What makes a bisexual?

This originally appeared in BCN issue 114.

It’s one of the big questions in our community – what are we exactly? Bisexuality is still a contested identity, our existence itself regarded with scepticism and disbelief.

The dictionary definition of “bisexual” is very short. It generally says “sexually attracted to both men and women”.

That seems simple enough, but that’s not complicated enough for some, and not simple enough for me.

Other people want to make bisexuality more complicated. They add in words to make the definition longer. Every word added excludes someone.

This is the big add in, one that was never in the dictionary and which even many bisexual people think stops them being “real” or “proper” bisexuals. I wonder if it’s all Kinsey’s unwitting fault – people calling the middle of his scale “bisexual” when it’s not meant to be anything of the sort. The Kinsey scale wasn’t intended to measure attraction but sexual experience: a virgin isn’t on the scale and your first fuck puts you at one of the extremes. People refer to the middle as being bisexual, but what sex you’ve had isn’t always a reliable indication of who you’re attracted to.

You don’t have to be equally attracted to anyone. For many bisexuals the things they find are turn-ons aren’t gender specific, so it’s not about men and women as such. I really like shaved heads, for example, and rubber.

I say I say I say: what do you call a bisexual who’s married with children?
I don’t know, what do you call a bisexual who’s married with children?
Well, in my case, Marcus will suffice.
There’s this idea that bisexuality is “until you settle down”, with some fairly unpleasant assumptions set into it. Bisexuality is seen as hyper-sexualised, so being bi is about fucking a lot (and if you’re not, you’re inadequate as a bisexual, supposedly). And when you start a monogamous relationship, that’s growing up and settling down – because thinking you can be bisexual is childish, and people in committed relationships are only ever attracted to their partners.
What utter rubbish! I think this also leaks into “bisexuals can’t be faithful” – the idea that if you’re attracted to more than one gender then you must need have to sleep around. But as I point out when I do bi-awareness training: people attracted to blondes don’t feel obliged to cheat with brunettes. Oh sure, cheaters gonna cheat – but bisexuality is about attraction, not activity.

Adding in words excludes people. Why would anyone want to do that? Because it keeps our numbers down if we buy into it. While the gay and straight communities promote the idea that no-one’s bisexual really because if you’re not 50/50 then you’re on one of their teams.

How can we rectify this? By not accepting their definitions. And we can go further, become more inclusive by defining the word in a way that better reflects us. Why should we stress about conforming to a definition written by others? I’m tired of hearing that the dictionary definition is set in stone. We didn’t write that!

What would I take out?

“Both” is a list ender and a bit outdated with a 21st Century view of gender, let me explain:

Imagine I’m a greengrocer (go on, I’ll wait). You come into my shop and ask me for a banana and an apple. I’ll bag those up for you (I’m a nice greengrocer, apparently) and then maybe ask you if you want anything else – I’ve got a nice pear? (nice but saucy, it seems). But if you came in and said “I want both an apple and a banana” then I would probably just get you those and tell you how much that comes to. You seem to know your mind. “Both” says this is a list of two.
Without the “both” the dictionary definition would still work, and it’d be open to more inclusion. Some people are attracted to more than men and women, some to men and women, others to mainly one and a few select examples of the other. This is why the Bisexual Index* champions the definition of “attraction to more than one gender”.

“Sexually attracted to both men and women! Why, that’s everyone! Sluts!”
I’m sure many of you will have encountered that attitude but it’s very silly. No-one thinks all gay and straight people are attracted to all the members of their fancied genders. We should be allowed to be more discerning too!

And anyway, I’m generally not sexually attracted to men or women. I’m into all sorts of things, but a person being a man or a woman isn’t a turn-on. Certainly not in the same way it’s a turn off to a gay or straight person. I’m never going to think “Wow, Zie is really sexy, shame they’re a ____” because what turns me off isn’t gender. It’s generally things like bad teeth or really annoying laughs or politics. I think one of the problems people who aren’t bi have with picturing how we see the world is that they have this firmly installed sense of gender as an exclusion. It’s why when some people find out the person they’re lusting after isn’t the sex they thought they get really weird about it. In many ways I think a better definition of bisexuality would be “not unattracted on the basis of gender” for this reason, only it’s a really awkward wording. As long as “heterosexual” and “homosexual” have to be framed in gender terms, bisexuality will continue to be.

So that’s what makes me bisexual, I guess. And why I like the definition “attracted to more than one gender” for our community.

What makes you bisexual is for you to decide. But if you see yourself reflected in that definition, I think you’ve every right to proudly wear the label.


*  Find out more online:     www.bisexualindex.org.uk