“So, you’re a… lesbian? Or just sometimes?”
In the new film Appropriate Behavior, bisexual protagonist Shirin—played by writer/director Desiree Akhavan—has a conversation with her brother about her romantic life that goes like this:
“Maxine and I were in a relationship.”
“So you’re a lesbian?”
“I was pretty into all the guys I was with so I think I’m bisexual.”
“And that’s a thing?”
Yes, it’s a thing. But it’s also many different things.
In the film, Shirin’s brother goes on to ask whether she needs to come out to her parents, now that her lesbian relationship is over. But his fictional ignorance reflects so much real-life ignorance.
Last year, in Slate’s Dear Prudence column, Emily Yoffe advised a bisexual woman in a monogamous marriage to a man against disclosing her sexual orientation—apparently bisexuality should only be made public when it’s being “acted on”—in bed.
When True Blood star Anna Paquin told Larry King last year that she was marrying a man, he asked, “Are you a non-practising bisexual?” That question—whether bisexuality exists—along with its partner in ignorance—the insistence that bisexuality can only mean actively sleeping with men and women simultaneously, or at least, trying to—are things bisexual women confront on a regular basis.
While bisexuals are gaining political ground and visibility — Congress has its first openly bisexual member, Representative Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), and in 2013, there was a White House roundtable on bisexuality—not everyone gets it.
The dangerous, false assumption about bisexuality being strictly about both-sexes-in-bed is used in former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s book God, Guns, Grits and Gravy to argue against same-sex marriage.
“Shouldn’t a bisexual be able to have both a male and female spouse?” he asked. (Really.)
It’s the stereotype that apparently will not die.
This may sound like it’s about semantics but for many women, the myths around bisexuality have an impact on how their lives and relationships play out.
Dorianne Emmerton, 36, who’s been out as bisexual for half her life, says the most pernicious misconception about bi women is “that we don’t exist. It used to be that we were some sort of traitor to sisterhood if we considered the idea of dick, but now I see that on the same invisibilisation spectrum.
When women think that, it’s because they expect that we will end up with a man, because no one is really bi; we’re just straight girls experimenting, especially just to attract the attention of men.” This lack of visibility not only makes it hard for non-bisexuals (a.k.a. monosexuals) to understand bisexuality, but for bisexuals themselves to come to terms with their sexuality.