Bisexual Conversations 101
I once got kicked off a Facebook page for suggesting people be nice to each other. True story! I had a lot to learn.
I’d proposed that we politely educate those who unknowingly use politically incorrect terms or make comments they don’t realize are offensive. By being a bit insistent about this idea after others had balked at the suggestion, I got in so much trouble that I was actually accused of being oppressive myself. It was a harsh but effective way to learn a lesson.
The lesson I’d yet to absorb, is that people who tend to be subjected to prejudice, ignorance, and condemnation should never be expected to explain why something is oppressive, disturbing, or just plain wrong. Those who are already experiencing distress from being repeatedly stigmatized and discriminated against, shouldn’t have to take on the added burden of educating others.
It’s all fine and well when someone specifically wants to share information. For example, in writing this piece, I have made a decision to do just that.
It’s not a bisexual person’s responsibility to educate anyone about bisexuality; it’s a person’s responsibility to educate themselves, and to do so before bringing their voice to a discussion. This is true even for those who are themselves bisexual.
So, in wanting to make it easier for a person to do just that, to learn terminology and some basics about bisexual issues, so that they can come to bisexual spaces and constructively contribute, I’ve put this guide together.
Though GLAAD has published a media guide for bisexuality, and there is much helpful information and definitions in there, as well as in other bisexual resources (see links in and at end of article), there is additional nuanced information a person should know about bisexual conversations that are not comprehensively covered in these resources. For example, specific language and on-going dialogues likely to be found on social media.
This handy bisexual primer is also really useful for just making sure a person can actually understand the conversations taking place when they make an initial foray into bisexual spaces. Otherwise, they might be scratching their head and going cross-eyed when they come across comments such as, “I’m bi-gender and in a MOM with a cis guy who’s very active in a GGGG organization where I feel constantly erased and subjected to microaggressions including denial of monosexual privilege.”
This guide can also be handy as a tool for bisexual people wanting to educate friends and families when coming out to them, or for those wanting to know how to be good allies to bi people.
Keep in mind this list, and these definitions, are meant to be an introduction, and it’s advised that one explore the links within and at the end of this blog for a more truly informed knowledge base.
It’s also very important to note that one of the beautiful things about the English language is that words evolve and often have somewhat different definitions in different areas/groups/time-periods.
Bisexual is defined as being attracted to more than one gender, or being attracted one’s own gender and other gender(s).
Trigger warning (TW) is used at the beginning of any content that might tend to cause distress for those reading it. TW is often followed by a word or phrase referencing what may be unsettling, such as rape, self-harm, or biphobia.
ABB stands for “anything but bisexual.” This is used to express an unwillingness to use the term bisexual — to describe oneself or others — despite bisexual being the term that most closely fits the attractions in question, and using instead any one of an array of other labels, or opting to not use any label at all.
The ABB phenomenon is problematic for the bisexual community because its use creates a vicious cycle that makes bisexuality invisible, which leads to few role models, which leads to mental health problems, and in turn fewer people willing to embrace a bisexual identity. At the same time though, it is recognized that everyone has the right to self-identify, and the bisexual community, while recognizing that ABB terms are problematic, finds it abhorrent to shame or “police” others for their self-identification. The consensus is mainly to work hard to fight biphobia and promote bi-pride, so it’s easier for more people to embrace the term bisexual.
Hetero-flexible and homo-flexible are terms used by some people who have been led to believe the biphobic notion that they have to be equally attracted to, or to have had equal experiences with, multiple genders to be able to call themselves bisexual. However, some use these terms because they feel a strong attraction tendency one way or the other and want to draw attention to that fact (in practice these terms describe specific locations on the bisexual spectrum and are thus these people are bisexual).
MSM, short for “men who have sex with men,” was coined during the early AIDS crisis to help get educational messages out to men who did not identify as either gay or bisexual (usually due to stigma and prejudice toward gay and bi men) and yet had sexual interactions/experiences with other men. Though the use of MSM likely saved lives, the term contributed to bi erasure as its use sometimes replaced the word bisexual.
MGA is short for multi-gender attracted.
Bicurious is a term that some embrace when beginning to be aware of, but are not yet sure of, multiple-gender attractions. Bicurious is also used by some people struggling with internalized biphobia and not ready to openly say that they are bisexual. It may also be used by those who have been subjected to other people policing and denying bisexuality by telling them that they need more sexual or relationship experience with one or another gender, or that they need to be equally attracted to more than one gender to say they are bisexual (this is not fair or true, but sadly it does scare some bi people back into the closet).
Questioning refers to those who are in the process of trying to understand their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Because of pervasive biphobia that promotes that notion that bisexuality isn’t real, it’s not uncommon for bisexual people to go through a prolonged period of questioning. If some bi people are confused, it’s not because bisexuality isn’t valid. It’s because facing biphobic stereotypes can negatively complicate the coming out process.
Polysexual is used by some people instead of bisexual to mean attracted to multiple genders.
Omnisexual is used by some people who wish to be clear that they are attracted to all genders.
Pansexuality means attracted to all genders or attraction despite gender.
Some pansexual people accuse bi people of being transphobic which is unfair and untrue. The actual history of bisexual groups and individuals has been one of close mutual support and respect with trans groups. Historically, the bi community has had common cause with trans people because, like trans people, bi people were largely erased from conversations around LGBT issues for a long time. The fallacious accusation that bisexuality is somehow “transphobic” also ignores the fact that many transgender people are bisexual. As a result, conversations about the supposed differences between bisexuality and pansexuality are a hot-button issue. So much so that it’s recommended that one issue a trigger warning preceding such a discussion.
Queer is sometimes used as an umbrella term that includes any sexual and/or gender orientation not exclusively heterosexual or not falling within the traditional understanding of male or female. Queer is also used as an identity term by people who don’t embrace the other available gender or sexual orientation terms, or who feel that they don’t fall directly in the parameters of any of those terms. Though efforts have been made to positively reclaim the word, Queer was once a mostly derogatory term and still is considered offensive by some. Thus the word should not be used unless referring to oneself, or someone who has clearly self-identified as queer.
Fluid sexuality is used to describe fluctuations some people experience in their level of sexual attractions to different genders, or similarly, the idea that sexual orientation for some people changes over time.
Asexual describes people who do not experience sexual attraction. Asexual people still may be romantically attracted to others.
Heteroromantic, homoromatic, biromantic, and aromantic are terms used to explain the nature of one’s romantic attractions. Mostly these terms are used by people whose sexual and romantic desires do not align. For example, a person may identify as asexual and biromantic, or bisexual and homoromantic.
Demisexual is a sexual identity some people use to express that they only feel sexual desire when experiencing a deep emotional connection to someone.
Bi+ is often used to represent the word bisexual as an umbrella term that includes all non-monosexual attracted identities, including pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual and many others.
Biphobia refers to any hateful or harmful attitude, remark, or action, specifically directed towards (or affecting) bisexual people.
Internalized biphobia is when a bisexual person has taken to heart the biphobia they have heard, and as a result, has trouble accepting their own bisexuality.
Bisexual erasure is a form of biphobia that excludes bisexual people from spaces where they should be included. In other words, is is the harmful practice of ignoring the existence and experiences of bisexual people. Bisexual Erasure can include such things as misidentifying a bisexual person by referring to the person as “gay,” or only referencing “gays, lesbians, and transgender people” when talking about statistics that include (or should include) bisexual people.
Bi invisibility expresses the result of bi-erasure, which is that bisexuals are rendered invisible. For example, when a bisexual man is assumed straight because he is in a relationship with a woman, and assumed gay when he marches in a Pride Parade; in both instances his bisexuality is rendered invisible.
Bi visibility is what happens when bisexuals people are out and outspoken, and when society in general acknowledges bisexual people, for example by having bisexual characters on TV or properly acknowledging noteworthy bisexuals.
Bi inclusive describes a situation where bisexuality is clearly and explicitly included, acknowledged, or welcomed.
Microaggressions are subtle actions or comments which communicate disregard or disrespect for a person based solely on their membership in a marginalized group. An example of a biphobic microaggression would be a lesbian calling a bisexual woman a traitor when she starts dating a man.
Heteronormativity describes the harmful and false belief that heterosexuality is the only “normal” sexual orientation. This mindset is responsible for people automatically assuming people, and relationships, are heterosexually oriented until presented with evidence otherwise. In reality, all sexual orientations are natural and normal. Since it’s impossible to tell what someone’s orientation is by simply looking at them, it’s better not to make heteronormative assumptions. Bisexual people remain bisexual, regardless of the gender of their partner(s).
Heterosexism is the harmful and false attitude that heterosexuality is superior to other sexual orientations, or that it is the only acceptable sexual orientation.
Monosexual refers to being attracted to only one gender, i.e. gay or straight.
Non-monosexual means attracted to more than one gender. In practice, it means the same thing as Bi+.
Monosexism is the harmful and false belief that it’s “normal” or “right” to only be attracted to one gender, and that non-monosexual people are lesser, mentally unstable, or faking it. This is the foundation of a great deal of biphobia, and it explains why sadly some gay people are biphobic.
Monosexual privilege refers to the recognition and validation that is given to those who are attracted to only one gender. As gays and lesbians become less stigmatized in some places, they are able to experience new levels of acceptance by straight society, while bisexuality is still considered by many to be unacceptable or even nonexistent. Many gays and lesbians have a contentious reaction to the idea of monosexual privilege.
Passing is a reference to being “able” to be “perceived” a certain way by others. In regard to bisexuality, the term is used mostly in reference to “passing as straight,” though it is also common for bisexual people to pass as gay. Often, because of bi-invisibility, bisexual people “pass” without trying to or wanting to and thus “passing” (intentionally or not, as gay or straight) can cause emotional distress.
Passing privilege — the advantages one gets for being perceived as something more socially acceptable. It’s not uncommon for gays and lesbians to say they resent bisexual people because of perceived heterosexual “passing privileges,” which is a notion fraught with fallacies. In short, claiming that “passing” is a privilege overlooks and undermines the fact that bi-erasure and bi-invisibility harm bi people. Prejudice against us isn’t a privilege, and it’s unfair to say that it is.
Intersectionality references the interrelated and cumulative effects of oppression and prejudices when membership to more than one minority group is involved.
POC is short for person of color, ie anyone who is not defined as white.
Transgender describes people whose gender identity does not match their birth gender assignment. Transgender issues are frequently mentioned in bisexual conversations because many transgender people are also bisexual. Bisexual and transgender people tend to be strong allies for one-another. It’s important, if you are going to engage in discourse about bisexuality, to know proper transgender terminology, and to be aware of trans issues.
Trans-inclusive describes the act of including, acknowledging, or accepting transgender people. (As aforementioned, one form of biphobia that is harmful and false is that bisexuality is not trans-inclusive.)
Binary refers to the way society tends to see heterosexuality and homosexuality as distinct non-overlapping non-intersecting attractions, which creates the false belief that everyone is fundamentally either gay or straight. Binary is also used in reference to the way society splits masculine/feminine into two distinct non-overlapping and non-intersecting categories. When speaking in bi spaces, using terms that reinforce the binary is likely to get negative reactions; for example saying that bisexual people are only attracted to men and women, thus ignoring the fact that bisexual people can be attracted to non-binary people.
Non-binary is a term that references people or situations that do not adhere to the dichotomies of masculine/feminine and/or gay/straight.
Genderqueer refers to people whose gender identity does not fit within the gender binary.
Genderfluid describes people whose sense of gender tends to change.
Bigender people identify as both masculine and feminine; their gender identity may fluctuate between the two.
Two spirit is a term used by Native American peoples to reference non-binary individuals. It is cultural appropriation (and thus disrespectful) for non-native people to use this term to describe themselves.
Agender refers to people who identify as genderless.
Cis describes people who are not transgender.
Intersex is a term used to describe individuals whose biological sex doesn’t — due to any one of a variety of biological conditions — fit what we typically consider male or female.
Ze/hir and they/them are some of the pronouns used by some genderqueer or intersex people.
Different-sex, or more accurately different-gender, are considered more acceptable than opposite-sex as the latter tends to reinforce binary thinking.
Same-gender relationship or mixed-gender relationship are bi inclusive terms, as opposed to bi-erasing terms like “gay relationship” or “straight relationship.” Bisexual people are still bisexual no matter who they are partnered with.
Mixed orientation marriage (MOM) or relationship refers to relationships with partners whose sexual orientation are not the same, for example, a heterosexual woman in a relationship with a bisexual man, or a lesbian in a relationship with a bisexual woman.
Marriage equality or same-sex marriage rights should be used in place of “gay marriage rights” as the latter phrase erases bisexual people, excluding us from a discussion in which we deserve to be included.
LGBT is an abbreviation for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.” It’s not uncommon to see other letters added to this abbreviation, such as Q for queer and/or questioning, I for intersex, and A for asexual.
Alphabet Soup refers to LGBT with multiple other letters added on.
LGBT+ is sometimes used instead of the tacked on additional letters. It’s important to never say “LGBT” if you are really just talking about only lesbians and gays. Likewise, one shouldn’t say gay to refer to all LGBT people. While some people with good intentions may attempt to use “gay” as an umbrella term, the fact is that most people who read “gay” won’t understand it as inclusive of bisexuality. Since bisexuality is often erased / rendered invisible, it is important to explicitly include bi people.
GGGG was coined by bi activists to express the tendency for “LGBT” to often only actually represent gay men and gay male issues.
TERF is short for trans exclusionary radical feminist, referring (in a derogatory way) to feminists who exclude transwomen from women only spaces.
SGA is short for same-gender attracted.
WLW is short for women who love women.
The Kinsey Scale, a sexual orientation scale developed in 1948 by Alfred Kinsey, is historically significant for bringing public attention to the fact that not everyone is exclusively either heterosexual or homosexual.
The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid was developed by Fritz Klein with the intent to have a more multifaceted way to measure sexual orientation.
Polyamory, which is often defined as “consensual and responsible non-monogamy,” refers to having relationships with multiple partners who are all aware of one another and in agreement with the arrangement. Some gay and straight people are polyamorous, just as some bisexual people are polyamorous.
Slut shaming is a term originally used in feminist contexts to describe the way women tend to be accused of sexual promiscuity when simply being anything other than excessively-modest. The term has morphed into being more broadly used to refer to the harmful attitude and false belief that there is something wrong with being sexual or sexually active. In the process of combating the stereotype that bisexual people are by nature sexually promiscuous, it is advisable to be careful not to engage in slut-shaming.
Unicorns are the unofficial mascot for the bisexual community, partially in ironic acknowledgement of the fact that many people insist that bisexual people do not exist, and partially because unicorns represent difference and beauty. In some circles, a unicorn refers to a single bisexual woman willing to be a third to a male/female couple seeking a threesome. This term was coined in reference to the rare and elusive nature of the mythical creature.
The Bisexual colors are pink, purple and blue.
The Bisexual Flag consists of three wide stripes, with pink on the top, blue on the bottom, and the blend of those as purple in the center. This symbolizes the blending of heterosexual and homosexual attraction, the breaking down of sexual binaries.
For more information about bisexuality, further explore this website – Bisexual.org, as well as BiNet USA, the Bisexual Resource Center, this author’s blog, and all the great other resources that can be found through these sites.