Most of the myths about bisexuality come from the monosexual community. There are people who embody most of them – that’s how stereotypes become stereotypes, after all. There are effeminate gay men; there are lesbians who view anyone who has (or had) a penis as violent and eternal enemies; there are bisexuals who cheat on their same-gender partners with people of another gender. The presence of people who become the floor models of stereotypical behaviors, however, in no way reflects the diversity of thought and action within the community that they are taken to represent.
One of the persistent myths that comes up is that “everyone is bisexual.” Usually this comes right out of Freud’s “polymorphous perversity” via the Kinsey scale. This is a tricky one, because it erases us while seeming to be a validation, and is one of the ones that crops up more inside the community. The problems with this myth are multiple. Here are two big ones. First, it’s simply not true. There are many people who are monosexual, who do fit neatly into one or the other end of the attraction spectrum.
If you want to haul out Kinsey (as many who believe this myth do), it’s obvious that there are Kinsey 0s and Kinsey 6s. Regardless of how many people fall between the 2 and the 5, the 0 and 6 classifications are not outliers, but an equally valid part of the spectrum. To state that “everyone is bisexual” is to ignore this reality – while people differ about the proportion of the population that fall in the different classifications defined by Kinsey and later expanded by Klein, it is undeniable that there are no classifications that are empty – in fact, there are probably more Kinsey 0s than any other type. The point, however, is that Kinsey isn’t the be-all and end-all of research into orientation – one of the best theoretical models I’ve ever seen (and have plans to expand on in a formal way) is that of Michael Storms, which views same-gender and other-gender attractions as a 2-dimensional plane rather than a line, with no link between the amount of attraction one way or another. According to Storms, if you assign a number between 0-100 to the level of attraction on either axis, the total is between 0 and 200. None of this “30% gay, 70% straight” or “True 50/50 bisexual” garbage that’s used so often to deny people’s existence. http://www.williamapercy.com/wiki/images/Theories_of_sexual_orientation.pdf
Second, while many people reject labels altogether, many others use them for affirmation. I describe myself as bisexual, therefore I am bisexual. I am not defined by who I am in a relationship with, nor by what those relationships are. Within the broad categories of monosexual, bisexual, and asexual there are as many different relationships and relationship styles as there are people – monogamous, polyamorous, celibate, and serially monogamous barely scratch the surface. I know at least one man (yes, there are lots) who describes himself as gay who was married to a woman for a period of years. He does not label himself bisexual, he labels himself gay. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a woman for years, but that does not make me straight, because I choose the label bisexual to reflect my own spectrum of attraction. The point is, labels, in order to be affirmations of self, need to be self-chosen – a label imposed on another human being is an invalidation of their own experience. Many in the bisexual community have chafed for years under the imposition of labels from outside. Why would any of us choose to do the same thing to others?
To draw an analogy – it’s recognized that nearly everyone has both masculine and feminine aspects within themselves. I have a friend who is trans*gender, who has chosen to identify as such, and who presents with masculine characteristics even though he was assigned a feminine gender at birth. I am cisgender, and I present primarily but not exclusively masculine characteristics. However, I present some feminine characteristics – more than my transgender friend. This, however, does not make me transgender, because I choose the label cisgender as the best representation of my internal sense of self. If someone was to insist that “because you have some characteristics of the feminine as well as the masculine, you are therefore transgender”, they would be invalidating my reality and inviting me in turn to invalidate theirs.
Recently I had an experience with a close friend of mine, one of the last people I came out to. The only reason I had not formally come out to him was because I honestly thought he already knew. We were talking about a big queer conference I had recently attended (MBLGTACC 2012). He said, “Why did you go there?”
“Because I’m bisexual, and I wanted to increase my knowledge and network with other queers.”
“Oh, pshaw. Everyone is bisexual. That’s why Sylvester Stallone is so popular.”
He meant no harm by this, but I was stunned and hurt by his erasure of me, someone he’s known for 20 years. I admit and am OK with the idea that he needed processing time after finding out in casual conversation that one of his core assumptions was wrong and that I’d been keeping a secret from him for so long, and I think he’s come around to acceptance (which I knew would not be an issue). But the shocking part was how quickly and easily this particular myth popped up – and the implication that because “everybody is bisexual, bisexual people are not really queer, they’re just open-minded straight people.”
The myth that “everyone is bisexual”, while it might be a comfort to those who are seeking a place to stand and are afraid to differentiate themselves from the majority, is fundamentally a way of seeking validation by invalidating others. Saying “everyone is bisexual” is a way of either telling monosexual people that they’re wrong about themselves, or telling bisexual people that they really aren’t.
It is bisexual erasure from the inside, and no different than the way bi leaders in the LGBT community have been removed from consciousness by labeling them gay or lesbian.
If the label bisexual doesn’t work for you, for whatever reason, then by all means find a label (or lack of label) that works for you. But forcing a label on others for your own comfort does not help those who would prefer to be called something that is congruent with their own experience and sense of self.
Invalidating others is a direct route to being invalidated.
While some would say that bisexual erasure can only be corrected by giving everyone the bisexual label, the reality is that it only serves to make us all less visible, to erase us completely by implicitly inviting others to impose a label of their choice upon us, rather than respecting our self-determination; by invalidating all the formal political distinctions between us, while allowing the informal terms (you know, words like tranny and faggot and a million other offensive and oppressive terms) to remain as the only societally accepted labels.
A final counterexample to this myth: I personally know and am quite close to a lot of people who have no same-gender attractions. Calling them bisexual would simply be inaccurate. Some of these people are fantastic allies to the queer communities (most of them, truth be told, because with my openness and activism it’s sort of hard for someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool homophobe or biphobe or transphobe to be close to my heart without a very, very good reason to be held in high esteem).
If you try to include everyone in the world in the core LGBTQ community, you eradicate the purpose of community organizing – it’s the same as a White person saying “I think there’s only one race, the Human Race”. Allies are important, but there is always a need for some spaces and dialogs that are closed to them, just as in the atheist community there are places that as a religious believer who shares the values of secular humanism I rightly should not go. I’ll write more on that later, as well as on the many places where Allies are not only to be fully welcomed but are indispensable (a hint, it’s the larger, most inclusive LGBTQA community that serves as the biggest umbrella of them all).
So the next time someone tells you that everyone is bisexual? Kindly let them know that they’re not really helping anyone by spreading that myth.