This is the second, and likely final, post in the series about writing bisexual characters, tailored towards straight people (and may also be helpful for non-bisexual LGBT people interested in writing bisexuals).
As mentioned in my previous post, it took me a long time to realise I was bisexual. There were many reasons for this, including anti-gay messages from my family’s religion (which we no longer practise), to the kinds of stereotypes I’m going to talk about today. Sexuality is often viewed as a binary; you’re either gay or you’re straight. Portrayals of bisexuality, when they appear in media, often stick to the common stereotypes that feed into actual, real-life harm that has been done to bisexual people. We often experience this kind of discrimination from all sides of the fence, from within the LGBT community and without.
I’ve narrowed this list down to six major stereotypes, some of which feed into each other.
Bisexuality Doesn’t Exist
Obviously, being bisexual, I disagree with this. And you know what I’ve got on my side? Science. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed a number of gay, heterosexual and bisexual men erotic film clips and recorded the arousal responses (both reported and physical), finding that gay men responded more to men, heterosexuals more to women, and bi men reacted similarly to both.
There are a few sub-versions of this myth, including: “only women are bi”, “bi men are really gay” and “bi women are really straight/doing it for attention”. The study profoundly debunks the first two points. I’m going to talk about the third for a second:
Bi Women Are Really Straight/Doing it for Male Attention
This version has a degree of sexism to it, along with the assumption being that many women who claim to be bisexual do so for the attention of heterosexual men. We’ve all heard of women making out in pubs or wherever to turn men on. It happens in TV shows and movies. It happens with celebrities (sidenote: If I ever hear that goddamn Katy Perry song again, I will remove my own ears).
This is a case of just because some people do it doesn’t mean everyone does for God’s sake. I don’t do it. If I’m kissing a woman, it’s because I want to kiss a woman, not because I’m gunning for the attention of a guy at the bar who hasn’t showered in three days.
In fact, there are bisexuals who aren’t interested in men at all.
Bisexuals Will Choose a Gender Eventually
People often point to bisexuals who have married to support this argument, ignoring the fact that a person’s commitment to one person doesn’t preclude them from being attracted to others. It’s a strange situation, wherein bisexuals cannot be monogamous without being accused to choosing a gender but, at the same time, are demonised if they don’t settle down with one person. See next point.
Anna Paquin is an example of people making an assumption that she’s chosen a gender. Larry King said it to her face. She had something to say about that.
“Are you a non-practicing bisexual?” he asked Paquin.
“Well, I mean, I am married to my husband, and we are happy monogamously married,” the 32-year-old replied.
“But you were bisexual?” King continued, prompting Paquin to clarify things further.
“Well, I don’t think it’s a past tense thing,” she explained. “Are you still straight if you are with somebody?… If you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn’t really work like that.”
Being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t turn off a person’s sexuality. Sexuality is fluid, to a degree, but the way it flows depends on the individual.
There’s even been a study on this, which followed a number of women who identified as bisexual in their adolescence. Over the decade the study ran, the vast majority of women continued to identify as bisexual. Only 8% changed their identity to gay or straight.
Bisexuals Are Promiscuous/Will Cheat On You
I haven’t gotten any action in over three years. Hell, the last time I dated or had sex with anyone (same person) was before I figured out my sexuality. I’ve had two relationships and one semi-sexual encounter in about eight years, one at a time.
Some bisexuals are promiscuous, but that’s not owing to their sexuality. That’s simply who they are as people. There’s nothing wrong with that. Frankly, what another person does sexually, assuming they’re not hurting anyone, is no one’s business but their own.
Cheating is a different matter entirely and, while I’m sure some bisexuals have cheated, there are plenty of heterosexuals and gay people who have done the exact same thing. The Ashley Madison debacle is a perfect example of this. Glass houses, people.
There’s actually a study to back me up here.The study I previously mentioned about the consistency of bi women’s identities also looked at their relationships. 89% of these women were in long-term, monogamous relationships. Polyamory is a thing (among people of all sexualities), but this stems from the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved.
Edit 14/6/2017: This stereotype also tends to go hand-in-hand with another stereotype: bisexuals are manipulative heartbreakers. Again, bisexuals are no more likely to drag a person along only to break their heart later on. This is also known as the Depraved Bisexual stereotype, which covers promiscuity, cheating, manipulation and heartbreak… along with the perception that promiscuity = evil. TVtropes has a page on this, but there’s a lot of ableist language in there so take care.
Bi Means Two/Bisexuals are Only Attacted to Two Genders/Bisexuals Erase Nonbinary People
This argument requires ignoring the way the bisexual community defines itself, which is already a terrible thing to do in the first place. The Bisexual Resource Centre has an entire page dedicated to debunking this particular myth.
The simple response to this argument is that you shouldn’t be defining anyone’s sexuality but your own because it’s none of your damn business. That should be enough, unless you’re particularly nosy, in which case I’m going to copy the Bisexual Resource Centre’s argument below. Point 2 is of particular interest to anybody still peddling the “bi means two” argument:
Four Simple Reasons Why the “Binary” Argument Holds No Water
1.) Historical context is important, so it’s critical to note that, similar to “homosexuality” and “lesbianism,” “bisexuality” is a word reclaimed by the bisexual movement from the medical institution (specifically the DSM III which pronounced it a mental disease). The bi community itself had little to no influence over the formation and structure of the word, and simply did what gays and lesbians did: empowered their communities by claiming the word for themselves. Of course, no one would say that miserable people can’t be “gay” because they’re not happy or upbeat all the time. Nor are lesbians restricted to women who hail from the Greek island of Lesbos.
2.) For many bisexuals, the “bi” in “bisexual” refers not to male plus female, but to attraction to genders like our own, plus attraction to genders different from our own. In other words, it’s the ability to move in two directions along a continuum of multiple genders.
3.) The bisexual movement emerged around the same time as the transgender movement. Thus, in its early stages, no language was available for the description of attraction to non-binary sexes and genders.
4.) Historically (and very much currently), the bisexual community has been one of the most accepting places toward transgender and genderqueer people. Our communities have always shared a very strong alliance.
Again, if you’re not bi, you probably shouldn’t be getting deep into what bisexuality is or isn’t in your writing. Leave that for bisexuals to decide, since we write from experience. It’s better overall to avoid defining bisexuality at all if you’re not well-versed in it.
Bisexuals Have It Easier Than Gay People
I’m going to post this Bi Statistics link again, which I included in the introduction to this post. It contains a wealth of statistics that disprove the assumption that bisexuals somehow are less oppressed than gay people. In fact, bisexuals are less likely to have an accepting workplace environment, make up a minority of LGBT media representation (which is lacking overall), and are more likely to live in poverty.
Are gay people worse off than bisexuals in some areas? Without a doubt. But there are also areas where bisexuals have the short end of the stick, as evidenced in the statistics through that link. It’s not a competition. Both sides are dealing with oppression on many levels.
It’s important to be aware of the stereotypes against bisexuals, so you know exactly what to look out for in your own writing. Is it still possible to have a bisexual character who cheats on their partner, for instance? Yes, but if they’re the primary representation of bisexuals in your work, that’s a problem. There are two solutions to this: remove the cheating, or include more equally important bisexual characters who do not cheat on their partners.
Right now, there aren’t a whole lot of bisexuals in the media and therefore their portrayal in anything is going to be taken as representative for the public attitude towards bisexuals. This goes for all LGBT+ characters. It’s important to do your research and understand to the best of your ability what it’s like to be a member of the community. You also need to be aware of some common sore spots, such as the Bury Your Gays trope, very recently displayed in what happened to Lexa in The 100. Take a look at this list of dead lesbian and bisexual characters for further confirmation of the problem. It was up to 143 deaths at this time of writing. It is highly common for LGBT characters, especially women, to be killed off or otherwise given unhappy endings. Consider not doing that, or at least contrasting it with characters of the same or similar sexualities who do get a happy ending.
Anyway, it’s important to know you won’t make everyone happy. You will likely be criticised by members of the community you’re trying to represent. Listen. Take what helps and discard what doesn’t, but be respectful. They know more about their lives than you do.