So, I’m not going to lie: I like being bisexual. If I could choose my sexual orientation, this would probably be the one I would choose. I like that I was forced from a young age to exist between the lines – to see things from outside of the binary. There are many people, after all, who never think to question the binary because they’ve never had any reason to. They’re either straight or gay, either male or female, they see things in terms of either good or evil and black or white, but when you’re a person who falls outside of those terms (whether you be bisexual, pansexual, intersex, gender non-conforming, or even just a jerk who means well), then suddenly you’re forced to question why it is that people tend to see things as either one thing or another. Society rarely considers the murky middle regions, and I’m proud to say that I have firmly taken residence in those regions.
But there are some parts of being bisexual that are less than fun, and one of those is when someone doesn’t mean to be exclusive, but they are. This often goes back to what I was saying about the binary – most people see things either one way or another, and they just don’t realize that doing that ignores the infinite options in between. They aren’t trying to be offensive, and they don’t mean any harm in it, they just aren’t used to thinking outside the binary.
So to illustrate this, I’ve collected a list of three statements I’ve heard often from people who aren’t trying to ignore the existence of bisexuals, but end up doing so by default.
1. “Oh, insert-public-figure’s-name-here is dating/married to someone of the same gender? I didn’t know they were gay!”
This one I only take issue with when the above mentioned information is really all you have to go on: when all you know is that insert-public-figure’s-name-here is dating someone of the same gender, and the immediate assumption is that that must mean they’re gay.
I saw this a lot with Kristen Stewart recently, when there was speculation on the internet that she might be dating a woman, and most of what I heard jumped immediately to this conclusion. “I didn’t know she was gay!” or “Of course Kristen Stewart is a lesbian! I should have known!” was everywhere. Yet, the fact that she wasn’t outed yet meant that nobody knew if that was the case. All that they knew was that she might be involved with a woman. And if Kristen Stewart was/is involved with a woman, then that doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s a lesbian. After all, her being bisexual or pansexual was equally as plausible in that scenario, but I never once heard anyone say “I didn’t know Kristen Stewart was bisexual!”
While I doubt that anyone was actively trying to be harmful, the immediate assumption that a person must be completely homosexual in order to be dating someone of the same gender erases the experiences of those who aren’t.
Better ways that you can phrase this sentiment include “Oh, insert-public-figure’s-name-here is dating someone of the same gender? I didn’t realize they were part of the queer community!”
2. “She’s so hot, I’m going to go lesbian for her!”
I remember hearing this statement a lot around the emergence of Ruby Rose as a public figure.
The sentiment that you’re trying to get across when you say that is: that woman is so physically attractive that I, as a straight woman, would actually consider having some sort of romantic or sexual relationship with her. And that is a perfectly fine sentiment. I understand better than most that sexuality is not as simple as it seems: a person can identify one way all their lives and then suddenly identify differently well into their adult lives, and there is nothing wrong with that.
But the problem with the wording in this statement is not only that is misunderstand what being queer is (you don’t just go lesbian because you saw a hot girl and now suddenly, your lifetime of being attracted to men is forgotten), but it reduces sexuality to a very one-or-the-other, binary system. You’re not saying “yes, I’m still attracted to men, but that woman makes me think that I’m not entirely as straight as I thought”. What you’re saying is that sexuality is either straight or gay, and this woman is somehow so hot that you started playing for the other team all of a sudden.
It ignores the possibility that a person can be attracted to men, and also be attracted to women. Because if you legitimately find this woman attractive, then the only thing you can be is a lesbian.
Better ways that you can phrase this sentiment include “That wo/man is so hot. I’d date him/her.”
3. “Oh, so you married a woman? Does that mean you’re straight now?” or “I had an ex ‘go straight’ on me”
I’m lumping these two together because they basically express the same sentiment: in both cases, it’s assuming that a bisexual person who enters into a long-term relationship with someone of one gender is now exclusively attracted to that gender.
First of all – that just isn’t how the world works. Straight women who have been happily married for years are still able to find men who aren’t their husbands attractive, and nobody bats an eye at that. It’s normal, it’s to be expected. “I’m married, but I’m not dead”, older people will jokingly say when they see an attractive person. Well, it’s the same thing for bisexual people. Even if they’re completely in love with someone and can’t see themselves ever being with anyone else, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t bisexual anymore.
And, secondly, this kind of plays into a very harmful stereotype about bisexual people: that we’re all either confused or faking our sexuality for some reason. Bisexuality isn’t real, it isn’t possible to actually be attracted to more than one gender, and someday we’ll all learn that when we find the right person and just become straight (spoiler alert: we won’t).
Better ways that you can phrase this sentiment include “Congratulations on getting married! I’m so happy for you!” or “Yeah, my ex is dating Jim now. I hope he treats her well.”
As I mentioned before, all of these statements are fairly common, and if you’ve said something like this before, I’m not here to judge you or say that you’re wrong. The only thing that I’m trying to do is point out the ways in which these statements erases the experiences of bisexual people, and hopefully, help you to think a little bit more outside the binary by pointing out that these experiences exist. We’ve all done or said things that we didn’t realize were harmful or exclusive at the time, and that doesn’t mean that we’re evil people. All that it means is that we keep trying to better ourselves and learn more about other experiences.