Conversations about sexual identity are evolving faster than many ever thought possible, with terms like “demisexual,” “pansexual,” and “sexually fluid” increasingly making their way into the mainstream. But one term, “bisexual,” has been around for centuries, and yet many who claim it say they are still fighting for validation.
It’s one of the reasons behind Bi Visibility Day, observed every year on September 23.
First launched in 1999 as a way to raise awareness about bisexuality and challenge the misconceptions that bi people face, it has since become a day to celebrate bisexual individuals and their intersectionality across all genders, identities, and other forms. of expression.
According to a recent Gallup, 5.6 percent of American adults identify as LGBTQ; among them, a majority – 54.6 percent – identify as bisexual. That includes celebrities like Ronen Rubinstein, Nico Tortorella, Tinashe, Janelle Monae, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Keiynan Lonsdale, Tyler Blackburn and Alan Cumming.
And yet systemic biases and misconceptions — that bi-men are gay men in denial, that bi-women, for example, only associate with women to attract straight men — continue to fuel misconceptions about identity.
Bisexual men, in particular, say they feel the pressure of judgment and invisibility from both straight and LGBTQ people.
“People come out as gay and their parents may not accept it, but rarely are they like, ‘Gays don’t exist.’ They know a [gay] culture is there”, Zachary Zane, a “bi+” activist (an inclusive term that includes all identities in the bisexual umbrella, such as queer, fluid, pansexual, or demisexual) and a contributor to Men’s health, tells Yahoo Life. “With bi people, it’s like, ‘No, this doesn’t exist. This isn’t real.’” These ideas, he adds, are dangerous and often prevent bisexual men from coming out to their families, their partners, and even themselves.
The truth is that bisexuality runs on a broad spectrum, which is why everyone’s experience is different.
According to the Bisexual Information CenterBisexuality is an “attraction to more than one gender”, and this attraction can be “physical, romantic and/or emotional”. In addition, bisexual people “may experience different kinds of attraction to different genders, and their attraction may change over time.”
Because prejudice has permeated our culture, Zane says, it’s often difficult for bimen to live authentically with their partners. “A majority of heterosexual women do not date a bisexual” [man]. This is evident from the studies,” he explains. “So you just think, okay, I can’t date women after I come out as bi, so instead I’m going to hide this identity. Every step of the way it seems like there’s nothing good about coming out as bi .”
While some studies show that the majority of heterosexual cisgender women do not date a bisexual man, bi stigma is an equal opportunity offender: Another recent study, published by the Bisexuality Magazine, showed that bi-women were less likely to go out if they dated a heterosexual cisgender man — mainly because of the fear of being judged.
Furthermore, a small 2018 study of 165 gays and lesbians, published in the journal Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, suggested that bisexuality is unfairly targeted at men — with both groups believing that bi people are more sexually attracted to men than to women. These male biases make matters even more problematic for those on different parts of the bi-spectrum.
“It’s completely patriarchy”, Robyn Ochs, global bi+ speaker and editor of Bi Women Quarterly, tells Yahoo Life about stigmas against bisexual men. “Ultimately, how much does it come down to the need to control interactions and human behavior?”
Ochs believes misogyny is a driving force. “One of the most extreme violations of men’s expected behaviors is to allow themselves to be treated as women,” she argues, adding that men who are considered feminine may be the “ultimate demotion,” creating a greater need to to stay in the closet. It’s the “convergence of sexism and homophobia and biphobia,” she says. “Everything is connected.”
Professional soccer player Ryan Russell, now a free NFL agent, became the first bisexual NFL player in 2019. He tells Yahoo Life that the “toxic masculinity culture” pressures bisexual men to remain hidden about their true feelings.
“I think for men it’s like getting almost a triple punch, for lack of a better term,” says Russell. “You learned at a young age that the most important thing about your masculine identity is your masculinity. So if you feel the need to protect it, instead of nurturing it or letting you experience your femininity or letting whatever come to you naturally, you start curing [masculine ideals] instead of letting true creation come from within who you are in your own soul.”
On the pressure to stay locked up, he adds: “There is clearly homophobia. Historically, gays, queers, LGBTQs, transgenders and lesbians have been put down for so long where you think, ‘I don’t want that. I don’t want to fight.’”
During his coming-out journey, Russell says that within his own intersectionality — a black, bisexual man in sports — he recognized that “resistance and struggle were not something, something I can avoid, and two, [was] something that shouldn’t stop me from being who I am.”
“Growing up as a black man struggling and facing adversity and hatred for the way I was born was nothing new to me,” he says. “So I was like, okay, bisexuality is just kind of going to be a different battle that I’m willing to fight because it’s important to me.”
Further extension of the concept of bisexuality is: Kate Estrop, board member of the Bisexual Resource Center, telling Yahoo Life it’s important to understand that modern bisexual identity is not tied to a specific gender, and can also include non-binary people and transgender people.
“The big backlash in the past was against the idea that bi people weren’t real, or bisexual duality wasn’t real because we could ‘choose’ to be straight. We could choose to be in straight spaces and have that privilege by saying, ‘It’s not a phase. It’s my life,’” says Estrop (using she/she pronouns).
“We’re trying to get through that and say, ‘Well, actually, sometimes… to do have stages of sexuality,” they continue. “And sometimes you have identity phases. And that doesn’t invalidate what you’re going through at any given time. It is valid if you feel it. If that’s how you want to identify yourself, identify as that. No one else can tell you that you are not something. You are valid and your identity is valid.”
In recent years, thanks to a growing bisexual community on social media, bi people have empowered each other and provided the world with knowledge — helping to debunk myths, Zane says.
“There’s a bisexual Tik Tok, a bisexual Instagram, a bisexual Twitter,” he says. “These online spaces have made people feel comfortable with identity and have really helped them get out there and find a community and find friends.”
“We’ve seen so much more visibility,” adds Zane of Gen Z, 15 percent of whom identify as LGBTQ. “I think a lot of it has to do with hating to be pigeonholed, whether that’s a gender box, a sexuality box, or literally any other box that has to do with identity. They’re embracing more aspects of fluidity in all aspects of their life.”
Building an online community has been instrumental in counteracting the ways bi people “see ourselves represented in the media,” notes Estrop.
“If we see ourselves as demons, or the bad guy, or when the only bi people on TV are greedy or over-sexualized, it’s not good for our egos,” they explain to Yahoo Life. “Because then we’re like, ‘Well, are we? Can we be bi and a good person too? So then we wonder if we’re bi or can we be bi. Should we just hide that part of ourselves and be straight?’ or being gay or lesbian and pretending that part of our identity doesn’t exist because I don’t want to share this identity with a serial killer on TV?”
Ochs points out that ultimately it’s about building “intergenerational humility” in all directions — including within the LGBTQ community — to understand that “not all experiences” are the same, and we have to agree with that if we want a civilized society.
Russell adds that education on both sides is the first step toward acceptance.
“You can’t really be understood or understand someone else until you do the work until you empower yourself with knowledge,” he says. “I think one of the things that bisexual people across the board feel, I think, is that we have to defend our sexuality — that may have been a hurdle I had, but also a hurdle I didn’t jump because I I don’t. For example, I don’t feel the need to validate my sexuality for anyone. You ask me a question, I tell you, we move on.”