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Why It's Tough to Be Bisexual

Many people who are attracted to both sexes stay away from the label bisexual. Why?

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Rampant stereotypes.

As I’ve written before, admissions of bisexuality are met with a slew of negative connotations and stereotypes. These can include that bisexuals are promiscuous, indecisive, going through a phase, closet cases, taking advantage of straight privilege, want ALL THE THREESOMES, are never satisfied, just experimenting, doing it solely to please men, and so on. As Seth, a male friend, put it, “The word has more baggage than an airport.” Another described it thusly, “The word is immediately associated now with cheap, tacky exhibitionism, with drunken one-offs, with out and out sluttiness.” There’s not one positive association with bisexuality, except perhaps that our choices for romantic and sex partners are presumed to be higher. (For the record, it’s not. Twice the probability = twice the likelihood of rejection.)

Stereotypes have denigrated the word to the point where it’s basically unsalvageable, in both straight and gay communities. Laura, a Twitter respondent, argued that this is precisely why we should keep bisexuality around. “For some, I think the difficulty that comes along with the identity forces [bisexuals] to cop out to owning the word, and instead, use terms that are ‘safer’ or more understood by society. Bisexuals are excluded from hetero-normative society, as well as many gay subcultures. So, I have a hard time saying that the word is no longer useful."


Laura has a point, and the problem of bisexual invisibility has certainly contributed to the distancing from the word itself. A recent report from the CDC found that bisexual women were twice as likely to be sexually abused. This came on the heels of a 2011 report that noted bisexual women were far more likely to be anxious, depressed and prone to binge drinking. The participants of the study said they felt “invisible.” Discrimination and social stigma have real mental health consequences. A Google search for “bisexuality doesn’t exist” yields nearly 4 million entries, from personal blogs to articles in the New York Times. And it’s not just a search engine problem, bisexuals have few reference points to cling to culturally, historically, politically and statistically.  

Even on online dating sites, which is one of the few mediums where you can wear your sexuality like a badge for everyone to read, it’s rare for a bisexual to identify as such. On OkCupid, I found the discrimination against bisexuals by queers to be especially rampant. “Bisexuals need not apply,” one lesbian’s profile read. “Nothing personal, but I don’t date bi girls,” said another, as if the word itself was suspect, as if no lesbian in the history of muff munching had ever in their life dated or fucked a man.

For bisexual men, it’s even harder. “My last experience on OKC confirmed that I'm just fucking myself identifying as bi (and not with a strap-on),” as Seth put it. And even when bisexuals try to date straight partners, problems can abound. As one respondent said, “I've had guys flat-out say to me ‘So you're straight now, right?’ And having to reply that no, I'm not straight, and you knew this before we got together. I'm not sure, maybe it comes back to an issue of whether or not there's an ill-planted idea that if I'm bi, I'm not going to be able to be fully satisfied by one person of one gender.” In many cases, the stereotype that it’s “easier” to date as bi has been turned on its head. Paradoxically, the idea of sexual openness while dating proves to actually be restrictive.

It’s not just dates out bisexuals lose, however. “When I started dating a guy for the first time, I actually lost several of my more politically minded lesbian friends,” notes Kate. “They sat me down for chai and told me that they felt like I was betraying our political work and even expressed concern for my mental health. I also lost a straight male friend, who told me that he had always thought of me as ‘one of the guys’ and didn't feel comfortable keeping me as a close confidant anymore.”

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