Most bisexual people will have asked the question, ‘Am I bisexual?’, at some point in their lives.
It’s understandable to feel uncertain because society feeds us a range of faulty messages about what it means to be bisexual: we’re going through a phase; we’re just confused gay or straight people; we must have equal levels of desire for men and women to be a ‘true’ bisexual, and even that we don’t exist!
These messages are false, but they’re powerful, and they can lead bisexual people to doubt themselves. Many bisexuals get caught up in repetitive, negative thinking about whether they really are bisexual, and this can undermine confidence and lead to low self-esteem.
If you’re not sure whether you are bisexual or not, these are the most important things to know:
No matter what society says; no matter what doubts you have as a result; if you are capable of sexual attraction to more than one gender, then you can identify as bisexual.
There is no such thing as a ‘true’ bisexual. There are many different ways of being bisexual.
You do not need to have had sex with members of both sexes to be bisexual. The key factor is attraction. A celibate monk who has never had sex, and a porn star who has had a lot of sex can both be bisexual.
You do not need to be attracted to both sexes in exactly the same way and to exactly the same extent. You might prefer men, you might prefer women, you might not have a preference, or your preference may change over time – it doesn’t matter, you are still 100% bisexual.
It is absolutely fine to be bisexual and unable to say whether you prefer one sex or another. Heterosexual and homosexual people are not required to say whether they prefer short or tall partners, or blonds or redheads. Likewise, you are under no obligation to clarify your sexual preferences for others.
Choosing to assertively identify as bisexual is one of the most powerful things you can do to build self-esteem and confidence in your bisexuality. Embracing a bisexual identity boosts your self-esteem and challenges society’s misguided beliefs about bisexuals. It enables you to let go of asking yourself whether you are bisexual or not. It also grounds you in a community of like-minded people who you can reach out to for support and friendship.
Overcoming your uncertainty will bring you confidence and a wonderful sense of freedom. You deserve to experience that.
Eliel Cruz is an articulate, passionate voice in the world of bisexual activism. He’s a prolific journalist and vlogger, and I was delighted to include Eliel in my recent 5 Great Bisexual Blogs article.
Here’s my interview with Eliel. I hope you find it useful. As Eliel says, ‘Bisexuality is valid, your experience matters, and most of all you matter.’
-How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Eliel Cruz: I didn’t know what bisexual was until I stumbled upon the word when I googled “I like boys and girls.” I was 11 and super excited to finally understand my sexuality. At the point, I thought you had to “choose” between being gay or straight one day. So I came out to myself at 11, then came out to friends and family around 14.
-What are the main factors that have contributed to your sense of wellbeing as a bisexual person?
I think writing has helped me heal a lot. I used to write diaries when I was young to keep myself sane. Now, as an adult, I write through the things I have gone through and continue to go through on huge platforms. This allows me to connect with thousands of bisexuals who have similar stories to me from across the world. This community and knowing that I’m far from alone helps me tremendously.
-Can you share a coming out story?
My coming out story is complicated. I came out to friends at a private Christian academy during my freshman year of high school. After I came out word got out to my school’s administration. I was “asked to leave.” This made me come out to my family but it was quickly swept under the rug. I came out when I was 18 to my family when I was on my way to college. They have always been loving and accepting which has helped ground me and deal with biphobia.
-What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
There isn’t a rush. Don’t feel like you need to ID a certain way under a certain time frame. Educate yourself in the definition, and history, of bisexuality. Perhaps most importantly, know you’re not alone. There are many others out there with similar experiences. Bisexuality is valid, your experience matters, and most of all you matter. Find community, whether in person or online, and always reach out to bisexual activists or organizations with any questions you may have.
Eliel Cruz is a speaker and writer on religion, (bi)sexuality, and a culture critic. He reports regularly for The Advocate and has a column on the intersections of faith, sexuality, and gender at Religion News Service. His work has also been found in the Huffington Post, Mic, Sojourners, Washington Post, Patheos, Everyday Feminism, DETAILS Magazine, Rolling Stone, VICE, and Slate.
He’s the co-founder and former president of the Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. He has a BBA & BA in International Business and French Studies from Andrews University.
Nicole is a hugely positive and inspirational voice in the world of bisexual activism. The Still Bisexual campaign is doing an amazing job of challenging the myths and stereotypes about bisexuality that remain so widespread in our society.
Her reflections below on bisexual wellbeing are really insightful, and I hope you find them useful. As Nicole says, ‘Trust yourself. Don’t let the world define your attractions.’
How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Nicole Kristal: I always kind of had crushes on my best friends in high school. I was interested in male classmates, too, but I wasn’t really on their radar. Eventually, I fell in love with a woman in 11th grade and we had a secret relationship. I came out my freshman year of college as bisexual and dated men and women throughout college.
What are the main factors that have contributed to your sense of wellbeing as a bisexual person?
Coming out constantly. Being as out as I can be, no matter how hard it is. The world wants to see you as straight or gay, so it takes a lot of energy to remind people there’s something in between. If you are bi, but you’re moving through the world not being seen as a bisexual person, you can quite quickly start to feel like an outcast in most scenes and accrue some shame. We are outnumbered in most social situations so it’s important to be visible and live your truth.
Can you share a coming out story?
I came out to my mother the summer after my first year of college. She told me she was bisexual, too. It just goes to show that coming out as bisexual, you can never predict the response.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
My main advice would be TRUST YOURSELF. Don’t let the world define your attractions. Deep down, you know what you’re attracted to. I would definitely start to follow BiNet and StillBisexual on Facebook and Twitter. Introduce yourself and let people know your situation and fears. You will be surprised at the amount of support you will get. Most of us came out without the online support that is available now, and it’s such a safe way to get the support you need before you feel brave enough to go to a bi or gay social event, which I recommend once you feel ready to come out.
Identifying as bisexual can bring many benefits, but it’s not the only identity available to people who experience attraction to more than one gender. Terms such as bicurious, heteroflexible, homoflexible, ‘mostly straight’ and ‘mostly gay’ all create spaces for people to develop new understandings and ways of expressing their sexual desires. They can all be tools to help us interact effectively and happily in the world, used alone or even in combination.
Which identity you prefer depends, in part, on what your sexual attractions mean to you. My attractions to women and men have been significant to me, so it makes sense to me to identify as bisexual. It feels integral to my sense of who I am. No other term but bisexual would do justice to my experience. Calling myself bisexual also functions as a simple descriptor of who I can be attracted to. It’s a way of being honest and clear with myself and other people.
Some people who experience attraction to both men and women find that the term bisexual doesn’t fit them so well. A 2013 review of multiple studies on sexual attraction found that up to 23% of women and 9% of men identified as ‘mostly heterosexual’. Mostly heterosexuals (MHs) were found to have greater same sex attraction than heterosexuals, but less than those who identified as bisexual. MHs reported experiencing minor same-sex attractions which were purely sexual in nature, and lacking any romantic element. The review also found that MH is an enduring sexual orientation, and not a temporary or one-off experience.
The MH label was provided as an option on the surveys that informed the studies, so it’s unlikely that many people actually use this term to describe themselves in real life. MHs probably identify as heterosexual, but they might also use identifiers like bicurious or heteroflexible in certain contexts such as dating sites.
An MH could also choose to identify as bisexual. Bisexual identity includes people with almost any degree of attraction to more than one gender. So, if you’ve been attracted to 500 women in your life and only 1 man, then it’s entirely legitimate to identify as bisexual, if that’s what feels right to you. Alternatively, if your attraction is heavily weighted to one gender, you might decide to choose a label like bicurious or hetero/homoflexible, or even a monosexual label such as straight or gay.
There’s no obligation to adopt any sexual identity at all, if you don’t want to. It can, though, be advantageous if you do. Labels and identities can help us find communities of like-minded people, so that we can build supportive relationships with others. They’re also tools which enable us to understand ourselves and our desires. They help other people understand us better, too.
But sexual identities are not prisons. We are free to adopt different labels at different times of our lives, should our understanding of our desires change. Sexual labels are not fixed, scientific descriptors of some absolute reality. In fact, sexual identities were invented in the 19th century by the pioneering academic sexologists seeking to study and categorise sexual behavior.
The work of Alfred Kinsey and subsequent sex researchers has since shown that sexuality is complex and can’t always be expressed in simple categories. As LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has argued, if a post-homophobic, post-biphobic society ever develops, then sexual identities could even become redundant. Until that time, however, sexual identities will remain essential tools of understanding and activism.
There is no one right way for any person to identify. The important thing is that we feel comfortable with the identity we choose.
So, bisexual or bicurious? It doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve found an identity that works for you.
Dr David Ley’s recent Psychology Today article, which argues that closeted bisexual men are being incorrectly diagnosed as sex addicts, raises an issue of relevance to all bisexual people: namely that suppressing unwanted sexual desire can seriously impact our health and wellbeing.
Ley details his clinical experience of bisexual men, married to women, who are troubled by their same-sex attractions and secretly engage in risky and prolific sex with strangers. When such men seek treatment, therapists overlook the individual’s sexual orientation, and opt to diagnose sex addiction.
Ley questions the diagnosis, believing instead that intense stigma around male bisexuality leads some bisexual men to attempt to suppress their same-sex desire. This suppression then leads to explosive outbursts of desire, which in turn can lead to promiscuous behavior. This behavior can then cause relationship and health issues. These men see their same-sex desires as symptoms of a disease which needs to be treated. So do the therapists, hence the addiction label.
I think Ley makes a strong case, and his call for greater understanding of and support for bisexual men is welcome. But I’d add that you don’t have to be married, male or closeted to experience the internalised homophobia and biphobia that can lead to suppression of unwanted sexual desire. Compulsive sexual behaviour is also not an inevitable consequence of suppression. Unhappiness and low self-esteem might be the more common, if less exciting, results of trying to suppress your natural sexual inclinations.
If we’re uncomfortable with our bisexuality, then it’s understandable that we might try to suppress or avoid unwanted sexual desires. Some bisexual people may even have received misguided advice to focus only on their opposite sex desires, as a way of avoiding the prejudice and oppression aimed at same-sex desire and relationships. While same-sex desire is the most likely target of suppression, some bisexual people might want to suppress opposite sex attraction for fear that it might alienate them from a gay partner or community.
When I was younger I was often troubled by my same-sex desires. I reasoned to myself that as I had sexual desires for both men and women, I could choose to focus my sexual fantasy and behavior on women only. This way I could still be sexually satisfied and happy, while also avoiding the struggle of coming out and dealing with prejudice.
The problem is that suppression just doesn’t work. Sexual desire arises naturally whether we want it to or not. By ignoring it or pushing it away, as the men in David Ley’s article did, it actually becomes more insistent and more of a feature in your life than it would otherwise be. The process of battling unwanted sexual desires wastes mental energy, and guarantees that you’ll remain uncomfortable with your bisexuality. And if you’re uncomfortable with being bisexual, then that will undermine your confidence and diminish your overall wellbeing.
To become comfortable in your skin as a bisexual person, you have to give yourself permission to experience all of your sexual desire. When I gave up on trying to push away my same-sex desires, I experienced a new sense of peace and calm. It was a significant moment in my journey to self-acceptance and wellbeing.
How you behave sexually is up to you and will differ for every individual. But when it comes to your inner life, the key thing is to allow your desires to run free. Let your private world of fantasy and desire be a liberal, relaxing place. You don’t need an internal police force to monitor what’s going on there. Everything is permitted!
An enduring sense of wellbeing can only develop when we’re free to experience and enjoy attraction to whoever we like.
Misconceptions and stereotypes about bisexuality are common in our society, and serve to delegitimate bisexuality as a valid sexual identity. That’s why so many people who are bisexual in orientation choose not to identify as such. There are many benefits to identifying as bisexual, but most people only do so when they’ve built enough confidence to assert their identity in spite of society’s prejudice.
With this in mind, I was struck by recent media coverage of British singer Duncan James’ switch in self-identification from bisexual to gay. James came out as bisexual in 2009, when he talked publicly about having had relationships with both men and women. A few years later, he revealed that he had started to identify as gay.
James is quite clear, however, that despite identifying as gay, he’s attracted to both men and women. In a 2014 interview, James said ‘I’m still attracted to women, I could still easily sleep with a woman. I haven’t in the last couple of years but I think if I meet a girl I could still have a relationship with her.’ On his decision to identify as gay, he explains, ‘I sleep with men, so that makes me gay. Regardless of whether I sleep with women or not, I’m still sleeping with men, so I’m gay.’
There are many reasons why Duncan James might prefer to identify as gay. When I was younger I identified as gay for a while, despite knowing I was bisexual. I had been stung by my early bisexual coming out experiences, in which people I cared about told me I was either a confused straight person or a closet homosexual. After that I felt people would understand and accept me better if I said I was gay. Perhaps the same thing is true for James. Biphobia is a powerful and destructive force, and it’s understandable to want to avoid it.
His words also suggest that he may have internalised the widespread but false belief that men who have any degree of same sex attraction can only be gay. Bisexuality is erased so effectively in our culture, especially for men, that bisexually-oriented people can feel that there’s no option to identify as bisexual, and that if they did, it wouldn’t be believed or accepted. Many bisexual people end up identifying as straight or gay.
Or it may be that James labels himself as a gay man who is also attracted to women, simply because that’s what feels right and makes sense to him.
Ultimately, the most important thing is that he feels comfortable with the label he has chosen. There are no rules around how we should self-identify, or indeed if we should self-identify at all. Labels are tools to help us understand ourselves better, and to enable us to find like-minded people with whom we can build relationships and a sense of community. Ideally, they also enable others to understand who we are and who we’re attracted to.
I’m sure it’s possible for someone to be happy identifying as a gay man while also being open about his attraction to women. It doesn’t seem the simplest choice, however, as gay is commonly understood to mean exclusively attracted to the same sex, which isn’t what James says he feels.
I think there’s a strong case for identifying as bisexual if you are bisexually-oriented. It’s true that as an out, bisexual-identified person you will be exposed to potential biphobia, but as I discussed last month in my post on the benefits of identifying as bisexual, you’ll also boost your self-esteem and confidence, connect to a community of other bisexual people, and change society by assertively challenging misguided ideas about bisexuality.
The more bisexual people come out, and the more bisexual activism influences public opinion, the more society will be forced to recognise bisexuality and make a place for it. We can hope, then, that in time it will be easier for all bisexually-oriented people to identify as bisexual.
Sharing in the personal thoughts and reflections of another bisexual person through a blog can be an intimate and powerful experience. If you’re uncomfortable with your bisexuality, then witnessing others confidently identifying as bi and expressing themselves openly on a blog can be really empowering.
Blogs can also help us to better understand our own bisexuality, providing us with the opportunity to recognise ourselves in the experience of others, and to learn about unfamiliar and different experiences as well.
A self-described ‘angry bisexual with a keyboard’, Patrick RichardsFink is one of the most articulate voices in the bi blogosphere. He covers the full gamut of bisexual issues, including identity, bisexual erasure and gender. I particularly like Patrick’s writing on the experience of bisexual men. Also check out his writing on biphobia, starting with this passionate post.
Sue George has been blogging about bisexuality for nearly ten years, making hers one of the longest running bi blogs out there. A journalist by trade, Sue writes beautifully about a wide range of bisexual issues. I recommend taking some time to browse her substantial archive of posts, as many of her early posts remain relevant today.
Sue’s current focus is the experience of older bisexual people. Her excellent ‘Bi and Over 50’ interview series is well worth checking out.
Eloquent and thought-provoking, this blogger details his experience as a young bisexual man coming out to family, friends, and work colleagues. He writes about his efforts to reconcile his sexual orientation with his religion, and also reflects on sexuality and Bangladeshi society.
This is a blog providing valuable insights into bisexuality, religion and culture, but it’s also very good on the universal issues that we face as bisexuals, such as the process of self-acceptance.
This new blog established itself earlier this year with a great series of posts providing advice on how to set up a local bisexual group. Hannah also writes about biphobia and media depictions of bisexuality, as well as reflecting movingly on her experience of bisexuality, family life and bereavement. Her recent post on the lack of LGBT-specific sex education in schools is excellent.
Eliel Cruz is a talented and prolific writer specialising in bisexuality, religion, media and culture. While Eliel doesn’t have a personal blog, he writes regularly online in The Advocate, Huffington Post and Mic. I especially like his articles which reflect on his own experience, such as this one on biphobia and this one on bisexual identity.
Being bisexual in a society which doesn’t understand or accept bisexuality is difficult. When bisexual people look for help and information, they often don’t find what they need. Organisations like BiNet USA and The Bisexual Index do a great job of providing online information, and there are local bisexual groups in many larger urban areas. In general though, bisexual people are poorly served compared to gay and lesbian people. It’s common, for example, for there to be relatively few bisexual-specific resources available at LGBT centres. This increases the importance of well-informed support from individuals who know a bisexual person.
You might be reading this because a friend or relative has come out as bisexual to you. If so, you are doing a great service to that person by exploring how you can help them. Here are some suggestions:
1) Learn about bisexuality and why it’s hard to be bisexual
Before anything else, educate yourself about bisexuality. Understanding bisexuality and the challenges bisexuals face in our society will enable you to appreciate why support for bisexual people is so vitally important.
Life is hard for bisexuals because society doesn’t generally acknowledge bisexuality as a real and legitimate sexual orientation. I’ve written before about the commonly held misguided beliefs about bisexuality which are so hurtful for bisexual people. Learn why the myths and stereotypes are wrong.
Here are some key facts about bisexuality in a nutshell. Bisexuality is a real, common and enduring sexual orientation. Bisexuals comprise the largest group within the LGBT community. Bisexuality is not a phase or a stepping stone to being gay or straight. Bisexuals are no more greedy, libidinous or non-monogamous than anyone else.
2) Be encouraging and positive
Being open about being bisexual is a major achievement. In order to come out, bisexual people have to overcome fear and accept that they will be exposed to prejudice. In short, it takes real guts to come out as bisexual. Celebrate that achievement. Affirm and recognise their bisexuality. Let them know that you appreciate how hard it was to be open about it. Praise them generously for their courage in coming out and being themselves.
3) Show an interest, but be respectful
Being curious about someone’s bisexuality is understandable, and showing that you are interested can be a helpful way of demonstrating that you care and don’t see bisexuality as something that’s outside the boundaries of polite conversation. Limit your curiosity though, in exactly the same way you would if you were talking about any other personal topic. The fact that someone is bisexual doesn’t mean they’ll be happy to be asked intimate questions about sex or sexual preferences, for example.
Asking about a person’s experience of bisexuality, such as how they developed a sense of identity around it, and what kind of problems they have encountered, shows that you are sensitive to their wellbeing and would like to understand and know them better. If they don’t want to talk about those things, then respect that too.
4) Don’t assume or suggest that a bisexual person is really gay or straight
When someone says they are bisexual, assume that they’re telling the truth. While it’s true that some gay and lesbian people initially say they’re bisexual in an attempt to lessen the extent of homophobia they might suffer, this phenomenon has nothing to do with the experience of bisexual people. Similarly, don’t assume that they’re really straight, and are going through some kind of bisexual phase.
I know from personal experience how much it hurts when people have questioned my bisexuality. The first person I came out to as a teenager told me I was a confused straight person. The second person I came out to told me I was gay. Both were wrong, but their lack of acceptance affected me deeply, and I went back into the closet for many years.
It’s just not respectful to tell someone that they don’t know their own mind or experience. Bisexual people have to pluck up a lot of courage to come out, as they know that many people don’t believe that bisexuality really exists. Show bisexual people the respect and admiration they deserve, and believe what they’re telling you!
5) Don’t suggest they limit themselves to heterosexual relationships
Sometimes people suggest that a bisexual person should choose to have relationships only with opposite sex partners in order to avoid prejudice directed at same sex relationships. The problem with this approach is that it validates society’s hostility to bisexuality by encouraging bisexuals to suppress part of their sexuality. The best way for a bisexual person to be happy is for them to feel free to have relationships with whoever they want, not to deny part of themselves.
Remember a bisexual person has no choice about who they are attracted to, just like a gay or straight person has no choice about who they are attracted to.
6) Challenge biphobia and homophobia when you encounter it
If you can, whenever you hear comments and beliefs which put down bisexuals or homosexuals, challenge them. Politely let the speaker know that you find what they are saying unacceptable. Do this even when you’re not in the company of a bisexual person.
Try to challenge beliefs and assumptions in yourself and others that there are only straight people and gay people. For example, when you see a same-sex couple holding hands in the street, consider that one or both people may be bisexual. Notice how often the term ‘gay and lesbian’ is used without including ‘bisexual’. Try to include ‘bisexual’ when you talk about a relevant matter. Changing this kind of understanding creates space and awareness in your mind and the minds of others for bisexual people.
7) Let them know you are there to support them long-term
Having an ally, someone who sticks up for you, who understands bisexuality, who’s there to help, makes a huge difference to any bisexual person. Let them know that they can talk to you if they have a problem relating to their bisexuality. Bisexual people face an ongoing battle against biphobia and misunderstanding. Being open and available, should a sympathetic ear be needed, is a great service.
Earlier this week I interviewed one the UK’s most prominent bisexual activists, Marcus Morgan, founder of The Bisexual Index and Teaching the Difference. I wanted to find out what factors had been important for him in developing a sense of wellbeing and confidence in his bisexuality over the years.
Our conversation covered topics such as bisexual identity and community, coming out, and the importance of engaging with other bisexual people.
Here are some of the highlights from the interview:
How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Marcus Morgan: When I was a teenager I was gay, I wasn’t attracted to women at all. So, the big priority for me was to move away from my family and community, and find a larger setting to explore my sexuality and the gay scene in the UK. When I went to university I joined the gay society and started going out in London, and I met my first boyfriend, who I went out with for about two years. I also moved into shared accommodation with other people from the gay community.
I started to find that I was having very strong feelings towards some of my female friends. It wasn’t something that I acted on at the time, as I was clear then that I was gay, and my friends were lesbians. I tentatively discussed it with one friend on one occasion. This led me to feel that something had changed. It wasn’t that I’d had a revelation about something that I’d been all along, or I’d found a side of myself I’d been suppressing. I’d been quite happy being gay. I very much enjoyed the community, the pubs and clubs in London in the early 1990s. But I was now finding out a different part of myself.
I thought that if I am bisexual, then I need to meet other bisexual people, I need to find out how they see their sexuality. I contacted a large lesbian and gay phone service, and told them I was looking for a bisexual group. The person on the other end of the phone gave me the details of a group in London, and then he said to me, ‘I feel obliged to ask, are you sure you’re bisexual? Because a lot of people come out as bisexual as a stepping stone to coming out as gay. Wouldn’t it just be easier for you to come out as gay first?’. I was taken aback by this and I said ‘Well, I’ve already come out as gay, I’ve been gay for nearly 10 years!’. He said, ‘Oh, well maybe you’re going in the opposite direction then and it could be a stepping stone to being straight for you.’ Anyway, he gave me all the details for the group. Now it’s nearly 25 years later, and I’m still bisexual!
Six months later I plucked up the courage to go to the bisexual group. It took me a while to build up the confidence to go because I was expecting the people at the group to be incredibly comfortable about their sexuality, and thought they might look down on someone who was uncertain. I didn’t have a mental image of what the people would be like, as there wasn’t really any imagery of bisexual people to hang onto at the time.
I went along to the bisexual group, and the person who opened the door was someone from my university gay society! ‘Hi Marcus, so, you’re bisexual too I guess!’, he said. It was the most amazingly warm welcome, because it was someone I already knew. It was just an amazing coincidence. It really made an impression on me about how spaces can be welcoming. One of the things I’ve always tried to do, when I’ve welcomed people to bisexual groups myself, is greet them like they’re old friends who you’re meeting for the first time. I know how terrifying it can be to go for the first time, not knowing what to expect.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
I would say find other bisexual people, particularly other bisexual people who are like you and talk to them. Not necessarily about bisexuality, just talk to them. Have the experience of it not being an issue. When I say ‘talk to’, I don’t necessarily mean face to face, it can be instant messenger or commenting on blogs, or tumblr or twitter, or whatever.
The most useful thing you can do is find somewhere that’s home for you. For me BiCon [the UK bisexual conference] is like how I think Christmas is supposed to be. All the family gets together for a big meal and a bit of a party. It’s my bisexual community getting together. Find a bisexual group by contacting an organisation like BiUK or Bisexuals of Colour or BiNet USA. Go along to a meeting or local group. If you’re ok about going to a gay event, go to your local Pride, and find the Bi Stall or Bi group, and just try being bisexual on. Not worrying about it. Just saying, ‘I’m bisexual, that’s ok’. You don’t need to have a detailed talk about what it means yet, you could do that later. Just try accepting it, and finding a space where it can be accepted.
On defining bisexuality
When we set up The Bisexual Index in 2009, there wasn’t anywhere on the internet that set out an easy, understandable definition of bisexuality that people could look at and say ‘that seems to apply to me’. We provided a definition, that a bisexual is someone who is attracted to more than one gender. People can try it out for size. If you like it you can keep it, if you don’t that’s fine.
Back then, if you went to the big gay organisations like Stonewall, they didn’t really define bisexual, or, if they did, they used very convoluted definitions. They’d say things like ‘bisexuality is a fluid attraction towards men and women that can be sexual and/or romantic’. The problem with that is they’d never give such a wordy description for being gay, and it made bisexuality this complicated thing. And if bisexuality’s complicated, then how can you be sure you’re bisexual? And if no one can be sure, then suddenly there’s no bisexuals anymore! I don’t think that’s a deliberate act on the part of the gay organisations, though I’m aware that other people do. I think it’s more about complete unfamiliarity, and that’s why it’s always better for people within a community to define the labels of that community.
– One of the great advantages that bisexual activism has over, say, pansexual activism is that people have already heard of the word ‘bisexual’. So, if someone’s thinking, ‘I’m attracted to 99 girls and Billy in my woodwork class, does that mean I’m bisexual? Am I bisexual?’, we give them a definition as a mirror they can look in. Perhaps they can see their reflection, and say ‘yes, it makes sense, I’ll use that’. We’re very clear on saying to people that it’s not about being 50-50 or simultaneously or currently attracted to more than one gender. It’s about being attracted to more than one. Which is a broad scope, and people can see themselves reflected in that, I hope.
On identifying as bisexual & the importance of labels
One of the things people often say to me in Q&A sessions after I’ve given a talk, is ‘don’t you think we should just get rid of labels?’. I can see that someone who’s confident about their sexuality and has a community and all their friends in place might want to stop being what they perceive as political about it, but labels are absolutely vital when you’re trying to find where you belong in the world. You’ve got to be able to see who is like me, who can I talk to about this stuff, without it being a big thing.
So when people say ‘we should move beyond labels’ or ‘label jars, not people’, I say ‘label yourself’, then find other people who label themselves, then compare labels. Then you can find people who are on the same page as you. If we ignore labelling, then how can we monitor inequality, for example? If we’re not using labels then we’ve no chance.
On bisexual erasure and changing society
People don’t see bisexuality. We sometimes talk about bisexual invisibility which is useful, but it’s not as useful as talking about bisexual erasure. Bisexual invisibility is something that bisexuals need to fix about ourselves; bisexual erasure is something society needs to fix about itself. The weight isn’t on bisexuals to be more visible, because the people who are out there being visible bisexuals are a tiny fraction of the number of people who are bisexual.
It’s far more useful if we can get people to stop assuming that everyone’s either gay or straight. We shouldn’t need to wear a purple T-shirt or a ‘nobody knows I’m bisexual’ badge for people to realise that maybe Bob in the office who’s mentioned that he was out with Jean last week and John this week isn’t talking about his brother, maybe he’s talking about a male partner, and a female partner, maybe he’s bisexual.
– All the surveys suggest there are more bisexuals than lesbian or gay people, but our society is so good at erasing bisexuality and only seeing people as gay or straight that we just don’t know the majority of bisexual people out there. So promoting inclusive definitions, giving people a chance to see themselves reflected in that; having open and welcoming bisexual spaces…these are small things we can do to turn the tide.
On the importance of the bisexual community
I think bisexuality’s really simple. Bisexuality is not something that people agonise over once they get into a community where bisexuality is seen as something that’s simple and you can just be, and get on with it.
– I’ve had very little cause in the last two decades to doubt or be uncertain about who I find sexually attractive. When I came out as bisexual and joined the bisexual community, I was immediately welcomed into a supportive group of people who were of very similar outlook and age to me. I was going to my first Bicon within 6 months of first attending a bisexual group. I was writing for bisexual newsletters by then. I’ve been lucky and privileged that the sort of things I was looking for in a social group were pretty much precisely the things the bisexual community at the time was providing. I had a very soft landing into bisexuality and I’ve not really had any need to question it or doubt it.
Marcus Morgan is founder and coordinator of The Bisexual Index, an activist network raising awareness of bisexuality and the issues that affect bisexual people. He is also an equality and diversity trainer specialising in bisexual engagement and inclusion. His clients include major international companies, government departments and NGOs. He was an author of the Open University’s 2012 Bisexuality Report, and has written on bisexuality for The Guardian and various LGBT publications.
Somewhere between 0.5% and 5% of the population self-identify as bisexual. Many more people are attracted to both men and women, but choose not to identify themselves as bisexual. Why?
The primary cause is social stigma and prejudice. Our culture doesn’t generally recognise bisexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation. Bisexual people receive messages from society that bisexuality doesn’t exist, and that they are lying or confused gay or straight people. We are told that bisexuality is a transitional phase, and that bisexuals are promiscuous and require simultaneous relationships with members of both sexes. Bisexual people rarely meet openly bisexual people in their social circles, or see them depicted in TV or film drama.
Society’s negative view of bisexuality undermines our confidence in our bisexual identity and often leads us to hide in the closet. It’s common for bisexual people to identify falsely as straight or gay to avoid prejudice and ridicule. I used to.
When I first came out as bisexual aged 19, my girlfriend told me that bisexuality didn’t exist and that I was just a confused and attention-seeking straight person. When I came out to a friend, he told me that men who said they were bisexual were really gay. My self-esteem plummeted. Instead of receiving support and acceptance, I was told that I didn’t know my own mind. I decided that coming out as bisexual was a bad idea.
After that, I chose to hide my bisexuality. I alternated between straight or gay identities depending on who I was with at the time. This never felt right though, and not being able to be openly bisexual knocked my confidence. I often felt unhappy.
In my late 20s, I realised that I would never feel comfortable if I couldn’t be honest about who I really was. I finally began coming out as bisexual to everyone. A weight was lifted, and my life got so much better.
So why exactly did identifying as bisexual make such a positive difference? For me it boils down to three things:
1) It Boosts Your Self-Esteem and Confidence
Assertively identifying as bisexual enhances your confidence and makes you feel better about yourself. It’s true that if you hide your bisexuality, then you’ll avoid some of the prejudice and stigma directed at bisexual people. But there’s a cost. You’ll never feel known and accepted by others.
We all want to be loved and accepted. When we don’t receive enough love and acceptance, especially from the important people in our lives, then our confidence and self-image can be low. If you choose not to identify as bisexual, then a major part of who you are will never be known and accepted, even by your closest friends and family.
In addition, if we don’t identify as bisexual because society doesn’t like it, then we validate society’s view that bisexuality is something to be ashamed of, or something illegitimate. This can contribute to internalised biphobia, where we feel that there really is something wrong with our bisexual orientation and identity.
2) You Become Part of a Community
Identifying as bisexual connects you to a community of other bisexual people. You can interact with bisexual people online via forums, blogs and vlogs, or in person at bisexual social and support groups.
It’s hugely empowering to engage with the experience of other bisexual people. It helps relieve the sense of isolation that we commonly feel, and enables us to develop our understanding of our own sexuality.
Building relationships with other bisexual people will also reinforce your sense of bisexual identity. Witnessing others confidently identifying as bisexual is a great confidence booster!
3) You Change Society
Identifying as bisexual challenges society’s prejudice and faulty beliefs about bisexuality. Society says we don’t exist? Well, here I am, bisexual and proud! Society says this is just a phase? Well, I’m still bisexual!
Every person that identifies as bisexual and tells others about it changes perceptions, even if you only tell one person! The more people identify openly as bisexual, the harder it will be for myths and negative messages about bisexuality to survive. Identifying as bisexual, therefore, doesn’t just improve your life, but also the lives of others.
So, if you’re lacking confidence in identifying as bisexual, consider the benefits. It really can change your life!
I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you don’t yet identify as bisexual, what are the main barriers holding you back? If you do identify as bisexual, how did it change your life?