Remember that scene in
Friends where Phoebe sings, “Sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men. and then there are bisexuals, but some just say they’re kidding themselves?" That’s a pretty blatant example of bisexual erasure (which pains me, as someone who loves Friends). As much as I’d like to think things have changed since this episode aired in 1996, bi negativity is still prominent today. I would know; I’m a bisexual woman married to a man. Being in a loving, committed relationship with a man doesn’t erase my bisexuality.
My husband knows I’m bisexual, as do my close friends. I count myself lucky that they understand, respect, and support my orientation. But I’m assumed to be straight by most other people — like when new acquaintances will see my wedding ring and ask how long I've been with my husband without considering what my orientation might be. And when I do choose to share that I’m bisexual, I’m often met with confusion or dismissal due to my choice in life partner. It turns out, I’m not alone in that.
“Bisexual people face some of the most ostracization and criticism of any sexual orientation,” says
Dr. Laura McGuire, a nationally recognized sexuality educator, trauma-informed specialist, and inclusion consultant. “There are many myths and misconceptions about bisexual people, and despite decades of education, many members of both the general public and LGBTQ community still seem to believe them.”
A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed 9,175 adults aged 18-44 about their sexuality and found 5.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men said
they were bisexual. Meanwhile in that same survey, 1.3 percent of women and 1.9 percent of men identified as “homosexual, gay, or lesbian.” More than half of LGBTQ are bi, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Even so, the American Psychological Association wrote in 2017 that “many [still] believe that
bisexuality does not really exist, and bisexual people suffer bi-invisibility or erasure and bi-negativity from both the lesbian and gay community and the heterosexual community.” Bisexual Awareness Week (also known as #BiWeek) starts on Sept. 16 and runs through Celebrate Bisexuality Day (also known as #BiVisibilityDay) on Sept. 23 each year. So, now seems like the perfect time to learn about some inappropriate, all-too-common statements and stereotypes that contribute to biphobia, bi invisibility, and bi erasure, particularly as they relate to bisexual women in mixed-orientation relationships.
If you catch yourself thinking or preparing to say any of the following to a bisexual woman, it may be worth reconsidering your words — here’s why.
“It sounds like it was just a phase.”
My fellow bi folks, consider writing this in big bold letters and taping it to your bathroom mirror: Bisexuality is a legitimate, lived identity.
“There is no reason to believe that bisexuality+* is limited to a certain amount of time in someone's life. Bisexuality+ is also an identity that does not change based on the gender of your partner at any given time,” says Mackenzie Harte, a communications coordinator at the
GLAAD Institute. “By implying that bisexuality+ is a phase, you are invalidating someone's identity and making them unwelcomed and misunderstood, which can have negative impacts on their emotional wellbeing.” 02
“It seems like you're just saying this for attention.”
This one makes me roll my eyes so hard, I worry they’ll get stuck that way.
“The belief that someone would identify as bisexual+ just for attention makes no sense, considering how underrepresented bi people are,” Harte says. “Bisexual+ people are massively underrepresented and misunderstood.”
Implying that someone might come out as bi in an effort to get more attention undermines bisexuality's existence and generalizes bi people according to harmful tropes — that they’re hypersexual or that they might be somehow more promiscuous. These kinds of descriptions are defamatory and insulting, to say the least.
“It sounds like you're just an overly sexual person.”
It’s ridiculous that it’s 2020 and I still have to say this, but being attracted to more than one gender doesn’t mean that you’re automatically more sexual than anyone else.
“Bisexuality+ as a sexual orientation has nothing to do with how sexual or non-sexual someone is, and bisexuality+ as an identity intersects with other identities (such as someone being bi but also asexual),” Harte explains.
Not to mention, there’s a sexist element to this claim. To call a woman “overly sexual” for being attracted to more than one gender comes with the misogynistic idea of judging a woman based on her sexuality in a way that society would rarely judge a man.
“But have you ever actually hooked up with a woman?”
If you’re a woman who identifies as straight, but you’ve never had a sexual experience with a man, does that mean you’re not straight? Obviously not!
So, why should a bi person have to “prove” their sexuality by having sexual experiences with multiple genders? And beyond that, why should they have to “prove” it to you by answering these types of personal questions?
“Bi+ people are well within their rights to respond to these types of statements with, ‘My sexual/relationship history is my business, and it's inappropriate for you to ask about my history in a way that you wouldn't for a straight or gay/lesbian person,’” says Harte.
Harte also notes that bisexuality is inclusive of nonbinary people and others who are not cis men or cis women. “These statements all push a binary ‘men
or women’ viewpoint that is damaging to nonbinary and gender nonconforming people,” they add. Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images 05
“Do you think you're just a lesbian who's scared to commit to being a lesbian?”
“[This] invalidate[s] bisexuality+ as a legitimate, lived identity, and again, aims to gate-keep people's authentic experiences based on incorrect and harmful biases,” Harte says.
My answer to this question would be, “Well, I love my husband and I’m committed to him — so I’d have to say no, I’m not a lesbian. I’m bisexual, and I’m married to a man.”
But for other bi women, whether or not you're currently in a relationship, you don’t have to commit to an identity you don't have so that other people can put you in a box that makes
them more comfortable with your sexuality. Your bisexuality isn’t an intermediary on your way to an “end goal” of being heterosexual or homosexual. It’s your identity. Don’t let people take it away from you.
The B in LGBTQ stands for bisexual, y’all. You don’t have to let your bisexuality be erased just for the sake of someone else’s small mind.
“So, I guess you’ve picked your ‘side’ then.”
Forcing a bisexual person to “pick a side” is yet another way to invalidate their sexual orientation! It implies that their sexuality is transitory or “a phase,” and that they’ll eventually land on being either heterosexual or homosexual once they choose their partner.
But news flash: Your partner doesn’t define your sexuality! Neither does your relationship status — even if you’re single, your status as a bi woman shouldn’t be questioned.
“This question is inappropriate because it invalidates a person's partner or potential partner by talking about them only as their gender rather than about them as a person,” Harte adds. “Bi+ people should be allowed to explore relationship opportunities without being forced to perceive them as being solely about gender.”
“You’re ‘straight-passing,’ though.”
One of the reasons I hesitated for so long to share my sexuality with people was because I knew I was considered “straight-passing” — I can pass as straight if others don’t know my true sexuality.
It took years (and lots of therapy!) for me to come to terms with the fact that while I recognize my privilege as a cis white woman in a heterosexual marriage, I still identify as bisexual. Having that identity made invisible by others is a painful experience.
“While there are some areas in which a bi person in a different-gender relationship may not face certain struggles (for example, not needing to worry about discrimination while planning a wedding), having your identity erased by others is by no means a privilege,” Harte says.
“But if you're in a straight relationship, you're not really a part of the LGBTQ community.”
This was the thing that weighed on me the most when I first came to terms with my sexuality. I felt like because I was in a heterosexual relationship, I was out of place in LGBTQ spaces. Despite the fact that my husband was enthusiastic about encouraging me to continue to find my space in the queer community, I felt self-conscious when I brought him along to marches, drag shows, or Queer-e-oke nights — like I was intruding in a space where I wasn’t necessarily welcome.
I was worried about making those spaces feel any less safe for LGBTQ folks who are more actively discriminated against than I am as a bisexual person, and who might need their own space to gather and relax.
But Harte dismantles that fear for me. “LGBTQ spaces exist to support LGBTQ people, so excluding LGBTQ people from these spaces makes absolutely no sense. And bisexual+ people are LGBTQ people,” they say.
Harte adds that by excluding bisexual people from LGBTQ places, folks cut off their access to resources — which is one reason why
bisexual people see higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; intimate partner violence; sexual assault; and income inequality than our straight peers, as well as our gay and lesbian peers.
“On the other hand, when lesbian and gay people are welcoming and supportive of their bi+ peers, it can make a huge difference for that bi person's experience,” Harte says. “Avoiding this mindset of gate-keeping really can have a massive positive effect on how bi+ people can experience the world.”
“Why do you care so much about labels?”
A few times, when I’ve come out to people as bisexual, they’ve pointed to the fact that I’m in a long-term heterosexual relationship and asked, “Why do you need to label yourself as bisexual at all?” It’s a painful question.
“People who identify as bi+ are often erased by non-bi+ people who won't use their labels,” Harte explains. “In terms of media, this practice erases bi+ people from coverage of events through history, which creates even further bi+ erasure. On a personal level, it is hurtful and invalidating to have people in your life not respect the labels you use for yourself.”
I had an older family member tell me that my generation seems to simply have more of a need to be open with our sexuality, while their generation didn’t feel the need to share details about their sex lives with others. They were worried about what other people might think if I publicly labeled myself as bisexual, or if I might be setting myself up for a potentially negative reaction from other people.
But I guess that’s the thing. I’m not ashamed to be bisexual. My husband’s not ashamed to be married to a bisexual person. We’re just as in love and committed to each other now as we were before I “came out” to the world in this Elite Daily article. So, people’s negative reactions to this news can’t really hurt me anymore.
To my family member’s point, though, why label it if it doesn’t change anything for me personally? Harte answered that question a little more succinctly than I could:
“Labels are important because they are the words which we use to define and express ourselves, and the people in our lives (and in media) should be able to respect us.”
*Note: You’ll notice Harte's use of the terms bisexuality+ and bi+. Learn more about that terminology here . Sources: American Psychological Association (APA), 2017 report Bisexual Resource Center , 2016 brochure Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2016 report Mackenzie Harte, communications coordinator at the GLAAD Institute Dr. Laura McGuire , sexuality educator, trauma-informed specialist, and inclusion consultant