So You Just Met a Bisexual: a Guide for Allies (and “Allies”)

Congratulations! You just met your very first bisexual! Isn’t it exciting? I’m sure you’re brimming with questions about everything from your new friend’s sex life to whether or not it’s true that they’re invisible. (They are. All bisexuals have the ability to disappear whenever they like.) Before you draw up a list and start the interrogation, however, let me preempt a few of the questions you’re most likely to ask – and explain to you why you probably ought not ask them.

Here are some things you don’t know about your new bisexual friend:

You don’t know how many sex partners they’ve had. They could have had one or a hundred and one (go them!) or none at all. They might have sex with multiple partners over a year long period, or they might be into long-term relationships. Bisexuals, much like what I’m going to call “non-magical folk” (that’s you), haven’t necessarily all slept with the entire football team and all the cheerleaders (though, again, if they have – damn, your new friend has got some game!). Bisexuality does not automatically correlate with promiscuity. (And if it does – so what? You’re not one of those terrible people who thinks that someone who sleeps with a lot of partners is immoral, are you? Are you?)

Speaking of which, you don’t know what their sex drive is like. Some bisexuals are like me and would have sex ten times a day if they could. Some like sex very rarely, some once every couple of days. Some like sex a lot with a particular partner but not at all with other people. Kill the myth that every bisexual is a sex addict. We’re human, you know. We can control our libidos just as well as you can (or better, if you’re a straight dude – YEAH, I SAID IT).

You don’t know if they’re polyamorous, monoamorous, in an open relationship or happily single. Some bisexuals are poly. I know lots of poly bisexuals! But I also know lots of monoamorous bisexuals (I don’t like the word “monogamous” because it refers specifically to the number of a person’s wives, which is kinda sexist and useless). For example, I’m married to just one other person. Truly, I am! He grows a fantastic beard and makes a cute giggling sound when I tickle him. Lots of people are surprised by this, because for some reason, they think all bisexuals are either poly or not in relationships at all. I guess I was single at some point in my life, and many of my bi friends are single now or in open relationships, but bisexuality does not somehow preclude monoamory or other kinds of long-term relationships.

On that note, you don’t know if they’ve ever cheated. No, shut up. You really and truly don’t. Thanks to television, people assume that bisexuals are incapable of forming commitments or keeping to them afterwards. The reasoning seems to be, “well, you’re attracted to everyone, so you’re bound to cheat sooner or later.”

Really? Let’s break that down.

You, the monosexual reader, are attracted to one gender, correct? It might be your own, or it might be another. I don’t know your life. Whatever. The point is that there is a group of people to whom you are attracted.

Are you attracted to every single member of that group?

No?

Neither are we. It really is that simple.

Which brings me to my next point…

You don’t know if they’re attracted to you. To be fair, this is something gay people get as well (holla, fellow queers!), but bisexual people seem to get it twice as bad, partly due to the fact that as I said above, everyone thinks we’re untrustworthy cheaters. Let me tell you right up-front: I am not attracted to people who aren’t attracted to women. I’m just not. Straight girls? Turn-off. Gay dudes? HUGE turn-off. Non-binary people who do not dig women? Sorry, but nope. If you’re not into me, I am most definitely not into you. So relax – you can be in the locker room together. They’re not checking you out. You’re probably not their type anyway, so don’t flatter yourself. If they were into you, you’d know.

Actually, while I’m on this topic, you don’t even know the genders to which they’re attracted. “Bisexual” means different things to different people. Sometimes it means “attracted to both men and women”. Sometimes it means “attracted to both cisgender men and cisgender women”. Sometimes it means “attracted to both my gender and other genders.” Some of the latter group identify as pansexual, but some don’t, and it’s absolutely zero percent your job to tell people which labels to use. If your bisexual friend is attracted to men and people-who-aren’t-men, that’s cool. If your bisexual friend is attracted to binary people and non-binary people, that’s also cool. If your bisexual friend is into both men and women but mostly likes women, that’s cool too. (Also, can I get her number? She sounds rad.) We choose how we identify – not you, not anyone else, but us.

So it turns out you don’t know much about your new bisexual friend, do you? All of your preconceptions are useless, and you’ll only embarrass yourself by blurting out questions like, “how are you married to a dude if you’re bi?” (I get this in bars a lot) or, “why don’t you have a girlfriend too?” (I also get this in bars a lot). Bisexual people vary as much as monosexual people do. We have sex a lot or not at all. We have a partner or three partners or a rotating roster of partners or no partner at all. We are attracted to men or women or non-binary people, and not always equally. Some of us cheat because people cheat sometimes, but most of us don’t because most people don’t. And don’t think you can pick us out of a crowd, either – in terms of appearance, we run the gamut from roller derby girls with pink spiked hair to belles with long, dark curls and killer red lipstick to gym-going dudes with buzzcuts to quiet, skinny guys in Zelda t-shirts to non-binary femmes or androgynes rocking suit jackets with their Converse. We’re not a monolith any more than any other group is.

So, what do you know about your new bisexual friend?

You know that they’re bisexual, and now you know not to irritate them with asinine and offensive questions. And most importantly, you know that they’re human, so treat them that way.

See? That was easy! Think of how much time I’ve saved you.

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Ten bisexuality myths that need to die

When I first came out publicly as bisexual in 2010, I was prepared for the onslaught of biphobia that I knew would follow. What I wasn’t prepared for was the mind-boggling things some people believe about bisexuals. I’ve been asked questions and had accusations levelled at me that truly beggar belief. What follows is a list of ten myths about bisexuality that I have, at some point in my life, had presented to me as though they were actual fact.

1. Bisexuals can’t be monogamous

I have yet to have someone properly explain to me why this is supposedly the case. As far as I understand it, the logic is that bisexuals are attracted to both men and women, ergo they must want to be in relationships with both men and women at the same time.

I wish someone had told me this two and a half years ago. I could have had a boyfriend AND a girlfriend for ages now! (Alison Brie, call me!)

Seriously, though, while monogamy isn’t for everyone, bisexuals are just as likely to be monogamous as monosexual people are. I mean, think about it – are you in a relationship with everyone you find attractive? No? Then why would I be?

2. Bisexuals are more likely to cheat

Brought to prominence by poorly-scripted television and bitter men’s rights activists, the idea that bisexuals are all cheaters is an annoyingly pervasive one. Again, I have to ask – if you don’t cheat on your partner with everyone you find attractive, why would you assume that I would?

If anything, being openly bisexual has made it easier to have honest conversations with my partner about my attractions to other people. I’d say there’s a good deal more transparency in my relationship than in many other people’s. Turns out bisexuals can be open, honest communicators too! Cheating has nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with making the decision to cheat, and it turns out that that’s one particular decision that monosexuals are just as capable of making.

3. Bi girls will make out with other girls for your pleasure

A bi girl is every boy’s dream girlfriend, am I right, fellas? Not only do you get to have sex with her, but you also get to watch her have sex with other ladies! Bonus!

Yeah…not so much.

Some bi girls are into group sex. Some aren’t. Some enjoy making out with girls at parties (with their partners’ blessings, if they have partners), some don’t. Some bi girls have girlfriends and aren’t really interested in inviting male voyeurs along for the ride. And, you know, some bi girls just don’t think about sex all that much at all, which leads me to the next myth…

4. Bisexuals have really intense libidos

All right, all right. Guilty as charged. I think about sex approximately a million times per second (yeah, my brain works that fast), and I rarely ever turn it down when it’s offered. But not all bisexuals are that way. Our libidos run the gamut from always-on to totally absent. (Yes, there are asexual biromantics, that’s a thing!) While TV tends to present us as sex-crazed fiends who will do anything to get laid, in reality, we have standards just like pretty much everyone else does, and if you’re the creepy guy at the bar winking at me when I mention that I’m bi, you probably don’t meet them.

5. Every girl’s a “little bit bi”

Thanks, exploitative creators of Girls Gone Wild! Because what women really needed was even more assumptions about their sexualities.

Some girls are bi. Some girls are gay. Some girls are straight. Well…most girls are straight, actually. I’ve met straight girls who’ve identified as bicurious, but they’re not nearly as common as you think. Stop pouring drinks for college girls in the hope that if you get them drunk enough, they’ll suddenly realise they’re into ladies too. Almost 100% of the time, that’s not how it works.

Interestingly, nobody claims that every boy’s a little bit bi, probably because the straight dudes who come up with this stuff aren’t all that excited by the idea of two drunk guys making out. Pity, huh?

6. Bi people just can’t pick a side

Yes we can. We “picked” bisexuality.

This one is particularly hurtful because it comes from both straight and gay people. I’ve had straight people tell me I’m “only doing it for the attention” (only doing what, flirting with girls while in a long-term committed relationship with my partner? you got me!) and gay people tell me I’m “bi now, gay later” and that I need to come out of the closet (despite my deep and abiding love for sex with attractive and interesting men). To monosexuals, the idea that someone might be attracted to more than one gender is apparently so foreign that they have to rationalise it by assigning some kind of motive to us – we’re attention-seekers, we’re scared of coming out, we just don’t know ourselves well enough yet.

Personally, it’s straight people I don’t get. Straight dudes, how can you not want to sleep with Idris Elba? That man is sex on a stick. You are missing. out.

7. You can’t know you’re bi until you’ve dated both men and women

The weird thing about this one is that nobody says this to straight people.

Take a straight virgin. They’ve never had sex with anyone. So how do they know they’re only attracted to people of different genders? Surely they should have to get empirical proof of their attraction, or how else can they know for sure that they’re straight?

If that sounded ridiculous to you, that’s because it is. And yet, it’s something people say to me all the time. I’ve only ever been in relationships with men, so how can I know that I’m attracted to women and would be interested in having sex with them? What if I just find women aesthetically attractive but wouldn’t actually sleep with one given the chance?

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. You know that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you see someone you think is hot – that little rush of blood that’s your body’s way of telling you that you would definitely be interested in seeing that person with fewer clothes on?

Yeah, I get that when I see a woman I like. That’s how I know, genius.

8. Bisexuals are attracted to everyone

I love my mother to bits, I really do, but she’s a bit clueless about things sometimes. A while back, she confided in me that she didn’t know if a bi classmate of hers was inviting her out for lunch as a friend, or because she found my mother attractive.

“Are you attracted to every male friend of yours?” I asked, to which she answered that of course she wasn’t, because that would be preposterous. No straight person is attracted to everyone of the opposite sex.

“So why would you assume that just because she’s attracted to women, she’d be attracted to you?”

Oh. Yeah. Guess that’s kinda silly, right?

Like everyone, bisexuals have taste preferences. I personally love tall, dark-haired girls with a wicked sense of humour and a sultry voice like something out of a classic noir film. If you’re a petite blonde who sounds like Reese Witherspoon, I’m sure you’re swell, but you’re just not my type.

Don’t take it personally. I’m notoriously picky.

9. Bisexuals are greedy

“Best of both worlds, eh? Couldn’t just settle for one or the other!”

Yes, because that’s absolutely how sexuality works.

Bisexuality isn’t about greed – it’s about being able to feel sexual attraction to people of both your own and other genders. I didn’t choose to be bisexual – I was born like this. When I like someone, I just don’t care that much about their gender. Call it greed if you want – I call it the way I was made.

10. Bisexuals will never be ready to “settle down”

Ah, the roving bisexual – always hunting for something better, something their current partner can’t give them. A bisexual will never settle down because whether they’re with a girl or a guy (or someone of another gender entirely), there will always be something they want that they can’t get from the person they’re with.

Some day, I will meet this mythical insatiable bisexual and ask them how they do it. It sounds exhausting.

Like most people, bisexuals are perfectly capable of making a commitment to one partner (or multiple partners, if they’re poly) and sticking with it. Ask yourself – would you leave your partner of a different gender every single time you came across someone who could offer you something they couldn’t? Probably not, right? After all, you presumably love the person you’re with for who they are and are willing to accept, like all rational beings, that no one person can ever be completely perfect.

No, my partner doesn’t have the things I like in women. But he’s got a lot of the things I love in a man, and that’s more than enough for me. Might there presumably be a girl out there who would satisfy me in ways my current partner doesn’t? Sure. Would she be able to satisfy me in all the ways my current partner does? Probably not. Am I so tormented by “what I’m missing” that I’ll some day leave my partner to in search of someone who can satisfy me in different ways?

Let me just say that you wouldn’t be asking that if you knew how great this boy was in bed. (Love you, baby!)

When it comes down to it, bisexuals are just…people. They tend to like what most people like, dislike what most people dislike and want the same things most people want. Our sexualities don’t make us special – they’re just a part of who we are, the same way your sexuality is. Yes, there are bisexuals who are poly, bisexuals who cheat, bisexuals who will do anything for great sex, bisexuals who will never settle down, bisexuals who will later come out as either gay or straight – but there are monosexual people who do all of those things as well. These aren’t sexuality-exclusive behaviours – they’re just human ones, both positive and negative and in between. That’s because at the end of the day, bisexuals are human. And the funny thing about that is that it means we tend to act like other humans do.

Strange, huh?

(You’re right about one thing, though – we are way more fabulous than you.)

The invisible girl – bisexuality in a biphobic society

I’m a bisexual woman in a relationship with a straight man. That means I don’t exist.

You see, in order for society to accept me as bi, they need to see evidence. If I’m not neck-deep in a threesome with an attractive woman on one side and a strapping man on the other, how can they be expected to tell that I’m not monosexual? If I’m dating a woman, I must be lesbian. If I’m dating a man, I must be straight. Unless I’m dating both at the same time, I can’t be bisexual.

The first person to tell me I wasn’t “really” bi was a gay friend of mine. I believe I’ve told the story before, so I won’t retread old ground, but suffice to say that while he was the first, he certainly wasn’t the last. I’ve heard it all – it’s just a phase, I’m fence-sitting so I don’t have to pick a side, I’m greedy, I’ll cheat on my partner, I’m just doing it for the attention, I just don’t want to come out of the closet. It seems everyone has a theory about my sexuality that they’re just dying to share with me, as though they’re the first people ever to think of it. (Yeah, I’ve never heard the one about how I can’t be bi because I’m not poly before. You’re so original!) You’d think I’d know my sexuality better than a stranger, but in a world where anything perceived as differing from the norm instantly becomes fair game for public discussion and dissection, it seems the only person who isn’t a self-proclaimed expert on my sexuality is…me.

See, the truth is, I haven’t got myself 100% figured out yet. Oh, sure, I know I’m into dudes and ladies. I’ve even been attracted to the odd non-binary or GNC friend. I’m pretty sure I’m built for monogamy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fantasise about threesomes. I’m interested in sex with women, but seem to prefer the idea of relationships with men. Sexuality isn’t about ticking a bunch of boxes and calling it a day – as with every facet of a human being, it’s a complex thing, subject to change.

Here’s what I do know about myself, presented in a convenient list format (because it was only a matter of time before I sold out and became like Buzzfeed):

Jay’s Guide to Jay’s Sexuality [a work in progress]

1. I’m attracted to men, women and people who identify as both, neither or somewhere in between.

I guess this makes me pansexual, but “bi” is the term I’ve always used and the one I’m the most comfortable with. Truth be told, I just don’t spend all that much time obsessing about people’s genitals. If I’m into someone, it’s because I think they’re cute or funny or witty or sexy or alluring, and what kind of equipment they’re carrying or how they identify isn’t really a big deal to me.  People are attracted to other people for lots of reasons. Sometimes one of those reasons is gender – for me, it just…isn’t. I really don’t care what you are – I care about who you are.

2. Yeah, yeah, I’ve only ever fucked dudes. I’m still bi.

It’s funny – nobody ever tells a straight person they’re not “really” straight because they haven’t had sex with someone of the opposite binary gender yet. A straight virgin is still hetero, right? And yet, I’ve been told time and time again that I can’t “really” be bi because I’ve never so much as kissed a girl. Seriously? The fantasies, the awkward high school crushes, the endless flirting with cute British redheads – that means nothing just because my bits have never touched another girl’s bits? Please. I know what I like, and what I like includes both dudes and ladies. I know it like I know my own name. That tingly feeling I get when I see a dude I like? Yeah, there are ladies who make me feel that way too. I don’t need to have sex with everyone I’m attracted to in order to know I’m attracted to them. That’s really not how that works.

3. I’m monogamous. Lots of bi people are; lots of bi people aren’t.

The threesome talk might have thrown you off, but let me clarify – yes, I’m monogamous. I’m in a long-term, committed relationship with a single partner and I plan to stay that way. I’m not throwing shade at my poly friends – we all have different wants, needs and desires when it comes to relationships, and there’s no one kind of relationship that can make everyone happy. Me? I love my one partner set-up. Just because I’m bi, doesn’t mean I need to have both a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time – in fact, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with more than one partner, regardless of their genders. One boy or one girl (or one GNC person) at a time is just fine with me.

That said, if my partner and I met a cute girl at a bar and she wanted to come home with us for a night…well, we’ll see.

4. My sexuality isn’t something for you to fetishise.

This harkens back to the “you’re just doing it for attention” thing. Apparently, I’m only bi because I know dudes find it hot when two girls make out in front of them. Yeah…not so much. Leaving aside the fact that plenty of dudes aren’t into that at all – I’m bi because it’s how I am, not because I want attention. Trust me, if I wanted to get your attention, I could do it without exploiting my sexuality for your pleasure. I mean, have you met me? I’m the face that launched a thousand flamewars.

In any case, guys who think bisexuality is a performance for their enjoyment are a major ladyboner-killer. I’ll take a guy who loves me without fetishising me, thanks. (Joke’s on you, chasers – he gets the good stuff because he’s a great guy, and he didn’t even have to be a creep about it!)

5. My sexuality and gender are linked, but separate.

There are still people who think that being cis or trans* is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity. These people have apparently been living under a rock for the past infinity years. I’m a cis queer bisexual chick. The “cis” bit is separate from the “bi” bit (though in my case, the “queer” bit indicates that there’s a link between them – but that’s another story, to be told another time). You can be cishet, cis and gay, trans* and het, trans* and gay, cis/trans* and bi, cis/trans* and asexual…basically, you can be any combination of gender, sexual and romantic orientation. A cis person is not automatically monosexual. A trans* person is not automatically gay or bi. You know what they say about people who assume.

6. I’m not going to cheat just because I’m bi. Geez.

Yes, I am capable of maintaining a monogamous relationship with someone of one gender without feeling an irresistible urge to cheat on my partner with someone of another gender. Do I flirt with cute girls sometimes? Sure. Am I going to cheat on my boyfriend with one? Nope. Relationships – both mono and poly – are about commitment to your partner or partners. Are you compelled to cheat on your partner with every attractive person of [gender you like]? No? Then why would you assume I feel compelled to cheat just because I happen not to be monosexual?

There are lots of reasons people cheat. Being bi isn’t one of them.

7. I exist. Deal with it.

Bi erasure is a problem in both straight and queer circles – that’s why things like Bi Visibility Day are so important. Yeah, we’re around. No, we’re not figments of our own imaginations. Just because you can’t see physical evidence of our sexual orientation, doesn’t make it any less real. I don’t have to date a girl to prove to you that I’m attracted to women, just like I wouldn’t have to date a guy to prove to you that I’m attracted to men. I just am. I’m here, I’m visible and I’m not going to let you erase me just because I don’t fit into the categories you’ve created to neatly sort people based on sexual orientation.

That’s the thing about people – they’re not neat. Actually, we’re pretty damn messy. We’re contradictory and ever-changing. We grow, we learn, we develop from the people we were into the people we’re becoming. Trying to sort us into categories is always going to be a square peg/round hole exercise, because not only are there various shapes of peg, we don’t even always stay the same shape! I thought I was straight when I was younger. I know that I’m bi now. Who knows what I’ll learn about myself in the future?

It’s amazing how many things become visible when you learn to open your eyes.