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'Bisexual people are not greedy, confused or closeted': Why labels and stereotypes are harmful and erase our identity

Bi+ visibility matters.

Bisexual+ people exist.

In fact, it's reported that they make up the biggest percentage of the queer community with 75% of young lesbian, gay or bisexual people identifying as bi (CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey). Yet, our sexuality and existence is constantly undermined and misunderstood.

February is LGBTQ+ history month, and as a proud bisexual woman, I wanted to unpick some myths and misconceptions around bisexuality, and spotlight the experiences of fellow Bi+ people. Because we've all heard the stereotypes. And boy are they damaging.

Bisexual people are greedy. They can't pick a side. They're confused. They're closeted. Bisexual men are gay. Bisexual women are looking for attention.

The dialogue around Bisexuals misunderstands so much, and often comes from within our own queer community - which makes it all the more upsetting. As a cis white woman, my bisexuality is the most 'socially acceptable' - because the male gaze enjoys it. It's useful to the patriarchy because it's, simply put, seen as entertainment and can be 'enjoyed' by straight men. The porn industry has peddled this for so long, that when I tell people I'm bisexual I'm either met with leering or told it's a phase, or I'm fulfilling some sort of Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy. I'm luckier than a lot of my community.

Bi+ men are told by society that they are closeted and will, always, eventually end up coming out as gay and be with men exclusively; the patriarchal society we live in can't grasp that pleasure doesn't always centre around men. A bisexual man, clearly, wants to be with men. A bisexual woman, clearly, is just trying to arouse men. These stigmas and erasures are, not only false, but completely misunderstanding what bisexuality is.

First off, bisexuality is not binary. Bi+ people are not all cis. Bi+ people are not all white. They are not split 50/50 down the middle with their attraction to men and women. Bisexuals are not all hyper-sexual. Bisexual advocate Robyn Ochs' put it well: “The potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

Mike Knight, a 31-year-old based in London told me about his experience: "I felt like everything around me was geared to monosexuality. I felt like it would be more accepted or at least understood if I were just to come out as gay. Look at films and television for instance: Being attracted to more than one gender is either erased from storytelling entirely or used as a device to show how a character is at best, on a journey to becoming gay or finding love in a straight relationship, at worst we are deranged supervillains."

"I struggle with both gay men and straight women. The former assumes I'm just experimenting with men or still trying to pass to my loved ones by pretending I'm still attracted to cisgender women. The latter just get freaked out and run a mile. I've had more than one instance of a straight, cis-gender woman backing out of dates after finding out I'm queer. Even with those problems, I am a happy man being out than I was being in the closet. I would never swap the headaches now for hiding myself as I did before."

Rachel Badham, a 21-year-old LGBTQ+ journalist, has felt similarly erased: "I found bi erasure at the hands of other LGBTQ+ people to be one of the most devastating experiences, as it made me feel as if I didn't belong in the community which I value so deeply. I've even had partners question the legitimacy of my sexuality, with an ex-boyfriend asking me why I wanted to attend a Pride event 'considering I was in a heterosexual relationship'. Again, this was very disheartening as having an integral part of your identity questioned by someone you care about massively affects your self-image. Fortunately, positive bisexual representation is on the increase, and the majority of people in my life, LGBTQ+ or not, are very accepting."

So, things are changing. Slowly but surely. More frequently the media is portraying bi stories in a positive light, and celebrity bisexual coming out stories are becoming more frequent. From Lili Reinhart, to Halsey and Harry Styles. Loki from the Marvel universe is even getting the bisexual representation he deserves in an upcoming Disney+ series. Of course, representation is important - but what means more, to me, is for the people in my life to take the time to educate themselves - all queer identities are valid, and for my coming-out to be so regularly dismissed by friends and family hurts. I've had family members tell me that I'm just 'too liberal', or that they 'can't keep up nowadays', or, in most cases, I've just been completely ignored - a nod and never mentioned again. At the bare minimum, it would be great if people recognised we even exist. Affirmations and validation are important, it can make queer youth feel heard and important, it can make or break someone's mental health, it can help to undo biphobia.

Charley, aged 21, reflected on her bisexual identity, telling me: "I felt that the years I was in a relationship with a man somehow made me less qualified to consider myself part of the LGBTQ+ community. It has made me question whether I am gay enough to be considered Bi, but I quickly shake that. When would a straight person who hasn’t dated for a while ever reflect on whether they’re straight enough to be dating the opposite sex?"

No, no they wouldn't.

Bi+ visibility matters. Bierasure is counterproductive when it comes from within the queer community, and marginalising when it comes from straight people. But, the good news is that it doesn't take much to chip away at. Think about how you react to your friends when they talk about being bisexual, call out those who dismiss it as an identity and watch your language - no more using 'greedy' or 'confused', please.

Written by Chloe Laws.

This article originally appeared on GLAMOUR UK.

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