Welcome to another installment of our “Defining” series, where we unpack various terms and identities. Do you have a word that needs defining? Let us know!
By and large, the bisexual community abides by the following definition, popularized by bisexual author, speaker, and activist Robyn Ochs:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
According to this definition, bisexuality means an attraction toward people of all genders at any given time in a person’s life. Many people mistakenly believe that the “bi” in “bisexual” implies that a bisexual person is attracted to both men and women, but not to individuals outside of the gender binary who identify as neither male nor female. In truth, the way many bisexuals understand the term is that the “bi” refers not to the male/female gender binary, but to a binary between “same” and “different,” meaning that bisexual people have the capacity to be attracted to those who are the same gender as them and those who are different genders from them, including folks who aren’t on the gender binary such as genderqueer, agender, or gender-fluid people.
The misconception that bisexuals are only attracted to men and women has led to the existence of other identity terms like “pansexual,” which includes those who have the capacity to be attracted to individuals without regard to sex, gender, or gender identity. There are some who identify as both bisexual and pansexual, and sometimes these terms are used interchangeably; however, there is a distinction between the two terms as some bisexuals may only be attracted to two gender identities, while pansexuals are attracted to all.
Both bisexuals and pansexuals exist under a large umbrella of people who are attracted to more than one gender. This umbrella is called “non-monosexuality”; heterosexual people and homosexual people would be considered monosexual. Within the non-monosexual umbrella, many sub-categories exist. Some bisexuals, for instance, are only attracted to cisgender men and cisgender women (people whose assigned gender at birth matches their gender identity), while others are attracted to transgender men and transgender women, and others to nonbinary folks and any other combination of genders and sexes one can think of. Many of these identities have their own unique terms and labels: People on the non-monosexual continuum may use the terms outside of bisexual and pansexual such as queer or fluid, polysexual, heteroflexible or homoflexible, among others, depending on individual attractions. Here are the definitions of those terms:
• Queer: a fluid label for anyone who identifies outside of societal norms regarding gender or sexuality.
• Fluid: fluctuations between different sexualities.
• Polysexual: attractions to multiple genders, but not all (as opposed to “pansexual,” which includes all genders).
• Heteroflexible: those who are primarily engaged in heterosexual relationships with occasional homosexual activity.
• Homoflexible: those who are primarily engaged in homosexual relationships with occasional heterosexual activity.
In my own life, I’ve dated cisgender women, genderqueer women, cisgender men, and transgender men, not at the same time, but over the course of many years. I realized early in my life that I was attracted to people of many gender identities and came out as bisexual in college. Each relationship I’ve had has been just as legitimate as the next and goes to show that my bisexuality does not equate with some of the myths about bisexuals you may have come across:
• “Bisexuals are unable to choose.”
Perhaps you’ve heard this said about bisexuals, or some variation thereof (we’re greedy, we want the best of “both” worlds, etc.). The LGBTQIA community is constantly battling the nature vs. nurture debate, trying to prove that sexuality is innate—if this is true for lesbian or gay people, why wouldn’t it be the same for bisexuals? Nobody chooses who they are attracted to, and bisexuals are no different in this respect.
• “Bisexuals can’t be monogamous.”
Well, I am. And so are many of the bisexuals I know. Bisexuality is not synonymous with polyamory (the practice of engaging in more than one relationship at a time), nor is it true that if you are bisexual, you are bound to cheat on a significant other. Gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals can be polyamorous, and people of all sexual identities have cheated on partners. Being bisexual does not automatically equal promiscuity or the need/want for multiple partners at any given time.
• “Bisexuals are just in transition.”
It is almost a certainty that if you identify as bisexual, someone in your life will comment that, “Maybe you are really gay/lesbian and you’re just not ready to admit it yet.” It is also likely that you’ll hear the reverse: “Maybe you’re just experimenting and you’re really straight”—that whole “going through a phase” argument. For some, it may be true that they are going through a transition or phase, but for most who identify as bisexual and maintain that identity, it can be insulting to hear these lines of reasoning time and time again. I’ve been bisexual since as far back as I can remember (I had crushes on girls and boys as early as Kindergarten) and at the age of 30, I still am. If this is a phase, it’s a life-long one.
Thank you for your interest in learning more about bisexuality and the bisexual community. If you are looking for more bisexual resources, feel free to check out these sites and continue the conversation:
• BiNetUSA: http://binetusa.org/
• Bisexual Resource Center: http://www.biresource.net/
• Advocates for Youth: http://bit.ly/1NSDYaI
• The Huffington Post: http://huff.to/1NIFlpD