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.