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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Column: Sexuality isn’t black and white

A recent New York Times article breached the topic of bisexuality, but there’s so much more to be said.

Shannon Greenwood

April 8, 2014

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

In a long-form feature, The New York Times did what many news outlets have never done — wrote a piece entirely on bisexuality and the overlooked stigma that the label brings.

The article is titled, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists,” and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a starting point in learning more about the bisexual community.

I can hear you now, reader. Shaaaaannon, why do I need to learn more about bisexuality? I already know what that means, isn’t that enough?

I know I preach at you often, reader. I’ve used this column to drill the importance of equality into your brain every week for almost two semesters now, so I can see how easy it would be to overlook what I’m about to say.

Sure, bisexuality seems straightforward enough: A quick Google search of its definition tells us that it means being attracted to both men and women. Most stop at that, because as long as we have a label to strap to someone’s personal identity, we need no further explanation, right?

Wrong. The bisexual community is one of many victims of this fallacy.

In the fight for LGBTQ equality, the bisexual community tends to get lost in its midsts. They are not seen in the mainstream fight for same-sex marriage or inclusive non-discrimination policies though they benefit from both. Many see their struggle as inherently the same as those who identify as lesbian or gay, perhaps even less so since their identity ‘straddles’ the divide between gay and straight.

But as the NYT feature points out, biphobia is real. And reader, you may not believe it, and I certainly do not either, but it derives from the idea that bisexuality itself does not even exist.

When I first came out, I identified as bisexual for a little while. It felt easier that way, because I knew people could understand what that label meant and using it gave me leeway to explore my identity as an out-individual. I am not the first to do so, and as GLAAD points out, I am certainly not the last. But by doing so, even for the short amount of time I did, I risked perpetuating the stereotype that bisexuality exists only as a stepping stone for gay people who are halfway out of the closet.

This is evidently not true, and I’d like to use this space to discredit this idea and many other fallacies about what it means to be bisexual. This piece does it best, using the NYT feature as a basis to examine the cultural identity and social stigma of being bisexual.

As just one voice from my community, I do not expect anyone to take what I have to say as the ultimate truth. In fact, reader, I hope you don’t and instead take the time to understand for yourself the complexity of the LGBTQ community and all the ranging identities it encompasses.

But I believe sexuality is fluid, and it exists on a spectrum. Bisexuality, therefore, is not black and white (read: equal parts gay and straight), but rather a range of shades between. On one end of the spectrum are the people who identify as 100-percent gay and on the other are those who see themselves as 100-percent straight — the middle is where the bisexual community exists.

This idea is not new, and plenty within the LGBTQ community would agree with me, though note some would not. Outside the LGBTQ bubble, I can already see the frustration brewing. I am not trying to redefine anyone’s personal identity — gay, straight, queer, bisexual, whatever label you choose is completely fine with me.

But if it were true, if sexuality existed on a spectrum and more-people-than-not fell in between instead of at the extremes, it would be harder to justify anti-gay discrimination. Not just that, it would be harder to justify any intolerance of someone whose sexual orientation strays from what we are taught it should be.

Instead, we live in a world that chooses to lack compassion toward the bisexual community. Bisexual women are oversexualized and untrusted with their own identities. Bisexual men are simply told they do not exist. The NYT feature is a good start to a much needed conversation, but it is in no way a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be bisexual. This can only come from the bisexual community itself being relentless about speaking out about their identity, and it will take people like me, people who cannot fully understand this struggle, knowing when to step out of the way to let them do so.

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Article comments

April 23, 2014 at 3:03 p.m.

Kady Moore: Shannon I found your article enlightening. I am the single mother of a beautiful 17 year old daughter, who has recently told me she is bisexual. This came as quite a shock because she has been "boy crazy" since she was 2 years old. She has had several boyfriends, and 1 girlfriend (who I thought was her best friend). The shock has worn off and I am trying to learn more about the subject so I can be as supportive as possible. I love my daughter dearly and I am very proud of the person she is, and I'm sure your mother is too! Keep up the good work. Kady

Aug. 26, 2014 at 4:23 p.m.

J.J.: I would point out that even the item bisexual is a box. Why do we have to have a label at all???

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