In Ancient Greece young men were encouraged to have relationships with older men as a way of gaining knowledge and experience. These young men later went on to marry women. Alexander the Great openly had both wives and male lovers. In ancient Japan, an “ideal” situation was to have partners with both young men and young women. Native Americans believe in “Two-Spirit” people (men and women born with both masculine and feminine spirits) who often had same-sex and heterosexual relationships.
In the West, bisexuality was first understood with the Kinsey Scale. Created in 1948 by Alfred Kinsey, the Kinsey Scale depicted human sexual behavior as a spectrum from 0 to 6, with 0 being completely heterosexual and 6 being completely homosexual. The Kinsey Scale drastically changed the way people self-identified.
The 60s and 70s brought David Bowie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and news articles about “bisexual chic.” Bisexuality became trendy. But still, it wasn’t until the 21st century that celebrities began to come out in large numbers and same-sex marriage finally became legal in the United States.
But still, despite the progress made and the undeniable proof that bisexuality has existed for generations, bi-erasure is still extremely prevalent. Time and time again, a bisexual person is considered “gay” if they are with someone of the same-sex and “straight” if they are with someone of the opposite sex. This way of thinking excludes them from their own narratives and prevents them from establishing their own identities.
Lesbians and gays have a more definitive culture. Though it isn’t devoid of discrimination and intolerance by any means, they have made spaces for themselves that have given them a sense of identity. They’ve made bars, clubs, community centers, parades, television stations, shows, movies, etc. A concrete culture creates a more legitimate experience that others can see and in turn try to tangibly understand and validate. Culture legitimizes groups of people.
Yes, the LGBTQ culture should be the same as bisexual culture and the LGBTQ community (to some degree) does accept them. But there are discrepancies and distinctions that exclude bisexuals within gay culture. One such thing is that gays and lesbians don’t see heterosexual sex as having value to their experience. Because of this, gays and lesbians have a habit of deeming bisexuality as nothing more than a stepping stone to being truly gay.
Conversely, while gays might think of bisexuality as a stepping stone into gayness, heterosexuals can think of bisexuality as justification to experiment. According to an article featured on Slate.com, eighty-four percent of self identified bisexuals (both males and female) end up in heterosexual relationships. This fact only fuels the fire behind that notion.
One of the most tragic denouncements is society’s constant disbelief in bisexual men. Ridicule from male peers and even prospective female partners keeps bisexual men closeted. Toxic masculinity plays a large role in the way men perceive themselves and one another sexually. That, along with disbelief from gay peers, makes it hard for bisexual men to live freely.
I asked Bobby Molinari, a bisexual male student at Brooklyn College, how he identifies.
“It’s complicated,” he says. “And I’m always going through phases of liking one sex more than the other. I usually identify myself as ‘queer’ for this reason instead of ‘bi’ or ‘gay.’” He went on to say that calling himself gay “wouldn’t be accurate” and that the societal misconceptions around the word “bi” often make people assume he’s just going through a phase or “covering up for being gay.”
Women don’t face the same kind of intolerance as men do when it comes to same sex relationships. They are generally much more open about discussing it, seeing it, and taking part in it. Because of this, bisexual legitimacy in women can be blurred. It has become a stereotype propagated for male attention. Lesbianism has been sexualized by society to the point that experimentation is often expected (even encouraged) and therefore invalidates a bisexual woman’s experience. Her ability to sleep with women is merely an effect of society’s ideals. It’s something every woman can do.
I found myself making a mental checklist to prove that I was bi. Yes, I’m attracted to women, but can I say I’m bisexual until I’ve slept with one? Dated one? Called her my girlfriend? Can she say it unless she’s done the same?
Ashmita Malkani ‘19, a Stage Management major, also identifies as bisexual. “I think that I only call myself gay when I’m joking, like it’s just a way for me to connect with other people who aren’t straight because when we’re just joking around, ‘gay’ isn’t like homosexual it’s just not straight–like walking into a room and being like, ‘the gays are here, hello!’ But I don’t call myself gay in a serious way,” Malkani says.
I then spoke to Taylor Zavala ‘19, a VMA major, who also identifies as bisexual. “I prefer no labels, but I don't have a problem with calling myself gay. I feel like it’s just a descriptive used to explain something that people may not understand,” Zavala says.
I noticed that all of the bisexuals I interviewed avoided using the word “gay” to describe themselves. They said they “don’t use labels” or “they’re queer” or gay but “not in a serious way.” But we are the “B” in LGBT. Why can’t we call ourselves gay without hesitation?
It’s hard to consider yourself gay when society has such a rigid definition of what ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ should be. It’s important to keep this in mind when coming in contact with a bisexual person or even when assessing your own sexuality. Like the Kinsey Scale tells us, sexuality is on a spectrum. It can neither be defined or put into a specific box. So, accept all your bisexual peers and validate their gayness. If young men in Ancient Greece were bisexual, men in 21st century America can be as well. The perception of bisexual people is based on who they are with, not who they actually are, and this needs to change.
Illustration by: Enne Goldstein