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 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.