A Beginner’s Guide to Bisexuality
It’s Bi Visibility Month this month! So, here I am, being bi, making the same joke I did last year. You’re welcome.
I thought about doing something a little more in-depth this year, but I’ve also encountered a few people recently who have reached out to me with some genuine confusion about bisexuality – whether their own or other people’s – and what it means (and doesn’t mean) to be bisexual. I love doing deep-dives on issues surrounding the bi community, but I also haven’t really taken the time to go back to the basics and talk about what bisexuality actually is for people who may have questions about it. What if someone close to you has just come out? How do you handle it? What do you need to know? Trying to educate yourself in good faith is an excellent thing to do, and what better way to help the bis in your life become a little more visible than understanding them a bit better?
Bisexual is an umbrella term under which anyone who is romantically or sexually attracted to more than one gender falls. Though “bi” means “two”, bisexual doesn’t exclusively refer to people who are just into men and women, nor is it limited to just two genders.
Okay, so they’re attracted to more than one gender – what does that mean for dating? The short answer is “the same as anyone else”. But the longer one is that bisexual people can be in monogamous relationships, they can be in polyamorous ones, they can be married, in long-term partnerships, in casual ones, or some mixture of the above. There’s a long-running belief that bisexual people are inherently non-monogamous (or prone to cheating when they are in monogamous relationships) because their attraction to more than one gender means they can never be satisfied with one person – this just isn’t true. Bisexuality is the capacity to be attracted to a larger group of people, not the necessity to act on that attraction when it does turn up. How and when bisexual people act on it is going to vary from person to person, and it not looking the way you think it should doesn’t make it fake. Oh, which reminds me-
Look, I’m not saying nobody in the history of ever has faked bisexuality, but I’ve yet to meet them if they have (and, if they are, it’s probably because we have excellent donuts at the Bisexual Weekly Coven Meeting). There’s this perception that a lot of people are faking bisexuality for various reasons; whether for “woke” points, for male attention, to co-opt a marginalized identity, and I, frankly, don’t really believe that’s true.
Here is a small list of things that don’t mean someone is faking it: being in a long-term relationship with someone of the opposite sex, being in a long-term relationship with someone of the same sex, having only dated one gender, having not dated anyone at all, making a big song and dance about coming out, not really coming out to anyone formally at all. People’s experiences of bisexuality and how they feel about it are influenced by so many things around them, and how, when, and where they express and share their identity is going to show up in a million different ways as a result.
There’s no real benefit to accusing people of faking it, but there is a whole lot of damage to be done. I can understand where the doubt comes from – because, hell, I had it about myself for a long time – but the truth of it is, if someone has come out to you as bisexual, chances are they’ve spent a long time feeling this kind of attraction, and have only just found the language, community, safety, or acceptance they need to put it out into the world.
What can you do to try and help the bi people in your life feel safer and accepted? Well, first, unlearn whatever biphobic stereotypes media and society at large has found a way to feed to you – that bisexuals are untrustworthy, dirty, fake, liars, attention-seekers. And that goes for bisexual people, too, because being part of a marginalized group doesn’t immunize you against absorbing negative myths about them. When you’re talking about bisexual people, consider the ways you might be influenced by these kind of stereotypes, and how you can change that.
Most importantly, though, the bisexual people in your life aren’t doing this because it’s hot or cute or progressive; chances are, they’re doing it because it’s part of who they are, and they want to share it with you, because they trust you with it and they want you to know. And, frankly, I think that’s pretty damn lovely.
If you’d like to read more of my writing on sexuality, take a gander at the links below, and please consider supporting me on Patreon!
Greey, Lying, or Slutty: Straight-Passing and Bi-Erasure