Sexual orientation is rarely ever discussed in terms beyond “gay” and “straight.” Gender, too, is frequently only talked about in terms of “male” and “female.” But sexual orientation and gender span so much more. It can be a tricky thing to navigate, and that’s why we’re here.
What is bisexuality?
Bisexuality covers those who are attracted to two or more genders. By this definition, being pansexual also falls under the bisexual umbrella, since pansexuals are generally attracted to most or all genders.
As for what pansexuality is:
Pansexuality is sexual attraction, sexual desire, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes. Self-identified pansexuals may […] refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are insignificant or irrelevant in determining whether they will be sexually attracted to others.
It’s possible for someone to identify as both pansexual and bisexual, as they can overlap.
Still, it’s hard to come up with a hard-and-fast rule for how people identify; what “bisexuality” or “pansexuality” means to each person may differ, so it’s important to accept someone’s identify at face value. They know what they are, just like you know what you are.
I know it might be a bit confusing, since bi means two, so shouldn’t people who are bi only be attracted to men and women? Not necessarily.
The term “bisexual” was actually originally used in 1824 to describe individuals that show both sex organs. It wasn’t until 1914 that it was used to describe someone attracted to two genders. The term was created by a heterosexual to describe bisexuals. However, even the psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi mentioned we should use the word “ambisexual” instead of bisexual — “ambisexual” would describe people who are attracted to someone regardless of gender.
In the 1950s, the term bisexual began building in popularity and the bisexual community is finally defining the term for themselves as being attracted to two or more genders. (The term “switch” was used in the 1950s as well.) Today, acceptable terms for these attractions include: polysexual, omnisexual, ambisexual, pansexual, bisexual.
Is bisexuality new, then?
Despite the term only recently gaining popularity, bisexuality (and indeed pansexuality) has always been around. One of the oldest petroglyphs (at around 3,000 years old) show bisexual activity very clearly. Only then, there wasn’t a term for this. However, some argue that bisexuality is a “new” phenomenon — which, in turn, perpetuates bisexual erasure.
What’s bisexual erasure?
Put simply, bisexual erasure (also sometimes called bisexual invisibility) 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, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists.” Bisexual erasure is a form of biphobia, which is an aversion to bisexual people or pansexual people based on negative stereotypes and irrational fears.
Unfortunately, erasing bisexuality from history isn’t the only place it happens. People today continue to erase today’s bisexuals.
Bisexuality erasure in celebrities
Think about anyone who has come out as bisexual in the media. For example:
- Megan Fox
- Billie Joe Armstrong
- Margaret Cho
- Anna Paquin
- Megan Mullally
- Carrie Brownstein
- David Bowie
- Angelina Jolie
Their sexuality is usually glossed over — often times, the media decides the person is either gay or straight, depending on the relationship they are currently in or the relationship they get into in the future. If a man comes out as bisexual and in the future gets into a relationship with another man, people generally define him as homosexual (such as Alan Cumming). It’s important to note both homosexual and heterosexual people are monosexual and only attracted to one gender. In saying someone is straight or gay based on who they are currently with totally negates an individual’s identity.
Several people throughout have been classified as monosexual, despite identifying as bi. Marlon Brando himself was bisexual and he’s well-known as a “manly” man, it’s no surprise that people would want to erase his sexuality to fit their perception of him. Anne Frank was also bisexual; she wrote about having a love for girls and wanting a girl to date in her diaries. Angelina Jolie is one of the most well-known bisexuals and she still gets marked under a monosexual title because of her long term relationship with Brad Pitt. Yet, in doing this, people are neglecting her identity.
Bisexual erasure in general
When a woman (or someone who identifies as a woman) comes out as bisexual, she’s often seen as promiscuous, a tease, or simply “playing” and will eventually settle down with a man. When a man (or someone who identifies more as a man) comes out as bisexual, he’s generally pushed under the homosexual title. It’s important to look at these claims with a critical eye and recognize that society is still uncomfortable with people who fall outside of a monosexual title. Bisexuality in women is also a major fetish for many heterosexual men.
Bisexuality and media portrayal
In movies, television and books bisexuals are getting more widely recognized — but it’s still such a smaller scope than that of monosexuals.
- In the most recent Bond film, James Bond insinuated he was bisexual.
- A number of characters in “The Vampire Chronicles” by Anne Rice are bisexual.
- Marvel comics, a forerunner of forward thinking, has a number of bisexual characters including Deadpool and Mystique (who can also be seen as non-binary in terms of gender).
- Captain Jack Harkness from the television shows “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood” is pansexual (I feel I should note every main character on “Torchwood” was bisexual!).
- Inara from the cult hit “Firefly” was also bisexual.
But these instances don’t stop bisexuality from being used as the punchline to a joke. Sometimes, it’s even erased in future relationships (when Willow in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” enters into a relationship with another woman, her honest and sincere love from the past is completely erased).
How to avoid bisexual erasure
It seems, slowly, bisexuality is being seen as a very real thing. Here’s how you can help fight erasure and increase visibility in your daily lives:
- Fight against stereotypes that bisexuals don’t exist; that being monosexual is “proper”; that bisexuals are “greedy” or “indecisive”; and bisexuals are promiscuous.
- Remember one relationship doesn’t erase or rewrite how a person identifies.
- When discussing bisexuality, nix the qualifiers. It’s not necessary to say something like, “Angelina Jolie is bisexual BUT she’s with a man right now.” Who Jolie is now doesn’t negate how she identifies.
- Don’t assume you know how someone identifies. They decide.
- Increase your support for the bisexual community by acknowledging that bisexuality exists, both in fiction and in real life.
Bisexuality isn’t new, magical, made-up, or a secret. Bisexuality is real and important to acknowledge.
If you have questions or corrections or want to give a shout out to bisexuals in media (fiction or non-fiction), we welcome it.