How to be proud of your bisexuality without reinforcing gender binaries

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Image credit: Palmer Haasch

How to be proud of your bisexuality without reinforcing gender binaries

June 26, 2018

It’s time to break binary conceptualizations of bisexuality. This Pride Month, we need to acknowledge the fact that “bisexual” has evolved to signify more than attraction to only two genders.

As a writer, I rely heavily on deliberate language as a means to describe my experiences and my identity. While working to define and understand my sexuality as a teenager, I flitted regularly between labels, oscillating from terms and descriptors ranging from “not-straight” to “queer” to, eventually, “bisexual.” Today, I’m proud to identify as bisexual and can’t wait to celebrate my identity and the bi+ community this Pride Month. Coming to this understanding of my sexuality, however, was not an easy process.

At first glance, the meaning of bisexual seems self-evident. Bi, as a prefix, does literally means two. However, today bisexuality does not typically signify attraction to two genders, because gender and attraction are not limited to binaries. The definition of bisexuality has shifted to reflect that.

GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide defines someone who is bisexual as “a person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender.” The Bisexual Resource Center elaborates on this definition: "The BRC and others in the bi+ community use “bisexual,” “bi,” and “bi+” to signify non-monosexual (monosexual meaning attracted to only one gender) identities including labels such as “queer” and “pansexual.”

However, I regularly see those both within and outside the queer community use “attraction to men and women” or “attraction to the same and opposite sex” as working definitions of bisexuality, such as in the following tweet.

Even while trying to engage in bi+ advocacy (or to work towards queer female solidarity, in this case), language can not only enforce the existence of a gender binary, but erase the way that many bi+ individuals experience bisexuality. While some bisexual individuals may only be attracted to only two genders, bisexual+ as a political term has expanded past binary attraction.

While searching for the label that best fit my identity, I switched between queer, pansexual, and bisexual. Today, I regularly use queer and bisexual in order to describe my identity and my experience. Initially, I struggled with the label bisexual while trying to define my identity. I’m attracted to people of a multitude of genders, and under the misconception that bisexuality signified binary attraction, I hesitated to use it as a label. However, “pansexual,” as defined by GLAAD Campaigns Manager Shane Henise in a recent amp article, is the “attraction to all genders and/or regardless of a person’s gender.” This didn’t seem to fit me well either. But after learning that bisexual didn’t necessitate a binary experience (despite the misleading prefix), I immediately felt like I had found my fit.

This Pride Month, I’m looking forward to celebrating the bisexual+ community and the all of the experiences of those who are part of it. Furthermore, Pride for me represents my journey to find a label that I felt suited my identity. While “bisexual” may signify different things to different people, all of us who experience non-monosexual attraction are a part of the incredible, diverse bi+ community—and that is certainly something to celebrate.

Palmer Haasch is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and rising senior at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities studying English and Political Science with minors in French Studies and GLBT Studies. She served as an Entertainment Media Intern at GLAAD and is now a weekly columnist for the Minnesota Daily.

the voice and vision of a new generation