You Are Not Responsible for the “Bi Brand”

3/4/2017

I’m going to be real with you for a second: I’m a slut…Like a pretty big one. Now I am an ethical slut. I don’t lie about the relationships I’m in. I don’t pretend I’m looking for something more serious when I’m not. I’m upfront and honest from the get-go.  I also have sex responsibly. I take Truvada as a means of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and ask everyone their status prior to having intercourse. I never lie about when I’ve had unprotected sex.
I am also polyamorous, currently living with my boyfriend and his wife. I do miss being with other genders when I’m in a monogamous relationship, and right now, I do need to be dating or sleeping with people of various genders in order to feel complete. I’m aware this isn’t the case for all bi people. This probably isn’t even the case for most bi people. I also know that this may change, but, right now, this is where I am, mentally and emotionally.

Robyn Ochs

I used to feel guilty about this. I used to feel like I’m perpetuating various stereotypes about bisexuality, and being a bi+ activist, that’s the last thing I want to do. I want to dispel these stereotypes, not further perpetuate them.
Amid my bi identity crisis, I had the privilege of meeting renown bisexual activist Robyn Ochs. I then conducted an interview with her for The Huffington Post. In it, I expressed my reservations about being an activist, while at the same time, being a walking stereotype. Here’s what she said, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Here’s a little excerpt from the interview:

[Zachary Zane:] One thing for me, now, being polyamorous, is that I often feel guilty when I write. Before being poly, I spoke about how bisexuals don’t need multiple people of various genders to make us happy, but I’m realizing I actually might.
[Robyn Ochs:] But here’s the thing, Zach: You’re not responsible for maintaining the purity of the brand! There’s so much pressure on folks in stigmatized groups to do just that.
Yes! As some who identifies as bi, I often feel the weight of the world on my shoulders because I’ll be the first out bisexual person they’ve met.
It’s tough! When I was 30, my then partner – who identified as lesbian – left me for another woman. I was heartbroken, but one thing that made me furious was the realization that, as a bisexual woman, had I done something similar to her, there would have been a very loud chorus of “See you shouldn’t have gotten involved with a bisexual woman. I told you she’d leave you for someone else!” But when she did that to me, all people said is, “That’s too bad.”
It made me angry to realize I don’t have the luxury of doing the same stupid things everyone else gets to do. As a bisexual person, I’m held to a higher standard. I’m held responsible for “my people.” It’s unfair. And a bisexual person who happens to be polyamorous – like you – often feels responsible for perpetuating a stereotype. But the reality is that’s not your job. It’s not your job to modify your behavior to make other people more comfortable. It’s your responsibility to be true to yourself and to live your life.
I couldn’t agree more.
And as someone who’s been an activist for a long time, I’ve learned “We’re not like that!” isn’t a useful response to the stereotype that we’re all polyamorous. I instead say, “That’s not a definitional characteristic of bisexuality.” I’ve changed the way I respond to stereotypes.

I’m not the only bi person who often feels like I have to be responsible for maintaining the purity of the “bi brand.” I say this in quotes because I don’t like thinking of bisexuality as a brand, but I know exactly what Robyn means when she says this. She’s referring to how folks who don’t fall on the bi+ spectrum view bisexuality.

Often, when we say we’re bi to new folks we meet, we’re the first out and open bi person with whom they’ve had the privilege of speaking. (This was shocking to me the first few times, but I realized that not everyone is as enmeshed in bi community and culture as I am.) This puts a lot of weight on us. Because you know that their interaction with you will form their opinion on all bi people for the rest of eternity. (Or at least it seems like that.)
It’s important to remember that we are a diverse community, and we are not responsible. We don’t have to represent “the brand” by  being monogamous or chaste or married. It is not any individual’s job to make other people feel comfortable with bisexuality.
We can (and should) live our lives however we damn well please. Without guilt or shame. Without the weight of the world on our shoulders. And the best response, for when someone clearly wants to make you the posterchild for bisexuality, when you, yourself, don’t want to be, is to simply reply, “That’s not a definitional characteristic of bisexuality.”
Because at the end of the day, being bi means that we believe we have the potential to be attracted to multiple genders, at various times, to various degrees. Anything beyond that is simply you, and does not include every other bi person on the planet.

Zachary Zane
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.