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Bisexuality

Updated: Feb 1


What is Bisexuality?


Bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders.


Although bisexuality is commonly misunderstood as an attraction to "men and women," in reality, the term is far more inclusive!



The Bi+ Umbrella

Many sexualities are often considered subgroups of bisexuality. That's why we refer to bisexuality as an "umbrella term." Sexualities that fall under the umbrella include:


  • Pansexuality - Attraction all gender, or attraction regardless of gender

  • Omnisexuality - Attraction to all genders

  • Polysexuality - Attraction to multiple genders


While these may sound confusingly similar to bisexuality, it’s important to remember that the term(s) a person chooses to use is something personal to them, and that no one term is more valid than the other. Ultimately, all of these terms signify attraction to more than one gender.


To learn more about these various identities in-depth, check out our Bi+ Umbrella post.


Bisexual History


Bisexuality has been documented in humans—and animals!—throughout history.


In 1859, the word bisexual was first used, and its original meaning had nothing to do with sexual orientation. Anatomist Robert Bentley Todd was the first to use the word in its original definition: someone with male and female sex characteristics, which we now know as intersex. It wasn’t until 1892 that the modern use of the word was found in the book Psychopathia Sexualis


Of course, bisexuality didn’t just pop up when the term was first coined. Forms of bisexuality have been apparent across cultures throughout history. In both ancient Japanese and Greek culture, there were several contexts where relationships between men were not only encouraged but expected. The admittedly problematic ideal was for a young man to be mentored and trained by an older man, eventually leading to a relationship. This bond and wisdom would be lifelong, but the relationship would eventually end when the young man found a wife later on.


People who experienced attraction to more than one gender typically didn’t label themselves, primarily because there was no word to describe this specific experience. Ancient texts didn’t differentiate bisexuality from homosexuality.


In Western culture, bisexuality was just as condemned as homosexuality. The before-mentioned book, Psychopathia Sexualis, was one of the first works on homosexuality/bisexuality in men. It concluded that these were "mental disorders" caused by degenerate heredity. The U.S. treated bisexuality as a disorder until the declassification of homosexuality as a disorder in the 1970s. Treatment for this “disorder” would include castration, shock therapy, and other means to make patients heterosexual.


One influential researcher was biologist Alfred Kinsley. Kinsley was the first to create a scale that measured the nuance of sexuality. The self-named Kinsley scale categorized sexuality from the numbers 0-6, 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. He found that a large group of people experienced a mix of both types of attraction. He also criticized other researchers for believing you can only be straight or gay. His research was immense towards the recognition of nuanced sexuality.





Unfortunately, much of history is doused in misogynistic and male-focused perspectives. This is the same case for bisexual history, which makes the search for female queer experiences difficult to find. 


Bisexual Issues


Even though bisexuality has been around for a very, very long time, there are still problems bisexual people face.


Misconceptions

  • Bisexuals are really either gay or straight and just need to figure things out

  • Bisexual women are just straight girls looking for attention

  • Bisexual guys are just confused gay men

  • Bisexuality is just a phasea transition between straight and gay

  • Bisexuals are only attracted to men and women and do not feel attracted to non-binary, transgender, or gender-non-confirming individuals

  • Bisexuals are more likely to cheat or sleep around because they are attracted to multiple genders

  • Bisexuals stop being bisexual once they engage romantically or sexually with someone of the opposite/a different gender


Bierasure


Also known as bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility, this is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, news media, and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bierasure can include the belief that bisexuality itself does not exist.


According to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, the lack of acceptance towards bisexuality plagues not only straight individuals but also lesbian women and gay men. Their study found that participants often used the words “confused,” “different,” and “experimental” to describe bisexual people.


Biphobia


Bisexuality has historically struggled to be taken seriously in queer and heterosexual spaces. In the 1970s, there were times when The Gay Liberation Front treated bisexual people as straight, which led them to edge bi+ people out of the organization and associate them with regressive politics. While this was happening, bi people were still being prosecuted nearly the same as homosexual people and were viewed as promiscuous by the general public. 


While bi acceptance has progressed in the past decades, many of these ideas that invalidate bisexuality are still around. It's commonly heard from both straight and gay people that bisexuality is just a phase.


Many bi+ people feel they need to prove their bisexuality for fear of not being seen as queer enough. There are concepts such as “straight passing” that increase this anxiety. Straight passing is a privilege some queer people believe bi+ people have. It’s usually referred to when a bisexual person is in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender. The term assumes it’s a positive thing to be seen as straight, but it can be the opposite. Bi+ people don’t want to hide their identities; they want to take pride in them. Invisibility or passing as straight is not something openly queer people desire. 


Bisexual Symbols


Bisexual Flag


A more common symbol of bisexuality today is the bisexual pride flag, first designed by Michael Page in 1998. It has a large magenta stripe at the top, a large blue stripe at the bottom, and a thinner lavender stripe in the middle.




The original interpretation of these colors was based on the gender binary, or the assumption that bisexuals are attracted to just men and women. Today, most people interpret these colors as:


Pink - Same-gender attraction

Blue - Attraction to other genders

Purple - Blend of both same- and other-gender attraction


Some might argue that even this updated perspective is less inclusive than it should be. That's why there are no "rules" for interpreting these colors; each person can decide the meaning for themselves according to their own truth.


Triangle Badges


Some people who identify as bisexual use a derivative of the pink triangle, one of the first symbols of homosexuality, which were forced upon gay and lesbian individuals in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.



Homosexual men were required to wear an inverted pink triangle, while those who were homosexual and Jewish had to wear an inverted pink triangle overlapping a yellow triangle. When these symbols were reclaimed by some gay men in the decades that followed, some bisexual men and women began using a variation that added a blue triangle, forming purple where the two overlap.


Pride Symbol

The bi pride symbol consists of interlocking female, male, and infinity symbols, with a circle linking them together in the middle.





 

References


Anderson, L., File, T., Marshall, J., Mcelrath, K., & Scherer, Z. (2021, November 4). New Household Pulse Survey data reveal differences between LGBT and Non-LGBT respondents during COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/11/census-bureau-survey-explores-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity.html


Boehringer, S. (2021, September 7). Female Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome (1st ed.). Routledge.

Considerable gender, racial and sexuality differences exist in attitudes toward bisexuality. Graduate School of Public Health. (2013, November 5). https://www.publichealth.pitt.edu/news/details/articleid/1568/considerable-gender-racial-and-sexuality-differences-exist-in-attitudes-toward-bisexuality. 


Erasure of bisexuality. GLAAD. (2014, September 21). https://www.glaad.org/bisexual/bierasure.


GSS data Explorer: NORC at the University of Chicago. GSS Data Explorer | NORC at the University of Chicago. (2018). https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/trends/Gender%20&%20Marriage?measure=sexornt.


Hydzik, A., McGrath, C., & Zellner, W. (2013, November 5). Considerable gender, racial and sexuality differences in attitudes toward bisexuality. EurekAlert! https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/461313


Jones, J. M. (2021, February 24). LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate. Gallup.com. https://news.gallup.com/poll/329708/lgbt-identification-rises-latest-estimate.aspx.


Oxford University. (n.d.). Bisexual Meaning. Lexico Dictionaries. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/bisexual.


Page, M. (1999, December 5). The History of the Bi Pride Flag. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20010801185547/http://biflag.com/Activism.asp


Thorpe, J. R. (2014, September 23). A Brief History Of Bisexuality, From Ancient Greece and The Kinsey Scale To Lindsay Lohan. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/articles/40282-a-brief-history-of-bisexuality-from-ancient-greece-and-the-kinsey-scale-to-lindsay-lohan


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (n.d.). CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM IN NAZI CONCENTRATION CAMPS. Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/classification-system-in-nazi-concentration-camps


Zane, Z. (2021, June 15). 6 facts you never knew about the BISEXUAL FLAG. Gay Pride - LGBT & Queer Voices. https://www.pride.com/bisexual/2015/5/15/6-facts-you-never-knew-about-bisexual-flag-yes-there-one

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