What Does It Mean to Be Bi?

It’s Bi Visibility Month, but many people still don’t know what the “B” in LGBTQ means.

The first thing bisexuals want you to know is that we often feel invisible, even in the queer community. We’re frequently erased from conversations surrounding sexuality when people default to two options — gay or straight. There are far more bisexual people out there than you might think. Chances are, you know or have even dated someone who is bisexual. Maybe you’re still exploring your own sexuality and think you might be bi. Doesn’t that make you want to learn more?

September is Bi Visibility Month. This year we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first Bi Visibility Day, which is held on September 23rd every year. Bisexual is considered an umbrella term for anyone who likes more than one gender. If your sexual choice is not limited to any gender, pansexual may be a better fit, but in the queer community these terms are somewhat fluid and arbitrary. For this post, I use bisexual to mean someone who likes both men and women, but may be open to dating individuals who identify otherwise — such as trans and non-binary people.

I am a bisexual woman, and I’m in a monogamous relationship with a heterosexual man. For many bisexuals, being in a relationship can be troubling when others peg us as either gay or straight, erasing our true sexuality. I don’t expect my partner to never experience attraction to other women, and likewise, he doesn’t expect me to stop experiencing attraction to both men and women. Despite who I am dating or committed to, my sexual orientation doesn’t change.

Unfortunately, many bisexuals feel erased when other people tell us our sexuality is a phase, or a stop on the way to full-blown homosexuality. Some people accuse of us merely experimenting. Because people try to peg us as either gay or straight, many of us have grown up confused and hurt by our inability to conform one way or the other.

But research shows that bisexuals may actually be the “invisible majority”, and more young people than ever are coming out as non-heterosexual, according to recent surveys. As our culture becomes more accepting of the sexual-orientation spectrum, more people are able to explore the fluidity of their sexuality. Most of us believe this is a positive thing, allowing young people to embrace their homo and heterosexual tendencies freely and without shame.

Tolerance, however, is not always enough. There are many bisexuals prefer to keep their sexual orientation private. In America, LGBTQ rights are still not fully protected. Some bisexuals don’t come out because they fear losing career opportunities, such as NFL veteran Ryan Russell, who recently opened up about his bisexuality for ESPN. Others aren’t out because they fear rejection (or worse) from their family and community.

The purpose of Bi Visibility Day isn’t to coax other bisexuals out of the closet, especially if there could be serious repercussions, such as being cut off financially from parents or rejected from a religious community. The purpose of Bi Visibility Day is simply to bring more visibility to bisexuality. Bi Pride Month is an opportunity to correct common misconceptions, share personal stories, and feel celebrate bisexuality.

The Bisexual Pride Flag, Wikimedia Commons.

“Bisexuality is misunderstood; the adage is that you’re either straight or gay or lying, but that’s not my experience. To call me anything other than bisexual would be inaccurate. “— Clive Davis

Who are some famous bisexuals? You might not have known that pop singer Halsey is bisexual, or that she’s even written music about it. Actress Bella Thorne and Brooklyn-Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz are bi as well. Arizona Senator Kristen Sinema is not only the first female senator of her state, she’s also bi. Miley Cyrus famously shared that she is pansexual. As YouTube Tré Melvin put it when he came out, being bisexual “shouldn’t be a big f*cking deal, but unfortunately, society makes it a big f*cking deal.”

Because bisexuality is not often discussed, it’s possible that many more people are bisexual than we realize and they simply haven’t had the chance to explore or embrace it due to fear of judgment. Growing up bi, those of us who weren’t fortunate enough to learn about the term or what it means were left confused about whether we were “really” just straight or gay.

Thanks to the internet, I’ve been privileged to get to know adults — many of whom are in committed relationships — who are finally accepting and embracing their bisexuality, a part of themselves they rejected for so long. Coming to terms with being bisexual is a process that requires honesty, patience, and self-reflection. It’s about understanding and recognizing who you are. There’s no shame in coming out later in life, or even just coming out to yourself.

In my experience, I often felt confused when I had crushes on girls when I was young, and opted to date boys. I feared what my conservative Christian community would think if I were to date a girl. “Bisexual” wasn’t yet part of my vocabulary — I just knew I was different. By the time I was in college, I understood I was different from people who were straight or gay, and eventually I was able to wrap my head around what it means to be bi.

When I found the Bisexual in Science community online (#BiInSci) and started making connections with other bi people, I knew I’d found my people. Many aspects of who I am began to make sense. It seems reasonable that so many celebrities who come out as bisexual have had to go through therapy or spend serious time reflecting on their true selves before they were able to come out. Society tells us there are two options — gay or straight. Where does that leave everyone else?

Worse, there are a lot of misunderstandings about bisexuality — some of those misconceptions are still being spread around the internet. Just recently on Twitter, two viral tweets about “useless” and “cheating” bisexuals intended to shame bisexual womxn specifically for not being into threesomes (for men’s benefit) and for having too great a sexual appetite, resulting in cheating. This perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy bi womxn are faced with. One the one hand, they’re told if they’re interested in monogomy, they’re worthless. But on the other hand, they’re considered “too sexual” and at risk for cheating on their partner.

Having multiple partners is neither a qualifier nor a disqualifier for being bisexual. Cheating is irrelevant and not confined to one specific sexual orientation, of course. No, bisexuals don’t have uncontrollable sexual appetites. Nor are we constantly checking everyone out. There are quite a few misconceptions we need to get over, but this is definitely one of them because it deters people from dating bisexuals. The final and most well-known mistaken idea is that bisexuality is a phase. It is not.

Unfortunately, stigmas can prevent bisexuals from living openly. There is the fear of not being believed, especially if you’ve only dated one gender or haven’t dated anyone at all (or if you’re already in a committed heterosexual relationship, but we’ve already covered the fact attraction to other people doesn’t just end the moment you update your relationship status). Other bisexuals are afraid it’s simply going to be awkward, and they don’t want to make a big deal about it.

I decided to come out simply to help fight the stigma and feel more comfortable in my own shoes. Because I didn’t know what bisexuality was when I was growing up, I suffered from confusion and even self-hatred for not understanding my sexuality. It gave me anxiety and even made me feel depressed. I don’t want other people, especially young kids, to feel the way I did. I want people to be comfortable with who they are.

Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash

The more we can accept and share the term bisexual, the more we can fight stigmas and biases and misconceptions. Education is empowerment, and educating people about bisexuality will help other bisexuals feel empowered to be who they are. We’re all on our own journey. If you think you might be bisexual and you need resources, you can learn more at the Bisexual Resource Center.

Speaking as a bisexual person with a straight partner, I can tell you that I appreciated my partner not treating it like it was a big deal. He told me it didn’t matter to him as long as I was committed and content, like he is. His knowing I am bisexual changed nothing about our relationship, except that I could talk comfortably and openly about my online bi advocacy.

If you suspect or know your partner is bisexual, being supportive (and not freaking out, being awkward about it, or accusing them of hypersexuality) is pretty easy. After all, it’s not going to change the fact they love you. Bisexuals want to be treated like normal people — just like everyone else. They don’t want it to be a big deal when they come out or casually make their sexuality known. And they definitely don’t want you to crack a joke about a threesome, or ask if they’re attracted to everything that breathes.

The fact is, we’re just like you. We have crushes, we fall in love, some of us get married and have kids, some of us have multiple partners, and some of us love being single. But until bisexuality becomes more socially acceptable and loses the stigma, some of us have to keep our sexuality to ourselves for fear of repercussions or rejection.

You have a part in normalizing bisexuality. This month, follow a bisexual advocacy group on your favorite social media site. Share one of their posts with your followers, friends, and family. Purchase a #BiInSci t-shirt or a queer pride pin to wear. Help other people learn about what it means to be bisexual and be proud of who you are. And if you’re coming out this month, congratulations! You’re a baby binosaur now, and I’m proud of you.

Sarah Olson writes science book reviews and feminist rants. She’s currently an undergraduate student in microbiology and science writing. Sarah lives in Oregon with her partner, their hamster, and an apartment full of books. Learn more about her work at readmorescience.com.

Nonfiction writer wrangling words and horses in the Pacific Northwest | she/they

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