The “B” stands for bisexual

Image by Yellow Bird.

Right before I fell asleep last night I read this fantastic mini-essay on bisexuality, Bisexuals: putting the B back in LGBT. Understanding bisexuality is not as straightforward as being straight, and while understanding queerness of any stripe engenders compassion and tolerance, it’s more commonly understood than bisexuality. Not to say that people who look at bisexuality and say that bis are confused should get a pass because bisexuality is a slightly more nuanced sexual orientation. As a girl who practices bisexuality (practice makes perfect) yet is primarily straight, and as someone who certainly “passes” for straight in the outside world, it’s a refreshing piece that’s worth reading even if you’re not bisexual. I live in this world as a straight girl, and I’m a happy one. But also speaking for myself, it’s confusing to navigate being bisexual. Painfully so. I don’t understand why I feel the way I do, and until only recently, none of my boyfriends have really tried to understand either. I don’t have an explanation as to why I fall in love with men and want that as my lifelong commitment, but that I also unflinchingly desire female lovers in my life. Men whom I date typically at first embrace it; they enjoy their potential fantasies of watching, or hopefully having threeways (in whatever guise those fantasies are projected on me). Gradually they become threatened, jealous, and in my experience see my girl lovers as competition akin to other men. Women I have had long term sexual liaisons with have often become jealous about my male partners and seem to become upset if I fall in love. No one understands bisexuality less than I do, it seems. I just feel it. I’m not a confused bisexual at all. I know what I am. I just can’t say that ‘I’m really gay’ or ‘I’m 100% straight’ because both statements are untrue. And this is often as difficult to explain as it is to live with.

I always joke when I’m in the SF Pride Parade (I will be again this year) that I’m “the B.” Now check out this great piece:

I’m constantly baffled by the exclusion of bisexuals. I blame bad science, or rather bad scientists. Every year it seems there’s a new study on “what makes people gay”. Oddly, this is expected to be an on-off switch, and the researchers look in the genes, or the brain or the length of fingers for a sign that one set of people will be queer, now and for always, and another proving the rest will remain 100% straight. It takes a special kind of rigidity of outlook to construct a survey on finger length and decide beforehand there’s no middle ground. They then say everyone’s “straight, gay or lying” but for that to be true there would have to be an awful lot of liars out there. The last Observer poll on sexual attitudes showed that 4% of people – one in 25 – identified as homosexual, and half as many again identified separately as bisexual.

But this sort of thinking fuels the mythical status of bi people. People are quick to tinker with the definition of bisexual until it’s not something anyone would willingly pick for themselves. Bisexuals are supposed to be equally attracted to men and women – always androgyny, but never to trans people – and always at the same time. They supposedly need to have identical amounts of sex with both, and don’t notice the differences between them (which might get painful in bed, I reckon). We’re all told bisexuality is a phase that everyone goes through and grows out of, and no one’s a “proper” bisexual, even though everyone’s bisexual really. Bisexuals are depicted as the monsters spreading Aids, and breaking the hearts of partners inevitably cast aside for a different gender. Who’d want to be bi! (…read more,

Share This Post


  1. I figured out a long time age (late ’60s) that it’s not the plumbing, it’s the person. I’ve had both short and long term relationships with both men and women, and love them equally. As I age, I find myself tending towards “serial monogamy”, but am still attracted to and aroused by both genders.

  2. @Lucky Everlast

    I’m sorry none of the bisexuals you’ve met have been interested in romance with you. However, you seem to be under the impression that bisexuals are incapable of being romantically attracted to one gender or another. I’m a bisexual guy. I’ve mostly dated women, but I’ve been romantically attracted to wide swaths of people irrespective of gender. In my experience I’m romantically attracted to more women than men, but the crushes I have on men tend to last much longer. I am not to interested in folks that pigeonhole me because I’m bi however, and wouldn’t waste my time dating someone who thought that being bi “means having sex with the same sex and falling in love with the opposite sex.”

  3. Thanks for this, Violet. As a bisexual girl living in a deeply conservative, judgmental community for another year…it’s really good to know that there are other people out there like me and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when I’m finally able to move away!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this. I recently had to fill out a form that asked if I identified as LGBT and I felt like I was a liar if I didn’t tick it but also a liar if I did. That B is practically invisible. When I’m in a relationship it’s easier- I can just say ‘well at the moment I’m with a guy so I’m straight’ or ‘I’m currently with a girl so I’m gay’ but when I’m single I can’t lie- I’m drawn equally to males and females and that’s where it gets complicated. Trust me, going out as a bi person can be quite hilarious and confusing- ooh he’s hot, damn but so is she!! When it comes down to it though I’m drawn to peoples minds and it’s a nice place to be.
    I have to agree with Jason:
    “people turn me on more than genitals…”

  5. I love this kind of dialogue! Yay Violet Blue!

    I’ve identified as bi for over 15 years now. I was in an 8-year monogamous relationship with a woman and for the last 4 years have been in and out of relationships with men. My attractions tend to be more with men sexually, but there are women that just do it for me and I was deeply in love with my ex-wife. I always tell my dates that I love people and am very monogamous by nature. I have not desire for a 3-some or open relationships. My attractions are just more fluid.

    I’ve felt embraced and rejected by the straight and LGBT communities for my attractions and have learned to live somewhere between. If this is a phase, it’s the longest freaking phase I’ve ever seen . . .

    I agree with the earlier commenter about the fact that bisexuality is difficult for people who need firm definitions. I’ve come to consider bi a catch-all for those of us with fluid attractions and a broad spectrum of desire when it comes to monogamy versus polyamory. We’re all in this definition, but apparently that’s not narrow enough for some folks.

  6. I’m married and monogamous, and I love it! But I’m turned on by beautiful people. Why limit my attraction to half the adult human population? This used to be very confusing for me, but I’ve learned to sit back and enjoy the feelings w/o having to act on them. Or, most importantly, w/o judging my feelings. <3

  7. Asinine family members DO abound, but sometimes something amazing happens.

    I’ve been trying to be much more open about my own bisexuality, rather than simply letting myself pass as straight because I’m in a monogamous (for now?) relationship with a man. I had a discussion with my mom, my very conservative, Alberta-born-and-raised mom, and said that I felt that most people are or have the potential to be bisexual. She said “you are a very odd daughter to have” and that was it. The reaction I pretty much expected.

    Two days later we went for lunch and she said “you know, I think you might be right. A woman like me who is unhappy in her marriage might find something that she’s missing with another woman.” So, there is hope!

    I agree that being bisexual, being open about it and trying to find a community within which to operate and feel comfortable and accepted, is incredibly difficult. Part of it is our language. If I’m engaged in a sexual act with a woman, it’s homosexual sex. If I’m engaged in a sexual act with a man, it’s a heterosexual act. So outside of group sex, where am I able to engage in bisexual acts? I don’t feel like I switch from one orientation to another, I am what I am regardless of what I’m doing. I’d like to find language for that.

  8. In response to lucky everlast’s comment: Why can’t there be love in sex outside of a committed relationship? I love most woman I’ve slept with, moreso than the men from some long-term heterosexual relationships. Anyone can love a person without needing to commit long-term. I’m not some sneaky straight-seeming bi-girl out to fuck *any* gender without feeling.

    Violet: Thanks for this one. My best friend and I have the *exact* same conflict and plenty of late-night boozy rants center around this. Our most fitting answer so far is that we prefer the male-female relationship dynamic and don’t have a strong preference for a specific gender dynamic in sex. I see nothing wrong there and it makes sense.

  9. I identify myself as bisexual woman since always, of course I didn’t always knew the words nor their definitions. I am also polyamorous, but this identification came to me only recently, when I discovered this word and it’s definition seemed to fit perfectly my already established life style and how I feel about love. So I am double invisible and marginalized, because so called moral majority (neither moral nor majority…) is of not so humble OPINION (which they force into law…), that “love” is a LIMITED RESOURCE somehow and if you “love” more than one person, you for some bozo (in fact, RELIGIOUS) reason MUST have “only sexual” relationships with your “secondary” partners, while you are in “really” in love with one “primary” partner (what an incredibly stupid way to categorize loved ones…). Usually they add a quote from that poisonous, evil, full of hatred book of theirs, the Bible. Or Koran. Or other such wonderful reads. Religion kills minds! KILL THE RELIGION!

    Anyway, back to bisexuality :-). I was always like this, since I remember, it only got more defined (in words) as I grew up and my vocabulary increased in size and depth and scope of definitions. I always was with girls and boys, women and men. Loved them and sometimes made love to them. It is not “just sex”, that’s chauvinistic, moronic nonsense! People fall in and out of love, no matter the sexual orientation they possess! Bisexual people are NO DIFFERENT; it’s a lie that we only engage with mostly one sex and “have affairs” with the other or other such bullshit. Maybe some individuals have it like this (like our beloved Violet Blue :-)), but it’s in no way a standard! I am currently living with a man (mostly), but we are both polyamorous and have many other loves. He is not “primary”, I simply found to this time only one woman I want to live in the same FAMILY with and one day it will happen (financial situation and other such MUNDANE problems make it hard). I would live with two or more partners if not for those troubles. The only reason my male partner is now with me and my female partner is not is he is from the same city as I am and she is from another country. He is not jealous of me and I am not jealous of him. We don’t understand and fail to accept the “you must be INSANELY jealous of your lover if you are really in love” notion idiots put into minds populace. Marriage? We will probably never marry, because law doesn’t allow people like us to marry legally, until marriage is defined as a coupling of any number of males and or females in any combination and of any sexual orientation I can’t and WON’T marry. Besides, marriage is overrated and out of date. We don’t plan to have children, so why would we marry? To fill up taxes together? Maybe. Maybe not :-). Certainly not “because we love each other”. What kind of retarded reason is this??? If we cannot keep relationship without marriage, how is marriage going to help it? God will force us to be “faithful”, maybe? :-) RELIGIOUS NUTS!
    Don’t even start with “should we ALLOW” homosexuals (or bisexuals?) to marry, you “allow” them to LIVE and “allow” them to VOTE and pay TAXES, you fuckers (I mean, moral majority, president Bush), you even gloriously “allow” them to DIE IN PEACE (sometimes and you try hard to make dying harder…FOR fucking RELIGIOUS REASONS!) and be buried on your chosen “sacred ground”, what’s up with marriage then, fuckers??? FUCKING RELIGIOUS PEOPLE AND THEIR POISONOUS BOOKS. They all should be burned and forgotten. Books, not people :-) And I don’t really mean it, but — Religion is a memetic poison! BEWARE!
    Milk and kisses,

  10. “In your case the ‘bi’ label is too limiting anyway. As far as I can gather (I’m an avid fan) you’re happy to test the boundaries of whatever warm body you’re in contact with (and in the process, your own) and that makes you your own kind of special person. Even the statement that ‘you only fall in love with guys’ probably should have a ’so far’ after it! So quit trying to categorise yourself and get on with being…”

    I agree with this completely. I use the descriptor “bisexual” when explaining my sexual orientation to others simply because it’s what people understand. When I get to talk to them more I go more indepth about it and this is exactly what i explain…that my primary emotional and I guess sexual pull is toward men but I have a strong physical attraction to women and I love having sex with women. It’s been almost entirely a physical thing for me so far though. I have never fallen in love with a woman. I don’t rule it out in the future–maybe I’ll meet that person. But I don’t seek her out the way I seek out male partners to emotionally bond with.

    For myself I think of all of these sexual experiences as erotic, not homoerotic or heterosexual. They are just erotic experiences no matter what gender I’m with. That’s how I think about other people too. Especially men who experiment with other men; I don’t think that makes you inherently bisexual. I think it makes us curious and open to different sensations. I think these categories prevent a lot of men from exploring. It’s getting better but I think so many of them are afraid of being labeled. Women don’t have to worry about that if they make out with their girlfriend in the bar or have a single sexual experience with a woman and liked it but aren’t sure they’ll do it again.

  11. Labels, Labels, Lables….. Lables are just a way to exclude people. People are so individual having to choose any team is like trying to form yourself into a square or circle to fit into a certain hole. Currently I identify as a Pansexual Polyamorist. Loving more than one person and being attracted to a person regardless of sexual identification. Yeah, its a hard life, but it’s my life life and I’m going to make of it what I can and it’s my right to be happy (as long as I’m not hurting others). Basically, I’m excluded from everywhere. The GBLT community and the straight community, the married community and the single community.

  12. Kapkao: Ah, I reread my comment and see what you’re saying. I agree. I have been for as long as I can remember (I have a rather vivid memory from age 9 that sticks out as an early marker). It was 12 years ago that I understood what was going on at a much deeper level and felt I could identify with being a bisexual to people other than myself; that was when I officially gave my sexual preference a name.

    Asinine family members abound: I told my mother and her reply was “don’t ever tell your father” That’s the last we ever said on the subject. *sigh*

  13. Katie: I suppose the question remains if you’ve been one “for 12 years” or if you’ve been hardwired that way since birth… I’m going to hazard a guess that you’ve been that way since birth, at some level.

    Reproductive instincts/sexual indentity don’t simply open up at a specific age. They are enhanced and fluctuate with age. At the same time, people are sometimes pressured into suppressing their perfectly healthy desires to appease “societal norms” -as well as, more often then not, asinine family members and friends.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I’ve always identified as bisexual and just recently became very good friends with a lesbian – she shocked me when she told me I was a “fake bisexual” because I hadn’t been with a girl in over six years (I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a male for that whole time).
    I explained to her that when I was single and looking the scene in our city was so very different and there wasn’t the openness there is now – my selections were nearly non-existent or, at least, I didn’t know where to find them. She tells me I must not have tried very hard to find women. Our discussions tend to move toward the teasing side of things and when I try to bring them ’round to how her dismissal of my claim of bisexuality makes me feel she shuts me down and stands firm on the fact that I can’t be bisexual.
    I’ve identified as bisexual for 12 years and find it so disheartening that my first long-lasting and deep friendship with a lesbian brings about such unfortunate feelings about myself. I’m glad to have read this article and you take. Thanks Violet.

  15. I want to jump up and down and yell “Exactly!”, but that behavior isn’t appreciated where I am right now (sexual or not). Thank you!

    My snarky way of putting it is that people turn me on more than genitals…

  16. what, exactly, does “queer” mean in this case? I think the definition of the word changes from decade to decade… and it will probably change again THIS decade. :D

    At one time in the past… if someone made bizarre gestures with their hands and bizarre facial expressions in public, heard voices in their heads, talked to people who weren’t there, made off-color comments to others, or acted overly unpleasant to the opposite sex they were labeled “Queer”.

    It’s amazing how the definitions of some words drift over time.

  17. I feel you on this one, Violet. I have a lot of queer friends, but I identify as bi. I’ve had relationships only with men but plenty of girlcrushes and girlfantasies. (I’m too scurred to approach other women.) I shy away from saying I’m queer because the label hasn’t ever really seem to fit…even though my friends are very welcoming, I’ve felt that I am not really part of the queer community/I don’t fit in. To the few I’ve come out to personally, no one has ever said “well of course I knew that you were bi!,” so for the most part I think the world still sees me/want to see me as a straight girl.

  18. If you want to read some really good recent scholarship on bisexuality, you should check out the research by Lisa Diamond. She has been following a sample of lesbian, bisexual, and “unlabeled” women (i.e. women who reject labels) over the course of 10 years. I’d recommend her most recent 2008 paper, “Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood: Results from a 10-year longitudinal study.” Here’s the abstract:
    “Debates persist over whether bisexuality is a temporary stage of denial or transition, a stable “3rd type” of sexual orientation, or a heightened capacity for sexual fluidity. The present study uses 5 waves of longitudinal data collected from 79 lesbian, bisexual, and “unlabeled” women to evaluate these models. Both the “3rd orientation” and “fluidity” models had support, but the “transitional stage” model did not. Over 10 years, 2/3 of women changed the identity labels they had claimed at the beginning of the study, and 1/3 changed labels 2 or more times. Yet, contrary to the “transitional stage” model, more women adopted bisexual/unlabeled identities than relinquished these identities; few bisexual/unlabeled women ended up identifying as lesbian or heterosexual. Overall, the most commonly adopted identity was “unlabeled.” Bisexual/unlabeled women had stable overall distributions of same-sex/other-sex attractions but greater absolute fluctuations in attractions from assessment to assessment than lesbians. All women reported declines in their ratio of same-sex to other-sex behavior over time. These findings demonstrate that the distinction between lesbianism and bisexuality is a matter of degree rather than kind.”

    Honestly she is one of the few researchers out there who a) is actually interested in a true interactionist model of sexual orientation (acknowledging both biological factors from birth and the possibility of sexual fluidity and the influence of experiences) and b) is interested in studying bisexuality rather than ignoring it because it’s seen as inconvenient. (In an essay by Diamond and Savin-Williams they write, “many researchers intentionally exclude such individuals from their samples because they are difficult to categorize. As a journal reviewer for one of our recent manuscripts queried: ‘How can you be sure of their true sexual orientation? It would make for a cleaner study if you took them out.'”)

  19. I am left a little conflicted – I am both happy to see more people talking about bisexuality, but disappointed because I didn’t see much positive or constructive in the article. I am not accepted into the LGBT community because I am married – because I “picked a team” – and I remain invisible as bisexual to the rest of the world because I am married (and we have a limited open relationship, which is often just one more thing to explain). Not everyone needs to know this about me, but those that do still don’t really see it as a legitimate orientation. I was left a little frustrated from some of the comments that I should be happy to be invisible and shielded from opposition, but there is implied opposition from society. All we are left with is to tell people that a bisexual woman started the first pride week? More visibility is great, but leaves me unsatisfied. I don’t even know what it is I want.

    I thought your comments were right on par with what I have experienced with partners – it is so much more complicated and misunderstood.

    I think I will also be deep in thought about this now….

  20. go ahead and be bi, but be conscientious about who you are involving. much of the time bi means having sex with the same sex and falling in love with the opposite sex. bi generally is sex based, not mutual love. i love having sex with you, but i could never be involved in a serious long-term relationship. i know people who involve themselves with bi’s for this sole reason, lack of commitment, no strings attached, sexual gratification and freedom to have multiple partners. hit it and quit it.
    i personally do not become involved with bi’s for this reason, i do not want to fulfill someone’s sexual needs, become emotionally involved and then find out that the person was only interested in having a same sex experience. it may be great for the bi, but not so much for a gay person interested in more. walking as straight in the world is quite different than walking as gay in the world.
    since i have moved back to a small town i have met more bi-sexual women than ever, i lived in s.f. for 18 years, they will make out in the bars, fuck in the bath rooms and then say they are going home to their boyfriend’s. it is almost like they use the gay bar as a hunting ground. sorry, but i would rather be alone than lonely.
    “i love being with women, i’ve just never fallen in love with one.” i love your articles, blogs, books, tweets, and you being violet blue. /\../\

  21. Oscar Wilde once said, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.” It applies to problems with bisexuality too. The people who have a problem with bisexuality are “asking” us to live as they want us to live, namely in such a way that fits their world view. We don’t owe them that – they owe us the respect of our self-respect.

    I think your prior lovers, the ones who didn’t understand or got jealous, thought your sexual orientation determined certain facets of who you are and what you would do. That or they thought bis just haven’t chosen a side yet. If you try to figure out who you are based on what others expected from you, or justify or explain yourself based on how others think, you’ll never succeed. We don’t owe them a tidy explanation.

  22. Quick thoughts from someone who is (apparently) a male counterpart.

    – the hostility you’re getting has more to do with non-monogamy than being bi. Having multiple concurrent partners is fine in principle but (unless there’s duplicity involved) but in practice it’s really hard to make it work for all concerned. Yes there are happy polygamists about but when you look closely they’re special people and they work hard at it.

    – being bi is really offensive to people who like other people to be neatly pigeonholed, and those people are much greater in number than they ought to be. I think these people also feel that you are challenging their own binary view of sexuality. It’s particularly ironic that a lot of gay people feel this way.

    In your case the ‘bi’ label is too limiting anyway. As far as I can gather (I’m an avid fan) you’re happy to test the boundaries of whatever warm body you’re in contact with (and in the process, your own) and that makes you your own kind of special person. Even the statement that ‘you only fall in love with guys’ probably should have a ‘so far’ after it! So quit trying to categorise yourself and get on with being VB. There are lots of us out here that love you for it :-)


  23. Thanks for sharing this. You’re one of the very few authors who mention bisexuality (Greta Christina also comes to mind) and I really appreciate it. I tend to feel sort of invisible most days in the discourse.

Post Comment