Let’s rethink the way we talk about the “B” in LGBTQ.
Despite the fact that more women identified as bisexual in 2016 than at any other point in American history, bisexual people are still subject to silencing and shaming from both the gay and heterosexual communities. In fact, heterosexual men are three times as likely to claim bisexuality is “not a legitimate sexual orientation,” and research shows that monosexual gay and lesbian individuals — that is, those who are attracted to a single gender — still hold negative perceptions of bi people.
Worse yet, depictions of inaccurate and often insulting portrayals of bisexual people in the media and on the silver screen have been written about widely. From perceived promiscuity to assumptions of temporary indecision, beliefs about bisexual people and why they identify the way they do are varied and largely ill-formed. Below, we’ll take a look at six of the most common misconceptions about the “B” in LGBTQ.
#1: Bisexuality is just a phase.
One particularly pervasive misunderstanding about bisexuality is the idea that it’s merely a stop along the way to coming out as gay or lesbian. Assuming that bi people will “settle into” monosexuality in due time, many straight and gay people adhere to the harmful belief that bisexuality is a transitional or experimental phase. According to a longitudinal study of LGBT-identifying youths, only 18 percent of those who initially came out as bisexual later came out as gay or lesbian. So while some monosexual people do first come out as bisexual before identifying as gay or lesbian, such anecdotal evidence should not be used to generalize.
#2: Bi people are straight or gay depending on who they marry or settle down with.
Similarly, many people adopt the notion that a person’s true sexual preference is determined by the gender of their long-term partner. What those people fail to realize, of course, is that in the same way that a monosexual individual in a long term relationship does not cease to be attracted to other individuals of their preferred sex, bisexual people can choose to be with someone of a particular gender without forfeiting their attraction to other genders.
#3: In order to “truly” be bisexual, a person must have had a relationship with both male and female partners.
This relates to the misconception that bi people are somehow confused about their sexual orientation, while also assuming that sexual orientation and sexual preference are synonymous. Just as a person can know that they are heterosexual or homosexual without entering into a relationship with anyone at all, a bisexual person can know that they are bisexual before experiencing relationships with partners of any gender. While a bisexual person may have a heightened preference for one gender, they may still be attracted to other genders.
#4: Bi people tend towards non-monogamy, and are more likely to cheat.
The perception that bi people tend to be more promiscuous is likely a consequence of the injurious historical association of bisexuality with hedonism or sinfulness. But even in 2017, this negative association contributes to the fear that a bisexual partner might suddenly run away with someone of a different gender.
The bottom line: promiscuity and sexual preference don’t correlate.
#5: Bisexual women only identify as bi to capture the attention of men.
This misconception is largely a reflection of misogyny and the fetishization of bisexual women rather than the actual motivations of bisexual people. To reduce an entire sexual orientation to nothing more than an attention seeking behavior not only delegitimizes bisexuality, but also reinforces reductive and heteronormative stereotypes about women.
#6: Only women are bisexual.
Like dismissing bisexuality as an attention seeking behavior specific to women, many also assume that bisexual men don’t exist in large part due to lack of visibility. In truth, bisexual men are simply less likely to openly identify due to lower levels of societal acceptance.
According to a study from Pew Research, only 12 percent of bisexual men are out of the closet, compared to 28 percent of all bisexuals and 77 percent of gay men. Why? Among the survey’s 1,200 LGBT respondents, 33 percent said there was more perceived acceptance of bisexual women, while only 8 percent said they perceived societal acceptance for bisexual men.
As a result of bisexual men’s justified reluctance to openly identify, bisexual women bear the brunt of overt biphobia and discrimination. It’s time to drop these arbitrary gender classifications and create a culture in which bisexual men are comfortable and encouraged to share such an essential piece of their identity.
With so many unfounded and frankly, harmful perceptions of bisexuality, it’s not surprising that many bisexuals remain closeted. Worse yet, a 2016 study from researchers at Drexel University found that young bisexual women score significantly higher on a survey measuring current suicidal thought than both straight women and lesbians, and research from the Journal of Bisexuality found that bisexual people reported experiencing different but still comparable levels of discrimination from lesbians, gay men, and straight people alike. It’s clear that for as long as monosexual communities cling to these sweeping stereotypes, the mental health of bisexual individuals is at risk (which is, in part, why we offer a high number of LGBT friendly health professionals who specialize in mental health concerns in the bi community)
Thankfully, there are more than a few prominent celebrities and activists who are helping to refute damaging myths about bisexuality. From superstar Lady Gaga’s public embrace of her bisexuality to the increasingly nonchalant way in which young celebrities like Bella Thorne reveal their romantic preferences, the growing visibility of a more diverse range of bisexual experiences will serve to combat these misconceptions.
The growing popularity of the term pansexuality is also helping to draw attention to the various identities that coexist under what’s known as the bi umbrella. While many people mistakenly assume that “bi” implies adherence to a rigid gender binary, the reality is that many bi people have the potential to, as advocate Robyn Ochs puts it, “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.”
The rise of the pan identity has the potential to propel us away from over-categorization and toward a fluid queer culture in which people of all orientations are free to express themselves — without relying on labels.