"But bi means two"… and other reasons why we should change the conversation

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“We need to move beyond the ‘bisexual 101’ format that most bi events seem to follow”

There are many, many reasons to be frustrated as a bisexual woman who is politically and actively aware within the queer community. Be it dudebros who wandered into queer spaces asking for sexual performances, members of the LGBT community denying your existence or the endless, endless battle against the biphobic language police who LOVE to tell you how you reinforce the gender binary, despite your current sexual partners or the existence of non binary bisexuals. However, one frustration that has been raising its ugly head to me recently is my realization that most of the past bisexual specific events I have attended, including one I organized myself, have been, whether or not they were advertised this way, a bisexual 101 where I, and other bisexuals, have sat through the standard “definitions”, “myths” and “erasure” presentation format.

I understand how important education is, especially for bisexuals in order for erasure and misrepresentation to stop, however when the event has been aimed at and a space has been created for bi* identified people, why is the discussion a self-reaffirmation of our identities and not a discussion of what our next steps should be? Is it our job to educate others or should there be an expectation that they do some, easy and accessible, research and educate themselves? Also is this focus on “bisexual 101” actually stopping our progress?

With the queer community creating their own safe spaces and using online resources to have a voice and create platforms for discussion, the evolution of the community, whether that be LGBT/ LGBTQ+/ MOGAII or any other variation, has gone from strength to strength. Language along with it is being constantly invented, defined and redefined in order for people who previously didn’t think they fit in anywhere to find others they can relate to. If you are part of these online communities, and are active, you can see the development of these political identities flourish as well as the use of these spaces for education. For example sharing tips on access to medical care, sex education that is useful for non heterosexual or non binary individuals, discussion on language surrounding gendered bodies and how best to avoid misgendering others, practical information such as the safest way to bind or what birth control might be best for you. This sort of sharing of information is vital, especially within a community where institutions are not educated or well equipped to deal with our needs. This is best shown where bisexuals may not receive correct medical care and so have a higher risk of not being tested for STDs or when seeking therapy their sexuality is sometimes blamed for their mental health issues.

Within this community language evolves quickly and often words that were once spat at us have been reclaimed by us. But this has distanced us from the older generation who do not use the language we do and often do not understand it. In the same way in which the definition of the word bisexual has changed and evolved, members of the bi community may have once been happy with the definition ‘ attraction to both men and women’ or ‘both genders’ where as now that not only erases many experiences and people from the bi community but is often expressed as a form of biphobia. It is often a linguistic fallacy that is thrown at the bi community, “Well if bi means two then you must only be attracted to cis men and women”, as if those members of the trans community who choose to identify as binary genders are not “real men and women” and as if we ourselves do not know our own sexualities. Also if bi means two does it also mean that I can never be monogamous as I always have two partners (logically of different (‘opposite’) genders). Along the same lines they must then also argue that pansexuals are attracted to everyone as the prefix suggests.

labelsThe problem is that the meaning of the word has changed, it differs from the Freudian definition and it differs from the political definition even 30 years ago, which is what most older members of the LGBT community will understand it as. I fail to see why it is necessary for us to constantly reinforce the definition of our sexuality and be accused of being transphobic or having a binary sexuality when those who arguably do have a binary sexuality by definition (though not necessarily by practice), namely straight or gay/lesbian individuals, do not have to reinforce the definitions of their sexualities with multiple disclaimers as to how their sexuality also includes non-binary genders.

The problem is that we never quite get round to discussing the issues, the intersections and the experiences that surround being bisexual because our discussion is constantly being derailed by these sorts of arguments and our need to explicitly explain ourselves. And I at least am not willing to back down and use a different word, especially when some alternatives were born out of a transphobic nature in the first place.

Bisexuality explicitly threatens heteronormative ideals and I argue that is also threatens homonormative ones, this is why we find such bile directed at us from both the straight and LG communities. Our identities are seen as being based on choice. The choice not to ‘choose a side’, the choice to be in a visibly heterosexual relationship (and so naturally an invisible bisexual one), or the choice to choose to be in a relationship with someone who is a different gender than our own. How anyone can state that we choose who we love or who we are attracted to, when wars have been fought over just that, is beyond me. Instead of focusing on the ignorant words of those who fail to listen, we should instead focus on creating safe spaces for bi identified people. We should create campaigns that could educate a wider audience and promote bi visibility and hold events or discussions that focus less on what we already know but rather on how to change the depressing statistics that make the bi community one of the most oppressed, attacked and unsupported. These events could include:

  1. Campaigns that go beyond Stonewall’s “Some people are bi, get over it” slogan and reiterate bisexual experience, whether that is with positive experiences of people from within the community or some of the more negative reasons and statistics why this visibility is needed.
  2. Events that focus on the bi community’s intersections with feminism, the trans community, race, disability. Whether this in order to celebrate these intersections or to educate people on them.
  3. Events for members of the bi community in order to create dialogue and discussion on how to move forward and promote visibility and in order to discuss issues such as sexual abuse and mental health that affect the bi community vastly more than others.

I think that these sorts of events would be a welcome addition to the bi community, something to look forward to.


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Alice Ryder

Alice is a bisexual activist, blogger and gender warrior. She recently finished her Masters in Gender so splits her time between the fetish goth scene (she means finding a job) and volunteering for the National Domestic Violence Helpline. You can follow her on Tumblr (link- aliceryder.tumblr.com) and Instagram (link-aliceryder)

6 Responses to "But bi means two"… and other reasons why we should change the conversation

  • janis hetherington says:

    Thoughtful comments if somewhat glum. Sexual ambiguity is fun not a death sentence.

  • Neil Huntingdon says:

    I welcome the suggestions listed in 1 and 3. For reasons I cannot quite identify, perhaps my lack of subject knowledge, am less sure about suggestion 2.
    Bisexual is a label that am happy to be described by, and wish it was better understood by the the wider community. It is equally important that others can find, be understood (and accepted) with the description / tag that they choose.

  • Matthew says:

    The absence of a consistent community has been the hardest thing to create, which is finally emerging. In the not to distant past bisexual men and women simply did the best they could choosing “gay” or “straight” lives or identities. But some of us understood our sexuality early on and found each other because we did not fit in the straight or gay communities very well. So we need to create real communities. And discuss our lives and our realizations and celebrate our existence together.

  • Dan Speers says:

    I never heard the term, bi, when I was young. In fact, I never thought about it. In first grade, I fell in love with Christine. In second, I was smitten by Bruce. And, so, it went. Sometimes I loved her, sometimes him. The 1940s became the 1950s. I was 12, then 13. A teen. I heard the older boys sneering at “queers.” I heard the girls laughing at “fags.” I learned to hide my feelings, my essential self, to pretend to be something I was not in order to sustain the something that I was–even if secret, even if I had to pretend, to lie, to maintain the illusion.

    I am older now. Much older. These days, no one looks at me with covetous eyes, with flirtation longing in their guise. Of course, I am the same. I am still bi. Just older. A bit fatter. With a few more wrinkles, some saggy bits. But my heart is still the same. I’m still bi. I was back then when I was young and sexy and cute as a button. Now, not so much. But, here’s the thing. I was born the way I am, the way I was, the way I have become, and I suspect, the way I will be when I die. So there it is. I was born bi. And, yes, I will die bi.

  • J says:

    Thank you for posting such a thoughtful piece. I feel the same frustration that bisexual activism seems to be nothing more than constant reiteration of “bisexual 101” at the expense of creating a more general sense of community.

  • Georgia says:

    Interesting article, especially for someone who is bisexual, but who is in a long term heterosexual relationship and unlikely to be in anything else for some time (we just had a baby). For this and many reasons I do not consider myself part of the lgbt* communities or that it forms a significant part of my identity, if any of it. I appreciate that as a well educated white cis woman, that’s probably a luxury, but it is also because I’ve never felt that that there would be a space for me within those communities, and despite having a MA in Gender Studies, I find often the arguments around language baffling and sometimes feel they can be purely academic and quite divorced from people’s lived realities. It perhaps that just proves your point?

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