I was 13 years old when I realised I liked other girls as well as boys but I didn’t hear the term ‘bisexual’ until about 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 and I felt very unashamed and sex positive at the time. However, I must have been about 15 years of age when I learned that other people weren’t as positive about the word as I was and that dating as a bisexual woman might not be so easy. Over the next decade, I began feeling increasingly uncomfortable using the word and identifying with 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 – the idea of being sexually fluid and inclusive – and often don’t really seem to understand or acknowledge it, or indeed want to do either. I’ve seen bisexual people represented as being hypersexual, kinky, greedy, slutty, attention-seeking, confused, or just ‘going through a phase’. So naturally, dating as a bisexual woman has its ups and downs.
Stereotypes about bisexual people
Women like me come up against 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 paint bisexuality as nothing more than 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 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 vs. bi women
Some men have a fun habit of beginning conversations about my bisexuality 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 sort of ‘othering’ takes place in which I cease to be a nice girl they’d like to date and become a sexual object expected to answer any and all of their filthy questions with impunity.
But I’m the same person I was a minute ago, and nothing’s changed, except the way this person has chosen to perceive me. It’s actually pretty upsetting that this happens so often. Mention your sexuality and straight men often head straight for the gutter, making you feel that your basic human instincts make you some kind of deviant in their eyes. It makes dating as a bisexual woman pretty miserable sometimes.
Porn and pop culture have undoubtedly 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 wasting my time on people do 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 doesn’t define how interested you are in sex. It doesn’t make you innately sexy or sexual. Some bisexual people don’t enjoy talking about sex at all, because everyone’s different. I personally, am pretty comfortable talking about sex but please, don’t for a second think that it’s ok to ask me personal questions about my love life if you don’t know me. Side note – trying to pass these questions off as trying to ‘educate yourself about LGBTQ+ relationships’ is weak. I don’t owe you any kind of explanation or personal examples. Google that shit.
Secondly bisexuality can be a lifestyle, an ideology, an identity but it’s definitely not an amuse-bouche. It’s not a warm-up act for straight sex or gay sex for that matter. Bisexual, pansexual and sexually fluid people people aren’t ‘half gay’ or ‘half straight’ they’re bi, pan or fluid. The way they love is just as legitimate as the way you love, they’re not missing part of a whole experience, being bi is enough. Period.
Speaking of which, my bisexuality is not a performative gesture that I employ to excite straight 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. As though cheating with a woman doesn’t count because it’s not a ‘real’ or ‘whole’ experience. Dude, she will steal your girl and don’t think she won’t.
Speaking of cheating and the myth that bi people love to do it because they’re just never satisfied – If someone’s not committed to a monogamous relationship, it really doesn’t matter what their sexuality is or who they cheat with. The point is that they’re the sort of person who goes behind their partner’s back to hook up with someone else. Bisexual people do this and they also never, ever do this. It depends wholly on the individual and the monogamous relationship they’re in.
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 a bisexual woman dating other women. If these problematic characterisations of bisexual people as wild hedonists who love orgies don’t annoy me, they just make me feel very uncomfortable. I enjoy hooking up with men and with women, but in no way does that mean that I want that at the same time or with total strangers. Please relax.
Sometimes I cringe when men grin at me like I’ve just revealed a dirty secret and I have to remind myself that their perception of me doesn’t define or dilute how pure, legitimate and wonderful my sexuality is. I also have to remind myself fairly often that as a femme cis bi woman, I belong in LGBTQ+ spaces and I have as much right to be there as anyone else. I also think about how excited I was when I heard the word ‘bisexual’ for the first time, how powerful, present and seen 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 deliver a TEDtalk to every single person who doesn’t get that. But no, I won’t be sharing the details of my personal relationships with you, because why would I? Don’t ask me, it’s rude.
Originally published as a shorter version for Bi Visibility Day by The Metro.