Attitudes towards people who identify as bisexual seem to be lagging behind the growing acceptance of gay and lesbian-identified people. There is still a long way to go in regards to equality in both legal and social spheres, but more and more people at least recognize being gay or lesbian as a legitimate identity.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about bisexuality. Men who come out as bisexual are frequently told that they are in denial about being gay, whereas some women who come out as bisexual are often dismissed as straight women who are seeking attention from men. Regardless of gender, bisexual people are stereotyped as being promiscuous.
The most insidious and ultimately harmful myth, though, is that bisexuality doesn’t truly exist.
Sometimes this idea is expressed in a blatant way; bisexual people are often accused of being confused about what they really want or told they are going through a phase of experimentation and will eventually discover that they are actually gay or straight and “pick a side.”
While some people may adopt the label “bisexual” for a period of time and then later decide that they are in fact either gay or straight, this has no bearing on the legitimacy of bisexual identity in general. There are also people who identify as gay first and then decide that bisexual is a more accurate description, and there are people who identify as bisexual forever.
Focusing on just one of these scenarios is cherry picking to support a pre-formed opinion and ignoring the actual lived experiences of a lot of people.
Sometimes the erasure of bisexuality presents itself in more subtle ways. For instance, we tend to project identity labels on people based on the relationship they are currently in. If a guy that you meet introduces you to his boyfriend, what do you automatically think?
A high-profile example of this: When Olympic diver Tom Daley publicly spoke about being in a serious relationship with a man late last year, he was often misrepresented as coming out as gay, both by people on social media and in news sources.
He never said that he was gay or explicitly labeled himself at all. He announced that he was in love with a man, and commented that he was also attracted to women. A lot of people just made assumptions.
The problem with assuming someone’s sexual orientation based on who they are involved with is that a person’s identity doesn’t change based on whose hand they are holding. The only way to know someone’s sexual orientation for sure is if they tell you how they identify.
Maybe this all stems from the natural human tendency to try to force messy, infinitely complex human beings into simple dichotomies. It may be comforting to think of the world in simplistic terms, but it’s intellectually lazy to just ignore the experiences of people who are inconvenient to you.
It’s also harmful.
Bisexual people who are in opposite-gender relationships or single may find it more difficult to come out, which can be very stressful and damaging. People who identify as bisexual who are in same-gender relationships experience the same discrimination faced by gay and lesbian people, yet they may feel excluded from LGBT communities, despite having a placeholder in the acronym.
On a personal level, it’s insulting to be dismissed with an unnecessarily skeptical response when you tell someone an important aspect of who you are. People will sometimes take great risks to reveal who they are to you. Believe them when they tell you who they are.