"Some people move in gay circles. I move in bisexual dodecahedrons."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.
Mythbuster – Bisexuality 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 then...um...we'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."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.
– 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
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...)
Myth #1 - Bisexuality is the best of both worlds!
"Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night."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.
– Woody Allen
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.