* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
People attracted to more than one gender make up the largest part of the LGBT+ community, yet face harmful stereotypes from inside and outside it
Rory Gory (they/them pronouns) is the digital marketing manager for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBT+ young people
The LGBT+ community is vast, comprising people of all genders and sexualities. One of the largest groups is bisexual people, who have the capacity to be attracted to and/or form relationships with more than one gender.
Yet, all too often, the existence and legitimacy of bisexuality are questioned or denied outright — even by other LGBT+ people. This “bi-erasure” happens despite 75% of young lesbian, gay or bisexual people identifying as bi, according to the CDC’s 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
One prime example of this is the assumption that all people are gay or straight, and that bisexuality is just a phase on the way to either monosexual identity. This false belief erases and invalidates the large numbers of people who experience multi-gender attraction and relationships throughout their lives.
Bisexual advocate Robyn Ochs’ popular definition of bisexuality is, "The potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Yet many people conflate bisexuality with polyamory. While all relationship types are valid, whether someone is monogamous, non-monogamous, or polyamorous cannot be determined by their sexuality or gender alone.
Despite this, bisexual people are often faced with biphobic assumptions that they are sexually promiscuous, more likely to cheat or unable to commit to a relationship because of their sexual orientation. As a group, bisexuals face much higher rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and rape than their gay, lesbian, and heterosexual peers. It is vital, therefore, to confront this harmful typecasting.
For myself, navigating these confusing stereotypes made it difficult to accept my own sexuality growing up. I often felt my identity was defined by whom I was currently in a relationship with, rather than who I inherently was.
Biphobia and bi-erasure can have serious consequences too. According to The Trevor Project’s research, almost half of bisexual youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. And last year, nearly 50% of the young people who reached out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services experienced multi-gender attraction.
Who you are attracted to or whom you date does not make you any less or more bi. And you should never feel like you have to prove your identity. As many LGBT+ people discover, and as I learned over my own unique journey to self-acceptance, there is no one right way to be queer.
Indeed, bisexual is only one of the terms commonly used to describe multi-gender attraction.
Pansexual, an identity term made popular by celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Janelle Monáe, is used to describe romantic and/or sexual attraction to people regardless of gender identity or to people of all genders. While some argue that the prefix pan, which comes from the Greek prefix for “all,” makes pansexual a more inclusive term, the common definition of bisexual specifies an attraction to more than one gender as well.
As an online community manager for The Trevor Project, I’ve seen many online arguments over which label is best. But I’ve also seen many young people use identity terms interchangeably or depending on the audience they’re speaking to.
LGBT+ youth in the United States report using more than 100 different words to describe their gender identities and sexualities, demonstrating a nuanced understanding of identity and attraction. In addition to the more commonly used bisexual and pansexual, terms like omnisexual, abrosexual, skoliosexual, and asexual biromantic are among those also used to describe being attracted to more than one gender.
No matter what label or labels you use, though, there is no “better” one.
And while we often think of the LGBT+ community and the straight world as separate spaces, the truth is that the largest group of LGBT+ people regularly transcends this boundary.
As a young person, I would have benefited greatly from resources specifically for bi youth, to help me combat the harmful stereotypes that made it difficult for me to accept myself.
The more we educate ourselves on the diversity of sexuality, the more we can help everyone feel welcome, supported, and safe – no matter what labels they use.