gender, and then several months down the road, I find myself mostly interested in another. Sometimes I, like many other bisexual people (though I now identify as “queer”), am physically attracted to one gender but don’t have romantic interest in them. This means that physical or sexual attraction, even without romantic attraction, can still denote bisexuality.
Also, bisexuality is not confined to the gender binary.
Although “bi” means two, the actual definition according to the Bisexual Research Center is “an umbrella term for people who recognize and honor their potential for sexual and emotional attraction to more than one gender.” This means that trans and non-binary people are not excluded. Essentially, bisexual people are attracted to genders like their own and different than their own.
Other identities like “pansexual” and “queer” can have similar overlap, but with some specific distinctions. Pansexuality, for example, is typically thought of as being attracted to people without a particular regard for their orientation or gender identity, and queer is usually used as a more general term meaning, essentially, non-straight.
As someone who has identified with pretty much all of the aforementioned orientations at one point or another, I (Morgan) can testify that your feelings about your own sexuality and attraction can be fluid and change as you explore it deeper. It’s OK to take your time with discovering which label feels the most comfortable for you.
It’s important to remember that bisexuality is just about the genders you are attracted to and is not limited to experience. This means that if you are in a heterosexual relationship, you are still valid to identify as bisexual. And if you are with someone who is nonbinary or identifies as the same gender as you, you are valid too.
This Bi Week, and every week after, we hope you can own all of the many complex and beautiful parts of your identity, free of stigma and shame. And if you fall outside of this category, give a bisexual a hug today — they probably need it.