Please note-

*Please note- Your browser preferences must be set to 'allow 3rd party cookies' in order to comment in our diaries.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bisexuality - The Myths Revisited

By ajewella
"Some people move in gay circles. I move in bisexual dodecahedrons."
— Anonymous
Every few years, there's a wave of "bisexual chic"—bisexual characters increase in the movies and on TV, magazine articles are written, celebrities come out. The last few months have brought another one of these periods of high visibility for bisexuals in the U.S. and around the world. Fergie, Lady Gaga, Anna Panquin, Vanessa Carlton, Duncan James, and others have come out as bisexual. Hit TV shows like Bones, House, The Good Wife, and (returning in 2011 - HURRAY!!!) Torchwood, all have prominant bisexual characters.

While all this attention can result in many advantages for the bisexual community (and is much preferred to the bisexual erasure that occurs all too often) it can also resurrect the many myths out there that distort the image of bisexuals in both the straight and gay/lesbian community. Since this weekend is the 10th International BiCon in the UK, I thought this might be a good time to update and republish an article I did a couple of years ago for GLBT and Friends at DailyKos.

So let's explore together (and with my apologies to David Letterman):

The Top Ten Myths About Bisexuality!

Myth #10 – There is no such thing as bisexuality.
Oh, the damage just one well-publicized, faulty study can do. In 2005, a study of bisexuality in males was published by Psychological Science and later lauded by The New York Times as lending "support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation." Never mind that the methodology of both the study and the article had numerous and serious problems. Never mind that neither the study nor the article mentioned the chief author's controversial history. The damage was done and bisexuals have been trying to undo it ever since.

MythbusterBisexuality has been a recognized, distinct classification of sexual orientation since 1892. The most common definition is "a feeling of attraction for both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree." You'll notice this definition says feeling and not behavior. It's a rose Bi any other name. Back Bi popular demand. We're just getting Bi. (OK, I have to stop before I hurt myself.)

Myth #9 – Bisexuality is a new thing.
For some, bisexuals rose like Venus on a clamshell during the sexual revolution in the early 1970s. For others, the study mentioned in Myth #10 resulted in many bisexuals coming out loud and proud in 2005. As a result, much of the media coverage has treated bisexuality like it's a new, semi-hip phenomenon.

Mythbuster – Bisexuality has been described in cultures from ancient Greece and the pre-Columbian Americas to shogunate Japan and pre-Cook Hawaii. It's not the feelings that are new, it's the way they are being described. Maybe bisexuals should start wearing shirts that read, "We're here. We're queer. We have history!"

Myth #8 – Bisexuality is a fetish behavior.
Bisexuality is often thought of as a behavior, rather than a sexual orientation—something to be experimented with in your youth (or your mid-life crisis), like wearing rubber underwear or going to Burning Man. Some of the responsibility for this misinformation comes directly from the conservative Christian right, who try to define anything other than vanilla-bean heterosexuality as "choice". But much of the media-perpetuation of this myth comes from "flex sex" celebrities who have publicly recanted their bisexuality.

Mythbuster – According to a long-term sexuality study done by The Glasgow and Edinburgh Research Workshop, 87% of participants who identified as bisexual in their teens and 20s, continued to identify as bisexual in their 40s and 50s. Unless bisexuality is addictive (like smoking or Krispy Kreme) that's a looooong time to "experiment" with a behavior.

Myth #7 – Bisexuals are mentally unstable.
Ah, the bisexual "serial killer" phenomenon. Although media portrayals are getting better, there is still the lingering notion that mentally unstable bisexuals are roaming the streets, intent on wreaking havoc. In an article for American Sexuality Magazine, author Amy Andre writes:
"Most movies with bi characters paint a stereotypical picture: the unlucky, unsuspecting, hetero or gay person falls for the bisexual bon vivant, and all hell breaks loose. The bi love interest is usually deceptive (Mulholland Drive), over-sexed (Sex Monster), unfaithful (High Art), and fickle (Three of Hearts), and might even be a serial killer, like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. In other words, the bisexual is always the cause of the conflict in the film."
Mythbuster – Although bisexuals are more likely than straight or gay people to develop mental health problems this is more due to the unique stressors involved in the social pressures of having a different sexual orientation to the majority than bisexuality itself. The American Psychological Association maintains that "a significant portion of homosexual and bisexual people were clearly satisfied with their sexual orientation and showed no signs of psychopathology." So give me a hug, I won't hurt you. (Unless you're into that sort of thing and'll talk.)

Myth #6 – Bisexuals lie about their sexuality.
This myth is related to #7 and probably the most common portrayal of bisexuals in the media. The bisexual man who lies to his wife. The bisexual woman who lies to her lesbian partner. The bisexual...whoever...who claims to be an ex-gay. It's one of the most popular themes of the exploitation talk-show circuit and for good reason—because technically, there are aspects of this myth that are true.

Mythbuster (sort of) – As everyone in the GLBT community knows, the process of coming out can be very difficult. For most people, there is confusion, missteps, more confusion, and backslides. As a result, many GLBTs have been less than honest about their sexuality at one time or another. But while gay men "struggle" and lesbians are "confused" (sympathetic terms), bisexuals are often portrayed as "lying". Add to this is the teen trend of straight girls pretending to be bisexual (also called "Facebook Bisexuality" and recently portrayed on an episode of Glee) and it all starts to become a big game of Who Do You Trust? When all is said and done, bisexuals are trying to find their way just like everyone else.

Myth # 5 – Bisexuals are just sluts.

Yes, we are. (Kidding!) But admit it…this is the one myth everyone kind of wishes were true. If only life was like the show Torchwood where everyone is beautiful and omnisexual and hops in and out of each other's beds with humor, British accents, and pithy repartee. Actually, some of the funniest bisexual humor comes from this myth.
"Could you imagine wanting to [have sex with] everybody you meet? Think of all the phone numbers you'd accumulate! You might as well just walk around the White Pages under your arm."
– George Carlin

"A bisexual is a person who reaches down the front of somebody's pants and is satisfied with whatever they find."
– Dana Carvey
Mythbuster – Bisexuals aren't any more or less promiscuous than any other cross-section of the sexuality spectrum. I know some promiscuous bisexuals, just like I know some promiscuous straight women, straight men, lesbians, and gay men. (Email me if you want names.) Actually, because many bisexuals come out later in life, they can go through a time that I affectionately call "second adolescence" when they do all the sexual experimentation they didn't get to do as teenagers. But most bisexuals get this out of their systems quickly and settled down, just like most everyone else.

Myth #4 – Bisexuals cannot be monogamous.
This myth is closely related to Myth #5, but comes from the idea that a bisexuals must be in a relationship with both a man and a woman simultaneously to be happy. This myth is often perpetuated from inside the bisexual community itself by a small minority who believe that duogamy (having a separate relationship with two different people, as opposed to a threesome, where all three people are in the relationship together) is the "most desirable" situation, especially for married bisexuals.

Mythbuster – Bisexuality is a sexual orientation, independent of the monogamy or non-monogamy lifestyle choice. Bisexuals are as capable as anyone of making a long-term monogamous commitment to a partner they love. In fact, one study found that "not only did bisexual women tend to pursue exclusive, monogamous relationships over time, but they were more likely to do so than either unlabeled or lesbian women." So don't be afraid to date a bisexual—or to spank us when we're bad. (Did I say that out loud?)

Myth #3 - Bisexuals will eventually choose to be gay or straight.

"You just haven't found the right girl/guy."
"You're in a transitional phase."
"Bi now, gay later."

Yep, bisexuals get it from both sides (pun intended). People from both the straight and gay/lesbian communities insist that we will eventually "choose a side" and "get off the fence". This is often related to Myth #10, but most times it just comes from the fact that society assumes sexuality based on whether your partner is opposite sex or same sex. Gays or lesbians who come out gradually—using the bisexual label to "ease into" being gay—also help fuel this myth. For some bisexuals, the pressure to "pick a team" is so great that they actually reject the bisexual identity rather than deal with the negative connotations.

Mythbuster – If both homosexuality and heterosexuality are innate—and both homosexual and heterosexual identities are deserving of respect—it logically follows that bisexuality and the bisexual identity should also be respected. As society becomes more familiar with the stages of bisexual identity, I believe this myth will start to fade into the background. And if not, there's always the bisexual's secret weapon: the snarky T-shirt!

Myth #2 – Bisexuals are a threat to gay/lesbian movement.
One of the reasons I've been so grateful for the acceptance I've experienced from my gay/lesbian friends is because I've had first-hand experience of being rejected by the gay/lesbian community because I'm a bisexual. Even though I understand the possible causes of this rejection—insecurities, political agendas, misinformation—it still hurts to think that some in the gay/lesbian community see bisexuals as a threat.

Mythbuster – Despite the occasional suspicions, "bisexuals and gay and lesbian people share a lot: the experience of same-sex attraction and the resulting homophobia and exclusion from the straight world." Bisexuals are part of the GLBT community and biphobia or bisexual erasure will only serve to weaken the community as a whole. As Benjamin Franklin said, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." (Or was that, "We are all hung and together..."? You just never know with Ben...)

And finally...

Myth #1 - Bisexuality is the best of both worlds!
"Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night."
– Woody Allen
During these times of higher bisexual visibility, it may seem to the general public like bisexuals have it made. We move with fluid skill between the gay and the straight world, shagging whomever we want, enjoying the full spectrum of human sexuality.

Mythbuster – I'm all for bisexual visibility (and shagging), but these periods of bisexual visibility rarely address any of the real issues bisexuals face everyday. But the Buddhist optimism in me (Buddhist Bisexual...try saying that 10 times fast) sees things getting better for everyone in the GLBT community. Maybe not as quickly as we would like, but the progress is there. And progress brings with it the best of all possible worlds.


  1. Thanks for writing this ajewella. I'm Bi and thoroughly sick of having these BS myths put in my face. My husband is taking a nap at the moment and we're expecting company a little later on. She and I will have great fun waking him up. Bold yes...not crazy,confused,slutty or any damn thing else! I apologize for the use of profanity,just incredibly frustrated by everything you so accurately described above. I am who I am and proud of it!

  2. Thanks LK. I agree, it can get really frustrating sometimes. People ask me all the time why I'm open about my bisexuality when I don't "have" to be. But I really believe that the more people know bisexuals in their real lives, the more these myths can be debunked.

  3. That question really bugs the crap out of me as well. No one should ever feel like they have to keep their sexuality hidden. The last person who asked me why I'm open about being bi went as far as to tell me that I should just keep it to myself. As you might imagine that really pissed me off. My answer wasn't exactly nice,"you don't seem to have a problem announcing how many men you f**k every day,why the hell should I hide the fact that I enjoy the company of men and least I can remember their names!" Yeah,I was just a tad bid angry. Some people!

  4. Reminds me of my favorite scene from X-Men 2:

  5. Thanks so much for this ajewella. very impressive diary.

  6. Great article ajewella!

  7. Why would bisexuals be different from anybody else?

    I am gay, but am not sexually attracted to every man I meet. Why would it not follow that bisexuals would not a). respect the sexual orientation of anyone else and b). why would they be attracted to anyone who breathes?

    Secondarily, although I understand that bisexuals are like anyone else, I don't have any problem with "trinary" relationships with 3 people in them. Maybe I'm just a weirdo. No, strike that, I am a weirdo.

  8. I think there are some other preconceived notions in the gay and lesbian community, and I'm afraid some are not unfounded. There's a expression that "when the going gets tough, the bi get going", wrt their romantic relationships with gays and lesbians. On top of the pain and hurt of a breakup is the added salt in the would of the bisexual partner beginning a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. The majority of self-identified "lesbians" I knew in college married men and had children shortly after graduation.
    Another notion is that bisexuals can't be taken seriously because eventually they will "swing the other way" and leave their partner to be with someone of a different gender. I imagine the same fear among heterosexuals.
    Another problem LGBT have with bisexuals is their tendency to choose orientation when it suits them. They can have spouses and children to ensure their standing in public and society and reap all the benefits thereof and still have their cake, so to speak.
    Perhaps some of the animus is envy, perhaps some of it is tinged with painful past experiences, but it certainly exists.
    (In the interest of full disclosure I am a gay man who has never been in a committed relationship with a bisexual though have been *cough* involved with a few.)

  9. BTW, you saw bisexuality is a sexual orientation just like homosexual or heterosexual. Wouldn't it be a sexual "non-orientation"?

  10. Thanks for this, ajewella. I'm a bisexual woman who just ended a LTR with another woman (well, technically, she dumped me). One of her biggest insecurities was that one day I would leave her for a man, either because I got tired of her, or because I wanted social acceptance. What she refused to see was that I loved her, was committed to her, and didn't want anyone else, male or female. As for whether I'm a slut now that I'm single...well, that's an issue completely independent of my sexual orientation! ;) (And hey, at least I'm an ethical slut.)

    Another issue bi people so often run into is invisibility, or even disavowal by the LGs if they pursue a LTR with a partner of the opposite sex. Just because a bi person is in an opposite-sex relationship doesn't make him/her any less bi, or any less committed to full equal civil rights for all! A friend of mine is a bi woman married to a bi man, and they're perfectly happy being supportive as Bs rather than trying to hide as allies.

    It takes guts to be out as bi, no doubt about it.

  11. Keori - I also have friends I've known now for 15 years - bi woman married to a bi man - who have had some issues with the LG community ostracizing them once they married. That seems so absurd to me! Thankfully over the years that has eased up.

    Fascinating & enlightening post (and comments) :-)

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. @Anonymous - A very dear lesbian friend in San Fran related this story to me.

    She had been in a LTR with a bisexual woman for about 3 years. She thought everything was going great, until she discovered her partner was cheating on her with a male co-worker. After their break-up, she had many of the same opinions about bisexuals that you voiced in your comment.

    Eventually she recovered and became involved with a lesbian woman. After about 2 years, she discovered that her latest partner was cheating on her with another woman. After recoverying from another devastating break-up, she realized that the issue with her bisexual partner wasn't the bisexuality, it was that she had cheated on my friend and left her - exactly the same issue she had with her lesbian partner.

    Many bisexuals (including myself) have experienced our sexual orientation being used as a scapegoat for relationship problems (with both G/L and straight partners). As a result, many prefer to date other bisexuals and avoid this issue. I find this sad, since it narrows the possibilities of finding love rather than expanding them.

    You seem to have a negative opinion of someone who identifies as lesbian in college (although is probably bi) and then gets married to a man and has children later in life. I would ask you to consider this: would you have the same negative opinion of the same person who identified as straight in college (although is probably bi) and comes out as a lesbian in later life and has a LTR with a woman? Or would you consider that the second person had become comfortable with who they are and had been lucky enough to find love? Like I noted in Myth #6, bisexuals aren't perfect and we're just trying to find our way like everyone else. We'd just like to be given the same consideration that any gay man or lesbian would be given in their own struggles with their sexuality.


  14. @AndyS - Thanks for your comments. I have no problem with trianary relationships or duogamy either. If that is what works for some people, then that's great. The trouble is when others buy into the myth that bisexuals must be in some kind of polyamorous relationship to be happy.

    Like you said, bisexuals are like any other cross-section of the population. Some need to be involved with more than one person at a time and some don't.

  15. @Keori - Nice to (virtually) meet you. So sorry to hear about your break-up. Relationships are tough, that's for sure.

    I think the invisibility (bisexual erasure) bothers me more than anything. I can try to change other people's opinions about me, but it's much more difficult if they refused to even acknowledge that I exist. I think this issue is the origin of the "bisexuals will eventually pick a team" meme. After years of denial and chastisement and sometimes downright cruelty from both the straight and G/L communities, many bisexuals just give up and start identifying as gay or straight. They aren't any less bi, they just get tired of fighting a culture that likes its nice shiny "black or white" labels.

  16. @Mike - I think "sexual 'non-orientation'" would more likely be referred to as asexual (individuals who lack sexual attraction to either sex).