Bi The Way: The Harmful Stigma of Bisexuality

Bisexual pride knitted bracelet. Photo by Aimee Rivers. CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode)

We’ve heard the phrase before, right? We’ve heard the jokes, we’ve heard the stories about how ‘everyone experiments in college.’ Unfortunately, there’s a lot of harmful stigma behind bisexuality. As someone who identifies under the bisexual umbrella, I too have personally experienced how harmful the stigma around bisexuality can be.

Coming Out as Bisexual: My Experience

When I first came out as bisexual I was a 15-year-old high school student. I’d just discovered my sexuality and I was so excited to have a label for myself. I came out to my mother and my brother and their responses were ‘interesting,’ to say the least. My brother had just come out to me as gay, so I took this opportunity to come out to him as well. I felt safe, like if anyone would understand me, it would be him. I told him I like girls and boys, but I didn’t know what that meant. He said what I was experiencing was ‘bisexuality,’ which was ‘just a phase’ to know if I were gay or not. He was young, so I forgive him for the false information, but at the time I felt bittersweet. It didn’t feel like a phase.

When coming out to my mother, she said she had assumed I was a lesbian. This made me uncomfortable. Though yes, I was attracted to women, I was also attracted to men. I told her about bisexuality and that I was attracted to boys and girls. I tried explaining to her how I felt but she didn’t take me seriously. She had always thought I was attracted to girls, but once I had mentioned I was also attracted to boys, she pushed my sexuality off as a phase. She said I was ‘too young to know.’

Bisexual Erasure and “Just Experimenting”

There is a widespread belief that bisexual people are either in a transitional stage or are lying (to themselves or others)—trying to savor the status of straightitude while enjoying the pleasures of gaydom. People’s suspicion of the enduring reality of bisexuality contributes to “bisexual erasure.” Years later I still wonder why this is. I wonder why so many people still have this mindset towards bisexuality. Why do so many people in and outside the community feel they must put bisexuality in one box or the other?

I dread hearing phrases like ‘college is where you experiment.’ That view saddens me, considering college is a great place to experiment not just with sexuality, but with views and opinions. It’s a clean slate to start to write your own story, your way! No one should feel bad for wanting to learn more about themselves, but phrases like this give a negative connotation to bisexuality, and for those to even be open about it. After my experience with my family, I didn’t come out to anyone about my sexuality again until I was 18. I also came out as pansexual rather than bisexual.

A Culture Infused with Heterosexual Assumptions

The most stigma I’ve experienced has been subtle comments and attitudes that make me feel my identity isn’t valid.  Even in groups of people or classrooms that are sure to consider LGBT orientations tend to still phrase things in binary terms, thinking of heterosexual scenarios first, and then homosexual scenarios as a secondary thought, with bisexuality only considered when it is forcibly brought into attention.  I’ve had countless people assume my sexuality based on my current relationship, and doubt  the legitimacy of my word when I correct them.  I’ve also had family members state that they feel being bisexual is becoming a “trend”, which was a factor in delaying my decision to come out to them.

– Becky Bernert, KSU sophomore

Bisexuals aren’t really feeling the love, not only from the world at large, but specifically from gays and lesbians, some of whom have long insisted they don’t exist. My brother, a gay man, is unfortunately another example. Though it took a few years of ongoing conversation, he finally accepts my sexuality. But I know this isn’t always the case. There’s something about bisexuality that seems to lend itself to erasure, and not just by an oppressor class but by bisexuals themselves. I think some of the reason lies in the bright-line distinction mentioned above: Our culture is so infused with assumptions of heterosexuality, that crossing that line between heterosexuality and everything else becomes a far more meaningful act for many LGBTQ people than where, exactly, we land on the other side.

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