Bisexual Awareness Week, 16th – 23rd September 2023
This week we celebrate Bisexual Awareness Week. It is an annual celebration of bisexual people, raising awareness about the unique struggles this community continues to face. Out of the 27 countries that they surveyed, the LGBTQ+ Pride 2021 Global Survey found 4% of people identified as bisexual.
Bisexuality vs Pansexuality
There is an ongoing debate around the definitions of bisexuality and pansexuality. While the two sexual orientations share many similarities, they are not fully the same.
Bisexuality refers to people who are romantically and sexually attracted to two or more genders. Unlike pansexuality, bisexual people are not always attracted to all genders, whereas for pansexual individuals gender does not matter. Gender plays more of a role in bisexuality. Be mindful that every bi person may define their bisexuality differently.
Pansexuality describes people who love and are sexually attracted to people no matter what their gender is. Gender identity does not play an important role. Nevertheless, the type of attraction you feel towards a specific gender may vary.
Both definitions of bisexuality and pansexuality overlap to an extent. However, there should still be a space for both labels to exist without them invalidating each other or people constantly comparing the two. Each sexual identity is valid. For a more detailed list of gender identities and sexual orientations, visit our blog.
Interview with GenderGP team members
We spoke to two wonderful members of our GenderGP family, Nik Ward, our Queries Senior Advisor, and Stacey McDermott, our Global People Lead.
Stacey: Coming out as bisexual has been a long process. I would have these feelings towards every gender, and I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t fully acknowledge it until I started dating around. But I never came out. People would just assume and wouldn’t ask questions. Even with my family, when I would mention that I was going on a date with a girl, they had no issue with it. I never had a formal coming out, I was just like ‘this is who I am, and I am not going to ever give anyone the opportunity to question who I am’.
It wasn’t until I got started my corporate life, that I got questioned quite a lot about it and it became uncomfortable. I think it was also the type of environment I was in. It was very male-dominated, very hierarchal and patriarchal. I couldn’t be myself.
I identify as a proud bisexual and pansexual. For me, bisexuality does not only include men and women. I don’t fall in love with the gender, I fall in love with the person. I think people constantly misconstrued that because they can’t see past the man and woman binary structure. A person’s gender identity is secondary to me when it comes to falling in love with someone.
Stacey explained how she truly felt represented in the Canadian TV series and sitcom Schitt’s Creek. One of the main characters, David Rose, comes out as pansexual. ‘I was crying because I never had someone detail it out in such a way where it’s like: that’s it. I like the wine and not the label’, Stacey explained.
While Stacey never formally came out, Nik’s internalised feelings and pressure from his friends led to him not coming out until his mid-20s.
Nik: For me, it took years of unpacking. It wasn’t really until I was in my early 20s that I was able to start questioning that part of my identity. I went to a Catholic high school, so that was not really a good place to explore my sexuality. When I went to university, a lot of my friendship groups were queer. Nonetheless, it took me a long time to come out.
Nik felt pressured by his friends to come out as they all assumed he was queer. However, this pressure set them back and prevented them from coming out until they were 25. Around the same time, he started wearing a binder and questioning their gender identity.
Nik: In the past, I identified as a cisgender woman. My relationship with my sexuality changed after I came out as a non-binary, trans-masculine person. After I came out as non-binary, I felt a lot more confident in my sexuality. I immediately noticed how people responded to me differently. Seeing people respond to my masculinity was incredible and that changed things for my sexuality. It also changed how women and men responded to me.
I would describe my bisexuality as like the anarchy of sexualities. By anarchy, I mean not wishing to control it. I am not going to try to pin it down to a specific thing or try and prove my identity. I think people feel uncomfortable with bisexuality because to them it doesn’t make sense, because it’s different from person to person.
Nik is currently dating a bisexual man. He feels so comfortable with gender and his sexuality dating someone who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community.
The most prevalent challenge bisexuals continue to face to this day is erasure. Unfortunately, this also occurs within the LGBTQ+ community. You might think that being interested in more than one gender would increase your chance of finding a potential partner. However, biphobia is very common in the dating world too. Studies have shown that some heterosexuals as well as some queer people are reluctant to date bisexuals.
Bisexual erasure is a real issue. Even though more people identify as bisexual compared to lesbians, their identity is often invalidated. We live in a male-centred society where the preference for men dominates over any other. Therefore, bisexual men are often seen as gay and bisexual women are often perceived as straight. In return, invalidating and erasing bisexuality as a whole.
This harmful notion has also been reinforced by the media and what we see on TV, with Sex and the City’s Carry Bradshaw stating that bisexuality is ‘just a layover on the way to Gaytown’ when talking about a bisexual man. ‘There is a lot of biphobia that bisexual people get, like this false idea that a man can’t be bisexual and that he is just on the route of being a fully-fledged gay man. Bisexual people do exist and there is a lot of bi-erasure. It is really frustrating’, Stacey told us.
Nik: There is this pressure if you identify as bisexual to prove your identity by showing that you’ve been in relationships with different genders. We have been taught to police people. Asking people to prove their identity is policing. It’s like being a cop, trying to find proof of someone’s bisexuality.
I felt this pressure because I hadn’t been in a relationship with a woman, so how can I prove that I am bi? It’s an unfair expectation that is placed on people which defeats its purpose because the whole point of having an open sexuality is that you have that choice. I just think that it should be irrelevant. If people cared less about who someone is dating and more about the person themself, it would be a lot easier.
Just as Nik explained, many people still have a difficult time understanding the complexity of human sexuality. Sexual orientation, much like gender identity, is not a binary of gay and straight. It is a spectrum. Because bisexuality falls within this spectrum, it becomes harder to put it into a box. However, the beauty of it is that it cannot be defined by a limiting gender and sexual binary.
Bisexual women more likely to face violence
Besides erasure, the National LGBTQ Task Force reported data that found bisexual women to experience violence and sexual assault by an intimate partner at a higher rate compared to lesbians and straight women. 61.1% of bi women encountered sexual and physical violence by their partner.
Some studies also suggest that bisexual people are more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety compared to other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
While being in a straight-passing relationship can come with its benefits and privileges, sadly, the threat of violence is very prevalent among bisexual women. It is important we shed light on this issue to combat and tackle biphobia.
Debunking myths about bisexual people
- Bisexual people in straight-passing relationships are essentially straight. Not only is this myth completely false but it invalidates and erases bisexual identities. You are still bisexual even if you are dating someone of the opposite gender. A bi man dating a bi woman does not make either of them any less bisexual. When asked about the common misconceptions about bisexuals, Stacey recalled how people would ask her ‘You’re married, but you’re bisexual, how does that work for you? The age-old trope. I fell in love with a man, but I could have just as easily fallen in love with a woman, or a non-binary person.’
- Bisexuality excludes trans people. This is one of the most harmful and false myths. Bisexuality has always included transgender people. If a bisexual person is interested in women, that includes both cis and trans women.
- Bisexual people are greedy and selfish. Simply put, no they are not. Being attracted to multiple genders does not make you greedy just like being attracted only to one does not make you less selfish. ‘I heard the phrase ‘you’re just greedy’ quite a lot which is really frustrating. I am sure a lot of bisexual people will have experienced similar issues. There is this assumption that bi people are hypersexual. They assume this person is open to everything and in my case, I am not like that at all’, Stacey explained.
- They are all confused. Bi people are not confused. They know who they are and what they want. If they are confused, it is not most certainly not because of their sexuality.
- They are attracted to anyone. This myth simply makes no sense because you would not assume a straight woman likes every single man out there. Yet, many make this assumption about bi people. Just because you are attracted to more than one gender does not mean that you are attracted to everyone. We all have our own types, and this also goes for bisexual people.
Bisexuality is a very real identity. All sexual orientations are. Just because bisexual people do not conform to a binary idea of sexuality it does not mean that their experiences are any less valid. Bisexuality, alongside pansexuality, should be celebrated for their capacity to love beyond gender.