Putting the B in LGBTQIA+: A quick guide to understanding bisexuality
All the letters in the LGBTQIA+ family have their own unique challenges – and being bisexual is no different. If you identify as bisexual, you may have faced some of the challenges that come with that identification. Bi erasure, not feeling gay or straight enough, and a general lack of understanding can all leave you feeling down. In fact, the bisexual community faces higher rates of anxiety and depression than the straight, gay and lesbian communities.
This quick guide provides some easy tips for handling the challenges of being bisexual. We’ve also included some info to help you smash some of the common myths about bisexuality.
What is bisexuality?
The Bisexual Resource Centre defines bisexuality broadly as ‘people who experience physical, emotional, sexual, and romantic attraction to people of more than one gender’. The term has become an umbrella for a few different orientations, including pansexual, omnisexual and sexually fluid. Identifying as bisexual doesn’t mean you have to have sexual or romantic experiences with multiple genders – just being attracted is enough.
The bisexual community faces a lot of misunderstanding – from the straight and queer communities equally. Because of this, there are a few myths about what it really means to be bisexual. So, let’s break them down and debunk them once and for all.
1. Bisexuality isn’t ‘just a phase’
While your sexual identity may change over the course of your life, nothing is ever ‘just a phase’. Labelling it that way just makes it seem like it’s not real and takes away from your experience. Sexual identities aren’t fixed, and changing who you’re attracted to doesn’t erase who you were before.
2. Bisexual people aren’t just indecisive
Identifying as bisexual doesn’t mean you can’t decide whether you’re gay, lesbian or straight. You wouldn’t accuse someone who likes both ice cream and pizza of being indecisive, so why should it be any different for sexuality?
3. Bisexuality isn’t easier than being gay or lesbian
The challenges that face the bisexual community are unique. But while they’re different from those faced by other parts of the queer community, they’re no better or worse.
4. Bisexual people don’t become straight or homosexual when they’re in a relationship
If you identify as bisexual and you’re in a same-sex relationship, that doesn’t make you homosexual. The same goes for being in a heterosexual relationship: it doesn’t make you straight. You can still be bisexual either way. Your family and friends and lovers might assume your sexuality based on the gender of your partner, but those assumptions will be wrong.
The American actor Stephanie Beatriz explains: "To be bi is a continual series of coming-out moments… You’ll come out again and again and again to every person you’ll ever date…" Check out what she’s got to say here.
A lot of these myths come from simple misunderstandings, or from trying to fit people into neat boxes. As with most things in life, bisexuality is much more complex than that. It’s important to understand that identity and sexuality are fluid and can change at any time – so, don’t feel the need to define yourself and make it permanent.
Dealing with bi erasure and biphobia
Bi erasure is the incorrect belief that bisexuality isn’t a real thing. A lot of people, from both the straight and LGBTQIA+ communities, can get caught up in the myths we’ve debunked above. Bisexual people can sometimes feel that when they’re in a relationship, their attraction to other genders is questioned or ignored.
Biphobia refers to general discrimination against anyone who is bisexual. Even though they represent the largest group within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, bisexual people experience high rates of discrimination by both the straight and queer communities. This discrimination could be obvious, in the form of biphobic comments, or it may be less obvious, such as feeling you’re being left out of communities because of your partner’s gender.
To be bi is a continual series of coming-out moments… You’ll come out again and again and again to every person you’ll ever date.
Experiencing bi erasure and biphobia can really take its toll on your mental health. Feeling like you don’t belong, or that you’re not accepted or understood, or that you’re being treated differently because of your bisexuality is common, but that doesn’t make it okay.
If you’ve had an experience like this, and want to know how to handle it proactively, here are some tips:
- Take time out from the situation or person who’s made you feel this way. You’re the most important person in this, so make sure you take care of your mental health. You don’t have to cop poor treatment or discrimination, so feel free to remove yourself from any situation that makes you feel bad.
- Engage with people who understand and support you. Whether it’s family and friends, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community online, there are people who have your back. Let them celebrate what makes you, you. Check out our tips below for getting involved with the LGBTQIA+ community.
- While it’s not your responsibility to educate the people around you, having a respectful conversation with someone who’s upset you might help. Explain, from your point of view, why what they’ve said or done is hurtful even if they didn’t intend it to be and were trying to do the right thing. Taking steps to clear up any confusion or misunderstanding may help change that person’s behaviour towards you for the better and also make you feel more understood and connected to the people around you.
Your support options
If you identify as bisexual, there are people and organisations out there to help you.
- The Bisexual Resource Centre has been supporting the bisexual community since the 1980s. Their amazing website is full of helpful information to help you explore your sexuality, tips for how to talk about it with friends and family, and ways to connect with other parts of the LGBTQIA+ world.
- QLife is an Australian organisation working with all parts of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. They’ve got an excellent online forum to help you connect with other bisexual young people, and great resources to support you while you explore your sexual identity.
- Twenty10, an organisation supporting the LGBTQIA+ community in NSW, has great resources, including how to talk to friends and family about your sexuality.
For some great tips on how to talk to a trusted person about your sexuality, check out our piece on sexual identity here.
Be part of the family
The LGBTQIA+ community is an amazingly supportive place to be a part of – and that includes as a bisexual person. Joining online support groups, taking part in the forums, or even heading to an IRL meet-up is a great way to feel connected and supported as you explore your sexual identity.
To feel even more connected to the wider bisexual community, why not check out the Bi+ Visibility #Bseen campaign. These guys encourage bisexual peeps to upload selfies with the hashtag #BeSeen – to show just how big and diverse the bisexual family really is.
However you choose to identify, and however you share it with the world, remember that you’re not alone. Keep exploring your sexual identity and the LGBTQIA+ community, and sharing your experiences with the people you love.
What can I do now?
- Watch Grace’s story of coming out to her family as bisexual.
- Jump into our forums to chat to other young people about sexual identity.
- If you feel like you need more support, check out these great LGBTQIA+ support services.