Photo courtesy Peter Salanki

Hi, I’m bi: Why bisexual representation matters to me

By Kristy Koehler, September 25 2018 —

Bisexual Awareness Day occurred on Sept. 23. Observed since 1999, it marks the beginning of Bi Visibility Week. Have you heard about it? There’s a decent chance you haven’t…

I’m bisexual. I’m attracted to people — male, female, gender non-binary, transgender — comprising virtually all gender expressions and identities. Within the pantheon of labels that represent the multitude of sexual orientations, I suppose the one that closest fits the above description is ‘pansexual,’ but it’s never been a term I chose to use.

I grew up in a time when the labels weren’t so complicated or simply weren’t used altogether. Now, each has their own flag and finding which one to identify with feels like reading through the terms and conditions section of the latest app update — check this box to indicate agreement with all of the fine print. I don’t like to whittle my sexual orientation down to fit in a box. Bisexuality, at least for me, represents everything other than straight or gay. That being said, I fully support others in choosing the label, or lack thereof, that works for them.

Despite my preference for the term bisexual as my self-identifier, the word can carry a toxic connotation. I’m not in the least bit ashamed of my sexuality. Telling someone that I’m bisexual, however, makes me wonder if I am going to get the inevitable eye-roll that comes with the revelation. Both straight and gay people have commented things like, “Of course you are. Everyone is nowadays.”

Often, I use the term “queer” or say that “I’m a member of the LGBTQ+ community.” Both are conveniently ambiguous enough so as not to require a secondary explanation.

People will ask whether or not I have dated mostly men or mostly women, demanding a percentage breakdown of my preferences — “Is it, like, 60/40? Or 70/30?” These questions propose that the amount of people I’ve dated or slept with in either category determines my actual sexuality. If you’ve never dated or slept with anyone at all, does that make you any less straight or any less gay?

When dating a man, I’m asked if I’ve turned straight. But I didn’t “turn” anything. Apparently, my current relationship status negates the relationships I’ve had in the past. I’ve been accused of taking the easy way out — of dating a man so that I can pass for straight and not have to face the discrimination that the LGBTQ+ community often faces. Let me assure you, being bisexual does not provide an easy way out.

Bisexual women are often portrayed as straight women who experiment. Bisexual men are portrayed as men who just don’t know they’re gay yet. Bi women who have been with men aren’t considered gay enough and bi men who have been with men are considered too gay.

Biphobia is real. We are often dismissed when coming out. We are accused of identifying as bisexual for attention or dabbling in homosexuality for shock value. We are afraid of appearing too gay or too straight. We are met with rejection from gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals. Studies show that bisexuals make up just over half of the percentage of the LGB community and suffer higher rates of mental health issues than heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Dating women is difficult — many lesbians will assume that I’m not serious about them, that I’m just with them until I find a man I like better. Dating men can also be difficult — it is assumed that because I’m attracted to all people that I’m available to fulfil all kinds of threesome and group-sex fantasies. Often, bisexuality is hypersexualized, and framed as an antithesis to monogamy. Sure, there are bisexual people that are polyamorous. But that is an individual choice, not something directly related to bisexuality.

In the media, female-female couples are often referred to as lesbian couples, not taking into consideration whether one of the partners identifies as bisexual. A bisexual woman’s status in a female-female relationship erases her bisexuality and forces a new identity on her. The gender of a bisexual person’s partner does not determine their sexual orientation. It undermines the validity of bisexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation and contributes to our erasure.

Asking questions to determine our ‘relative gayness’ and making assumptions about us contributes to bisexual invisibility — the tendency to assume that bisexuality does not exist or is just a phase. Bisexual erasure is a problem. We are not indecisive. We should not be told we have to choose whether to be straight or gay. We should be free, as all humans should be, to love who we wish, without endless questions and demands to be more straight, or to be more gay. Bisexuality exists. It has for as long as humans have existed. And we will continue to exist.

While I don’t purport to speak for everyone, I have received backlash from both gay and straight people. There are few positive portrayals of bisexual people in the media and many of us don’t even feel we belong at events like Pride. That’s why Bisexual Awareness Day and Bi Visibility Week are so important. They shed a light on the fact that we exist and matter, too. Bisexuals deserve inclusion in general, and especially within the LGBTQ+ community. After all, if we’re good enough to represent a letter, we’re good enough for respect.

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