Bisexuality has had a rough ride over the course of my lifetime. I’ve related to that identity differently over time and have summed up some major trends in the world of bisexuality.
Gay vs Straight
My earliest memories of “gayness” were of merely a binary of straight vs gay. Most people were straight and gay people existed, but I didn’t know any. I never heard anyone say lesbian or trans, though I did hear queer and it wasn’t a positively-reclaimed word yet. It was hate speech.
There was a bit of time when I remember being confused about women who liked women. Was that gay? For the most part, yes. But not always. Girls could be affectionate with each other, but the danger was when you started feeling attracted to each other. That was gay.
Not only were there few options, they seemed to be permanent and dramatic. Parents would disown gay kids and straight people mostly hated gay people. It seemed like if you were attracted to the same sex and/or gender, you were gay and that meant you weren’t attracted to the “opposite” sex and/or gender.
Bi-City! Next stop : Gay Town.
Once I got into high school, I started hearing about bisexuality. I met one person who identified as bisexual openly. Other people didn’t accept this. Everyone, gay or straight, was sure that bisexuals were gay folks who just hadn’t figured it out yet.
I remember questioning my own sexuality a lot. I knew I was attracted to guys, that part was easy. It was expected that I would be attracted to them and I was, so I acted on those crushes. I definitely was attracted to women too, but there were only a couple ladies into ladies and they were my friends. I didn’t want to risk losing my gay friends by dating them, so I didn’t.
Throughout university, and a few years past that, my bi identity was hidden in a monogamously straight relationship. I got pressured into straight couples’ hangouts and absolutely hated the gender divides. I desperately wanted to break free and be among the gay folk, where I felt the most like myself.
Everything On A Spectrum
Somewhere during my university days, while I was still in a straight relationship, everything that had to do with human behaviour became a spectrum. Autism, depression, and yes, gayness, became a spectrum. Perhaps this was just in my psychology courses, but there seemed to be more awareness of gradients and degrees of sexuality rather than simply gay or straight (or the mythical bisexual).
So, before bisexuality had a chance to be embraced, it was replaced by a gradient of more or less homosexual. No longer were you simply bi, you were 30-70% lesbian. Again, bi was denied status as a distinct identity.
Divorcée turned Lesbian
Once I had stepped out from the straight-passing shadow I’d been living under, my major romantic relationships were with women. I cut my hair short (for reasons entirely unrelated to my sexual identity) and before I so much as smiled at another woman, I was branded a lesbian. But make no mistake, I was not a gold star lesbian. Some women would not date me because I continued to date men occasionally.
I was challenged on my sexuality far less than I had been growing up. I was living in a city rather than a small town and there were more open-minded people. Prejudice absolutely still existed, but the norm was acceptance. Tolerance, at the very least.
By the time I moved to Montreal, I had learned about pansexuality (attraction to all genders), non-monogamy and non-binary identities. I had met a few folks who identified that way and though I didn’t fall in love within that community, I felt I had found an identity that fit.
Growing up in the 90s and early 00s, bisexuality meant that gender didn’t affect who you were attracted to. Once pansexuality came into the picture, people began to shun bisexuality as a trans-exclusive definition. While I think that pan is a great identity that is at least etymologically more inclusive, I know there are plenty of people who identify as bi in a way that is the same as how others identify as pan.
In Memory of our Beloved Bisexuality
Is bisexuality an outdated term that upholds the gender binary? Yeah, kind of. We should probably get rid of it. Except that it’s a term that makes sense to people outside the community and people in the community who don’t actively read queer theory. It’s an easy shortcut to the end of an awkward conversation with someone who won’t understand and probably won’t even try.
More than that though, part of me mourns the loss of a term I had quietly held as my own for most of my life. Bi was an identity I was working up the nerve to claim. Readying myself for a time of acceptance and that window was so short that I mostly missed it. I’m happy in my pansexuality, but there’s still a certain nostalgia with bi-ness. It felt like crossing a divide. It even felt non-binary, for a time. Bisexuality has a history that I feel intimately connected to.
Half and Half
Bisexuality, to me, meant code-switching for straight vs gay worlds. It meant the privilege to hide my gayness when I didn’t feel safe. It meant guilt every time I used that privilege.
It always felt like I had one foot in the closet and one foot out, only my feet were on two sides of a portal between parallel, but vastly different, universes. I felt like an ambassador for gays in straight land, yet not gay enough to belong firmly in the gay community. Always needing to prove my sexual diversity.
Bi and trans identities are among only a few that can blend unnoticed in the straight world. They are often treated like spies because they aren’t fully enclosed within the LGBT+ community, safely zoned away from the straight folk. There aren’t often flags to mark out bi people, especially if they are in straight-looking relationships. There is still a sense of us vs them with straight vs gay communities and even if it’s not meant maliciously, there’s still a division. And some people feel safer with big, thick, uncrossable walls.
Bi Erasure of Public Figures
It certainly doesn’t help that celebrities and public figures who have identified as bisexual have been misrepresented as gay or straight. Freddy Mercury, Andy Dick, and Carry Brownstein are all examples of bisexuals misrepresented in the media.
Celebrities certainly shouldn’t be the gold-standard of how we live, but they live highly visible lives. We can’t help but be influenced by them on some level. They also often shape the minds of youth who don’t yet have much experience with the world.
Leaving bisexual identities out of the public eye is harmful to bisexuals who are still figuring themselves out. Lack of representation can be really stigmatizing. When you don’t see yourself reflected in the world, you might conclude that there’s something wrong with you. Something abnormal. Something undesirable.
There is an assumption that if you date someone of the same gender, you’re automatically gay or a lesbian. If you then get into a hetero-relationship, you’re suddenly straight again. Bisexuality is so rarely presented as a viable option.
Then there’s the gender lens. Men who date men are always seen as fully gay and women who date women are often dismissed as “just experimenting”. It must be THE OVERWHELMING POWER OF DICKS! Everyone wants to fuck men with penises apparently.
Joking aside, there is definitely a different presentation of bi-erasure among different genders, and it seems to stem from this patriarchal idea that everyone loves dick. Men who try dick even once stay there and women will somehow always be lured back into straightness given the right dick. It seems silly, but this is the underlying message in how the media tends to deal with bisexuality and it’s clearly false, yet persistent.
Gay, Straight, or Whatever
Often times when speaking with straight people, in an attempt to affirm their open-mindedness, they will say “I don’t care if someone is gay, straight or whatever!” Yet it usually tells me they don’t have the patience to educate themselves and understand the many gender and sexual identities in their community.
A lot gets grouped into the whatever category. Bi, trans, 2-spirit, intersex, and asexual identities are glossed over and not thought about. They are sometimes included in the acronym (LGBT2SQIA+) but that’s also really confusing to people who have never questioned their gender, sexuality or ethnicity, so they get left out.
It feels weird to be part of the trunk of the acronym (LGBT) yet so often ignored, forgotten and sometimes, erased.
The weird part about having a minority identity based on sexuality is that it becomes the most visible part of who you are.
Like, you might make really cool cartoons that have nothing to do with gender or sexuality, but as soon as you come out to people, you become a gay, or bi, or queer(etc) cartoonist. Suddenly the world relates to you as a sexual minority which is both good and bad.
It increases your identity’s visibility, but it also makes people think that sex is somehow more important to you than to other people. Bisexuality, in particular, has this idea attached to it that you must have a male partner and a female partner at all times to be truly bisexual (ya know, if it even exists! *eye roll*).
While non-monogamy is a part of my identity as well, it is separate from my bisexuality and I don’t need to “have one of each”. I don’t often have multiple partners. I’ve been pretty monogamous thanks to covid for a while now and while our relationship agreement allows for extra relationships, I haven’t really strayed too far. And that’s fine. I don’t need to, but I know that I might want to if I meet the right person, of any gender. And that’s fine.
Bye bye bi
I’ve had a long and tumultuous relationship to my sexual identity that I’m sure will continue to evolve and shift as I get older. Bisexuality has been with me that whole time. It may not be the charming and newly-favored Pansexual Identity, but it was there for me when I needed it, and for that, I will always be grateful.