Because heteronormativity is so last millennium
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
Kissing a girl for the first time felt like flying.
I was 17 and drunk, and she was a gorgeous, green-eyed redhead—a little older, and a lot more confident. When I told my friends about it a few days later—brushing it off as drunken curiosity (even if I couldn’t stop thinking about it)—I was faced with two reactions: I was told I was “just experimenting” by some well-meaning friends, and “I always knew you were a lesbian” by others.
Both reactions made me uncomfortable, though I couldn’t put my finger on why. It didn’t feel like just a drunken experiment. It felt right. It felt like something I was probably going to do again, that I wanted to do again. But the idea of coming out as a lesbian seemed oddly extreme to me. If I did, did it mean I could never date men again? Would I have to choose?
Even though this was only five years ago, LGBTQ+ education is much more widely disseminated now than it was then. My experience with the term “bisexual” was incredibly limited. Ultimately, it amounted to a single conversation I had with someone I was dating when I was 14 years old, as he was talking about a friend of a friend of his who “claimed” to be bisexual.
“Can’t someone be bisexual, though?” I asked, genuinely curious. The boy I was dating was older, and seemed to know way more about this kind of thing, so I trusted his opinion on the matter over mine.
“Nah,” he had said, shaking his head. “People are either gay or straight, you know? Girls who say they’re bi are just trying to get attention.”
He didn’t mention bisexual men. I didn’t even know men could be bisexual.
Because of this, and because of other harmful ideas I’d absorbed over the years¾that bisexuals were greedy, sex-obsessed, more likely to cheat, confused, liars, dirty¾it took me a long time to figure out why I found more than a single gender attractive. Did that make me a “confused bisexual?” Sure, but not because there was anything wrong with me¾it was because there’s something wrong with how our society views people like me.
One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done was give a presentation in university about bisexuality and pansexuality, opening the floor to questions. “Whatever you want to ask, no matter how offensive,” I said, grinning and confident, so different from how I was only two years before when I thought there was something inherently wrong with me. “I won’t be angry or judge you.”
After all, how could I judge their misguided notions about bisexuals when so many of them were ones that I’d held for years?
Myth: Bisexuals don’t exist
Well, unless I’ve been a metaphorical concept for the last 22 years of my life instead of a flesh and blood human, I can say with certainty that this is untrue.
One thing I’ve noticed about the “bisexuals are confused straight girls or confused gay guys” argument is that the assumption seems to be that once you’re attracted to men, it’s game over. The power of dick is just too strong to deny. Never have I heard the argument that bisexual girls are “confused lesbians;” the fear is always that bisexual women will always choose men. Ignoring the inherent misogyny and enforcement of patriarchal standards in this mindset, this kind of thinking seems prevalent in both the heterosexual and LGBTQ+ communities. There is a significant faction of lesbian women who refuse to date bisexual women, the argument being that they can’t trust a bisexual woman to stay with them and not, in the infamous words of the TV show Glee, “stray for penis.”
TV has a lot to answer for when it comes to perpetuating bisexual stereotypes. Even in the arguably very progressive show How to Get Away with Murder, they can’t seem to choke out the “B” word when referring to bisexual characters. One of the main characters’ fiancés from season one is discovered to have had a past sexual relationship with a man, and he’s mocked for being “bi-curious” and ultimately assumed to be gay. The protagonist of the show, Annalise Keating, is shown to have relationships with men and women, and when asked refers to herself as “complicated.” It reinforces the idea that bisexual people are confused, unstable, and will ultimately settle one way or another.
Myth: Bisexuals are unstable, selfish, sex-obsessed cheaters
I could write an entire article on how the healthcare system screws over bisexual people, but let me give an example from my life:
When I was 19, I entered a healthy and stable relationship with another woman. Neither of us had any significant sexual experience prior to being with one another. During a check-up with my doctor for other health reasons, I mentioned that I was in this relationship, and when she asked my sexuality I said bisexual.
She asked for my sexual history, and the sexual history of my partner, and didn’t seem to believe me when I told her it was limited. Minutes later, asking questions about my mental health to try to diagnose the problem I’d actually gone to her about, she asked if I was “sex-obsessed,” and if I had a habit of going out on weekends and hooking up with basically anyone I could get my greedy little bisexual hands on (not her words, but not too far off). This, moments after I’d essentially told her I was a virgin in a monogamous relationship with another virgin.
I was then promptly signed up for a battery of blood tests, testing for everything from HIV to gonorrhea, all because of what my sexuality implied.
A few years later, after a complication with my dissociative disorder found me in a hospital, I had the psychologist trying to diagnose me also ask about my sexuality. Once again, I said bisexual.
He concluded that I had Borderline Personality Disorder, and in his closing words, said, “You say you’re bisexual now… I think you’ll find with this treatment, your relationships will stabilize.”
It stung. It stung more to discover, after some online research, that bisexuals with mental health problems are often diagnosed with BPD whether it fits them or not, because they’re assumed to have unstable relationships due to their sexuality.
Scientific studies have shown, conclusively, that bisexual people are no more likely to cheat in relationships than straight or gay people. As for being selfish and sex-obsessed, I can say for myself that I don’t actually have that high of a sex drive. It’s certainly not something I actively seek out, and even if it was, I know plenty of straight people with active sex lives who wouldn’t be described as “sex-obsessed.” Are there sex-manic bisexuals who cheat? Probably, but it’s not unique to the bisexual community.
As for selfishness, I’ll admit I have an issue sharing food sometimes. Does that count?
Myth: Bisexual men are unicorns, or predatory creeps
Another lose-lose stereotype inflicted on bisexuals is that only women can be bisexual, and if men are bisexual, they’re borderline sociopathic sexual predators.
Once again, I look to pop culture and groan long and loud for how members of my community are portrayed. Think about it: How many psychological thrillers have you seen where the male antagonist acts sexually aggressive towards the male hero, to show how sexually “deviant” he is? David Lynch did this in Blue Velvet, David Yates almost did this with a non-consensual kiss between the villain and the hero in his recent movie Tarzan that was ultimately cut from the final draft (though the general atmosphere of creepy tension was still there). Most recently I’ve been banging my head off the wall over the recent HBO phenomenon Westworld, a beautifully crafted and intensely suspenseful show that writes its single explicitly bisexual male character like they’re operating off a checklist of ridiculous stereotypes. I was delighted when Ben Barnes’ character Logan went off arm-in-arm with a man and a woman a few minutes into his first appearance, because I love Ben Barnes and I love seeing bisexual representation. What I have not loved, however, is watching him stumble through the most cartoonlike strawman figure of male bisexuality I’ve ever seen: From long lingering scenes of wild orgies to monologues about how he can get whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to his frankly sociopathic treatment of other characters, the words “gong-show” don’t come close to describing it. I’ve waited seven long episodes for a “come-to-Jesus” moment; for the writers to show some sense of self-awareness and redeem the horrific mess that is Logan in an otherwise fantastic show. Instead, I’ve had to sit through him acting predatory with his (straight) male friend, the (so far, straight) love interest of his friend, and a narrative that pounds into our heads that everything Logan is, is selfish and wrong. I now find myself becoming viscerally uncomfortable whenever he shows up.
Studies show that women are more likely to come out as bisexual than men, and some have taken this information to mean that bisexual men are rarer overall. But I think this is ignoring certain societal boundaries on male gender and sexual expression. It was hard enough coming to terms with my own bisexuality, what with the stereotypes bisexual women face. If all I saw of myself in pop culture was sociopathy, deviance, and villainy, I don’t know if I’d have been able to accept myself for who I am. Bisexual men are very rarely portrayed as heroes—or hell, even nice people. As long as this remains the case, the environment we create in society for male bisexuals is hostile, and very likely to keep bisexual men in the closet until there’s a significant shift in our thinking.
Myth: Bisexuality is just a phase
When I first came out as bisexual, I had well-meaning, genuinely supportive people pat me on the back for “exploring my sexuality,” and for “trying to figure out” where I stand.
I resisted that: Sometimes politely, sometimes with a bit of a short fuse. I’d finally found something to account for the way my heart works, something that made sense. Being told it was only temporary was infuriatingly invalidating, even if it was meant with love.
For some people, bisexuality is transitionary. For many—for most, I would argue—it is not. When I date women, I am not suddenly a lesbian. When I date men, I am not suddenly straight. This comes back into the dichotomy of sexuality that not only precludes the variety of genders that exist in our society, but the idea of bisexuality as its own independent identity. Bisexuality does not fall on a sliding scale between “straight” and “gay;” it is not a swirl cone when your only choices are chocolate and vanilla. Bisexuality is its own flavour, its own identity. Bisexuality embraces love for two or more genders, full-stop.
The fluidity of gender and sexuality is, thank God, becoming a more prominent point of discussion in modern society. More and more people are beginning to identify as polysexual, pansexual, and bisexual, and it gives me hope.
It gives me hope that a few weeks ago I was talking to a woman in her forties, and after telling her I was bisexual and explaining what it meant, she looked at me with a sense of newfound realization and said, “You know, I feel that way too. I just never had a word for it.”
It’s still an uphill battle, but with time and education, I’m confident things will change for the better.