Commentary

What’s it like to be visibly bisexual? It’s others constantly telling you who you are

Bisexuals are often one of the most overlooked segments of the LGBTQ community.
Photo: Ellyn Ruthstrom

I have openly identified as bisexual for about eight years. As I have previously written about, that has not gotten easier with time – not because I’m uncomfortable with my identity, but people, as individuals and as a society at large, are uncomfortable with it.

That’s because our society remains defined by binaries at its foundation for everything. From economics (capitalism or socialism), to entertainment (comedy or drama), to music (secular or non-secular), to class (lower or upper class), to geography (physical or political) to politics, to religion, to (outdated) gender theory; we learn everything through the guise that everything is one of two things.

Related: Why Andrew Gillum deserves a second chance

In some areas, it is becoming more acceptable to recognize something outside of said binaries – for example, the “newer” social class term of “middle class” – but overall, we’re still people relying on a twofold understanding of life.

This is the same with identity: As a Black person, I am constantly made to believe that being bisexual is antithetical to my identity. Being Black and out means being constantly expected to “choose” an identity and “put one first.”

Even though race and sexual identity are two separate classifications, people are conditioned to believe that there is only one way of being a Black person or an LGBTQ person. The two are somehow incompatible.

It sounds ridiculous in theory, but we see the reinforcement of that belief all the time, as recently as with Andrew Gillum. That reinforcement is commonly used against Black people, but also anyone that dares to live outside of the boundaries.

The concept that someone is defined by more than just one singular identifying classification is intersectionality, coined by academic philosopher Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Over 30 years since, the term is increasingly popular but is still not widely recognized. People still claim that the term is inaccurate, because the recognition of each person’s intersectional identity is “divisive,” “ahistorical,” and “shallow.”

Even bisexuality itself is held to a binary. Since the suffix bi- means two, people feel that bisexuality can only mean being attracted to two genders.

This limited view of the word is often weaponized against bisexual people. “You can’t like both genders,” I was told growing up, “you can’t go both ways at once.” Other people would assume, again based on the prefix, that being bisexual must mean “dating two people at once.” These are conflations that try to set a limit on how bisexuality can work.

Despite having a slight majority in population over lesbian and gay-identifying people, bisexual people are still not given credence over their own identities. Even other bisexual people, such as Amber Rose, have claimed that they aren’t “comfortable” with other people’s bisexuality. People are conditioned not to fully grasp concepts if they aren’t in binaries, these very narrow or disqualifying definitions of the term are the most accepted understanding of bisexuality.

Just recently, we’ve seen that we can be Black and bisexual, male and bisexual, non-binary and bisexual, nuerodivergent and bisexual, bisexual and in a different-gender marriage, bisexual and primarily dating people of your gender – and more.

Society has always tried to enforce boundaries. Living outside of those boundaries conflicts with how we see the world.

Bisexuality is a prime example of that – the term is more than just “two,” or some non-conforming way of sexuality, or some abstract concept, or a “B” in an initialism. That doesn’t mean it isn‘t all those things, too – but that’s not its limit. 

For some, bisexuality is their dual existence of heterosexual and homosexual attraction. For some, it’s possessing “characteristics of both sexes,” as Merriam-Webster defines it.

Someone who have dated more than one gender in the past can be bisexual, as people have done all throughout history. It could be someone’s umbrella term to include those attracted to multiple genders, such as pansexual and omnisexual people. People may separate sexual attraction from emotional attraction, and only identify as biromantic – or it may be combined.

Bisexuality could simply be the “potential for romantic or sexual attraction to genders similar to one’s own and dissimilar to one’s own,” as one academic definition explains.

It’s all a spectrum. It may not make sense to you, but that’s the problem – society has ingrained anything that don’t fit into their boxes as nonsensical. It’s not about you making sense of it, it’s for us to figure out and live with.

As Kristen Stewart once said, “You’re not confused if you’re bisexual. It’s not confusing at all. For me, it’s quite the opposite.”

Like anyone else, we aren’t linear beings. All people are made up of different classifications – that intersect to shape our identity.

Even Rose admitted that her inability to be “comfortable” with bisexuality in others was likely an internalized issue: “Maybe I’m not secure enough to be with [bisexual men],” she said at the time. (Note that both of her comments were from over years ago.)

Maybe, if all people interrogated why they are inclined to define bisexuality – or any identity – a certain way, they could figure out why that is.

Words are binary. Humanity just is not and won’t be.

Kierra Johnson will become the first Black executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force

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