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Section A: About bisexuality

This section is designed to answer some questions regularly asked about bisexuality. They should provide some background to issues which are often discussed on soc.bi.


A1. What is bisexuality?

Bisexuality means sexual or romantic attraction or behavior directed towards some members of more than one sex.

A2. What is ``a bisexual''?

A strict definition of a bisexual would be someone who has romantic and/or sexual relations with other people of more than one sex (though not neccessarily at the same time - see section A8).

However, since not everyone has neccessarily had the opportunity to act on their sexual/romantic attractions, some people prefer a looser definition; for instance, that a bisexual is a person who - in their own estimation - feels potentially able to have such attraction. This could be anyone who has erotic, affectionate, or romantic feelings for, fantasies of, and/or experiences with both men and women.

A bisexual may be more attracted to one sex than the other, attracted equally to both, or find people's sex unimportant (see section A7). The strength of their attractions to men and women may vary over time.

A3. Is there a difference between ``a bisexual'', ``bisexual'' and ``bi''?

Yes. Definitions for ``a bisexual'' are suggested above - all relating to attraction and behaviour. ``Bisexual'' (and the short form, ``bi'') is sometimes used as an adjective, to describe a bisexual person.

However, many people who exhibit bisexual behaviour do not identify as bisexual; and other people may identify as bisexual for reasons other than those suggested in the narrow definitions of section A2. In other words, bisexual identity and bisexual behaviour are not neccessarily the same thing. So the word bisexual is being used in two different ways here.

Some argue that if bisexual is to mean anything, it must have a strong definition - that of exhibiting bisexual behaviour, or at least the potential for it. Others feel it is more important to respect people's self-definition whatever it is.

It has been suggested that the word ``bisexual'' should be limited to describing behaviour, and the word ``bi'' could be used for describing identity, with all the cultural implications which have grown up in the bi community.

Since the word "bisexual" can be used in different ways, it is enough to bear this in mind and make it clear how you are using it, in the interests of good communication.

A4. So if I've never slept with a MOTSS/MOTOS, but I feel attracted to one, am I bisexual?

Can you be? Sure. Are you? That's up to you to decide; nobody can make that decision for you, and nobody has the right to tell you your decision is wrong. Bisexuality isn't about whom you sleep with, it's about how you feel; so a good rule of thumb in defining your sexual identity is not what you've done, but what you'd like to do.

A5. Aren't bisexuals just going through a phase of being confused about their sexuality?

The simple answer is ``no'' or at least ``not neccessarily'' - many of us are absulutely certain that we are attracted to both sexes; there is no confusion. Many people are bisexual for life, which proves it is not always just a phase.

It is natural for people who are coming to terms with a sexuality which is not society's norm to be feel confused. For some people, bisexuality is a phase between homosexuality and heterosexuality (and the individual in question could be going in either direction); for others it can just be a brief experimentation. But for many people bisexuality is a lifelong, committed sexual orientation.

And even for those who ultimately do not stay bisexual for life, that does not make it any the less valid as a sexual orientation. Many people have reported that their sexual orientation has shifted over time; sexuality is dynamic, not fixed. For some people it may be a small shift, others a major change of lifestyle; but this does not make the points in between in any sense ``wrong''. Life is a continuous process, and few of us remain exactly the same over long periods of time.

Some people who behave bisexually (having sex with both MOTSS and MOTOS over time) identify themselves as gay or lesbian or straight. This too does not mean that they are confused, only that they base their sexual identity on their primary interest rather than going for the more technical term bisexual.

A6. Aren't bisexuals really denying their homosexuality?

It's difficult for some lesbian/gay people to come to grips with their homosexuality, and for a while, dating MOTOS may make life seem a little more ``normal'' and bearable. Let's face it, coming out of the closet and living as a homosexual is no picnic; between the sanctioned discrimination which gay/bi men face of being in a perceived high risk group for AIDS, and the social standards of love, courtship, and marriage, being gay at times takes more energy than humans should be asked to give.

But coming out bisexual is no easy matter, either. Some bisexuals have to face loved ones who have relied in the past on their attraction to them being constant, and who have to assure them that it will be there in the future. We also often have to deal with straight friends who assure us that our attraction to MOTSS is just ``a way of avoiding intimacy'' or gay friends who suggest that our attraction to MOTOS is ``internalized homophobia''. At all events, whether or not a bisexual is currently involved with a MOTSS, to much of the straight world anyone who comes out as bi is queer, ``one of them,'' and is discriminated against and excluded on that basis. Thus, being bi is not an ``easy way out,'' a ``denial,'' or a ``middle ground.'' It is for many people the hardest decision they will ever make.

A7. Are bisexuals equally attracted to both sexes?

Many bisexuals feel they have a ``preference'' for one sex over the other, but they do not deny their attraction for that other sex.

Some bisexuals, however, have no such preference, and instead focus their attractions on qualities they see in an individual regardless of that person's sex. Sometimes these qualities involve sex, sometimes not. For example, some people find men attractive as men, and women attractive as women; others find people's sex irrelevant.

A8. Do bisexuals have to have lovers of both sexes to be bisexual?

No. People who call themselves bisexual are saying that they are attracted to both men and women. They don't necessarily have to act on that attraction, any more than straight or gay people have to act on their attraction to people of the same sex as their partner.

There is a separate newsgroup, alt.polyamory, for discussion of the issues relating to the dynamics of multi-way relationships (whether involving bisexuals or not).

A9. Are bisexuals capable of monogamy?

Yes, some are. It depends on the individual. It's like asking ``Can a straight person be monogamous?'' Some bisexuals are monogamous, and some aren't. Monogamy is the socially sanctioned option with respect to relationships, but then so is heterosexuality. It should be up to every individual, of any sexuality, to choose the lifestyle which is right for them.

A10. But if they're monogamous, how can they be bisexual?

A bisexual deciding to be monogamous is not deciding to be ``gay'' or ``straight.'' He/she is still bisexual; he/she has chosen a person to live his or her life with, not an orientation, preference or ideology. It is important to recognize that he/she still feels bisexual.

A11. Isn't everyone really bisexual?

Not by any useful definition. A useful definition of bisexuality might be, anyone who has serious relationships with members of both sexes, and anyone who identifies as bisexual. It is possible to suggest that everyone has some potential for attraction to both sexes, but since most people never act on it, (*) this is pretty irrelevant.

If someone says that they are straight, or (gay/lesbian) then for you to insist that they are ``really'' bisexual but perhaps just don't realise it is to deny them their self-identity. Everyone should be free to define their own identity for themselves, which invalidates this kind of generalisation.

Moreover, bisexuality is not better than being straight or gay. The best thing for each individual is to be what they feel is right. So please do not think that people identify as bisexual if they are "more highly evolved" or more in touch with their inner feelings. Accept diversity - different people really are different.

(*) Research carried out at the Harvard School of Public Health, USA in 1994 found that 20.8% of the men and 17.8% of the women studied admitted to same-sex sexual attraction/behaviour at some time in their lives.

A12. Why do you think bi issues are different from gay issues, since all your problems come from the same source, homophobia?

While homophobia is a bi issue (many would say the biggest issue), we do also have concerns different from those of the gay community; the most striking being that of dealing with prejudice from the gay community itself!

Among our other issues is the problem of dealing with the emotion of SOs who we deeply love yet who cannot understand our attraction to both sexes. And being accepted as bisexual if we only have one partner. And we have to deal with a lot of myths which surround bisexuality.

A13. Why would lesbians/gay men discriminate against bisexuals?

Because we are sometimes perceived as ``hiding,'' a sense that some bisexuals use their bisexuality to look heterosexual at work, in straight social settings, to enjoy the ``heterosexual privilege'' that is part of the social norm. Also, bisexuals are sometimes seen as blurring the issues and weakening the lesbian and gay movement. Naturally, bisexual activists disagree with this view, but sometimes lesbians and gays label bisexual ``traitors'' for this reason. A further reason is that some lesbians and gay men also have sex with MOTOS (while not identifying as bisexual). Often peer pressure means that they can't admit this in the lesbian and gay communities, and see bisexuality as a threat to their own acceptance.

The lesbian and gay communities are oppressed by homophobia and prejudice, but unfortunately being oppressed is no guarantee that you won't oppress others. Happily, prejudice against bisexuals in the lesbian and gay communities seems to be diminishing over time as more people come to accept that sexuality is not a monochrome issue.

A14. Why can't you choose one sex over the other?

Some of us have tried, but why should we? Denying our attraction to one sex or the other hurts. If you ask the question out of innocence (you don't feel this attraction, so why should anybody?) then you're asking us to put away feelings that we cannot and will not live without. If you ask these questions with full knowledge of the issues at hand, then your question is as patently offensive as a white supremacist asking us to choose one race over another.

A15. I've discovered that I'm bisexual - should I tell my family?

Look at your life, and decide that if by telling them you will help yourself, and by not telling them you won't hurt yourself (one doesn't necessarily preclude the other). Both instances, of telling or not telling, can be problems. They may not accept you, then again, maybe they will. Not telling them may leave you at peace, or it may gnaw at your mind constantly, with ``I really need to tell them'' or ``I really need to tell someone who knows me well''.

There are many people in the bisexual community who can tell you of good and bad situations that have happened to us with each different type of decision. Indeed, these ``coming-out stories'' (so called because they describe ``coming out of the closet'' and telling people of our sexuality) are often to be heard whenever bisexuals meet - it is something that brings us together, because so many of us have one of these stories to tell.

But, ultimately, the decision is yours, and must be made by you. We can offer support for your courage, and comfort for your loss, happiness for your gain. But you must make the step to make it all possible. You must decide whether any need to know, or whether you want any to know. Good luck.

A16. Is there really a bisexual community?

You're talking to one right now. We are here to share our lives, through stories, history, friends, family; we are here, on soc.bi, to reach out from one bisexual to another and bridge the gap between isolated bisexual communities. To be the human part of the interface.

We are slowly coming together, demanding that our love of both sexes not be ridiculed or minimized. Demanding that as much as the gay/lesbian community wants recognition and respect from the straight community, we demand recognition and respect from both. We are falling in love or grieving in loss; we deal with the very human issues of having children; we deal with a world after the advent of AIDS. We enjoy discussing our shared experiences that make us slightly different to the rest of the world. What else is a community?

A17. Are there any bi-friendly places in real life?

Yes. Some lesbian/gay venues (pubs/bars, clubs, meeting-rooms) welcome bisexuals (or in some cases, at least tolerate us). Many major cities in the UK and the USA (and, increasingly, in Australia) have bisexual groups which meet regularly and provide a bi-friendly ``space''. Details of how to get in contact with the nearest such group to you can be found in:

The Bisexual Resource Guide, edited by Robyn Ochs. It is published by the `Bisexual Resource Center'. Send US$11.95 to BRC, PO Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02140, USA.
Additions since the most recent edition of this are included in the Bisexual Resources List (see section A20).

A18. Does anyone know of any good books with bisexual characters?

The Bisexual Resources List (cf. section A20) gives up-to-date details of how to get lists of books (both general literature, and specifically Science Ficton/Fantasy) with bisexual themes and/or characters. Additions to these lists are always welcomed.

A19. What is the Kinsey scale?

Dr. Alfred Kinsey created a scale, graduated between heterosexuality and homosexuality, to rate individuals on actual experiences and psychological reactions. The ratings are as follows:

0 - Entirely heterosexual.
1 - Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual.
2 - Predominantly heterosexual, but with a distinct homosexual history.
3 - Equally heterosexual and homosexual.
4 - Predominantly homosexual, but with a distinct heterosexual history.
5 - Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual.
6 - Entirely homosexual.

Clearly anything above 0 and less than 6 can be defined as bisexual. Although many people will say ``I am Kinsey (whatever),'' it should be noted that subsequent researchers such as Klein have found it more useful to rate people on a variety of levels, such as ``Past History,'' ``Present History,'' ``Present Feelings,'' and ``Future Inclinations''. Nevertheless the Kinsey scale remains a useful tool for discussion of sexuality precisely because it is so simple.


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