Bisexuality Awareness week is a week for celebration and solidarity.
Bisexuality Awareness week is a week for celebration and solidarity.

Commentary | “What even IS bisexuality?”

Answering questions you may be too afraid to ask

There was never a specific moment of revelation in my life where I realised that I wasn’t straight. Instead, it took me a long time to recognise that I was interested in girls. At that point in my life, I knew what a lesbian was. Ellen Degeneres had just gotten her own talk show. A woman that loved other women was a lesbian – but I didn’t feel like a lesbian.

I had crushes on boys, too – though not as often or to the same degree as my crushes on other girls. How could I be a lesbian if I had a crush on the boy who rode the same bus home as I did? Did lesbians get butterflies in their stomach when they saw a cute boy?

After a few more years of deciphering my attraction to various people, cautious experimentation, and falling head over heels for at least one woman and one man, I stopped keeping it a secret. By the end of my senior year of high school everybody knew I was bisexual, and I was damn proud of it.

After breaking up with my first boyfriend, however, I suddenly felt myself losing interest in men. And maybe that’s part of the reason I left him; I’m still not sure. About a year and a half later, I had just broken up with my first real girlfriend, and all I knew is that I was wildly conflicted. I was attracted to women but I wasn’t really attracted to men. Surely that made me a lesbian, right?

So I came out, again, as a lesbian. While it felt nice to let the world know I wasn’t interested in men anymore, the label itself still didn’t quite sit right with me. “Bisexual” continued to feel like a better fit – but I felt like a ‘bad bi’ for not liking men. I knew that you could be bisexual and have different levels of attraction for different genders, but my attraction to men seemed to be at 0 per cent and my attraction to women 75 per cent. What about the other 25 per cent?

So now, at the end of Bisexuality Visibility Week, here I am coming out for a third time. I am a bisexual woman who is not attracted to men.
I know what you might be thinking: “how can she be bi if she doesn’t like men?”

The Bisexual Resource Centre (BRC) defines bisexuality as “an umbrella term for people who recognize and honor their capacity for sexual, romantic and/or emotional attraction to more than one gender.” Wikipedia still uses a more outdated definition, calling bisexuality the “romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior toward both males and females.” This latter definition assumes that the gender binary (the belief that there are only two genders) is true – which it is not. Some bisexual people may indeed only be attracted to men and women. Others may be attracted to men and other genders, but not women. My bisexuality means that I am attracted to women and other genders, but not men. I can only speak from my own experiences, and I certainly don’t intend to speak for all bisexual people – every person experiences their attraction differently.

“But doesn’t bi mean two?”

Technically, yes. This is why, oftentimes, bisexual people describe their sexuality as an attraction to two or more genders. Being bisexual doesn’t mean that your attraction is limited to two specific genders, or that the only two genders you can be attracted to are men and women. Some bisexuals are attracted to only two genders, some are attracted to more. Some bisexual people describe their attraction to two groups, the first group being people of the same gender, the second group being people of other genders. Each bisexual person can have a unique definition of their bisexuality.

“Wait a second, how can there be more than two genders? I thought there were just men and women.”

To put it simply, gender exists on a spectrum in a similar way to sexuality. Some people don’t identify as a man or a woman. Some peoples’ gender fluctuates. Some people don’t have a gender at all. You can be a man with a vagina, or an agender person with a penis. Your gender is yours, you know it best, so only you know how to define it.

“How can you know that you’re bi if you haven’t had sex with different people with different genders?”

You don’t need to have sex with somebody to discern whether or not you’re attracted to them. Plus, you can be bi and asexual, which means that you experience reduced or no desire to have sex.

“Okay, so then what’s the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality?”

In short, bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders, while pansexuality is attraction regardless of gender. A bisexual person may be attracted to any/all genders but feel more comfortable identifying as bisexual than pansexual. Some bisexual people use bisexual and pansexual interchangeably.

“So if pansexual people are attracted to all genders, but bisexual people perhaps aren’t, does that mean pansexual people are attracted to trans people but bisexual people aren’t?”

No. This is another common misconception which assumes that trans men and trans women are not ‘real’ men or ‘real’ women. Take a bisexual person who is attracted to men and women. Because trans men are men, and trans women are women, this particular person would be attracted to trans men and trans women the same way they would be attracted to cis men and cis women.

“Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, because bisexual people always end up picking a side.”

Not true! While some bisexual people will one day be married or decide to spend their life with one specific person, this does not mean that they have ‘picked a side’. A bisexual woman who ends up with a woman is not a lesbian, she is still bisexual. A bisexual man who ends up with a woman is not straight, he is still bisexual.

“But I know several lesbians and/or gay men who used to be bisexual! Bisexuality is just a phase, a stepping stone to coming out as really gay.”

Yes, this happens! I also know several bisexual women who used to call themselves lesbians, and several bisexual men who used to identify as gay. Sexuality is fluid. Changing how you identify just means that you’re getting to know yourself better, not that bisexuality is a phase.

“Well, I know some bisexual girls who are actually straight, they just make out with other girls or have threesomes sometimes, it’s probably so guys think they’re hot.”

I’m guessing the girls you’re talking about know their sexuality better than you do. Who’s to say that making out with girls and having threesomes isn’t bisexual? Who says you must have relationships with all the genders you’re attracted to in order to become a Licensed Bisexual™? No individual has the right to scrutinise or call into question how someone else chooses to identify their gender or sexuality. In fact, hiding under the “straight girl just making out with other girls to get attention from guys” stereotype can be a safe way for questioning girls to experiment with other girls without ‘officially’ coming out. Instead, question why guys think girls make out at parties just to grab their attention.

“Okay, okay. I get it. Bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders, and each bisexual has their own definition of and experiences as bisexual. So why do bisexuals need a visibility week, or even a visibility day? Isn’t Pride enough?”

We need visibility because, while we are not straight, we’re oftentimes excluded from the LGBTQA+ community because we’re “not really queer,” because we can be in relationships that appear to be straight. Bisexual Visibility Week helps to combat stereotypes and misconceptions that can be harmful to the bi community. It also helps draw attention to the struggles that bisexual people face, like how around 50 per cent of bisexual women will face sexual violence in their lifetimes, or how bisexual people are more likely to consider suicide than their gay and lesbian counterparts. Bisexual women are also often accused of being more “sexually available” because of their attraction to multiple genders, which leads to victim blaming and slut shaming. Bisexuality visibility events allow us to meet and connect with other bisexuals near us and all over the world, and help foster a sense of community that we might not otherwise have access to.

Bisexuality is broad and beautiful and badass. We exist across space and time – that is, throughout the world and throughout history – and our presence is valid. There is no one way to be bisexual, and your bisexuality is perfect just the way it is. There is no one in the world who has the right to question your bisexuality, however hard they might try. Happy Bisexual Visibility Week!

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