Is it time to give up on “bisexuals”?

An interesting article from Salon by Anna Pulley on whether it’s time to put the term “bisexual” to bed.

The author, who is herself b, isn’t giving up on the term because she thinks bisexuals don’t exist. Rather, she’s tired of bisexuals being belittled and misunderstood, and hopes a name change might help.

Bisexuals suffer from two problems:

1) Bisexual truthers (non-bisexuals who don’t believe bisexuals even exist); and

2) “Bisexual truther” truthers (bisexuals who don’t believe that a lot of people don’t believe in bisexuals).

I wrote a while back about Republican Governor Chris Christie’s ambivalence on whether gays could be cured, and penned the punny title “Chris Christie is bi on being gay.”  That set off a firestorm of criticism from bisexuals who felt that it was okay for me to pun about being gay, but inappropriate to extend the puns to bisexuality.  Putting aside for a moment the lack of a sense of humor, there was another much larger problem the title-controversy revealed: A lot of bisexuals don’t even realize that they’ve got a PR problem. (At least the vocal ones don’t.)

In responding to the demands that I undergo bisexual sensitivity training, I had mentioned that, over the past twenty years I’ve worked in gay rights advocacy, I’ve been surprised by how many people, especially gay people, simply do not believe that bisexuality exists.  And it really has surprised me.  Practically no one – and I mean, no one –  I have ever spoken to believes bisexuals are for real.  It’s something that still surprises me to this day.

I’ve always found the Kinsey Scale of sexual orientations to be a useful tool. Though some find the classifications too rigid, Kinsey ranks your sexual orientation on a scale from 0 to 6: zero being exclusively straight, and six being exclusively gay:

Kinsey Scale, from "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female," via Wikipedia.

Kinsey Scale, from “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female,” via Wikipedia.

No one seems to have a problem believing in 0s, 1s, 2s, 4s, 5s, and 6s. But suddenly when it comes to 3s, most everyone switches to “they’re lying to themselves!” mode.

Really?  We’re willing to believe that people can be pretty much exclusively gay or straight, and that people can dabble on the other side, but still be more gay than straight, or vice versa.  But we’re not willing to believe that someone can basically find both genders equally attractive.  Why not?

Of course, the problem is only exacerbated by the bisexual-truther-truthers in the bisexual community itself.  I was amazed by the number of bisexuals who claimed that I was flat-out wrong when I wrote that most gay people I meet simply don’t believe bisexuals exist.  And, they said, it was all the more evidence of my supposed anti-bisexual animus.  In fact, I can count on my two hands the number of gay people I’ve met who haven’t given me a funny look when I mention bisexuality, especially when I say that of course I believe bisexuals exist.

I’m not going to lie about 20 years of conversations I’ve had in the community in order to assuage someone’s hurt feelings. Not to mention, denial is a great way to ensure that important problems, like this, never get addressed.

The usual haters are of course already tweeting about how god-awful this article is:

bisexuals

What’s far more hateful is holding back your own community’s advancement because you’re so fixated on being a victim that you can’t ever focus on the truth, let alone actually fixing things and moving forward.

More from Anna Pulley on the prejudice that bisexuals face:

“Bisexual” is increasingly and fervently treated as the worst kind of cooties. Most people who are attracted to more than one gender prefer to identify as anything but bisexual, whether that’s queer, omnisexual, pansexual, homo- or hetero-flexible, straightish, fluid, polysexual, “on the down low,” “gay for pay” (e.g. porn) and on and on….

Similarly, the (not at all scientific) call I put out on Facebook and Twitter yielded dozens of responses about the problems that bisexuals have with the word bisexual (far more than could fit in this piece), and were full of stories about the difficulties and denigration they have faced because of using the label….

As I’ve written before, admissions of bisexuality are met with a slew of negative connotations and stereotypes. These can include that bisexuals are promiscuous, indecisive, going through a phase, closet cases, taking advantage of straight privilege, want ALL THE THREESOMES, are never satisfied, just experimenting, doing it solely to please men, and so on.

Pulley expands on the problem in another post from a few years back.

In the end, I’m not sure the solution is simply linguistic.  We’re constantly playing word games in the gay community over what to call ourselves.  A while back there was an effort to shift from using the word “gay” to, instead, an ever-growing list of letters whose order is ever-shifting.

The thing is, has it really helped lesbians moving the L before the G (when we somehow shifted from GLBT to LGBT)?  I’m not so sure that would have been my proposal for how to best help lesbians get more visibility in the community, move the letter to the left.  And ask trans people if things have gotten significantly better once we added the T to the LGB.

That’s not to say words don’t matter.  But I think the bisexual community’s problem is exposure: finding some advocates who can clearly explain who they are, without seeming, to quote the stereotype, “confused.”  Actress Cynthia Nixon comes to mind as an example of the challenge that bisexuals face.  Her ongoing explanations as to her sexual orientation were inarticulate and, well, confusing, in addition to being inaccurate. (She originally claimed that she chose to change her sexual orientation, when in fact she chose to act on her sexual orientation – they’re two entirely different things. No one ever woke up and “chose” to be attracted to guys today.)

My purpose is not to relitigate the Nixon affair (to her credit, Nixon ultimately clarified what she meant), but rather to suggest that the bisexual community needs some spokespeople who can articulately explain who they are to the rest of the community, and to the public at large.

When you’ve got possibly the most visible, and most powerful, bisexual in America, Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, practically inning herself to journalist Mike Signorile, it sends a message that is – there’s that word again – confusing.  And I fear the confusion isn’t going to stop with a new word.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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