Photo by Ulla Munch-Petersen
A conversation on bisexuality
By Mariya Alfa Staugaard
I came out as bisexual at an early age. I was around 15 and having a hard time putting words to the feelings I was having, when I did what any emo kid would do in 2007: I created a Myspace profile. On the site, you had the option to put in your sexual orientation, and there it was in front of me: Bisexual. It just clicked, and although I’m sure the term wasn’t new to me, being able to put that label on myself gave me a sense of empowerment that stayed with me. For a while. Years later, I would test the waters of the Copenhagen LGBTI+ scene, only to be met with a wave of “you don’t belong here”, “bi girls just want attention”, and “you’re not really LGBTI+”. It made me retract, quiet down, and for years, I went about my life acting, for all intents and purposes, straight. But in returning to the community, I’ve rediscovered a part of me that is still important to who I am. And more importantly, I’ve discovered a large group of people who share the label that I chose on Myspace all those years ago. And although we don’t all share lived experiences and perspectives, we all relate to the notion of being bisexual. The ‘B’ is, after all, the largest group of the LGBTI+ acronym, and yet we tend to be underrepresented and all too often isolated. For that reason, I wanted to bring together a group of bi people for a conversation about our identities, differences, and similarities.
Hi everyone! Thanks for joining me at the office on such a sunny day. Let’s start by introducing ourselves and say a couple of words about our bisexuality.
Nikki (she/her): I remember being very young, my mom was brushing my hair, when I turned around and asked, “why can’t you marry a woman if you want to?” It never crossed my mind as a child that you had to be one thing or the other. Coming out is something I’ve never made a particular statement about. I’m not in the closet, but I feel that while part of me is desperate to bring the conversation up, the other part is more reticent.
Henrijette (she/her): I’m not sure when I figured out that I was bisexual, I think I was just born like that. I also never came out, but I’m not in the closet either, I’m just existing, and living my life.
Mathias (he/him): I never had the true experience of coming out either. I had a friend group where we were gravitating towards gay bars, and at some point, it just evolved by itself. It’s not necessarily something I say out loud to people, but if people ask, then I’m fairly open.
Silas (they/them): I’ve always known that I like women, so that has been fairly safe for me. It was more a discovery that I also liked men, and I think I realized that within the last six years. Not that I didn’t know – I just decided not to know, to repress it. I thought, “that’s too complicated”, but currently, I’m in the interesting situation that everyone sees me as a gay man, so I have to remind them there is something in between gay and straight! Right now, I have a girlfriend, and I’m also dating a non-binary person.
Nicolai (he/him): For a long time, I thought I was straight, cause that’s just what you are. It was only in high school, when I experimented and tried some things, that I figured out that it was more than just having fun, it was actually my sexuality. And since then, I’ve just been embracing it.
I’m hearing some of you talk about the balance between not putting your sexuality at the forefront of your identity at all times, while also wanting to have that part of you be recognized. In relation to that, I’d be interested to hear more about what you think about the term “straight passing” or being in a “straight passing relationship”?
Nikki: You do get a lot of privilege. For me, it happened that I got married to a guy, while my relationship before was female. I don’t get asked a lot of questions now, but I can’t imagine the questions I’d get if it had gone another way. I very much recognize that some people get a lot more questions because they’re not presenting straight, and that makes life a lot harder. But on the other hand, people will look at you and assume that you’re not actually bi because you’re married to a man.
Silas: Most straight people that I know seem to have difficulty grasping that even though you’re in a relationship with someone, you can still be attracted to other people. I think it’s because in the straight, monogamous mindset, as soon as you’re with someone, you stop being attracted to anyone else.
Henrijette: Oh, I’ve been with a lot of straight men, that’s not how that works!
Silas: *laughs* No, but in theory. By that parameter, your bisexuality would stop existing because you’ve decided to be with a person of a specific gender.
It comes down to that annoying idea of picking sides, doesn’t it? But returning to straight-passing privilege, that is absolutely valid, but there’s also a lack of privilege in having to hide part of who you are. How are your experiences of feeling included in the LGBTI+ community at large?
Nicolai: I think the question itself has some problems. I don’t believe that there’s anything called the “LGBTI+ community at large”, that’s way too big a term, it just doesn’t exist. To me, it’s more about the specific communities I’m in, and most of those communities are very accepting. In those communities, I feel my sexuality is open. In other places, like work, it’s not a thing we talk about. And I’m okay with that, I can choose my own family in my free time.
Nikki: I always feel included. The only challenge I have is if I don’t feel like I am ‘gay enough’ – but then again, this is an inclusive community. I don’t judge other people, so I assume they don’t judge me.
Henrijette: I have a lot of mixed feelings about the LGBTI+ community. As much as I love being a part of it, and being who I am, I also have met the most hate within it. I’ve met so much prejudice in gay bars, mostly from men. I also went to high school with a gay guy, and when he got drunk, he would rant about how I should pick a side, and that bisexuality didn’t exist. I was like, you come from a family that hates you, and now you’re hating on me? But I realize that it was rooted in jealousy, because I didn’t get the same hate that he got.
Mathias: Sometimes, when I do say that I’m bi, then people basically hand me the gay card for the night. Especially new female friends will be dragging me out to the bathroom to help them change their clothes, and I just… You do know that this is super weird for me, right? So, I’m usually staring at my phone for ten minutes while zipping dresses up with one hand. But normally, when I’m handed the gay card, I just go with it. If other people bring up the topic of sexuality, I’ll have the conversation, but otherwise I just leave it.
Nikki: That’s the thing about having the conversation – I always want to be ready for it, but I don’t always want to bring it up.
Mathias: Exactly. But if you poke at that conversation, I will come with fire and flames.
Silas: Sometimes, you just want to fly the flag! It feels important to tell people, but it can be hard to slip it into conversation without making it your entire identity. And for me, the conversation mostly happens at work, and then I do the full bundle: yes, I’m dating two people, yes, I’m polyamorous, yes, I’m bisexual. And in that context, people normally slide past the bisexuality and go, “you date more than one person?!”. It’s actually been really hard to reconcile being both bisexual and polyamorous, because I feel like I’m fueling the idea that bisexual people are unfaithful and can’t stay with one person. But being the “good” bisexual, who only dates one person, would be repressing my full identity.
Nikki: It is very hard to have that conversation, oftentimes, I don’t have the energy. Either I just let it slip, and I steamroll over it, or we can go down the path of talking about non-monogamy. But at the same time, it’s important for me that people understand that that option is there. Because I would have been so unhappy, if I had never known that it was an option.
Recently, there’s been some online conversations surrounding bisexuality and pansexuality that have had the unfortunate implication that being bi erases trans and non-binary identities. What do you make of that?
Silas: As a non-binary bisexual person, it doesn’t make me feel nice for someone to say that my sexuality doesn’t include my gender identity. It’s like being mansplained in the field you’re an expert in; there’s a lot of people deciding rules on behalf of those it actually concerns. And it’s not like they’re not allowed to have an opinion, but you’re not allowed to erase the identities of others.
Nikki: If I were talking to someone who was new to the whole thing, I would probably say that I’m bi, but in a wider group, I would say that I’m pansexual. I would want to use language that others understand.
Silas: I use the word “queer” a whole lot – it’s all encompassing. I’m not a big fan of the trend of telling other people what their identity includes, be that gender or sexuality. But that’s why it’s also important for us to sit down and have this conversation, and to show that we’re different people with different backgrounds and relationships.
Now to something a little less cheerful. In 2019, the SEXUS survey showed that bisexual people, and in particular bisexual women, were at a significantly higher risk of developing mental health issues and reporting feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Does any of this surprise you?
Nikki: I think sometimes it’s hard because your identity is not obvious. If I walk into a gay bar, I walk in as a lesbian, if I walk into a straight bar, I walk in as straight. You have to pull at the thread, because you can’t see it on the surface.
Henrijette: Most bi women I’ve met are in some other sort of subculture, and that can amplify the loneliness a lot. I’d never met bi people until I was an older teenager; I was alone in that, but I was also alone in everything else I did in my life. And I see online that a lot of bi girls, and a lot of young bi girls, do not dress and act like their peers. And many of us do have diagnoses.
Silas: It’s part of a much longer conversation, but my theory is that when you’ve opened your mind to so many things, if you’ve explored more, questioned your gender, and questioned your sexuality, you’re also aware that the world can hurt you more. And it takes some time to acclimate to that.
Mathias: In my ideal world, I wouldn’t want to come out or say anything – I would just want to exist, and whoever I date or bring home, it would not matter.
Completely. Anyway, I thought we would end on a lighter note. One thing I love about being bi is the amount of oddly specific bisexual clichés that are circulating. For instance, someone recently told me that it is a known fact that bi people are obsessed with cherries – I have a cherry tattoo that I got before I had any idea about that, but apparently, it’s true! Do you have any favorite cliches?
Henrijette: That we all wear Vans or Doc Martens.
Silas: I like the chair one the most, that bi people can’t sit properly on chairs.
Mathias: Lemon bars, a kind of cake, is apparently a bi thing.
Nikki: Everything can be a bi thing!
Silas: I think bi people will grab at anything. I don’t know if it’s the same for other LGBTI+ people, but when you’re lacking a sense of community, you’ll grasp at anything, like: “At least we all don’t know how to drive a car!”.
I know I don’t. Thanks for coming by! I hope we can continue this conversation as a community – although, like you said Nicolai, it can seem absurd to talk about it in such broad terms. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to see aspects of your identity reflected in others and represented in general. Speaking of. One thing I forgot to ask about was any good examples of bi representation while we were growing up?
Silas: What representation?
Bisexuality and bierasure
Fundamentally, being bisexual means being attracted to more than one gender. Some prefer to use bi+ to also indicate other sexual orientations that fall under that umbrella, such as pansexual, omnisexual, or polysexual. There are as many ways to be bisexual as there are bisexual people – how a person defines themselves is completely up to them.
Bierasure is a term that describes the neglecting or rejection of bisexual people both in the LGBTI+ community and in mainstream society. It’s rooted in the notion that bisexuality doesn’t exist but is instead a “phase”. Stereotypes, isolation, and lack of belonging are all harmful and can have a negative impact on bi+ people’s mental health.
Want to know more? Visit www.bi.org or join the Facebook group “Bigruppen – LGBT+ Danmark”.