Bisexuality is NOT a phase: We clear up the biggest prejudices
23 September is “Bisexuality Day”. We asked: Which clichés annoy bisexual people the most?
Being bi is hip, a trend. Or a passing phase. And anyway, aren’t we all a bit bisexual? Unfortunately, many people still react in this or similar ways when it comes to the topic of bisexuality. It’s high time to put an end to these prejudices. And once and for all.
In fact, more young people today identify as bisexual than in the past, as various studies have shown. But: “Bisexuality is by no means a fad, somehow hip or new. Rather, this sexuality designation seems to be more accessible and empowering today than in the past,” Julia Shaw clarifies in her book “Bi – Discovering Diverse Love”.
In her non-fiction book, the legal psychologist with a doctorate, who was born in Cologne in 1987 and grew up in Canada, summarises research findings on bisexuality in history, culture and other scientific fields in a relaxed tone. In doing so, the author, herself bi, wants to draw attention to the often neglected sexual orientation.
More visibility: “Bisexuality Day”.
Bisexuality is still too often excluded in the discourse around LGBTQIA+, virtually falling into the gap of the binary system between the “simplistic pair of opposites” of heterosexuality and homosexuality. This makes bisexual people and their identity invisible in our society.
The “Day of Bisexuality”, which is celebrated annually on 23 September, focuses on the B in LGBTQIA+, which often threatens to be lost among the other letters: launched in 1999 by three activists in the USA, the day of action aims to create more sensitivity and attention. Already in the run-up to the first “Bi Day”, a flag was designed to help the bisexual community gain more independence.
Pink Power: Flag of the Bisexuals
Most people know the Rainbow Flag, which stands for the diversity of the queer community. But did you know that the bisexual community has its own flag? It was designed in 1998 – and thus only 20 years after the original Pride rainbow – by activist Michael Page. The flag gave the bisexual community its own identifying symbol, deliberately setting it apart from the lesbian and gay movement.
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The idea of the bi-flag goes back to the so-called “bi-angles”, overlapping triangles in blue, pink and purple. What is the significance of these colours? Blue stands for heterosexuality, pink for homosexuality and purple, the mixture of blue and pink, symbolises attraction for other people regardless of gender.
What is bisexuality?
Let’s get one thing straight right away: Bisexuality has nothing to do with indecision, because you can’t decide between heterosexual and homosexual. It is neither a phase nor a cool attitude, but an independent sexual orientation or identity.
Bisexual people are sexually and emotionally attracted to all genders. In “Bi”, author Julia Shaw explains that the term, in the sense of being attracted to people of different sexes, appeared in English in a scientific work as early as 1892. The prefix “bi” stands for “twofold”. It comes from a time when people still assumed that there were two sexes.
As early as the 1940s, the US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey stated that sexual orientation cannot be defined as two opposite poles and that heterosexuality is by no means the standard. Today, sexuality is increasingly seen as a spectrum – but this does not mean that a bisexual person is, for example, 30 per cent homosexual and 70 per cent heterosexual. “If a person is very attracted to men, that doesn’t preclude them from being equally attracted to women,” Julia Shaw explains.
“My self-chosen label ‘bi’ is valid, no matter how many romantic and sexual experiences I have had with which gender,” clarifies bisexual Munich Slutwalk activist* Kerstin Thost. “We don’t have to answer to anyone about our dating and sexual behaviour in order to be ‘truly bisexual’.” Word. Many bisexual people today have their own definition of their sexuality.
To be bi or not to be bi: Individual bi definitions
For cultural scientist Kerstin Thost, who identifies as bisexual and genderfluid, bisexuality means “the romantic and or sexual attraction on the one hand to persons of one’s own gender, and on the other hand to persons of other gender identities”. Her attraction to different identities varies over time, she says. “Some days I find all genders attractive, others only one.” But in general, she is attracted to all genders both romantically and sexually – women, men and non-binary people.
Actress Rébecca Marie Mehne, on the other hand, doesn’t like to pigeonhole her sexual orientation. When others ask, however, the term “bisexual” seems appropriate to her because she has romantic as well as sexual encounters with women and men as well as trans or non-binary people, i.e. those who feel they belong to neither the female nor the male gender.
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And artist:in Sophie Boner, who was socialised as a woman but now identifies as a non-binary, agender, or genderless person, defines bisexuality as being attracted to more than one gender – with the gender of the other person playing a role. Today, she prefers to call herself pansexual.
What is the difference between bi-sexual and pansexual?
“Pansexuality also describes the attraction to more than one gender, but the gender of the other person does not play a role, so it is a gender-independent attraction,” Sophie Boner explains.
So pansexuals, like bisexual people, are also sexually and emotionally attracted to all genders, regardless of gender identity. For them, however, the factors that are independent of gender sometimes count even more; it is mainly about the individual character or vibe of a person.
Today, pansexuality is often mentioned in connection with bisexuality. According to Julia Shaw, who describes herself as bisexual, the two terms are closely linked. Because the bottom line is that both bisexual and pansexual people are not monosexual and against gender binary. Pop singer and actress Janelle Monáe, for example, identifies as pansexual. Speaking of celebrities, we all know gay and lesbian celebrities by now. But are there also openly bisexual role models who stand up for more visibility of bisexuality?
Bisexual Role Models
There are now several celebrities who have come out as bisexual. Kerstin Thost first read about bisexuality in an interview with Lady Gaga. But she also names the painter Frida Kahlo as a role model. “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart clarified in an interview in 2017: “You’re not confused if you’re bisexual. It’s not confusing at all.”
Singers Halsey and Sia, rapper Cardi B, entertainer Willow Smith and model Cara Delevingne, as well as actresses Megan Fox and Shannon Purser (“Stranger Things”) are also open about their bisexuality. And hit producer Clive Davis, who worked with Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, among others, also came out as bisexual in his autobiography.
Bi representation is enormously important not only in the real world, but also in the fictional world. For the media representation of bisexuality ensures visibility and promotes acceptance, as Julia Shaw emphasises in her book.
Bi on Screen: Bisexuality in series and films
Have you seen “Brokeback Mountain” (2005)? If so, how would you describe the film? Maybe as a queer drama about two “gay cowboys”? Again and again, Ang Lee’s blockbuster is described as a romance between two homosexual men. Yet the two protagonists can just as easily be read as bisexual.
Whether in the film or in real life: “Unfortunately, even today it is often assumed that people who have had rudimentary same-sex inclinations or sex are gay or lesbian,” writes Julia Shaw. The binary distinction between homosexual and heterosexual leaves little room for manoeuvre. And so it is often wrongly assumed that bisexuals are in fact gay or lesbian – or straight. A real-life example: A bisexual identity becomes invisible in a heteronormative relationship because it is usually assumed that both partners are straight. This erases the bisexual identity, which is then referred to as bi-erasure.
Carrie Bradshaw’s biphobic past
Another problem: “Bi men are often painted as characters who lead secret lives and lie to their partners:in and to themselves,” Julia Shaw points out in “Bi”. A prime example of this is “Sex And The City”.
In the cult series, predestined to deal openly with the topic of bisexuality, the worst clichés were unpacked two decades ago. In an episode of the third season, first broadcast in summer 2000, Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) dates a bisexual man. But the otherwise so enlightened sex columnist doubts that bisexuality exists at all and sees it merely as a way station to homosexuality. In the end, she even breaks up with her lover because of his sexual orientation. And even when, a season later, Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) has a relationship with a woman, the term “bisexual” is simply left out. Not cool.
At least the makers of “Sex And The City” have recognised the signs of the times. Carrie’s BFF Miranda Hobbes, played by queer actress Cynthia Nixon, discovers her bisexuality in the reboot “And Just Like That”. The:non-binary, openly bisexual actor:in Sara Ramirez stars in the “Sex And The City” reboot as Miranda’s love interest Che Diaz.
Cool bi characters
Recently, thankfully, more and more positively cast bisexual characters have been popping up in series and some films. Actress Zoë Kravitz, for example, reads her role as Catwoman in the blockbuster “The Batman” as bisexual.
The popular Netflix series “Heartstopper” sensitively depicts a bisexual teenager’s search for identity. And the comedy series “Schitt’s Creek” features a pansexual main character for the first time in David Rose, played by series creator Daniel Levy. David’s outing (“I like a lot of different wines, but not the label!”) is legendary.
Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in the crime series “Killing Eve” is a serial killer, but her bisexuality is not problematised. And the openly bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz let her own experiences flow into her role in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. Thus, detective Rosa Diaz comes out as bisexual in the fifth season of the comedy series.
Even Lisa Simpson’s sexuality is always the subject of public speculation. In individual episodes of the cartoon series “The Simpsons” set in the future, the clever daughter of the world-famous yellow family is portrayed as bisexual.
Bi, pan, straight – so what?
You probably don’t care whether Lisa Simpson is straight, lesbian, pan, bisexual or demisexual. Why is it so important that fictional characters are openly bisexual? The positive media portrayal of bisexual people gives the topic more visibility and supports social acceptance. Above all, at least if it is handled sensitively, prejudices can be reduced – and unfortunately there are still plenty of them.
Be respectful, be positive: put an end to prejudices!
They are either fooling themselves and dancing at several weddings at the same time. Or they are sexually hyperactive and irresponsible. Unfortunately, bisexual people are still confronted with many prejudices. They are doubly discriminated against: on the one hand by rejection and lack of understanding on the part of heterosexual fellow human beings, but also by homosexual groups. And bi-people of colour have to reckon with double biphobic discrimination as well as sexual racism, while bisexual people with disabilities also have to deal with rejectionism – this kind of multiple discrimination and intersection of different discrimination categories is also called intersectionality.
For example, in the 1980s, bisexual women were perceived as a threat to feminism – because, to put it crudely, they were in bed with the enemy. In queer circles, in turn, they were read as heterosexual and therefore also excluded. “Bisexual women were seen as failed lesbians at best and sex monsters at worst,” Julia Shaw says sarcastically. But alas, there is no need to look to the past at all. Today, biphobia is still widespread both within heterosexual society and in the queer community.
Biphobic hetero prejudice – stop it!
While bisexual men are often dismissed by straight cis women as “gay men in disguise” (shame on you, Carrie Bradshaw!), bisexual women are repeatedly degraded to sexual pleasure objects by men. “Often cis men find this very ‘sexy’. Then I’m immediately put in the uncomfortable position of having their sexual fantasies involuntarily served up,” reports Rébecca Marie Mehne, for example. That’s because she doesn’t look like a “typical lesbian”. “As is then readily revealed to me, packaged as a compliment.”
Kerstin Thost has already had similar experiences. The first time she kissed a woman at a party, comments like “Uhh, horny, lesbians!” or “Can I join in?” came straight away. And when she told a potential partner that she was bisexual, he fetishised her and said, “Horny, then we can have a threesome with another woman.” A sexist and queer-hostile, but unfortunately typical stereotype that many bisexual women are confronted with, as Julia Shaw confirms in her book.
The same old story – come on!?
Bisexual people face the same prejudices over and over again. For example, they are often labelled as hypersexual and promiscuous. “That we have sex super much and with everyone,” says Kerstin Thost. But do all heterosexual women like all men and vice versa? “It always depends on the individual chemistry and attraction,” the queer feminist activist clarifies.
When she makes friends with women, Kerstin is sometimes afraid to be open about her bisexuality. “Because the queer-hostile prejudice that I would be into all women, including friends in the non-romantic sense, hurts me. Unfortunately, I have been confronted with this more than once.” Would you like an example? A fellow student she was loosely friends with never contacted her again after she told her that she was not only into men. Come on?!
Polyamorous ≠ bisexual
Another common prejudice is that bisexual people can’t be faithful. “Straight people often think bi- or pansexual people must also be polyamorous so they don’t have to ‘choose a gender’. But that doesn’t apply to everyone,” explains Sophie Boner. And Kerstin Thost adds: “Certainly there are people who are polyamorous and bisexual. But that just can’t be generalised!”
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And then there’s the saying “a little bi never hurts”. Heard that one before? This simple-minded statement reduces bisexual love to a one-off sexual behaviour. It implies that bisexuality is merely a gimmick, an option for people looking for a little adventure, not a separate identity.
Particularly hurtful: biphobia in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Unfortunately, bisexual people also still have to listen to hurtful comments within the LGBTQIA+ community. One nasty prejudice: bisexual women are basically straight and just take advantage of lesbian women for a little adventure.
Biphobia and biphobia sometimes show up subtly, but are just as painful. “It has happened that a woman was not comfortable with my bisexuality and was unsure whether I could just be ‘going through a phase’,” Rébecca Marie Mehne tells us. She often had to hear that she was just a “guest” in the queer scene, that she was only “on holiday”.
Bisexuality: Safe Spaces
Such insulting remarks show how important safe spaces are for bisexual people. Protected places where they can be among like-minded people, exchange ideas and network. Organisations like “BiNe – Bisexual Network” strengthen the bisexual community and give it a voice.
Bisexuality has to be recognised as an established and concrete identity and must not be lost in the broad LGBTQIA+ discussion, as Julia Shaw demands in her book “Bi – Discovering Diverse Love”. Ultimately, our whole society benefits from this. Because bisexuality challenges traditional gender roles, breaks heteronormativity and questions the concept of monogamy. For Julia Shaw, there is something liberating about loving other people regardless of their gender identity.
“We need to talk about bisexuality to de-taboo it and normalise it,” says Kerstin Thost. “We need more attention in society to the fact that there is not only hetero or homo, but a lot in between.”
Similar to most queer people, bisexual people go through a process of finding their personal identity. First becoming clear about one’s sexual orientation oneself and later revealing it to others, be it to family and friends or at work, is a very intimate, for many difficult matter. These three coming-out stories are meant to encourage others.
The 24-year-old realised already in her puberty that she was not only into men. “When I wanted to practise ‘kissing for the boys’ with a friend, I called it off. Because I realised that it would have meant more to me than ‘practising a bit’,” she recalls.
But before she could deal with these feelings in more detail, Kerstin was first with a man for a long time. “At the time, I was in a fairly traditional relationship that read heterosexual from the outside, and I tried to just suppress the queer part of me.” It wasn’t until she became activist with queer feminism that she realised she wasn’t just an LGBTQIA+ ally, but queer herself.
She had her outing, both to herself and to those around her, a year ago. With her parents, she chose the written route. “Fortunately, there was no discussion about it at all. Only my mum adjusted her advice – which made me personally very happy.” For example, “Other mothers also have beautiful sons” became simply “Other mothers also have beautiful children”. Kerstin’s friends reacted positively throughout, even if some of them were surprised after she had outed herself to them via Instagram. Today, she would seek a personal conversation. “Especially with people who mean a lot to me,” Kerstin says in retrospect.
“I was quite young the first time I had a crush on a person. It was a girl,” the actress recalls. The 36-year-old had her first sexual experience with a schoolmate, her first love, as she says. “I then had my first relationship with a boy who was a drummer in the school band,” she smiles.
Because her mother always cultivated a colourful circle of friends, Rébecca took it for granted from an early age that there were not only heterosexual relationships or families. And so she never had a classic outing, at least in front of her mother, and never encountered any resistance. “But in a non-familial environment, coming out never really stops,” she emphasises.
At some point Rébecca realised that while she was equally attracted to men and women, most of her relationships were lesbian. Are there differences with a female partner or a male partner? “I see the differences in my encounters mainly in the kind of sensuality,” she concludes.
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Sophie Boner knew from the age of 11 that she found women prettier than men, as she says. Her first great love was a “very good” friend with whom she had a crush and with whom she “made out from time to time”. “My first real relationship was characterised by the magic of first reciprocated love while it lasted.” The 34-year-old is attracted to people and their character, and looks are secondary to her.
Publicly, the office worker and freelance artist:in has never come out. “But most people know that about me and I am very open about it. Some people don’t understand the term at first and then ask, but most of them react very positively.