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.)

[TW: death, violence] Blood on our hands

You are a murderer.

Earlier this year, a woman named Jasmine was killed. She was a sex worker in Sweden. She lost her children to her abusive ex-partner because the courts deemed her an unfit mother due to her occupation. She reported her ex-partner’s abuse and the authorities took no notice again and again and again and again because her life and safety and well-being as a sex worker meant nothing to them.

Her ex-partner murdered her, but her blood is on your hands for every time you didn’t stand up for the rights of women like Jasmine. She is dead because you did nothing.

In Melbourne earlier this year, a woman named Jill Meagher was raped and murdered by a serial killer. I say “serial killer” because the man had done it before. Nobody cared because all of his previous victims were sex workers. It took the murder of a woman society deemed worthy of their regard in order for the killer to finally be brought to justice.

Her blood is on your hands as well. So is the blood of the sex workers who were raped and killed by a man who got away with it because nobody cared as long as they deemed the lives of his victims not worth saving. You heard them scream and did nothing. You let them die and looked away, unseeing, unknowing, uncaring.

Society has devised a particularly cruel method of punishment for those it deems inferior. We don’t kill them ourselves – we allow the dregs of society, the rapists and torturers and murderers, to do our dirty work for us. We stand back and shake our heads and cluck disapprovingly at the side of the victims’ graves. Didn’t they know what they were getting themselves into? Didn’t they know they would eventually be punished?

We let the blood drip from our hands and pretend ourselves innocent as more and more and more people die, condemned by our judgement to be slain by society-sanctioned executioners. We swear we had no part in their murders, but we turn a blind eye to those who commit them in our name.

Once every three days in the United States, the murder of a transgender person is reported. Often, the corpses are found with their genitals mutilated, with slurs carved into their flesh. This, we have decided, is the fate reserved for the abnormal – to be tortured, maimed and brutally killed while we look on, unmoving and unmoved. We stay silent as gays and lesbians are beaten and left for dead on the curbside outside pubs on a Saturday night. We pretend we do not see every young black man in a hoodie who is gunned down in cold blood by a white man with a grudge. They are guilty of the crime of existence. We allow them to be punished for it and then wash our hands of the deed.

Two years ago in Scotland, a young gay man was tied to a lamppost, beaten and then set on fire for the crime of existing and being gay. He was twenty-eight years old when they killed him. In Queensland, there is a gay panic defence on the books – if someone murders a gay person, they can claim it was self-defence because the person they murdered might have been making advances towards them.

So much blood and so many dead and we continue to delude ourselves into believing we are innocent of their murders.

A friend told me recently that a quarter of trans* people end up taking their own lives. Twenty-five percent. Imagine if twenty-five percent of young, attractive, white women felt driven to kill themselves in order to escape a world they knew didn’t want them. Imagine if twenty-five percent of the people you love the most felt so hated, so reviled, that they did the murderers’ work for them so that they could at least choose to make it swift and painless. Imagine one in four people you care about killing themselves, and ask yourself why you are content to let one in four trans* people do so.

You may not have set fire to that young gay man, nor raped and murdered Jill Meagher, nor beaten Jasmine and been ignored and ignored and ignored until you finally killed her. You may not personally have bullied a trans* person into taking their own life. But it may as well have been your finger on the trigger, your hand grasping the dagger hilt, your fingers that struck the match. You killed them when you stood by and said nothing as they were bullied and mocked and shunned. You killed them when you decided they weren’t worth saving.

Their blood is on your hands. Their blood is on all of our hands.

How many more must die before we decide to take responsibility for the monsters we have created? We allow the small oppressions – the slurs, the cyber-bullying, the whispered comments on the street – knowing full well that they enable larger ones. We know that we are giving our implicit consent to rapists and tormentors and murderers to do with those we’ve shunned as they will. We know that our silence is assent. We know, each of us, deep in our hearts, that we are every bit as guilty of every beating and every rape and every murder as the people we allowed to commit the acts.

We did not do enough to save Jasmine or Jill or Trayvon or the thousands upon thousands of people who are murdered or who take their own lives to escape the cruelty of a society that has deemed them lesser. These were not isolated incidents – this happens every second of every minute of every hour of every day and we stand by and let it continue. There are so many Jasmines and Jills and Trayvons, so many people killing themselves or being killed by people we have allowed to appoint themselves judge, jury and executioner. All that evil needs is for good people to do nothing. We tell ourselves we’re the good ones, but how good are we if we allow ourselves to discount the value of human lives?

If we are ever to wash the spot from our hands, we must act. We must stop the small things – the taunts, the insults, the “jokes”. We must let our fellow human beings know that we consider their lives sacrosanct, no matter who they are or what they do for a living. We must refuse to sanction thugs who carry out our dirty work for us. There must be no dirty work at all. The victims of our inaction lived, loved and were loved, had so much potential, so much to give. If only we had opened our eyes. If only we had stayed the hands of their murderers. We are allowing ourselves to be robbed of the most precious resource on the planet – human life – because we have become complacent, careless, callous, cold.

I do not want any more blood on my hands. I am tired of death counts and statistics. I refuse to give my consent for the destruction of innocent human lives by killers who get away with it because we do nothing to stop them. Jasmine’s children lost their mother. Jill’s husband lost his wife, and the sex workers killed before her left behind family and friends who had loved ones snatched from them for no reason at all. Trayvon Martin’s family was forced to watch as their son’s character was assassinated on national television after his person was assassinated by a man with a thirst for blood. Can we really claim to have humanity if we allow this to continue? Can we claim that we are compassionate, loving, fair, just, when innocent people die and we do nothing?

If you want to stop being a murderer, disarm your weapons. Disenfranchise the bigots. Defang their hate. Only then will our Jasmines and Jills and Trayvons be safe. You cannot afford inaction, not any more. Too many lives depend on you.

There is so much blood on your hands.

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.

[TW: transphobic violence] Creating a world without fear

Like a lot of people, I was transphobic when I was younger. Society had conditioned me to be. There were men and there were women, and anyone who didn’t fit into the narrow definitions of one of those categories was abnormal, abhorrent, a freak. I remember (much to my shame) pointing at people I saw on the bus who didn’t look like what I thought a man or a woman should look like and laughing at them. I remember whispering rude comments to my friends, not really caring if the targets of my scorn heard me or not. I remember judging women with facial hair, men with effeminate faces, or people whose genders I couldn’t readily discern with one glance.

I cannot tell you how ashamed I feel as I write this. I wish I had never been that person. I would give anything to go back in time and undo all the damage I undoubtedly caused to the people I mocked and shunned out of the misguided belief that they deserved it for not looking the way I expected them to look. I want to tell them I’m sorry. I want to tell them I know better now.

But I can’t, can I? And anyway, this isn’t about my guilt or my shame. This isn’t about me at all, in fact, though like all privileged people, I like to act as though it is. No – this is about a group of people to whom we as a society have done many a grave disservice, and what we can do to right those wrongs.

In the United States, a hate-related murder of a transgender person is reported once every three days. Often, the bodies are found with their genitals mutilated. Sometimes the bodies bear signs of the victim having been raped before they were killed. These are just the murders that are reported – around the world, transgender people are murdered daily by people who cannot – no, will not – accept that not everyone fits into the neat, binary definitions of “male” and “female” that society has constructed. Many more trans* people – binary, non-binary, genderqueer, gender-non-conforming, bigender, agender, androgynous and more – are forced out of homes and jobs if they’re outed or if they dare to out themselves. They lose family, friends, partners. They lose everything – or more accurately, everything is taken from them by a society that deems them undeserving.

I have trans* and genderqueer friends. They’re people, just like me. They’re straight, homosexual, bi, pansexual, asexual, mono, poly, single, in relationships, looking for love, sometimes finding it, sometimes not. They’re not normal – but that’s because “normal” is a fiction designed to keep anyone who doesn’t tick a certain set of boxes from ever being granted their birthrights. My trans* friends are game developers, writers, photographers, designers, sex workers, literature students. They live and love and laugh and cry and bleed just like I do. They’re not any more different from me than my cis friends are – in fact, I have a lot more in common with most of them than I do with most people, because we share an understanding of what it’s like to live in a society that has designated you Other and will use any means necessary, including violence, to keep you from rising above your place.

That said, I cannot tell you what it is like to be trans*. I can only relate the stories they’ve told me – about losing jobs when they decided to out themselves, about threats of violence as they walk down the street to get groceries, about contemplating suicide as a means of escaping a world that doesn’t want them. I can only tell you that they are human and they are hurting in a way that nobody deserves to hurt. I can only tell you that I love them and I want their pain to stop.

They do not deserve the way they are treated – living in fear for their lives, knowing that each time they dare to leave the house, they’re exposing themselves to people who will mock and ridicule them if they don’t “pass”, or who might fly into a violent rage and beat or kill them if they “pass” too well and are deemed deceptive tricksters. I cannot tell you what it is like to live that way, but I can tell you something you should already know: that it is wrong. I can tell you that nobody should have to live every single day fearing for their lives because they were born a little different – not abnormal, just a little different. I can tell you that you need to stop thinking of them as freaks. I can tell you that nobody deserves to be denied dignity, humanity and compassion based on their gender.

I could write – self-indulgently, appropriatively – about trans* identities, but the truth is, I’m no expert. I’m just someone who has seen too many of her friends go through too much pain. I’m just someone who wants the world to stop and think before they dismiss an entire group of people as subhuman just because they don’t fit a couple of very arbitrarily defined boxes. I’m someone who doesn’t want to hear you use the t-word any more – no, not even if you “didn’t mean it as an insult”. I’m someone who wants you to stop thinking you have the right to ask someone about their surgical history just because you feel like knowing. I’m someone who wants you to treat human beings like goddamn human beings.

I am not qualified to tell you how to be a trans* ally, but I have friends who are. I urge you to read what they have to say and take it to heart. Read this Trans* 101 by @transstingray. Read “How to be a Trans Ally” by Metamorpho-sis. Read Samantha Allen’s excellent Thought Catalog piece, “7 Ways To Be A Trans Ally”. Learn it. Live it. Internalise it like you once internalised those messages about what made a man a man or a woman a woman. Remember that there are people whose lives depend on you taking this seriously.

I cannot undo the harm I once did, but I can try not to do any more. And I can try to make things better. So can you. Erase transphobic slurs from your vocabulary. Stop thinking people need to fit into arbitrary boxes. You don’t need to declare yourself an ally – you just need to be a decent human being. I’m begging you on behalf of every friend of mine who has to live in fear because they exist in a society built on fear and hatred of difference. We have done so much harm. It is time for us to begin to make amends.

The Gay/Religious Paradox

One of the many questions people like to ask me repeatedly is as follows: how is it possible to be both bisexual and Muslim?

I am not sure what they expect me to say. I do not know if they believe themselves the first to ask such a thing of me. Perhaps they think they will lead me towards some kind of epiphany. Or perhaps they are just being rude, in the way that people often unintentionally are, by probing into my personal life and expecting that I will be forthcoming to strangers. Whatever the reason, this is a question I am asked at least once a week, sometimes more often, almost always by people who don’t know me at all. None of them are owed an answer – both my sexuality and my faith are, after all, personal. But for the sake of saving myself the time of repeatedly telling people to mind their own business, I suppose I can satisfy their curiosity once and for all.

But first, let me ask you a question:

Knowing what we know about the mechanics of pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of HIV/AIDS, would you consider it a healthy choice to have unprotected sex of any kind with a complete stranger?

Perhaps it’s the former medical student in me, but I’d consider such an act quite foolish. Unprotected sex – including anal and oral sex – carries with it the risk of many complications. We know this because we have discovered through scientific research how sperm fertilises an egg to create the cluster of cells that will eventually become a baby, how bacterial and viral diseases can spread through sexual contact, how certain kinds of sex carry with them higher risks of injury and disease transmission. This is knowledge accumulated over hundreds of years. In response to this knowledge, we’ve developed barrier prophylactics and chemical contraception, so that we may engage in sex safely, responsibly and without fear of unwanted consequences.

Fifteen hundred years ago, we had neither the knowledge of the risks sex entailed, nor the means of mitigating them.

My thesis, then, is this – that in an age before science, when we didn’t know how diseases were caused or spread, when we were unclear of the mechanics of conception and pregnancy, when we were unable to reliably prevent the consequences of sexual encounters, it made perfect sense to regulate sex. By restricting sex to an act between married partners, disease transmission could be kept down to a minimum, even completely stopped. By prohibiting sex acts with greater inherent risks, such as anal sex, the consequent injuries and damage could be avoided. By framing sex as an act to be engaged in only between monogamous, married partners, people could be kept relatively safe from the consequences of unprotected sex in an age before contraception, condoms and antibiotics.

I believe in God, and I believe that God wants the human race to better itself. It is not such a logical leap for me to believe that the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage of sex between people of the same gender were designed to keep a pre-science civilisation safe and healthy. After all, the Qur’an also contains instructions about personal hygiene despite the fact that the people to whom it was revealed had no conception of germs, bacteria or parasites. In fact, much of the Qur’an only strengthens my belief in scientific principles, and vice versa. It is quite remarkable that a society pre-Semmelweis knew that washing one’s hands with running water was a way of warding off disease thanks to instructions in a book they believed was revealed to them by their creator. The simplest and most rational explanation is that whoever was instructing them knew something they didn’t.

You do not have to believe in God in order to agree with my basic point – that in a society without access to contraception and antibiotics, restricting sexual activity was the best possible way of ensuring good sexual health amongst the population. You also do not have to believe in God to agree with the point that follows – that in today’s society, where we have access to antibiotics, condoms, dental dams, the oral contraceptive pill, contraceptive implants and so much more, those same restrictions are no longer necessary. It is possible to have sex with multiple partners – including oral and anal sex, between partners of any gender – in a way that does not endanger the health of those involved. It is possible to have sex before marriage without falling pregnant and being stuck with a child one does not have the means to care for. (Indeed, it is now possible to safely terminate the pregnancy if the mother finds herself unable to deal with the demands of having a baby.) Society has advanced. We have new ways of protecting ourselves; the old ways have become obsolete.

I am, for the most part, a rational person. I do not believe that God would ask anything of me that it is not reasonable to ask. And in the time and place in which I live, it is not reasonable to ask that I restrict my sexual activity or my sexuality for the sake of my health and well-being. I am lucky enough to live in a point in time where access to safe and affordable contraception means I can engage in sex safely, healthily and with whomever I choose. I believe religion is meant to be permissive, not restricting. My faith frees me; it does not confine me. And given that it is possible for me to express myself sexually in a safe way, I do not see the need to pointlessly restrict myself.

Yes, I am both Muslim and bisexual, and I do not see any inherent contradiction. God is my guide, but my faith is also my path to freedom and peace. It is not a set of shackles – it is a pair of wings, designed to allow me to achieve greater heights than I could on my own. God is not, in my experience, a harsh master, but rather a loving mentor – a light by which I might find my way through life. I have been created as I am – a sexual being who is attracted to more than one gender. I do not believe I was created this way only to be forced to live a half-life, unfulfilled and unsatisfied. That is not what God means to me. That is not what my faith means to me. My faith means freedom to live and to love – safely, healthily and happily.

There is no paradox inherent in my being. I am as I am, and I live according to the rules of the universe as I am able to discern them. My sexuality is not sinful or shameful – it simply is. I simply am. And I am perfectly at peace with that.

Labels on my soul: “bisexual/queer”

Truth be told, I don’t know what to tell you about this. It’s all more or less in the title – I’m bisexual, and I identify as queer.

The first person I ever came out to was my mother. She was shocked, but I think she’s come to terms with it over time. Of course, I’ve never had a girlfriend or even so much as kissed a girl, so maybe that’s why she’s been able to take it in stride with such admirable aplomb – but I like to think that such a caring, loving and compassionate woman as my mother would support me no matter what.

Not everyone is so lucky. I could quote you statistics about the suicide rates amongst queer youth, but you’ve probably already heard all the numbers. As it stands, young queer people, particularly those in rural or conservative areas, face incredible societal and familial pressures that drive them to depression, self-harm and sometimes even suicide in an attempt to escape the bullying and ostracism they experience. In that sense, I’ve been blessed – no matter what, I’ve always had at least one family member who’s loved me and accepted me as I am, no caveats. I wish I could say the same for many friends of mine, and it hurts me that I can’t.

Being bisexual comes with its own set of damaging stereotypes. We’re serial cheaters; we’re unable to commit to monogamous relationships; we’re gay people who don’t want to come out of the closet or straight people looking for attention; we’re greedy; we can’t control our promiscuity; we’re sex-addicts who want the best of both worlds. Leaving aside the stigmatisation of poly relationships and casual sex implicit in biphobic stereotypes, the portrayals of bisexual in popular media and within society paint us as little more than sex-crazed sociopaths. When people find out I’m bisexual, they want to know how many partners I’ve had (two, both men), if I’m doing it for the attention (yeah, I just love it when creepy old guys tell me they see me as a fetish object), whether I’m “secretly gay” (my love of sex with men would suggest otherwise, but maybe I’m just in denial?). They’ll tell me I “have the best of both worlds” with a nudge and a wink, as though I made the choice to broaden my sexual prospects by deciding to become attracted to women – as though that’s a choice I could make. They imply that I’m selfish, ask me if my boyfriend “minds” (because as the owner of my sexuality, it’s ultimately up to him, right?), act as though I’ll attempt to molest them at any moment. Yes, there are a surprising number of things people believe about bisexual people, and as with many of the stereotypes surrounding queer folks, almost none of them are true.

Here is the truth about me:

I am attracted to men and women. I’m interested in both sex and relationships with men and women. It does not particularly matter to me whether said people are cis, binary trans* or gender-non-conforming – attraction is not, in my case, contingent on the gender of the person to whom I’m attracted. I am monogamous and uninterested in poly relationships, though I’m not unopposed to exploring sex with other women as long as my partner is involved. No, I’m not “greedy”. No, I’m not a sex addict. (Well…okay. I’m a bit of a sex addict, but no more than plenty of heterosexual women are!) No, I didn’t choose this so that I could have the “best of both worlds”. This is just how I am. It doesn’t make me better than anyone, but it doesn’t make me worse, either. And while I will probably flirt with you, rest assured that I’m not going to force my queerness on you. Bisexual people are just as capable of respecting your limits and boundaries as anyone else.

I like the term “queer” because it’s a word that can have many meanings. I identify as queer because my sexuality is not as simple as being attracted solely to cisgender binary men and women. I am cisgender myself, but I don’t see the big deal about it – I’m just as happy to call myself “femme”, use she/her pronouns and forget about the rest. I’m often asked if I’m trans* solely because I’m a proponent of trans* rights. This does not bother me, because I don’t see anything wrong with states of being other than being cisgender. I am what I am, and others are what they are. “Queer” to me means that my identity is not as simple as ticking a series of boxes and calling it a day. It’s complex, ever-changing. Ten years ago, I didn’t even know I was attracted to women. Ten years from now, I might find myself shunning the trappings of femmehood and expressing my gender in other ways. People change. I might change. I might not. I don’t mind either way.

I am Jay, a queer bisexual cis femme. This label on my soul is freeing – it is a licence to be myself, unashamedly, whatever that self may be. It is a licence to love, to be loved, to feel the entire range of complex human emotions that are a part of our relationships and interactions with others. With the support of my loving partner, my wonderful mother and my amazing friends, I am able to simply be myself. And that’s the best label of all.