You can find the Irish version of this article here.
There seems to be a myth that bisexual people have the best of both worlds, provided their attraction to men and women simultaneously. Combining my own personal experience with the opinions of others who identify with bisexuality, I not only strongly oppose this myth but feel a need to express the contrary. Even in 2022, stigma and stereotypes still exist; those who identify as bisexual in actuality are often demonised, face homophobia and/or are fetishized by heterosexual (and even homosexual) men and women.
It is vital to dispel these myths and prejudices, and this can be achieved through examining the modes of stigma that bisexual people face throughout their life by confronting comments often made regarding their sexuality.
“They are doing it for attention”, “They don’t want to admit they are gay”, “They aren’t capable of serious relationships”, “They just want to sleep with everyone”.
Bisexual people are met with remarks like these when it comes to their sexual preferences. All of these comments are extremely homophobic and unfortunately far too common. These phrases demonise the bisexual person as an attention-seeking liar or an impulsive sex maniac, which in turn creates a stereotype that bisexual people are disloyal partners or are incapable of engaging in long-term or monogamous relationships.
“When directed at those within the bisexual community, remarks regarding lack of assurance on someone’s sexuality are nothing short of ignorant.”
“You’re confused”, “But I’ve never seen you with a boy/girl”, “When did you decide? Are you sure?”
Sexuality can be confusing, there’s no doubt about it — but these questions are never posed to someone who identifies as heterosexual. When directed at those within the bisexual community, remarks regarding lack of assurance on someone’s sexuality are nothing short of ignorant. They also imply that sexuality is a choice and that it can be measured by assuming one’s sexual experience.
“I bet I could change your mind”, “Can I join?”, “You don’t act/look bisexual…”
Objectifying comments with fetishisation in mind can lead someone to question their sexuality, and in turn their entire identity. They also suggest that sexual orientation has a specific look or set of manners that accompany it. These stereotypes are not only frustrating for the individual but are borderline disgusting, and can be uncomfortable for someone to hear when it comes to their sexual preference. It also puts the person under a pressure to look and act a certain way to be validated, instead of promoting a variety of bisexual identification and expression.
I asked a selection of people living in Dublin—what one could consider to be a rather progressive and liberal capital city—aged between 18 and 24 about their experiences with openly identifying as bisexual. They were candid and explicit in their personal feelings regarding the topic.
One girl expressed how bisexual stigma often makes her doubt herself and the legitimacy of her sexual orientation, claiming: “I feel like people don’t take my sexuality seriously because I’ve never slept with a girl.”
Many women from the group in particular mentioned how they felt their sexual identity labelled them as a target for men to objectify and fetishise, with several saying: “I’ve been sexualised my entire life; I just want a serious relationship” and “when men find out I’m bisexual they always ask if we can have a threesome with another girl.”
Multiple members from the group recounted times when partners and strangers alike had made them feel as though their bodies and desires only existed to play into the sexual satisfaction of others. Someone said that they “had friends make homophobic comments and then try to kiss me at parties.” This occurrence seemed to be a common experience among the group, with another member sheepishly admitting they too “had mates ask to do things with me but promise not to tell anyone after, I hate feeling like an experiment or a secret.”
Most men from the group spoke about feeling a need to prove or justify their sexuality, with one member revealed his frustration in saying that “People don’t take my relationships with women seriously, they think I’m afraid to come out as ‘fully gay’.”
“Are we really as progressive a country as we think if we still feed into the stigmas that the bisexual person is hopelessly attracted to everyone they befriend?”
Some of those discussing bisexuality eloborated on their personal experiences. One girl described a sleepover from her secondary school years: “I was on a sleepover with a friend, we were only 15. We were lying in bed on our phones like we did every sleepover. She told me someone in school told her I was bisexual and then asked me if it was true. I admitted it was and asked if it bothered her. She said no but that night for the first time she slept on the couch. She also never had me over for a sleepover again. She completely stopped talking to me shortly after.” This is a prime example of the passive homophobia that Ireland endorses. Are we really as progressive a country as we think if we still feed into the stigmas that the bisexual person is hopelessly attracted to everyone they befriend? This seemingly harmless narrative has catastrophic effects for the sex life of the bisexual individual; their sex life is overshadowed by sexual fantasies and stereotypes, leaving no room for a genuine romantic or sensual connection with their partner and completely dismissing their own sexual needs as they become a sexual object instead of a sexual being like their partner.
Another member from the group told her tragic story: “Last summer there was this big party. One of my friends was flirting with me. I remember being shocked; I really fancied her at the time but never expressed it assuming she was straight. After a while of back-and-forth flirting she finally kissed me and I was thrilled until later that night our friends came up and told me she was only doing it to get her ex-boyfriend’s attention. I asked her if it was true. She said that it was, but I shouldn’t care because at least I got to kiss her.”
The bisexual person is often labelled as promiscuous, backed by the strong stereotype of the sexual persuasion of heterosexual friends. Not only does this demonise the bisexual person but it also transfers the blame from the heterosexual opportunist to the bisexual target. Stories such as this are often twisted, painting the bisexual person out to be a womanizer or sexual deviant when the reality is that opportunism is what lies at the other end of the homophobia spectrum.
“How can the bisexual individuals take pride in who they are when they are shamed and blamed by people within their own community on top of facing both passive and active homophobia from heterosexuals?”
Others in the group also recounted stories of times they were used by heterosexual people as an instrument to extract jealousy or attention from voyageurs. The men in the group often expressed sentiments of secrecy and shame in their sexual encounters. One guy said: “After spending the night with this guy, I asked him where he saw things going from here. With complete apathy he told me that although he fancied me back, he would never be seen in public with another guy and asked if we could just sleep together from time to time.” How can the bisexual individuals take pride in who they are when they are shamed and blamed by people within their own community on top of facing both passive and active homophobia from heterosexuals? How can they engage in a healthy romantic relationship or respectful sexual relationship when they find themselves being taken advantage of and ultimately alienated?
Enough is enough. Stigma and stereotypes relating to bisexuality need to be abolished in Ireland; these jokes and supposedly harmless stories not only destroy the security and spirit of the bisexual person, but it teaches the younger generations in Ireland that abuse, manipulation and exclusion are acceptable if delivered through the means of a joke or if it is brushed over by being labelled as a norm in our country.
Bisexuality strays away from the idea of having the best of both worlds; instead, many feel as though they are on a different planet altogether. This planet is lonely — people don’t believe you but instead objectify you and demand justification or evidence of your sexual orientation. No one should ever have to prove or defend their sexuality, certainly not in this day and age. These stigmas and stereotypes only feed the outdated and perverted narrative that the bisexual exists to sexually satisfy others and not to have meaningful relationships of their own. Demonisation, ignorance and fetishization all fall under the umbrella of homophobia. Bisexuality should be allowed to exist as a valid sexuality, not a shameful conundrum.