For too many people, bisexuality is nothing more than the “B” they ignore in the acronym LGBTQ–the most common phrase used to refer to non-heterosexual identities—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Clustering these identities together serves some practical organizational and political purposes but this grouping can also diminish the uniqueness of the groups under the umbrella.
For bisexuals, myths about their “medium” identity has made traversing the social politics of both the gay and lesbian and heterosexual worlds twice as challenging. Many bisexuals feel that their identity is ignored altogether; others are investing in scientific studies to prove that they exist, as the New York Times magazine wrote about last year, and a new wave of bi-positive scholarship is now emerging.
In 2012 researchers from the United Kingdom offered a helpful corrective to those who may harbor misconceptions about bi identity, “The Bisexuality Report: Bisexual Inclusion in LGBT Equality and Diversity.” It’s crucial reading for anyone who’s confused about what being bisexual means or maybe even a bit biphobic.
Here’s a summary of the top 10 tips for respectful interactions with our bi brothers and sisters:
1. Remember: bisexuality does not mean someone is just “kind of gay.” Bisexuality is a distinct sexual orientation, and the experiences of bisexual people are different from those of straight, lesbian, and gay people.
2. In general, bisexual means an attraction to more than one gender. Some bisexual people consider their sexuality to be fluid over time. Other bisexuals challenge the belief that there are only two genders and that people are attracted to just one or both.
3. Many people who feel bisexual will never act bisexual. And lot of people who have “behaved bi-ly” a number of times will never outwardly identity as bisexual. This makes accurately quantifying the bisexual population very tricky.
4. Biphobia is distinct from homophobia. Many bisexuals feel discriminated against both by the dominant straight culture and from within the LGBTQ community.
5. “Quit sitting on the fence” and “make up your mind” are two things you should never say to bisexuals. Try to understand gender and sexuality as spectrums, not binaries.
6. Don’t question a person’s sexuality based on their current partnership, and don’t deny someone’s bisexuality because he or she hasn’t slept with more than one gender. You wouldn’t question a straight virgin’s straightness, would you?
7. Bisexuals interviewed during the study admitted to be being openly stereotyped as greedy, promiscuous, incapable of monogamy, and unable to make decisions. Many reported this to be particularly detrimental in working environments, which don’t usually offer bisexual-specific support and services.
8. Because biphobia often goes unnoticed, it can be considered less serious than homophobia. This isn’t true. Don’t mock bisexuality and don’t ask bisexuals random, intrusive questions about their sex lives.
9. Public displays of affection between bisexual women are not usually intended to titillate men. If you’re a man who likes women who like women, check yourself before assuming those women also like you.
10. Get rid of your “gold star” complex. Within the LGBTQ community, “gold star” means a gay or lesbian who hasn’t been with anyone from the “other” gender. This can send the message to bisexuals that they’re “tainted.” For example, bisexual actress Megan Fox claims she would “never sleep with a girl who had slept with a man” because “men are so dirty.” But she’s married to a man. It’s 2015, stop with your “gold star” prejudice, even if it feels like a joke to you.