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 sexuality differently. That might mean attending local bi events, 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 of all genders, attraction to individuals regardless of gender,
attraction to specific genders, attraction that changes in regard to gender over time and place,
a rejection of the construct of gender altogether, and many more.
Common Definitions of Bisexuality Used by Some Bi Folks:
- 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/plurisexual 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 word "bisexual" is sometimes thought of as a “community identity label” or “umbrella term” (and is 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. Some other nonmonosexual/plurisexual words, like pan and omni (which are sometimes considered more specific than the word bisexual), are sometimes used to describe me as well, not because these words all mean exactly the same thing, but because they can 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/plurisexual folks use the words bi, bisexual, and bisexuality:
- To build community.
- To increase representation and resources for marginalized communities.
- To help others feel less isolated.
- Because “bi” can include so many different experiences (people who use “bi” in describing larger communities, may use more specific identities to describe more specific experiences).
- Activist Julia Serano writes: “The primary reason why I call myself trans or bisexual is *not* to communicate things that I have done (e.g., aspects of my gender transition, people I sexually partner with). After all, it should not be incumbent upon me to have to reduce the complexities of my gender and sexuality down to a sound-bite and provide it for other people at the drop of a hat. Nor am I insisting that I am “just like” other trans or BMNOPPQ people when I call myself “trans” or “bisexual,” respectively. After all, it goes without saying that all trans people and all BMNOPPQ people are different from one another. Rather, I embrace these labels in order to be visible in a world where trans and BMNOPPQ people are constantly erased by the male/female and hetero/homo binaries, respectively, and to build alliances with people who are similarly marginalized in order to challenge societal cissexism and monosexism, respectively.”
- 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, even when we are working within LGBTQIA activism, for instance: Brenda Howard, "the mother of pride,” was a bi, feminist, poly, BDSM, healthcare, anti-racist, anti-war activist.
- To reclaim a word and identity some attempt to use as a weapon.
- If my culture’s understanding of sexuality were less influenced by capitalism and colonialism, as well as the related 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 mine in terms of “identity” at all, since it feels comfortable to me to think about my gender as an active part of my life that is impacted by context, more than a static thing 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
- Monosexism, stereotypes, and bi erasure are tools of a system trying to keep bi folks silenced, because large numbers of visible happy bi folks destabilizes binaries and hierarchies, and that is a threat to oppressive systems that rely on them, like capitalism.
- “Of the total population of adults in the U.S. who identify as either lesbian, gay, or bisexual, 50 percent identify as bisexual. How are we treated? Stigma research from Dr. Gregory Herek of UC Davis shows that bisexuals are the most stigmatized of the sexual identity groups. This is an abbreviated list, pulled from a longer one of 100 types of people, ranked by heterosexuals in terms of stigmatization. Subjects were asked things like, ‘Who would you most like to have living next door to you? Who would you least like to have next door?’ Whites are consistently number one. Everyone wants to live next door to a white person. IV drug users are number 100. Gays and lesbians are in the 60s. And bisexuals are 98 and 99. Me, I’m a black, Jewish, bisexual woman. I guess no one wants to live next door to me! In all seriousness, stigma and biphobia impact bisexual health in many ways, right down the way bisexuals are treated in the research literature.” - Amy Andre, Activist/Author
- When faced with these things, 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 is this tied to and supporting (capitalism, sexism, racism, ableism, etc)?
- "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 monosexism 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’ve often marched 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 Celebrate Bisexuality Day events, marching in the (gender-inclusive) Dyke March and Pride Parade, and a picnic, as well as frequent small gatherings like movie nights, discussion groups, theater nights, and dinners. Many of the events are posted on meetup and sometimes Captain Bisexual is in attendance:
- Chicago Bisexual Queer Meetup: www.meetup.com/chicago-bisexual-queer-meetup/
- Contact me! Have a specific question? Looking for someone to be on a panel or present a bi affirming play or film? Someone to present a 10 minute bi 101 live lit piece? A 60 or 90 minute intro bisexuality? A bi-informed writing workshop, partner dance class, or Q&A? Contact me at: CyraKPolizzi@gmail
- 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 bisexuality, a lot (hence this guide!). We’re EVERYWHERE!