Before lockdown, I went to a comedy show with a friend of mine who, like me, is bisexual. They warned me that this particular comic did a bit about women who identify as queer and how that means they mostly date men and don’t eat pussy. Sure enough, the comedian performed it. The crowd let out a few awkward laughs, and once again, I was face-to-face with the assumption that being bisexual means I’m not gay enough. I’ve been grappling with stereotypes like this since middle school, and the joke is getting old.
Despite making up the largest proportion of the queer community, bisexuals face constant discrimination. We are seen as fence-sitters, gay people who are afraid to come out, our sexuality viewed as a passing phase we’ll grow out of the way I grew out my late 2000s emo haircut. Whether it’s assuming that bisexual people have a choice in who we’re attracted to and are just “keeping our options open” or the perception that bisexual people of all genders are mainly into men, we continue to face discrimination. Here’s a hint: Never ask a bi person which gender they really prefer. Having to constantly prove that our sexuality is valid to our friends, family, partners, and the broader queer community not only wears down our sense of self-worth and strains our relationships, it holds us back from being ourselves: No wonder we’ve been referred to as the silent B in LGBTQ+.
Such stigmatization is one of the biggest reasons I didn't come out as bisexual until I was 32, just three years ago. As a teen growing up in the early 2000s, I saw little to no representation of bisexuals in the media and the few that did exist were largely negative. On shows like The OC, bisexuality was relegated to a college girl’s rite of passage, or as Carrie on Sex and the City famously quipped, being bi was “a layover on the way to Gaytown.” I watched Willow on Buffy The Vampire Slayer suddenly become a lesbian after having a long-term boyfriend in previous seasons, as if bisexuality wasn’t something the writers even considered. As an impressionable teenager, the main message I got was that bisexuality wasn’t real and eventually I would have to decide if I was straight or gay.
I avoided coming out because I genuinely believed I had to be equally attracted to men and women to identify as bisexual, which I now know is false.
Because of this, I called myself “mostly straight” or “bicurious” for years as I struggled to figure out my sexual orientation. Despite being drawn to girls, I felt that my attraction to boys was stronger and figured that I had been claimed by heterosexuality. I avoided coming out because I genuinely believed I had to be equally attracted to men and women to identify as bisexual, which I now know is false: Sexuality is fluid and ebbs and flows constantly.
Attraction happens on a person-to-person level, something younger generations seem to understand more than ever before. In fact, studies show that two thirds of Gen Z identifies as exclusively heterosexual and that this demographic has a less-binary, more fluid view of sexuality. Compare that to my coming of age, when there was not only pressure to fit yourself into one specific box, it also seemed like you had to quantify your sexual orientation. I regularly discounted my experiences with women because they were outnumbered by my experiences with men.
Most people who are open about being bisexual are often pushed to provide proof of their sexual orientation. For bisexual women, there are all the questions like, When was the last time you actually dated a woman? as well as family members who assume you’ve “switched back” to being straight if you date a man. We can experience the same kind of prejudice within the queer community.
One study found bisexuals are often stereotyped as being untrustworthy, unreliable, and even disease carriers while another found how bisexual men are considered less attractive and dateable to straight women because of their orientation. Bisexuals are also perceived to be indecisive and incapable of monogamy. The latter is why we are bait for unicorn hunters: couples that seek out women for threesomes in a way that is degrading and dehumanizing. All of these factors play out in terrible ways for the bisexual community, from issues like internalized biphobia, minority stress, and higher rates of sexual violence against bi women. Bisexual people have some of the highest rates of depression, psychological distress, and suicidal ideation. Studies say this is largely due to being part of a minority group that often faces exclusion from its own community.
As someone who is bisexual and biracial, I fully understand the psychological impact of having an identity that leaves you feeling shut out of both worlds. It took me three years after coming out to gain the courage to start dating because I was afraid of rejection. And as a femme, I worried I’d be viewed as a straight onlooker at queer clubs rather than part of the community. I simply didn’t seem to have the same kind of queer coding that other members of the community had. It’s only recently, when I happened to meet a couple online that treats me as a whole person rather than a sexual prop used to spice up their sex life, that I have felt more accepted for who I am. This should be the rule and not the exception. Just as everyone has their own dating and sex preferences, bisexuality is not a one size fits all way of living.