In this frank and personal essay, Siobhan Coleman responds to some of the common misconceptions about bisexuality.
I was twelve years old when Rachel Riley replaced Carol Vorderman as the co-presenter of TV’s Countdown. I remember Rachel standing there in her little scarlet frock that only just about covered everything it needed to, her legs longer than Bruce Forsyth’s career span. The hem of her dress lifted as she reached to sketch out her equations; showing enough flesh to let my imagination run wild but also covering enough to keep my interest peeked.
As a writer and self-proclaimed grammarian, perhaps there’s something about the act of pulling consonants and vowels out of a box that just really turns me on. However, the more likely explanation is that these early feelings of arousal are attributed to the fact I am bisexual.
Now, it is in all likelihood that you couldn’t care less that I am bisexual. You may even find it admirable that I admit it so openly. Or you may be wondering why in our modern, liberal society I feel the need to make a song and dance about it at all.
After speaking with a number of bisexual individuals about their own personal experiences, I found the most shocking revelation to be that bisexuals suffer discrimination from straight and gay people in equal measure. I am proud to live in a society where homosexuals are no longer persecuted.
However, if we can accept people for being gay why do a large number of us still seem to misunderstand that not everyone falls into the gay or straight category? There is so much more to sexuality than this. Pansexuality, for example, completely rejects the gender binary, whilst some people consider themselves to lack any sexual orientation whatsoever. If LGBT truly is a community, then shouldn’t it embrace the whole spectrum of sexuality?
After reading that I am bisexual it is also possible that you are now (whether consciously or not) associating me with certain stereotypes. A popular one is that all bisexuals are confused. In reality, bisexuals are not at all confused. They live in absolute certainty of the knowledge that they are attracted to both genders. I can happily admit that I like both chocolate and vanilla flavoured ice cream in equal measure and have never felt conflicted about which I prefer. There is no confusion, I know I like both.
I should also point out that the term “confused” should in no way be regarded as a slur. Lots of people experience confusion during the process of deciphering their sexuality. Sexuality is complex and so it is perfectly natural and healthy for someone to feel confused as they try to get their head around their desires and preferences.
Another common stereotype is the belief that bisexuals are greedy and promiscuous. Back to the ice cream analogy! Just because I like both chocolate and vanilla doesn’t mean I eat both all day every day. Being attracted to both genders does not mean you are attracted to everybody.
On February 25th 2016, Twitter was in uproar over a debate about bisexuality held on midday menopause-fest Loose Women. During the debate, Jane Moore admitted she would find it difficult if she found out that her husband was also attracted to men, claiming she’d question whether he would be thinking about another man while they were together (in spite of the fact there is no proven correlation between infidelity and a person’s sexuality).
Another guest on the show, Ruth Langsford, said that she would feel lied to if she learnt her husband was bisexual. Many observers argued that this wasn’t a balanced debate at all but rather four heterosexual women discussing a topic they clearly had limited knowledge of. Furthermore, broadcasting such narrow ideological outlooks on daytime television will only further perpetuate the idea that bisexuals are incapable of behaving monogamously.
I recently stumbled across a video online entitled ‘What Lesbians Think About Bisexuals’ in which lesbians express their reluctance when it comes to dating a bisexual woman, a recurring complaint being that they are put off by the idea of having a partner who has been sexually involved with a man. One woman interviewed said, ‘I don’t like dick in my mouth and if you do, that is a pretty big thing to disagree on.’
Whilst to an extent I can understand why a lesbian wouldn’t exactly be thrilled by the notion that her girlfriend’s mouth has previously entertained a phallus, I don’t see how it would be a real obstacle in a loving relationship. My boyfriend is a regular drinker of Earl Grey. I can’t stand Earl Grey. Still I wouldn’t go so far as to forbid him to put his bergamot-scented lips anywhere near me. But perhaps that is an unfair comparison.
A widespread belief is that bisexuals are closeted homosexuals. It makes little sense as to why anyone would regard coming out as bi any easier than coming out as gay. All coming out experiences are different for each individual. Many people could argue that it is easier to be accepted if you are attracted to only one gender. On July 7th 2015, Youtube sensation Shane Dawson uploaded a video in which he publicly came out as bisexual. In the video he frequently commented on the fact that he wished he was gay. It concerns me that in today’s society people are hating their own sexual identity due to the belief that they do not fit into the norm.
In light of Shane Dawson’s revelations, I decided to interview Jason Fisher, known better by his online pseudonym TeaMakerJason, who has been uploading videos to Youtube for three years. He also works as a motion designer, animator and video editor. He has been very forthright about his own sexuality, not only to his family and friends but also his subscribers and internet fan base as a whole. When I asked him how he would define his sexual identity he replied, ‘Bisexual… Shit! That’s a one word answer. Not the best interviewee am I? Give me a moment. Don’t include this bit of commentary in the article by the way.’ I assured him I wouldn’t, but I’m sure he’ll forgive a little white lie.
He took a moment to compose himself before continuing. ‘I guess objectively I’d define myself as bisexual. But I find it hard saying definitively that “I am bisexual” if you get what I mean. I think I’ve always been open to romantic encounters with either sex, but it’s the personal aspect that I crave. I want meaningful and impactful relationships in my life, romantic or not, with any gender.’
I found this to be an optimistic response but what I really wanted was to get down into what it’s like being an openly bisexual man. I mentioned Shane Dawson’s fears of being emasculated and asked Jason if he shared them.
He laughed at the suggestion. ‘I don’t at all worry about being emasculated. I always sort of fell into my self-image quite easily. I know a lot of people have struggled with that, so I’m not sure why it was that I was able to be so comfortable with my sexuality. Before I’d even realised I was bisexual, being me came very easily and there was never much concern for judgment. In my line of work I associate with a variety of people and often have to work with small and large groups of people without much choice. In that sort of scenario, my sexuality is a piece of information that I might not openly share because those stereotypes do very much exist and could take a toll on my working relationships. It’s not that I feel particularly targeted or that I wouldn’t be comfortable sharing that side of myself with people, but that I can happily separate my work life from my personal life and choose not to associate with those people at the end of the day.’
I asked if he had any personal experiences with stereotypes that he could share. He shook his head. ‘Thankfully I’ve never faced them directly myself so really don’t have much experience of being on the receiving end of them. Oh I’ve seen them expressed by people around me, but my opinion is that anyone expressing them is ignorant and bigoted. I don’t associate with those sorts of people. I think the fact that I am comfortable in myself has meant that anyone who might try to take a jab at me knows that they won’t make much impact with anything related to my sexuality or character. That along with the fact that I pretty swiftly disassociate from anyone with those values has made my day to day life rather peaceful.’
Whilst it was refreshing to meet someone who is so comfortable in their sexuality, I couldn’t help but disagree with him on disassociating with people who express bi-phobia. Rather than shut these people out of my life, I would try to educate them on the topic of bisexuality and perhaps broaden their minds a little.
On February 17th, I spoke with Alex Keymer, a wedding planner from Burnley. She is actively involved in the LGBT community and is an attendee of Manchester Pride Events.
I asked her about how her sexuality had affected her life. ‘The thing is, although I do identify as bisexual,’ she said, ‘I would also currently describe myself as aromantic [this is often confused with asexuality, but they are two different things]. I don’t have any desire for a romantic relationship at all. It’s annoying because people are misinformed about bisexuality and think I’m attracted to everyone. In the past, people seem to think my sexuality changes depending on who I’m with. When I had a girlfriend everyone was like “Oh so you’re gay now?” And of course I’ve been labelled as greedy, closeted and promiscuous, although I try and not let it bother me. Lots of people have said it’s just an experimental phase, or that I’m just looking for attention. Men often react positively when they find out I’m bi but only because it entertains their lesbian fantasies.’
This idea of bisexual women being objectified by heterosexual men is what concerns me most of all. A nationwide study conducted in 2010 found that lesbian and bisexual women are at higher risk of being domestically abused than straight women, with bisexual women facing particularly high rates.
Researchers interviewed a total of 9,709 women. 96.5% of these women identified as straight, 2.2% as bisexual, and only 1.3% as lesbian. Bisexual women were found to be the most likely to have been raped. 46.1% of them had experienced rape at some point, compared with 13.1% of lesbian women and 14.7% of straight women.
57.4% of bisexual women who’d experienced violence said they had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Only 33.5% of lesbian women and 28.2% of straight women said the same. A 2011 study found that bisexual women were at greater risk of depression and anxiety than women who were straight or gay, a result the study author attributed to stigma against bisexuality.
The author of the report said, ‘There tends to be this expectation or standard that a person picks one sexual identity and sticks with it. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about bisexuals.’
Whether we like to admit it or not, bi-phobia exists and is as much an issue as homophobia. Whilst our society has been busy ensuring gay people have equal rights, I feel we have created a stigma against people who are situated elsewhere in the sexuality spectrum.
It’s time we realised the emotional and psychological effects prejudices are having on bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals and anyone else who identifies as something other than gay or straight. Once and for all we need to learn that the stereotypes that surround bisexuals are nothing more than utter misconceptions.
I may be bisexual but I am not indecisive; I am not just experimenting, nor would I ever commit romantic betrayal. Unless Rachel Riley shows up at my door one day. Then I might.
Photography by Moshe Tasky.