Bisexual people face so much skepticism that we have to constantly affirm our morality and existence to others. For bisexual men, the assumption is that they’re gay, even when they proudly assert their identity. Bisexuality in women and femme-identifying non-binary folks is framed as a period of sexual experimentation rather than an orientation. It becomes something that presumably anyone could occupy — hence the phrase “everyone’s a little bisexual” — and consequently, we aren’t seen as real.
This language diminishes the fact that sexual orientation doesn’t describe behaviors but the potential for attraction. You don’t need to be actively experimenting with partners of multiple genders to be bisexual, just like a heterosexual person remains heterosexual when they aren’t having partnered sex. We trust heterosexual people to know who they are, and we should trust anyone who identifies as LGBTQ to do the same.
And yet there remains so much pressure on bisexual women to “pick a side.” Not every bisexual person will decide to identify as gay or straight later, although some will — and that shouldn’t be stigmatized either. I have identified as bisexual for over a decade, and I’m confident that that label will remain accurate to my attractions. There are periods when I exclusively date partners of a specific gender, but that’s because attraction doesn’t occur inside of a vacuum. Straight and queer spaces are often culturally separate, meaning the gender of my potential partners depends on the spaces I’m predominantly occupying at the time. Before I was comfortable in my identity, and therefore comfortable with going to LGBTQ parties and bars, I mostly dated men. I can see that shifting now that I have queer friends and identify more with queer culture. Systemic forces have a hand in this as well.
Female subjugation is embedded within our social institutions, including opposite-sex relationships. Even my relationships with the most well-intentioned men required them to reexamine their ideas of parity. Of course, dating lesbian, bi, and queer women (and femme-identifying folks) isn’t some magical solution for finding love under patriarchy. That realm of thinking borders dangerously on the ideologies of political lesbianism, which was embraced by radical feminists in the ’70s and ’80s. Political lesbianism framed women dating women as a politically superior choice that is essential to dismantling patriarchy. While I disagree with that suggestion, I do observe a greater balance in my relationships with women and femmes. Ultimately, for me, this has made dating cishet men a less attractive option.
Eighty-four percent of bisexual women in committed relationships are with opposite-sex partners, a statistic that is commonly misinterpreted and weaponized against us. It doesn’t mean we aren’t really bisexual. Who we choose to be with has no bearing on our sexual orientation. Instead, it reflects the fact that we learn to perform romance heteronormatively, which can be difficult to unlearn, and that there is little social support for bisexual people within the LGBTQ community.
Historically, lesbians have seen us as untrustworthy for still choosing to date cishet men. Lesbians have called me dirty, confused, and unattractive because I am bisexual. They encourage us to leave the LGBTQ community and form our own movement. They think our existence is transphobic and that we should be dropped from the acronym, “LGBTQ.”A recent study even showed that lesbian and gay people generally believe that all bisexual people prefer men. Our same-sex attractions aren’t taken seriously. As a result, it’s difficult for us to be integrated within our own community, which negatively impacts our mental health.
Another study showed that while heterosexual people have developed more positive attitudes toward gay and lesbian people in the past decade, they still perceive bisexual people as sexually irresponsible and prone to STI/HIV transmission. In this way, it’s also difficult for us to be fully integrated within heterosexual spaces. We can never “go back” to being straight if we are bisexual. Our acceptance in straight spaces is contingent on us either passing as heterosexual or performing bisexuality so that it caters to the male gaze. Translated, our options are erasure or hypersexualization.
Picking a side when both sides reject and harm us is impossible in that context. We need more distinctly bisexual spaces with access to resources, funding, and healing modalities specific to our community. But also, we need greater allyship across LGBTQ identities. Let’s eliminate the pressure on bisexual women to prove our morality, existence, or same-sex attractions. Our identity is valid and deserves to be accepted at face value.