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Understanding Bisexuality and the Need For More Visibility

The concept of bisexuality, although initially unnamed, has been a part of our lives as long as humans have existed. In earlier civilizations, for instance, it was common — and even encouraged at times. Those days are long gone, and we find ourselves in the 21st century; people seem to acknowledge the existence of bisexuality and millions openly identify with said label in their daily lives. Every year on September 23 since 1999, the Bisexual Visibility Day is celebrated in order to “raise bi awareness and challenges bisexual & biromantic erasure,” according to its website — but what does that all mean?

The stigma around bisexuals is definitely linked to homophobia in a great amount of occasions, but there is also huge prejudice surrounding bisexuality that finds its roots in the lack of visibilization of the community. As an openly bisexual person myself, I have heard ignorant comments that range from insinuations of higher likeliness of cheating due to sexual orientation and accusations of greed, to affirmations of the nonexistence of bisexuality — in other words, the well-known “pick a side” that has been popularized due to the binary views of our society.

While it seems painfully obvious to say, it is key for people to understand this: bisexual folks aren’t more likely to be anything because of the label they have chosen to identify themselves with. If somebody decides to cheat on their significant other for any particular reason, it has nothing to do with the amount of genders they’re attracted to — it is purely and exclusively a personal decision.

Polyamory, while undoubtedly desirable for many, is far from being a practice that should be automatically assumed for bisexuals. It is also very important to highlight that the stigma on bisexuality isn’t only carried by straight people, as I can’t count on one hand the amount of gay men that have asked me (mostly well-intentioned) questions about my sexual orientation that are based on myths that persist in our society due to a lack of accurate representation and visibilization.

Ultimately, it seems that there are lots of individuals who, on surface level, have no problems dealing with bisexual folks, but at the same time refuse to believe you’re one until they see you holding hands with both men and women — in the meantime, they’ll assume you’re looking for attention or waiting until the right time to tell the world you’re gay. And that’s exactly one of the narratives that causes people to struggle with coming to terms with their bisexuality: living in a world in which not being a part of the binary idea of sexuality is largely questioned and must be proven in order to be believed.

And that’s exactly one of the narratives that causes people to struggle with coming to terms with their bisexuality: living in a world in which not being a part of the binary idea of sexuality is largely questioned and must be proven in order to be believed.

Pride parade in Geneva (Switzerland), July 2019. Photographed by Delia Giandeini.

When discussing sexuality, statistics rarely ever come up. It has proven to be very difficult by any organization or state to even get near the true amount of people of certain sexual identities: lots are unsure, others choose to not identify themselves with any particular label — and others are afraid of the retaliations, taking into account we still live in an quite homophobic and heteronormative society. However, there’s still a growing number of people out there who do feel comfortable telling the world they’re not straight, and the statistics for those are quite telling.

According to data from the 2018 General Social Survey (GSS), the number of people who identify as bisexual on the United States has been on the rise for almost a decade, but that increase is largely attributed to women. Once again, this information must be taken with a grain of salt — but it is not exactly surprising. There’s no biological factors related to sex that can explain this difference, but a social aspect can: toxic masculinity is still very much enforced by society, and women are therefore usually more likely to explore their sexuality and openly discuss it than men are.

Before writing this piece, I ran a very small Instagram poll with questions about bisexuality. While it is surely biased and far from being useful for large-scale research as most of my followers are young, open-minded people that live in LGBTQ+ inclusive cities, some of the results were quite interesting. The first two questions asked if the respondent had bisexual women and men in their inner circles, with over 500 replies. In the first poll, 86,3% of people said they were close with women who identify as bisexual, with only 13,7% saying they didn’t know any — but in the second one, 59,3% said they had male friends or family members who identify as bisexual, and a staggering 41,7% replied indicating they knew none.

What seems to be happening in our society is also reflected in our media: in its 2019 ‘Where We Are On TV’ report, GLAAD found that of the 488 regular and recurring LGBTQ+ characters on scripted broadcast, cable, and streaming programing, 90 women were counted as bisexual, as opposed to 36 men.

Pete Gardner in The CW’s ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

Another misconception about bisexuality comes up along with the question of whether it includes other individuals from the gender spectrum that don’t identify as male or female — and the answer is yes. With the spike in popularity of the term ‘pansexual’ in the last few years caused by those who want to make it clear that gender is not a factor that influences their romantic and/or sexual attraction, the debate of where bisexuality lies has been around for a while now.

To understand why bisexuality goes beyond the binary, it’s imperative to know that this sexual orientation is not reduced to “part straight, part gay” — but it exists as a completely different entity than heterosexuality and homosexuality. “Bisexuality is inherently inclusive of everyone, regardless of sex or gender,” says the American Institute of Bisexuality. While it is indisputable that some people do hold preferences like straight and gay folks do, that doesn’t limit every bisexual person’s attraction to exclusively the gender binary.

When asking for bi visibility, it’s crucial that the rest of the LGTQ+ community is willing to stay informed and spread that awareness as well. It is often believed that there is such a thing as a “bisexual privilege” in which certain people can be “straight passing” which could help bisexual people not get oppressed in the same ways that gay people do. It needs to be understood that oppression is experienced in infinitely different ways by queer people — a bisexual person could be romantically linked to people of the same gender, or a different gender, and that doesn’t automatically make them more or less privileged than those in the gay community. It’s important to understand that systemic queerphobia is nuanced, and society’s invisibilization and denial of bisexuality is a form of oppression too. Those who proudly identify as bisexual are not running away from their queerness when dating a different gender, and it certainly doesn’t make them immune to oppression.

As Bi Visibility Day is once again celebrated in the whole world, let’s take this time — regardless of your sexual identity — to have a better grasp on what being bisexual truly means, and to continue getting rid of the harmful myths that have been passed on for years.

For queer people, openly labelling yourself in regards to your sexual identity is a political act, and in most cases a huge step forward in one’s personal life as well. Sexuality is oftentimes fluid and hard to understand, even for those who have spent countless years exploring it, and that’s exactly why we shouldn’t apply any pressure.

Your romantic and sexual identity or lack thereof, as particular as they may be, are completely valid — and you should be allowed to express them in any way you want to without being told otherwise.

Photo: Chris Allan via Shutterstock

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