When I indicate that I am bisexual on online dating profiles, I reliably get messages from straight men looking for kinky sexual adventures and hetero-couples looking for their cute, bi-female “unicorn.” There is an assumption of being sex-crazed because you are attracted to a wider array of genders/sexes. I had a former boss spin my “coming out” as an opportunity to discuss sexual topics with me and ultimately make a sexual advance on me. I admittedly do have a greater sexual appetite than others, I think, but this doesn’t mean, especially at this point in my life, that I need or want to have polyamorous sexcapades to satisfy my desires for sexual and emotional intimacy. How do I claim bisexuality without being a freak?
–Not a Freak, Just Bi
When we find ourselves born into marginalized groups that people have assumptions about (read: anybody who isn’t straight, male, wealthy, conventionally attractive and white) we must ask ourselves how much we want to be “normal” and how much we want to advocate for the rights of our particular group. For those of us who are in marginalized groups it’s not usually a choice to “deal” with the politics of our identity, rather it’s a task forced upon us.
As Colette, a French author and one of history’s notable bisexuals (though she probably wouldn’t have called herself that) wrote in a letter to her (imaginary) friend Valentine who wouldn’t come around to her particular sexual preferences, “There are still moments when I am weak enough to want to make you understand me, to grab that hard little head of yours by its golden hair—real or false—and give it a good hard knock, to shake loose all its prejudices, all the bits and pieces of ideas, the debris of principles which, all together, make such an immoral fuss inside it.” (From “A Letter” in The Collected Stories of Colette.)
We can’t change people’s assumptions about us, but perhaps we can influence them.
Our culture has a long way to go in terms of accepting bisexual people as having equivalent sexual appetites as others. Given that, I’ll advise you on how to present yourself in ways that minimize unwanted contact and how to initiate conversations that assert your right to be treated just like everybody else.
It’s a tricky line to walk, and I don’t want you to feel that you have to hide any part of yourself in any context. However, once you’ve gotten to the point of wanting to grab people’s heads and knock them around, as with Colette, it’s usually time to take action.
KEEP IT OFFLINE
One approach to avoiding the kind of contact you’re talking about is to keep your bisexuality offline. Seeing the word “bisexual” on an online profile is much different than meeting somebody, having a conversation and eventually (sooner or later) discovering that they are interested in sleeping with people of myriad gender orientations. It’s easier to project your misguided assumptions onto two checkboxes than it is onto somebody’s face. You might try identifying as straight sometimes and lesbian at others online. Beware! This tactic has the potential to upset other lesbian or straight people that you connect with and who perhaps would prefer not to be involved with somebody bisexual. It also plays into the whole “choosing sides” battle that bisexuals have had to fight for years, which isn’t fair. However, I do believe that you have the right to be treated with respect online, and in the absence of a better solution you may want try it out.
If you’ve been having a good conversation with somebody (virtually or IRL), and they start making unwanted passes at you after you disclose that you’re bisexual, I would opt for frankness. Say: “Hey I was having a nice conversation with you about 15 minutes ago, and then after I told you about my ex-girlfriend you seem to have taken this in another direction. Could we back up to how we were talking to each other before?” When that person is your boss, that’s a whole other story. Check out your rights…
CANNED RESPONSES FOR UNWANTED INTERNET ADVANCES
When you are online and identify as bisexual you have the right to school people respectfully about your desires and inclinations, especially if their opening line is a sexual advance. See below for your canned responses.
Straight men looking for adventures
“Hi. As you can see from my profile, I’m not interested in kinky stuff. Not sure how you got that impression, but please don’t contact me. Have a nice day!”
Hetero couples looking for their cute, bi-female unicorn “Hi. As you can see on my profile, I’m not interested in group sex. Thanks! - Not a Unicorn”
Your boss making a sexual advance
“Excuse me. I have an appointment with HR.”
CONVERSATIONS ABOUT YOUR BISEXUALITY
If somebody who you are interested in wants to have a conversation about whether you have a stronger appetite for sex because of your bisexuality I suggest you proceed carefully, in the form of an accessible extended metaphor.
YOU: Do you prefer EITHER chocolate ice cream OR vanilla ice cream?
YOU: And if you met somebody who liked chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream the same amount would you assume that they liked ice cream more than you?
THEM: Yes. [Or maybe no, in which case, point proven.]
YOU: Would you also assume that they liked ALL the flavors of ice cream including maple walnut?
THEM: Probably not.
YOU: Exactly! Probably, they, like you, enjoy some flavors but not others. What kinds they enjoy and to what extent are a matter of personal preference. Just because they enjoy both chocolate and vanilla ice cream doesn’t mean it has to be the only thing that they talk about. However, ice cream is generally a great thing that a lot of people like, and if you’re cool and want to talk about ice cream with an open mind and sensitive palate and an understanding that some ice cream flavors get more airtime than others due to certain sociological constructs, then by all means, let’s talk.
There will be lots of silly conversations, virtual “Valentines” (a la Colette), and real life ridiculousness in your dating life. People who don’t understand you, misrepresent you and mistake your personal sexual preference for an outsized libido seem to haunt bisexual people everywhere. My hope is that these can be productive misunderstandings. As Colette writes at the end of her letter to Valentine, “We will never understand one another, my friend. And I hope each of us will search, all our lives, for the other, with aggressive, unselfish tenderness.” Misunderstanding creates a rift, and thus an opportunity that one can take, perhaps over ice cream.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at email@example.com or follow her @kathkathcoop.