Commentary | Bisexuality and expectations

Why questioning someone’s identity is harmful

I identify as bisexual. Before you assume anything, let me tell you what that means. To me, saying I’m bisexual is my way of telling people that I am interested in men and women both emotionally and sexually. It places me not in the middle, but somewhere in between straight and gay on the spectrum of sexuality. I am not attracted to everyone, and I am not still deciding which I like better.

Whether or not I choose to label my sexuality has no impact on my feelings or desires. Unfortunately, stepping into one of society’s pre-made ‘boxes’ of sexuality – gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual – subjects a person to a set of common assumptions, or stereotypes, about their personality and their actions. Bisexuality does not mean the same thing for everyone, and sweeping assumptions only obstruct understanding of the person. Bisexual people often get pushed to the wayside of the discourse around sexuality, with much discussion centring on the difference between gay and straight. As a result, bisexuals face several damaging generalizations, and it’s time to get the record ‘straight,’ so to speak.

Bisexuality is often pitted as ‘just a phase,’ and not a true identity. I’m not against people who are curious or experimenting: sexual experimentation is a part of the self-identification process. However, if someone tells you that what they think and feel is real, you can be assured it’s not a phase. It’s as simple as that. Refusing to acknowledge the validity of someone’s sexuality because you haven’t experienced it yourself is ignorant, and this sort of dismissive attitude ultimately perpetuates a dominant violence toward bisexuals.

Bisexuality does not mean the same thing for everyone, and sweeping assumptions only obstruct understanding of the person.

It also hurts to be told that your strongest, deepest emotions are non-existent or somehow inferior to those of others. Sadly, even people who have identified as bisexual for dozens of years are still being told by others in both the straight and gay communities that what is only a stepping stone to a ‘real’ sexuality.

A common stereotype, or assumption of bisexual people is that we’re ‘greedy,’ wanting a piece of everyone. Lesbians have told me that bisexual people aren’t satisfied enough, and sleep with men to make up the extra. Straight women have told me that bisexual people only sleep with women to attract more men. Saying bisexual people want to sleep with everyone is as wrong as saying that a straight women want to sleep with every man. We, like everyone, are picky about preferences and ‘types,’ and our sex drives, on average, are no higher than yours. I feel no void when I’m exclusively with a man or with a woman. Whether a person is male or female is simply not a deciding factor in whether I will be attracted to or will fall in love with someone.

Assumptions often become far-fetched and offensive. Many bisexual people, myself included, are subjected to distasteful comments and even grotesque proposals about threesomes. Let’s be clear: a person’s sexuality in no way defines the types of sexual activities they enjoy. Gay people are no more into BDSM, straight people are no more into rough sex, and bisexual people are no more into threesomes than any other person on the planet. I’ve also heard people claim that bisexual people are somehow more sexually insatiable than others. Some bisexual people define themselves as such strictly based on emotional connections, with little to no sexual interest. A person’s degree of sexuality is in no way related to their sexual orientation, and a person’s identity is not the place to start making assumptions about what goes on behind their bedroom door.

Even people who have identified as bisexual for dozens of years are still being told by others in both the straight and gay communities that what is only a stepping stone to a ‘real’ sexuality.

Making assumptions about sexuality impacts a person directly. For many people, the process of discovering one’s sexuality is long and confusing: identity offers stability. Being stamped with harmful assumptions can make a person question themselves fundamentally. A person may mistakenly try to detach from their sexuality, thinking that it is inherently ‘wrong,’ even though this is a natural part of their identity.

Though I consider myself overall very comfortable with my sexuality, I have come face-to-face with the consequences of these assumptions. I’ve been shut down by lesbians in bars who simply ‘don’t date bi girls’ (supposedly because of assumptions that I’ll leave them for a man). I’ve been asked harmful questions like, ‘Don’t you need to date both a guy and girl at the same time to be happy?’ or ‘How are you going to choose which one you want to marry?’ I’ve sat speechless after hearing comments like, ‘You’re luckier than gay people; you can just choose to be normal and date a guy.’ Even on T.V. people tell me it’s not possible to be who I am: Orange is the New Black only once mentions Piper’s bisexuality, choosing instead to paint her as indecisive and flopping between lesbian and straight. Society’s assumptions and ignorance can beat down even those of us who are most confident in our sexuality.

What is bisexuality, then? People who identify as bisexual are diverse in their views of love and sexuality. Some can see themselves spending time with, sleeping with, dating, and marrying either a man or a woman with no hesitation. However, it’s often not a 50-50 split. Personally, I have a stronger emotional attraction to men and a stronger sexual attraction to women. Others feel the opposite. Bisexual people can fall anywhere on this spectrum, and it makes them no more or less bisexual. It’s important to understand this internal diversity before generalizing anything about someone who identifies as bisexual. The easiest and most harmless way to understand a person’s sexuality is to ask them about it, and to listen to and believe what they say.

A person’s degree of sexuality is in no way related to their sexual orientation, and a person’s identity is not the place to start making assumptions.

Harmful assumptions are not exclusive to bisexual people. Many lesbians are questioned for being ‘too pretty,’ gay men for being ‘too masculine.’ Even people who identify as straight are subjected to the social assumptions surrounding their sexuality: marriage, kids, a perfect conformity to feminine or masculine gender expression. People who may not identify with a sexuality that the wider society understands (pansexuals, polysexuals, asexuals, queer, et cetera) may reject a pre-defined set of prejudices, but face discrimination because so few understand their identities. Letting boxes of assumptions define people only limits our understanding of one another.

Sexuality is a dynamic, diverse, and defining feature of humanity. By limiting our acceptance to a select few configurations of love, emotion, sex, and gender, we limit our unique ability to express ourselves sexually. People are already pushing the traditionally accepted boundaries of sexuality: a man who sleeps with a man is not necessarily gay, and a woman who marries a man is not necessarily straight. Convenience, social pressure, and curiosity can all be factors in an individual’s sexuality, but ultimately, it is defined by what makes them happy.

It’s time to break up with one-size-fits-all boxes of sexuality. I’m not necessarily against labels altogether: I use them to help define my own sexuality. However, accepting sexuality as an individualized identity is critical in achieving equality. Bisexuality exists. It exists because people identify as such. By refusing to accept people’s choices, you refuse to listen to the voices of real people who are trying to express their very real feelings and identity. Let’s grow up, listen to each other, respect each other, and love whomever we want to love.


Arielle VanIderstine is The Daily’s web editor, but her views here are her own. To contact her, email web@mcgilldaily.com.


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