Saturday, July 19, 2008
Bi the Way...
For a number of reasons, my husband and I have been a lot more out about being bi lately. No one who didn’t already know has been terribly surprised. And perhaps the most unexpected positive experience was how well my husband’s Catholic family took the news, and how supportive they were when he told them. Wow! That means a lot to us.
But myths about bisexuality are pervasive and strongly held, and since I’ve been doing a lot of explaining and debunking lately, I wanted to address the topic here. The most common assumption seems to be that my husband and I must have same-sex partners during our marriage, and that if we don’t, then being bi is sort of a “hypothetical situation,” such as being attracted to people from a certain ethnicity, but not actually having sex with them.
Well, fact is, we’re a lot more boring than people assume--married 19 years and still monogamous. And yet we’re bi to the very core of our identities. Part of what works so well for us as partners is that we understand on a deep, fundamental level what it’s like to be bi in an either/or world where most people don’t feel comfortable with shades of gray.
As an author, being bi is about my political determination to make bisexuality a bit less invisible through my writing. As an individual, bi is as much a sexual orientation as being gay, lesbian, transgendered, or heterosexual. Bi isn’t something I became; it’s the orientation I was born with.
Being bi includes my feelings of differentness, stretching back to grade school, and encompassing everything about my adult self that doesn’t quite “fit” in straight society. Bi is about the emotional connections I make, my dreams, my fantasies, my politics, my feminist pagan spirituality, the books I read, the online forums I belong to, the magazines I pick up, the articles I celebrate or cry over in the morning paper…
I could go on, but you get the idea. Whereas society often defines “bisexual” as just about “sex,” for someone who’s bi, identity combines many factors. There are so many other bi myths that, rather than attempting to address them all, I’m going to include a frequently quoted essay on bi myths and realities, by Sharon Forman Sumpter.
Myths and Realities of Bisexuality
By Sharon Forman Sumpter
Sexuality runs along a continuum. It is not a static "thing" but rather a process that can flow, changing throughout our lifetime. Bisexuality falls along this continuum. As Boston bisexual activist Robyn Ochs says, bisexuality is the "potential for being sexually and/or romantically involved with members of either gender."
Myth: Bisexuals are promiscuous/swingers.
Truth: Bisexual people have a range of sexual behaviors. Some have multiple partners; some go through partner-less periods. Promiscuity is no more prevalent in the bisexual population than in other groups of people.
Myth: Bisexuals are equally attached to both sexes.
Truth: Bisexuals tend to favor either the same or the opposite sex, while recognizing their attraction to both genders.
Myth: Bisexual means having concurrent lovers of both genders.
Truth: Bisexual simply means the potential for involvement with either gender. This may mean sexually, emotionally, in reality, or in fantasy. Some bisexual people may have concurrent lovers; other may relate to different genders at various time periods. Most bisexuals do not need to see both genders in order to feel fulfilled.
Myth: Bisexuals cannot be monogamous.
Truth: Bisexuality is a sexual orientation. It is independent of a lifestyle of monogamy or non-monogamy. Bisexuals are as capable as anyone of making a long-term monogamous commitment to a partner they love. Bisexuals live a variety of lifestyles as do gays and heterosexuals.
Myth: Bisexuals are denying their lesbianism or gayness.
Truth: Bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation, which incorporates gayness. Most bisexuals consider themselves part of the generic term "gay." Many are quite active in the gay community, both socially and politically. Some of us use terms such as "bisexual lesbian" to increase our visibility on both issues.
Myth: Bisexuals are in "transition".
Truth: Some people go through a transitional period of bisexuality on their way to adopting a lesbian/gay or heterosexual identity. For many others, bisexuality remains a long-term orientation. Indeed, we are finding that homosexuality may be a transitional phase in the coming-out process for bisexual people.
Myth: Bisexuals spread AIDS to the lesbian and heterosexual communities.
Truth: This myth legitimizes discrimination against bisexuals. The label "bisexual" simply refers to sexual orientation. It says nothing about sexual behavior. AIDS occurs in people of all sexual orientations. AIDS is contracted through unsafe sexual practices, shared needles, and contaminated blood transfusions. Sexual orientation does not "cause" AIDS.
Myth: Bisexuals are confused about their sexuality.
Truth: It is natural for both bisexuals and gays to go through a period of confusion in the coming-out process. When you are an oppressed people and are constantly told that you don’t exist, confusion is an appropriate reaction until you come out to yourself and find a supportive environment.
Myth: Bisexuals can hide in the heterosexual community when the going gets tough.
Truth: To "pass" for straight and deny your bisexuality is just as painful and damaging for a bisexual as it is for a gay. Bisexuals are not heterosexual and we do not identify as heterosexual.
Myth: Bisexuals are not gay.
Truth: We are part of the generic definition of gay (see Don Clark';s Loving Someone Gay.) Non-gays lump us all together. Bisexuals have lost their jobs and suffer the same legal discrimination as other gays.
Myth: Bisexual women will dump you for a man.
Truth: Women who are uncomfortable or confused about their same-sex attraction may use the bisexual label. True bisexuals acknowledge both their same-sex and opposite-sex attraction. Both bisexuals and gays are capable of going back into the closet. People who are unable to make commitments may use a person of either gender to leave a relationship.
It is important to remember that bisexual, gay, lesbian, and heterosexual are labels created by a homophobic, biphobic, heterosexist society to separate and alienate us from each other. We are all unique; we don’t fit into neat little categories. We sometimes need to use these labels for political reasons and to increase our visibilities. Our sexual esteem is facilitated by acknowledging and accepting the differences and seeing the beauty in our diversity.
Sharon Forman Sumpter
From Hutchins, L., & Kaahumanu, L. (Eds.). (1991).
Bi any other name: Bisexual people speak out. Boston: Alyson.