The Monogamous Bisexual

Two of the biggest problems faced by bisexual people are homophobia – and for bisexuals, the homophobia in the non-queer community includes some specific issues of biphobia, as well as the biphobia from within the queer community – and bisexual erasure.  One approach to combating biphobia (and therefore allowing us to address homophobia more effectively) is to bust the myths about bisexuality that biphobia manifests.

There are plenty of documents and presentations floating around that take on 5 or 10 or 14 myths.  I have one myself, over on Facebook.  In this space, I want to try taking them on in more detailed ways – there are only so many times you can generate a list of myths and one or two sentences of rebuttal each.  Here I want to dig a little deeper and try to take on root myths, or individual false stories one at a time.

Several of the myths about bisexuality come from the common root that we are defined by our partners.  This misconception is a direct cause of bisexual invisibility, and is frequently compounded into erasure.  The common myths that come directly or indirectly from this include
1) Bisexuals are incapable of monogamy – they will cheat on you with another gender, can’t be satisfied with one partner, aren’t really bisexual if they aren’t polyamorous.

2) Bisexuality is a transitional phase rather than a stable identity – bi now, gay later.

I’ll take on #2 more specifically another time.  Focusing on the metamyth that bisexual orientation requires either polyamory, serial monogamy with alternating gendered partners, or violating relationship agreements via cheating means examining where this myth comes from.

While it’s easy to point to media representations of bisexuality as reinforcing this metamyth, the media simply reflects the culture.  One of the challenges of the monogamous bisexual is how to present yourself to the world as bi.  I face that challenge often – more in the straight community than in my local queer community, as I have the good fortune to have landed in a place where bisexuals are generally welcomed into the queer community rather than accused of being not queer enough, although there are exceptions, such as the comedian at our local Pridefest last year who, after several jokes that while funny were supportive of elements of the queer community, found it appropriate to get a laugh by saying that the bisexuals in the audience would “go home with anybody”.  I noticed that the bisexuals were easy to spot in the crowd: they were the ones that were not laughing.

In a monosexual worldview, it’s easy to use our partners as markers of our sexuality.  In the straight community, what is the “trophy wife” but a visible indicator of heterosexual virility?  (It’s also a huge issue of patriarchy, but that’s for another day).  In the monosexual part of the queer community, to walk down the street with your same-gender partner is an affirmation of your Pride, your ability to be just like everybody else.  But if you are bi, and you have one partner, if they have a clearly defined gender you are lumped into one of the monosexual categories.

Polyamorous bisexuals would seem to be able to make their bisexuality more visible.  This is debatable, because what they make visible by walking down the street tends to be myths about polyamory rather than about bisexuality.  In any case, polyamory isn’t my subject here.  I leave that to the polyamorous, who while they certainly represent a significant segment of the LGBT population, don’t by any means represent everybody.  Looking at the media again – nearly all representations of bisexuality involve either simultaneous partners of multiple genders, or some form of serial alternating monogamy with varying levels of commitment that never reaches the level of commitment that characterizes the “love of my life” level that society celebrates as the ideal partnership.

At some point, no matter how many relationships you have, there will be a last one, if you have any intimate romantic relationships at all (and it is my hope that everyone in the world has at least one chance to be together with someone they love, be they gay, straight, bi, or asexual).  Should your sexual orientation be defined by what the gender of that last one is?  If you answered yes, why?  If you answered no, then why should who you partner with at any time be deemed to define who you are?

I’ve been bi for as long as I’ve had a definition of sexual orientation.  I was bi before I ever had a relationship.  In my teens and early 20s, I had relationships with cismen and ciswomen, and the only reason that my relationships were restricted to those particular categories were because those were the only people I knew, the only people I was close enough to to have relationships with – in fact, at that time, the word cisgender didn’t even seem to exist (the earliest reference to the word I can find is 1991).  Even in the absence of the word, though, my desires were never restricted to people who fit neatly into gendered boxes.

In those early heady days of blooming sexuality, I experimented with polyamorous options, but quickly found that was not the path that works for me.  On an emotional and romantic level, monogamy suits me best.  I’m one of those people who wants the intimacy and mutual trust that I can best develop in a dyadic relationship.  Nothing against polyamory – if it works for you, it works for you, and I’m the last person to judge you for it, whether your polyamory expresses itself as multiple dyads, a triad, a group arrangement with or without in-group exclusivity, gay, straight, or bi, it just doesn’t bother me.  The only reason I bring it up is that while I have (ultimately unsuccessful) polyamory in my history, it doesn’t make me poly.  I know gay men who have been married and either considered themselves straight at the time, or were trying to pass (to others or to themselves) as straight but have now identified as gay.  That’s OK too, even though it’s a source of another myth I’ll be writing on.

Being monogamous, and having that monogamous relationship be between two cisgendered people of opposite gender, makes me invisible, though.  I just look straight.  An interesting note is that a lot of the ways I present as queer are ways that have nothing at all to do with sexuality but are transgressions of gender norms: fingernail polish, long dangly earrings, wearing pink clothing.  But when I do these things while I am kissing my wife, the picture presented to the people around me is one of straight, not of bi.  On the other side, when I get excited and proclaim something to be FABulous or spontaneously break into song with a Broadway tune, people assume gay.

The metamyth, that when we’re with someone of the opposite gender we’re straight, and with someone of the same gender we’re gay, is purely a case of being defined by the gender of our partners.  No other sexual orientation faces this myth.  Further, if our partner is genderqueer, I posit that someone assuming that our identity is monosexual is denying our genderqueer partner hir identity and assigning a gender to them.  Show me a monogamous bisexual (and there are more of us around than you know, because, SHAZAM, you can’t see us when we’re in the same room with you unless we say so), and I’ll show you someone who has been assumed to be monosexual.

Skip this paragraph if I’ve already told you this story – I had a teacher who is a great Ally, who understands queer issues, who knew I was queer.  Partway through the semester, I mentioned my wife’s name.  She said, “who’s that?”  When I said “my wife” she was visibly caught off guard.  “I thought you were gay!”  This is what happens when we use labels like “Queer” instead of “Bisexual” – people stick their own labels on us.

So this is why I make a point of labeling myself as a monogamous bisexual.  By being visible as such, I break down the metamyth, which also breaks down the idea that I will leave my wife someday for a man, that I am a greedy cheater on the make, and the myth that I’m just a gay man with a beard (willing or otherwise).

My wife is not my beard.  My beard is that stuff growing out of my face.  I’m not straight, and she not only knows that, she’s as comfortable as I am with it, and she knows that I’m not going to cheat on her with anyone of any gender.  I wish people would quit assuming that I will.Bust ALL the myths

About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband and father, non-traditional Graduate student, member BiNet USA Board of Directors. When I grow up I want to be an Existential/Feminist Psychotherapist, a community college instructor, and expand my work for bisexual visibility and equality for everyone in the QUILTBAG. This is my personal blog and the views here do not represent the official position of BiNet USA.
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17 Responses to The Monogamous Bisexual

  1. surrelativity says:

    Excellent post

  2. Elanor QZ says:

    Thanks for writing this. As a fellow bisexual I’m always glad when people take a stand and call out people’s damaging views. In fact, you inspired me to write my own post, about how myths around bisexuality made it hard for me to work out I was bi in the first place.

    http://principallyuncertain.blogspot.com.au/2012/09/myths-around-bisexuality.html

    Did you go through something like that? I’d be interested to know if you think being a man made a lot of difference in discovering your sexuality, since male and female bisexuality is often treated as two different things.

    • fliponymous says:

      There is a huge gap in the way male and female bisexuals are treated in straight society indeed! As a man, my experience was more “you’re just gay” than the “oh, look at the straight girl kissing another girl, that’s hot, but she’s still straight” that you mention. I’ll have to do some research (e.g. ask around, heh) about how it is in the queer community, but I feel based on purely anecdotal evidence that bi guys may have a slightly easier time in general queer circles than bi women — depending, of course, entirely on the circle. I’ve heard a lot of 2d Wave horror stories about bi women having to lock into a queer closet under accusations of sleeping with the enemy, whereas at least at the time that I came along (mid-80s) the gay male and lesbian communities were starting to pull together under the shadow of the Plague. Also it makes sense to me that as (inadvertent and unelected) members of the patriarchy, gay men would be less worried about a man who isn’t “Gold Star” as the political issues aren’t as prominent.

      Short answer — no one who knew about my same-gender attractions ever tried to tell me I was straight, but there have been a few who have told me that I’m bi now, gay later; those people have been waiting 20+ years for me to “admit it”. :)

  3. Pingback: In response to the Monogamous Bisexual « atheist, polyamorous, skeptics

  4. fliponymous says:

    The discussion continues at http://polyskeptic.com/2012/09/24/in-response-to-the-monogamous-bisexual/ with an analysis of some of my comments during the video conversation with Dan Fincke at Camels With Hammers and a continuing conversation.

  5. beinb says:

    Thank you for this excellent post! As a monogamous bisexual man I was facing the exact problem. I wanted to come out to my close friends but didn’t know how or why. I mean did it really matter since for all purposes I was straight… But hell – I did it anyway since this is who I am and I love being who I am and I want to share the whole joy of my existence with my friends. I never regretted it and slowly keep enlarging this “inner circle of trust” that knows. I don’t think I’ll ever feel the need to be “openly” bi for two reasons. Firstly, it would mean talking about it all the time out of context since being monogamous it won’t ever come up by itself. Secondly, we do have private and public faces and it’s nice this way. Sexuality is part of the public face for me as is my like for gory video games like Mortal Kombat – I love and accept it but it doesn’t mean I want to share it with every random person.

  6. Mary says:

    Hi I am the wife of a bisexual man. We have been married 29 years ans have 6 children. He chose not to share this with me until he contracted an std. Funny thing is I wasn’t surprised about the bisexuality but the cheating was painful. He was going to book store g
    For oral for 8 years during his lunch break. Then he met a gay man who was in an open gay relationship and they cheated on their partners. The friendship blossomed into anal sex and he got sick. This was over a year ago. I have worked hard with him to try and save our marriage. We have had a very loving – emotionally and sexually life for the last 8 months. I stumbled upon the mans phone number in his cell phone. He changed the mans name in his contacts but I saw it was HIS number. I don’t know how to handle this. He is the only person I have ever had a sexual experience with and I can’t understand how he can throw away his family for this. I feel betrayed again

    • fliponymous says:

      I am very sorry that this has happened to you, Mary. Infidelity and betrayal is a serious problem for a relationship. I strongly suggest that you look into some couples counseling with a practitioner who is competent working with mixed-orientation marriages.

      As far as I see it, the problem isn’t that he’s bi, the problem is that your relationship has monogamous boundaries that are not being respected and adhered to by all members of the relationship. That is a hard place to be in, and again, I am sorry that you’ve had to deal with this.

      A therapist who is competent with bi issues will separate bisexuality from infidelity, and help you find out what the future of your relationship will be. One note: I urge you to stay away from the Straight Spouses Network unless you have already firmly committed yourself to the idea that your marriage cannot or should not be saved or that a non-monogamous solution is the only solution, as that organization’s attitude is not one of interest in helping mixed-orientation marriages.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Carol says:

    Thank you for writing this.

    I am a monogamous, bisexual female. I have been with my boyfriend for 2.5 years now and could see us spending our life together. I am love him very much and satisfied with him, though I haven’t actually been with a woman sexually and would like to experiment. He is ok with us trying out a threesome (not that I want to perpetuate that bisexual stereotype!), so it looks like I’ll get the chance to experiment a little.

    Anyway, it is a worry of mine that later on I may crave to be with a woman. This never occurred to me until I went onto a forum and saw that some bisexual, married people do experience this. I don’t want that at all now! I just want to be with my boyfriend and am heartbroken at the thought of being with anyone else (man or woman). But I’m scared – what if later on I want to be with a woman and it ruins what we have? I am a massive worrier and most of my worries don’t happen, so I hope this is one of them.

    Have you ever felt like that? I hate that I’m worried about this, especially because I know it’s one of the things that put people off bisexuals. It’s not even something I want right now – it’s just something I’m worried that I’ll want later.

    To be honest, all I want is probably reassurance that it won’t happen (or at least, that it doesn’t happen to many bisexuals). On that particular forum, it seemed like a lot of bi women married to men felt like this (but it may just be that if people are experiencing problems somewhat related to their bisexuality, they are more likely to post them on a forum than people who are very happy with their relationships).

    If you actually read all of that (especially if you respond), thank you!

    • fliponymous says:

      Carol: Thank you!

      What it all comes down to, as far as I’m concerned, is that the boundaries of your relationship are something that everyone involved in the relationship negotiates and adheres to — not because they have to, but because they want to, because it is within those boundaries that they can truly thrive. If you’re a gardener, think about a tomato cage, a wire frame that supports the plant as it grows and allows it to be stronger and healthier than plants that lack that framework. It’s called a cage, but it doesn’t imprison, it gives a place to bloom.

      It would be irresponsible to give you a blank and bland reassurance that what you are worried about won’t happen. But what I can say is that in my own relationship, it hasn’t been an issue because we’re both on the same page — we renegotiate our boundaries now and then, and even though they have not moved in 20+ years, I can’t guarantee they won’t. (It’s pretty unlikely, but to claim that they will never shift would be the same thing as the guy in the horror move who says “We’re safe now!” at the beginning of the third act.

      What I can say is this — be honest with each other. That’s what keeps things working. You said that you don’t want to be with anyone else — there’s no other person who moves you the way he does. That’s more important than a hypothetical someday, eh?

      I hope this helps, and I am very very glad that something you found this and that it speaks to you. :)

  8. Jimbeau says:

    I am also a monogamous bisexual male, married for 36 years. My wife knew my sexuality wasn’t the standard variety from the beginning, but I didn’t come out to the world at large until I was past fifty. It took me by surprise that the first thing everyone assumed (the first of many wrong assumptions) was that I was leaving my wife, which wasn’t even something I had thought of. I was simply trying to live as myself, instead of always being careful not to give my secret away. Being closeted was like living as a spy, carefully rehearsing every move I made, every word I said. I was psychologically damaged by the effort it took to never act like who I really am. I wanted the world to know, whether they liked it or not, just so I had no reason to cover myself anymore. But my first hint that it wasn’t going to be that easy was when I saw a therapist, just to get a few pointers on how to proceed with my coming out, and he told me that I was probably gay, and that I would now realize this. I told him off rather rudely, to make a long story shorter, and didn’t go back to see him anymore. I was clear that I was bisexual; I just wanted everyone else to know it, too. But it has been my experience that it is mostly only other bi people who understand what it is like to be bisexual, and that being bisexual doesn’t preclude monogamy. And I had no idea that even other queer folks could be biphobic. I’m no longer so naive.

  9. Alice says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, there just isn’t enough being said about successful bisexual monogamy. I am a young female currently dating a bisexual male, whom I love very dearly. However when my parents found out my current boyfriend is bisexual, I was bombarded with negative bisexual stereotypes. “He will be sleeping with men behind your back”, ” If you ever get married he will decide he is gay”, ” He is a virgin and therefore just using you for practice, until he realizes he just wants men”. Not only did this really make me seriously doubt my parents judgement, but also doubt my boyfriend. Which was extremely unfair as he is a very romantic and gentle guy, probably less likely to cheat than any heterosexual guy I have ever met (he even admits his sexuality is more about love than lust even on a mental level.) Luckily my parents were mostly able to rethink their judgement after meeting him and I was able to discuss these worries with my boyfriend ( who kindly never judged me for being swayed by societal pressure, and instead was very supportive and reassured me). However there are many other people who do seriously doubt any bisexual partner’s abilities to be monogamous, for no other reason than their bisexuality and these myths are made even worse by continuous stories online and in magazines about bisexuals of either gender being liars, cheaters or just plain confused and it seriously bothers me that a couple’s potential to have a stable future is based solely on the fact that one of them may be bisexual.Even I can sometimes still find myself doubting my future with my boyfriend simply because of all the negative issues, which just results in me feeling guilty and cruel for not trusting him enough when he has never been anything but lovely.

  10. luella says:

    my husband of 7yrs revealed to me that he was”bi” several months ago. he states he has sexual urges/desires that get very powerful for men and he doesnt know how to control them /lessen them. he states he loves me and wishes he didnt have those thoughts/urges/desires. how do you manage/control your sexual desires/urges/thoughts?

    • fliponymous says:

      I control my urges the same way any faithful husband does — by not acting on them. I prefer not to open the bedroom door too far, but I’ll just say that there are lots of things two people with years of intimate knowledge, trust, imagination, a trip to the Adults Only store, and a DVD player can do.

      The boundaries of every relationship are different and it’s important to negotiate them honestly with each other. A competent couples counselor *who understands bisexuality* might be able to help as well, but be careful when you select one that they are authentically bi-positive. If they recommend any books by Amity Buxton, or the Straight Spouses Network, then run fast and far because that’s a pretty clear signal that it’s a therapist who thinks your relationship is doomed before they even talk to you.

      I hope that you are able to find a solution that works for both of you. Some people find that some form of non-monogamy on one or both sides works, but others prefer to stay exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with either as long as everyone is in agreement and communication stays open.

  11. Dianneak says:

    U answered the question I’ve been searching the web for. A bi-sexual man can be happy in a monogomous relationship. I had infinite trust in my bi husband but just found out this past year he has been having quckie relationships. He did not do this with his first wife or 16 years. He tried to blame it on me and said I was boring. We r in counseling.

    • fliponymous says:

      I am a big proponent of counseling. For mixed-orientation marriages where one partner is bi and the other is straight or gay, it’s important to find a therapist who truly understands bisexuality.

      I hope counseling helps you as you move forward.

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