Cyra’s Two-Step Guide to Bisexuality (Plus Some Bi Info, Abridged)*
- Learn about bisexuality from multiple bi people, since each person experiences, expresses, and understands sexality differently. That might mean attending local bi events (you can ask me to bring you along to the next bi event I’m going to!), or reading books and blogs by bi folks, or checking out art by bi artists, or asking bi activists if they would like to share their experiences with you, or attending bi conferences, etc.
- Feel comfortable? Great! Repeat Step One if you want!
- Feel uncomfortable? That’s ok! Repeat Step One if you want!
*Since I create work, invite conversation, and hang out in bi affirming communities, people of different sexual identities ask me about bisexuality, so I put together this mini 101-style guide. There are many bi resources, you may prefer others. I’ve been involved in activism and bi communities for a long time, but there’s always more to learn, so if you notice mistakes, errors, problematic omissions, or marginalizing content, let me know.
Some Bi Info, Abridged
Bisexual identities and communities include a plethora of different experiences, such as attraction
to individuals regardless of gender, attraction to individuals of specific genders, attraction that changes
in regard to gender over time, a rejection of the construct of gender altogether, and many more.
Common Definitions of Bisexuality:
- Attraction to people of more than one gender.
- Attraction to people of genders similar to and different from one's own.
- Bi activist Robyn Ochs defines their bisexuality as 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.”
Who is bisexual?
- Anyone who is nonmonosexual and wants to identify as bisexual, regardless of their relationship history or status, or their involvement in bi communities.
- Even though articles about bi folks usually feature only certain types of people in the photos, bi folks embody many different demographics. For instance, many bi activists are trans folks, people of color, folks with disabilities, and older folks, but you wouldn’t know it from most media depictions of our communities. We live all over the world and have different relationships to class, religion, politics, sex drive, relationship structures, parenthood, and just about anything else you can think of.
- Gender isn’t binary and neither is sexuality. Some people like the structure of the Kinsey Scale or other metrics, but for a lot of us, our attractions, genders, and the genders of the folks we’re attracted to, do not fit within those manufactured models. Some bi folks when faced with questions about what percentage straight or gay they are, choose to answer, “100% bisexual.” Other bi folks offer up a calculation of some sort, and when comparing measurements with others, may find their calculations overlap in unexpected ways. That’s ok! Different individuals and communities use words differently. No one has to be “wrong” even if two people with very similar feelings use different words, or two people who use the same word have very different feelings.
- Feelings and/or language around sexual identity can be multiplicitous and/or change. Some people feel one word accurately describes their sexual identity from childhood to old age, and for some of those people, that word is “bisexual.” For others, they identify as gay first, before chucking that identity for bisexual. For others, gay and bisexual are not mutually exclusive. For others- well, you get the idea. The words "bi," "bisexual," and "bisexuality” are sometimes used as umbrella terms (and are sometimes an umbrella under an umbrella. For example, the word queer, depending on context, could be under the bi umbrella, or could be over the bi umbrella, or could overlap with the bi umbrella). Two of the many words I identify with are queer and bisexual, they mean different things to me, have different histories, and can communicate different things. Most other nonmonosexual words, like pan and omni, can also be used to describe me, not because these words all mean exactly the same thing, but because they do also apply to my experiences, and I agree with Ochs that, "Labels should not be boxes into which we feel we must squeeze ourselves, but rather tools with which to communicate and to begin conversations."
- Many nonmonosexual folks specifically use the words “bi,” “bisexual,” and “bisexuality” for visibility, to help others feel less isolated, to increase representation and resources for marginalized communities, to reclaim a word and identity some attempt to use as a weapon, and to honor and record our history (it is often forgotten or erased that bi folks have been, and are, on the front lines and organizing fronts of so many movements, for instance: Brenda Howard, "the mother of pride,” was a bi, feminist, poly, BDSM, anti-war activist). If my culture’s understanding of sexuality were less influenced by capitalism, colonialism, and a wave of medicalization that happened in the early 1900s, I would be using different concepts and words to discuss sexuality. If I lived in a culture where oppressive systems did not separate people into privileged and marginalized genders and sexualities, I might not label my sexual “identity” at all, since it feels comfortable to me to think about my own gender and sexuality as things I “do” more than things I “am.”
- Working in bi activism or claiming a bi identity does not diminish your other identities or social justice work, but may shed light on more intersections and tools of oppression. “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives” - Audre Lorde
Biphobia & Monosexism:
- When faced with monosexism, biphobia, stereotypes, and bi erasure, I find it useful to think about the larger context. Historically, from where and when does this stem, and why? Who benefits from, and is marginalized by this? What systems/structures does this support? (When in doubt, I first check capitalism, sexism, racism, and ableism.)
- "Bisexual movements need to remember their own power--not apologize for what they are or try to fit into constrictive notions of normalcy, but to stand up for their identities and the threat to normalcy that comes along with them: fighting for liberation rather than privilege" - Shiri Eisner, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution
- It may be helpful to spend time with more bi folks in different situations, from celebratory to serious to mundane, to see stereotypes crushed, embraced, and turned on their heads, to see how different people respond to external and internalized biphobia in different ways, to experience the word “bisexual” used in neutral and affirming ways, and to spend time with multifaceted bi folks.
Finding Bi Community:
- The bi flag is pink, purple, and blue.
- Celebrate Bisexuality Day / Bi Visibility Day is September 23, preceded by Bisexuality Awareness Week. Many organizations have performances, screenings, parties, and other events. I’ve been delighted to present plays and films at Celebrate Bisexuality Day events in Chicago and New York.
- Many bi folks celebrate in June during Pride month. In Chicago, I march with the Bi / Queer Community at the (gender-inclusive) Dyke March and Pride Parade to participate in community visibility. I’ve also participated in San Francisco’s pride week Bi-B-Q and bi programing at Frameline.
- Bisexual conferences, such as BECAUSE and BiCon / International Conference on Bisexuality.
- There are events in March for Bisexual Health Awareness Month.
- Chicago Resources:
- Bisexual Queer Alliance Chicago, our local bi non-profit, organizes annual events like events for Celebrate Bisexuality Day, marching in the (gender-inclusive) Dyke March and Pride Parade, and a picnic, as well as frequent small gatherings like movie nights, discussion groups, theatre nights, and dinners. Many of the events are posted on meetup:
- Chicago Bisexual Queer Meetup: www.meetup.com/chicago-bisexual-queer-meetup/
- Gerber/Hart Library hosts a BTQ (Bi Trans Queer) book group: www.gerberhart.org/
- Center On Halsted hosts bi programing: www.centeronhalsted.org/
- Chicago Bi Support Network, a new peer support group: www.facebook.com/groups/ChiBiSupportNetwork/
- Me! Have a specific question? Looking for someone to be on a panel or present a bi affirming play, film, liv lit piece, writing workshop, partner dance class, or Q&A? Contact me at: email@example.com
- The more I make my bisexuality visible, the more bisexuality becomes visible to me. Not only am I more likely to question my own assumptions about gender and sexuality, but in addition, people talk to me about bisexulaity, a lot (hence this guide!). We’re EVERYWHERE!
Photo by Laura Pena