Bisexuality 101
Bisexuality 101
In general, society assumes that every same-sex couple is homosexual and that every “opposite
sex” couple is heterosexual. As PFLAG parents, family and friends, it is critical that we give
bisexual youth and adults the validation they deserve. Biphobia is the prejudice that occurs when
bisexual people are ignored, unaccepted, or rejected by heterosexual society and lesbian and gay
communities. We see the same assumptions and prejudice towards bi-racial people. Let’s face
it, people are not always what we perceive them to be. The reality is that many people are
bisexual and that bisexuality is a genuine, valid sexual orientation.
Bisexuality is the capacity for physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to more than one
gender. The famous, controversial ‘Kinsey scale’ invented by Alfred Kinsey in the late 40’s
presents the idea that most people fall somewhere between 0 (totally heterosexual) and 6 (totally
homosexual) on a sexual “preference” continuum. Kinsey’s scale suggested that ‘heterosexual’
and ‘homosexual’ are not opposites, but rather two possible positions on a continuum of sexual
“preference.” There are other theories on the variables that play a role in determining sexual
orientation. In fact, researchers are finding that many people have transitional phases of
heterosexuality or homosexuality in their coming out process as bisexual. While there is a
bisexual movement with several national bisexual organizations, it is quite small compared to the
lesbian and gay movement. And, while many of the national lesbian and gay organizations now
include
bisexuality in their mission statement, their programs and organizing do not specifically address
this population.
Various myths about bisexuality perpetuate social rejection from both heterosexual society and
the lesbian and gay communities. Some people see bisexuality as a phase, but the fact is that
bisexuality is a long-term orientation for many people and bisexual people are a part of the larger
movement advocating to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and securing equal
rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. PFLAG plays a very significant role
in this movement in that we are the parents, the grandparents, the sisters and brothers, the
friends, and we are straight and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered. Because we want to
hear all the voices and as many voices as we can, we want to be sure we represent the voices of
bisexual people and their families and friends in our fight for equality.
Most people believe that they are either straight or gay. Bisexuality as well as the famous
Kinsey scale, challenge this idea and make it difficult to maintain a clear border between straight
society and lesbian and gay communities. This happens to others whose identities do not
conform to “us and them” views of the world. In our racially polarized society, many multi-
racial people who do not solely identify with one particular race are alienated from their
communities. It is empowering to embrace one’s uniqueness and claim one’s value. For some
with multiple identities or identities that challenge our society’s dualistic assumptions, it can be
limiting to try to fit into any identity-based community. This is one factor that fuels the
oppression, isolation, and invisibility for those who we claim to include. In the social justice
movement we must advocate equal rights for everyone. If we as a whole society open our minds
all the way and acknowledge bisexuality as a genuine social force, it would help form powerful
and highly needed alliances between the straight and lesbian and gay communities. As
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bisexuality becomes more recognized as a true sexual orientation by society as a whole, there
will be more people coming out and identifying as bisexual. As a result, we may see more
parents, families and friends of bisexual people joining organizations like PLFAG. It is
important that bisexuals are truly included as part of the GLBT community and that we work
together to challenge society to end discrimination and secure equal rights for everyone.
In writing this article, PFLAG paraphrased and expanded on information taken from BiNet
U.S.A. at www.binetusa.org.
What’s Your “Bi-Q”?
Many of us who are straight, gay or lesbian have limited knowledge of what it really means to be
bisexual. Unfortunately we have all received lots of inaccurate information or no information at
all about bisexuality. Here are some commonly asked questions with answers by the Bisexual
Resource Center (www.biresouce.org).
Q: So what exactly is a Bisexual?
A: A Bisexual is someone who is sexually and emotionally attracted to men or women (and
some would say to all genders).
Q: So they're equally interested in men and women?
A: Not necessarily. Some are, some aren't. Some say they're attracted to men and women in
different ways, others say gender just isn't relevant to who they're interested in.
Q: Doesn't being interested in both genders mean they're only half as interested in either?
A: Most Bisexuals will probably say that when they're interested in someone, they're interested
in them 100%.
Q: Aren't people really either heterosexual or homosexual?
A: No. It's well recognized in medical and psychological circles that bisexuality is a very real
and genuine sexuality. But anyway, there are plenty of Bisexuals around who can tell you that.
Q: Isn't it just a phase?
A: No more than being heterosexual or homosexual is.
Q: But isn't it a transition to being lesbian or gay?
A: Maybe for some people. Some lesbians or gay men "come out" as Bisexual first, but most
Bisexuals remain bisexual for the rest of their lives.
Q: But surely they're just confused, they haven't made up their minds yet?
A: Don't make the mistake of assuming there are only 2 options to choose from. Bisexuality is
an option in its own right. A lack of information about Bisexuality is probably the cause of most
confusion a bisexual might feel.
Q: Didn't Freud think we're all Bisexual?
A: Not quite - Freud thought we were all born Bisexual, and may develop a preference later in
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life. No one is really quite sure about this, but most people have had at least some feeling for
both genders at some stage in their lives.
Q: Suppose I have - does that mean I'm bisexual too?
A: Strictly speaking, maybe. But what you call yourself is up to you. Some may feel the
attraction they feel for one gender isn't enough to call themselves Bisexual. Some people have
other reasons for not identifying as Bisexual, as well.
Q: Like what?
A: Some people may want to feel "normal" and think of themselves as heterosexual. Others for
political or social reasons may wish to identify with the Lesbian & Gay communities.
Q: Doesn't the term "Lesbian & Gay" include "Bisexual" as well?
A: That's a hot issue for some people. Some people think so, but there are plenty (bisexual and
otherwise) who disagree. Lesbians fought for the right to be explicitly named, because they felt
invisible. That battle is still going on for Bisexuals.
Q: So why aren't the Bisexuals more visible?
A: Well, no-one walks around with "Bisexual" stamped on their foreheads. It's very easy to miss
them. If you see 2 people of the same gender kissing, you don't think to ask if they might be
bisexual. And they might be. Similarly, if you see a man and a woman kissing, either of them
might be bisexual, too.
Also, there's a real lack of information about bisexuality in our libraries and the media. And there
are very few organizations that specifically address Bisexual issues. Some bisexual people have
felt as if no-one knows they even exist.
Q: Haven't they received a lot of publicity for spreading AIDS?
A: Bisexuals have been targeted as scapegoats by people who think of AIDS as being a "Gay
disease." Bisexuals are thought to be a "bridge" group between the heterosexual and homosexual
communities.
Let's get things straight (forgive the pun). One thing spreads AIDS: taking someone else's bodily
fluids (like blood or semen) into your body. The AIDS virus neither knows nor cares what your
sexuality is. Safe sex will go a long way towards helping stop the spread of AIDS, and everyone
- bisexual, straight, or whatever - needs to pay attention to that.
Bisexuality*
What is Bisexuality?
Bisexuality is the potential to feel sexually attracted to and to engage in sensual or sexual
relationships with people of either sex. A bisexual person may not be equally attracted to both
sexes, and the degree of attraction may vary over time.
Self-perception is the key to a bisexual identity. Many people engage in sexual activity with
people of both sexes, yet do not identify as bisexual. Likewise, other people engage in sexual
relations only with people of one sex, or do not engage in sexual activity at all, yet consider
themselves bisexual. There is no behavioral ``test'' to determine whether or not one is bisexual.
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Bisexual Identity
Some people believe that a person is born heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual (for instance
due to prenatal hormonal influences), and that their identity is inherent and unchangeable. Others
believe that sexual orientation is due to socialization (for example either imitating or rejecting
parental models) or conscious choice (for example, choosing lesbianism as part of a political
feminist identity). Others believe that these factors interact. Because biological, social, and
cultural factors are different for each person, everyone's sexuality is highly individual, whether
they are bisexual, gay or lesbian, heterosexual, or asexual. The “value'' placed on a sexual
identity should not depend on its origin. Many people assume that bisexuality is just a phase
people go through. In fact, any sexual orientation can be a phase. Humans are diverse, and
individual sexual feelings and behavior change over time. The creation and consolidation of a
sexual identity is an ongoing process. Since we are generally socialized as heterosexuals,
bisexuality is a stage that many people experience as part of the process of acknowledging their
homosexuality. Many others come to identify as bisexuals after a considerable period of
identification as gay men or lesbians. A recent study by Ron Fox of more than 900 bisexual
individuals found that 1/3 had previously identified as lesbian or gay. An orientation that may
not be permanent is still valid for the period of time it is experienced. Bisexuality, like
homosexuality and heterosexuality, may be either a transitional step in the process of sexual
discovery, or a stable, long-term identity.
How Common Is Bisexuality?
It is not easy to say how common bisexuality is, since little research has been done on this
subject; most studies on sexuality have focused on heterosexuals or homosexuals. Based on
research done by Kinsey in the 1940s and 1950s, as many as 15-25% of women and 33-46% of
men may be bisexual, based on their activities or attractions. Bisexuals are in many ways a
hidden population. In our culture, it is generally assumed that a person is either heterosexual (the
default assumption) or homosexual (based on appearance or behavioral clues.) Because
bisexuality does not fit into these standard categories, it is often denied or ignored. When it is
recognized, bisexuality is often viewed as being “part heterosexual and part homosexual,'' rather
than being a unique identity. Bisexuality threatens the accepted way of looking at the world by
calling into question the validity of rigid sexual categories, and encourages acknowledgment of
the existence of a diverse range of sexuality. Since there is not a stereotypical bisexual
appearance or way of acting, bisexuals are usually assumed to be either heterosexual or
homosexual. In order to increase awareness, bisexuals have begun to create their own visible
communities.
Bisexual Relationships
Bisexuals, like all people, have a wide variety of relationship styles. Contrary to common myth,
a bisexual person does not need to be sexually involved with both a man and a woman
simultaneously. In fact, some people who identify as bisexual never engage in sexual activity
with one or the other (or either) gender. As is the case for heterosexuals and gay men and
lesbians, attraction does not involve acting on every desire. Like heterosexuals and gay people,
many bisexuals choose to be sexually active with one partner only, and have long-term,
monogamous relationships. Other bisexuals may have open marriages that allow for relationships
with same-sex partners, three-way relationships, or a number of partners of the same or other
gender (singly or simultaneously). It is important to have the freedom to choose the type of
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sexual and affectional relationships that are right for the people involved, whatever their sexual
orientation.
Bisexuals and AIDS
AIDS has had a major effect on the bisexual community. Bisexual men are often scapegoated as
the agents of transmission of AIDS from the gay to the heterosexual population, and bisexual
women may be scapegoated as transmitters of AIDS to lesbians. However, it is behavior, rather
than sexual orientation, that puts people at risk for acquiring the virus that causes AIDS.
Activities that involve the exchange of bodily fluids, notably semen, blood, and vaginal fluid, are
dangerous. Bisexuals, as well as homosexuals and heterosexuals, must educate themselves about
safer sex practices, such as the use of condoms and dental dams. Safer sex guidelines can be
obtained from health centers and AIDS education and action groups. Bisexuals are joining with
gay people and other affected groups in an effort to fight AIDS by calling for an increase in
research and education, better treatments, and an end to discrimination against people with AIDS
and those perceived to be at risk for AIDS.
Bisexuality and Politics
Because bisexuals do not fall within the norms of traditional sexuality, they experience many of
the same types of discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians. Bisexuals may face
discrimination in employment and housing, and may be victims of anti-gay violence. Efforts are
underway in many areas to pass gay and lesbian rights laws; bisexuals must be included under
these laws as well. Bisexual parents, especially those with non-traditional living arrangements,
are at risk of losing custody of their children, and it is virtually impossible for open bisexuals to
become foster or adoptive parents. Our society must realize that children need a loving and
nurturing home environment, and that the ability to provide this is not determined by sexual
orientation. Bisexuals are an increasingly visible presence within a variety of political
movements. Bisexuals are working with gay men and lesbians on common issues such as foster
care, domestic partnership, and AIDS, as well as fighting discrimination against bisexuals within
the gay and lesbian community. Efforts are underway to promote education and to counter myths
and biased portrayals of bisexuals. Many bisexual groups exist for the purposes of support,
socializing, and activism, and the number is growing. Bisexuals have the potential to become an
important part of the effort to ensure equal rights for all people and to promote an acceptance of
sexual diversity.
* This section is a pamphlet that was prepared by BiCEP (the Bisexual Committee Engaging in Politics) and is published by the
Bisexual Resource Center, and is available on the Bisexual Resource Center website at www.biresource.org.
Biphobia*
Despite education efforts and outreach, there are still many misconceptions and stereotypes
about bisexual people, even among the gay and lesbian community. What does it mean to be
biphobic or misinformed on bisexuality? Here is a list of some of the common myths about
bisexuality to watch out for in yourself and others:
Assuming a young person’s bisexual
identity is a phase before coming to a
“real” lesbian or gay identity.
Expecting bisexual people to get
services, information and education from
heterosexual service agencies for their
“heterosexual side” and then go to gay
and/or lesbian service agencies for their
“homosexual side.”
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Expecting a bisexual to identify as gay
or lesbian when coupled with the “same”
gender.
Thinking bisexuals only have committed
relationships with “opposite” sex/gender
partners.
Assuming that everyone you meet is
either heterosexual or homosexual.
Assuming that bisexuals, if given the
choice, would prefer to be within an
“opposite” gender/sex coupling to reap
the social benefits of a “heterosexual”
pairing.
Thinking bisexual people haven’t made
up their minds.
Using slurs like “fence-sitter” or
“switchhitter.”
Assuming bisexual means “available” or
“promiscuous.”
Thinking that the fight for bisexual
rights hinders the advancement of rights
for gays and lesbians .
Thinking that people identify as bisexual
because it’s “trendy.”
* Adapted from the Bisexual Resource Center pamphlet, “What Does Biphobia Look Like?”
How to Make Your PFLAG Chapter Inclusive of Bisexual
People, Their Families and Friends
Many of you are working to fulfill PFLAG’s mission to “promote the health and well-being of
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, their families and friends” through support,
education, and/or advocacy. The first step in making your chapter bi-inclusive is recognizing
and accepting bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation. The next step is recognizing your current
chapter members’ needs in regards to bisexuality and being prepared for future inquiries or needs
for support, education, and/or advocacy. Here are some examples of steps that can be taken
within your chapter:
Support- having the option of forming a separate support group within the chapter that
deals with bisexuality.
Education- having bisexual resources available, including local organizations and groups
as well as publications available on the topic of bisexuality. Asking a bisexual speaker or
speakers to present to your group is a good way for your chapter to have many questions
answered and give attendees an opportunity to interact with someone who identifies as
bisexual.
Advocacy- coalitions with local bisexual groups or advocacy organizations.
Other- when advertising your local chapter meetings for example you could include
something like this, “Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
Transgendered people meet every…” to ensure people know that bisexual people are
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included in the name. (This is not to be confused as a name change, but simply as a
clarification.)
Bisexuality: Organizations and Publications
Organizations
BiNetUSA
4201 Wilson Blvd., #110-311, Arlington, VA 22203; www.binetusa.org
Bisexual Resource Center
P.O. Box 1026, Boston, MA 02117 USA; 617/424-9595; http://www.biresource.org
Bi Without Borders
PO Box 581307, Minneapolis, MN 55458; http://bisexual.org/g/biwithoutborders/
For statewide bisexual organizations, please refer to the Bisexual Resource Center’s website for
a comprehensive listing.
Books
Bi Any Other Name. Lorraine Hutchins and Lani Ka’ahumanu (eds). Alyson Publications,
1991.
Bisexual Option. Fritz Klein, M.D. Haworth, 1993.
Bisexual Politics: Theories, Queries and Visions. Naomi Tucker, Liz Highleyman and
Rebecca Kaplan (eds). Harrington Park Press, 1995.
Bisexual Resource Guide. Robyn Ochs. Bisexual Resources Center, 2000.
Bisexuality: The Psychology and Politics of an Invisible Minority. Beth Firestein (ed).
Sage Publications, 1996.
Bisexuality in the Lives of Men: Facts and Fiction. Brett Beemyn and Erich Steinman
(eds). Harrington Park Press, 2001.
Bisexuality in the United States. Paula Rodriguez Rust (ed). Columbia University Press,
1999.
Blessed Bi Spirit. Debra Kolodny (ed). Continuum Publishing Group, 2000.
Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. Martin Weinberg, Colin Williams and
Douglas Pryor. Oxford University Press, 1995.
Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life. Marjorie Garber. Simon &
Schuster, 1996.
Women and Bisexuality. Sue George. Scarlett Press, 1993.