I was a 13-year-old girl when I realised I liked other girls as well as boys but I didn’t hear the term ‘bisexual’ until two years later. At the time, I was excited and relieved. There was a word just for me, which made my feelings real and possible. At around 15, I learned that other people weren’t as into the word as I was, and over the next decade, I began feeling increasingly uncomfortable using it.
Though it’s always been the easiest way to describe my sexual identity to other people, the word ‘bisexual’ has been bastardised by harmful stereotypes, meaning that dropping it casually into a regular conversation inevitably causes eyebrows to raise. Typically, straight male eyebrows. People were, and continue to be, dismissive of bi or pansexuality, and often don’t really seem to understand or acknowledge it. I’ve seen bisexual people represented as being hypersexual, kinky, greedy, slutty, attention-seeking, confused, or just ‘going through a phase’.
Women like me come up against these stereotypes on a daily basis, and though I can’t speak on behalf of bisexual men, what really floors me about unconscious biphobia is this: the biases and undermining language that court bisexual women are thickly embedded with references to pornography – ‘girl on girl’ fantasies conjured with heterosexual male fulfilment at the centre. Identifying as a bisexual woman is not a prelude to getting the D.
Throughout my life, straight men have interpreted my sex positivity and bisexuality as being very attractive qualities but fail to realise that fetishising me in this way isn’t a compliment. It’s actually pretty degrading, especially if you’re on a first date or you’ve just matched on a dating app.
Straight men and bisexual women
Some men have a fun habit of opening with invasive and inappropriate questions about my sexual experiences. I can confirm that this happens to my friends who are straight women far less than it happens to me. A minute ago I was a nice girl they’d like to date and, suddenly, I’m a faceless woman on the other end of a sexy chat line, ready to answer any and all of their filthy questions. But I’m the same person I was a minute ago, and nothing’s changed except the way this man has chosen to perceive me. Unmatch. Next.
Porn and pop culture have fuelled the notion that women like me hook up with other women purely for a bit of fun, before we inevitably meet our husbands and live happily ever after, or that bisexual women pair up for the enjoyment of men. I’ve walked out of several dates because of stupid comments made by beautiful straight men who’ve reduced my identity and my experiences to a hot trope, and my god do I wish I didn’t have to keep doing that.
What it’s like to date as a bisexual woman
I’d like to clear a few things up, just to make my situation easy to understand. Firstly, identifying as a bisexual woman is not a prelude to getting the D. It’s a lifestyle, an ideology, an identity, not an amuse-bouche.
My sexuality is not a performative gesture that I employ to excite men. Do not de-legitimise, devalue or try to erase a part of me by suggesting it would be OK to cheat with a woman but not with another man.
Do not assume I want to have a threesome, foursome or moresome with you, and please don’t ask me if I want one mere seconds after I tell you I’m bi. If these problematic characterisations don’t annoy me, they make me feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes I cringe when men grin at me like I’ve just revealed a dirty secret. But also I think about how excited I was when I heard the word ‘bisexual’ for the first time, how powerful and present it made me feel. That word is a building block in my identity, it confirms who I am, so I can’t help but feel I have a responsibility to walk out of every date with a dude who doesn’t get that.
Originally published for Bi Visibility Day by The Metro.