Hypothetical questions spotted Somewhere On The Internet:
“If you look straight, have only or mostly had relationships with men and aren’t coming onto someone, is there any point saying you’re bisexual?”
Yes, there is.
“If bisexuality really exists, how come I’ve never met one over the age of 20?”
Well, you probably have, and probably many more than you think. They just probably haven’t used that word, or used it in your presence. I know women who were happily married to men and had children and are now with women. I know a journalist who had long-term relationships with women all through her teens and 20s before meeting the man who’s now her husband. And I know single people who’d happily jump at either Mr or Ms Right, if they appeared (though contrived singles events and dating sites usually make people pick a team…a reason among many to avoid them).
People often don’t like the word ‘bisexual’ because they think it’s synonymous with swingers, publicity-seeking celebrities or sexual predators, and more so the older you get. No straight people (and apart from a few public figures, not many gay people past a certain age) will specifically announce their sexual orientation – they’ll usually allude to their current or most recent partner and let it be inferred. So most bisexuals do that too, and pass as gay or straight, because (outside of a small liberal media bubble) it’s easier. Announce you’re bi as a teenager and you’ll either get a pat on the head for being “confused” or “controversial”, or a homophobic clip round the ear. Do it as an adult and people might think you’re offering a threesome (FYI, the odds of actually fancying both halves of a couple are extremely slim. And I have it on good authority that threesomes with participants who don’t fancy each other are amongst the most awkward things on earth, so no thanks).
Then there are the questions. Questions you can expect (rarely or often depending what circles you move in) include requests for a breakdown of how many lovers of each gender you’ve had, and the percentage/ratio of your feelings for both, like a sort of love life stock report: “At the close, male attraction was down half a point against female attraction owing to a new play opening in the West End…” Or, most awkwardly: “You don’t fancy me do you? Only, we’ve been texting loads lately and you gave me that really nice present to cheer me up when I had that bad day and you said that thing once so I thought maybe…” (No. I’m just kind, a bit intense sometimes and a bit addicted to texting. And if I do fancy someone who doesn’t remotely feel the same, I can work that out and deal with it, because I’m an adult). Not forgetting: “So, are you still bisexual?” from outsiders at the start of any new relationship. Given the potential for intrusion and misunderstandings, it’s not surprising many people who’ve dined from both buffets don’t want to be conspicuous about it. That doesn’t mean bisexuality doesn’t exist.
Media coverage of lesbian and gay issues has come on leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. Media coverage of bisexuality is still pretty non-existent. * When it is mentioned it’s usually when a bisexual person’s been involved in scandalous sex or crime. Historically, Hollywood has liked to give its evil characters some extra sauce by making them bat for both sides, and no piece of coverage around Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce’s recently-exposed misdemeanours was complete without mention of his new partner Carina Trimingham’s bisexuality (Memo to newspapers: Unless you’re referencing a study called Bisexuals And The Likelihood Of Being Attracted To Lying Politicians With Root-Vegetable Levels of Self Awareness, her sexuality is not relevant here, any more than you’d gratuitously refer to someone’s partner as being mixed-race or diabetic. You might not fancy hers much but that’s by the by. As it were).
Which brings us neatly around to the Bisexuals Will Steal Your Man/Woman trope. I once heard of a conversation between two women that went thus: “X is seeing a married man.” “Cripes. Does she know he’s married?” “Oh, she doesn’t care, she’s bisexual.” The truth is, if bisexuality and infidelity are linked at all, it’s probably not in the way you think. No enabler of infidelity I’ve ever met, bisexual or otherwise, has had a carefree life, either beforehand or since. Most bisexuals’ lives are as far from the hedonists you see on talk shows or in porn clips as can be imagined. In fact, many have been dealt a pretty crummy hand, struggling with their sexuality and/or additional challenges (health, family, career, religion, ethnicity etc). That doesn’t excuse ongoing deceit but it does explain why it might take extra strength and savvy to do the honourable thing when empathy and interest come from somewhere they shouldn’t. And yes, there may be some genuinely shallow selfish arseholes who calculatedly go after other people’s partners and don’t care who they hurt, but that’s nothing to do with the genital configuration of the people they sleep with.
To end this on a high note, there has never been a better time to be bisexual (or gen up on gender studies and sexuality generally) than now in terms of the number of intelligent online resources around. Yes, there’s a lot of awful exploitative tack, and a lot of seven-syllable academia, but there are plenty of gems if you know where to look. And the seven-syllable academia’s not that tricky really once you get into it (I should know, I did a whole module in sexuality and gender studies at undergrad. I’d call it a module in sex, but….). To come back to the beginning question, I subscribe to Stella Duffy’s belief in ‘The Importance of Coming, Being, Staying Out‘ (I may not agree with her on everything but I like that blog post, and her books) that if everyone who’d ever felt same-sex attraction, even if it was only a moment of questioning or “that once in College”, openly admitted it, life would be a lot easier for the Kinsey-5-and-6s of the world and we could all generally just stop being silly about the whole thing. So hello. Happy bi visibility day. Now let’s talk about cake. *
* NB: For some actually-good media coverage, check out this Guardian Careers article on bisexuality in the workplace.
* bit of an in-joke. A former editor of mine won ‘The Cake Award’ for her bi-activism – from the putdown “Having your cake and eating it”.