There’s a Henry Rollins monologue on “Think Tank” in which he muses about the joys of being bisexual. “How awesome would it be to be bisexual?” he quips. “To just walk into a room and go ‘MMMM, ALRIGHT!!!!'” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed before: with double the number of opportunities for attraction, dating while bisexual must be like sampling a sexual buffet, with endless options available to you. The truth, however, is quite a bit more complicated.
A recent survey conducted by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health revealed that – in spite of increased acceptance of same-sex relationships – bisexuals still face prejudice and stigma, even within the gay community. Fifteen percent of the respondents did not believe bisexuality to be a legitimate sexual orientation, with straight men demonstrating the most negative attitudes towards bisexuals, and male bisexuals being judged more harshly than female ones.
As a person who’s dated both men and women for over a decade, the University of Pittsburgh survey isn’t particularly surprising. And in speaking with other people who are attracted to multiple genders, it became clear that my experiences on the dating scene aren’t unique. (And some of people I interviewed eschewed the label bisexual in favor of one that reflected a non-binary understanding of gender and attraction, like queer, sapiosexual, or pansexual.)
Refusing to commit to dating one gender leads people to assume all sorts of things about you. Liz, 39, can easily recount them, “I’m ‘super slutty,’ I’m ‘indecisive,’ I am ‘greedy,’ I’m ‘closeted,’ I’m ‘selfish,’ I’m an ‘attention-whore’.” Bisexual men are assumed to be secretly gay; bisexual women viewed as straight girls who are just pretending.
Though ostensibly a part of the LGBT community, bisexuals often face rejection when pursuing relationships with those who identify as L or G. “I’ve been very surprised by the amount of gay men that have told me they would never be intimate with a bisexual man,” Matthew, 18, confided in me. “Gay men just think I’ll get out of this phase eventually,” shared another man who asked to remain anonymous. Bee, 24, echoed the sentiment. “I’m terrified of lesbian identified women finding me undesirable or gross because I also happen to love men, too – this has happened before, and it super sucks,” she says. For some, rejection from gays or lesbians takes on a tone of outright hostility. “You know what’s a phrase you never, ever want to use in a gay bar? ‘I’m bi.’ Nobody wanted to lay a hand on me…I damn well found out nobody wanted me in there after that,” offered Fletcher, 26.
Many bisexual women report that straight partners are more accepting of their identity. Although a few of the women I spoke with reported having male partners who were uncomfortable with their sexual orientation, most had positive experiences with acceptance from straight men. Still, several women reported that straight men were more likely to fetishize them, or to see them as a sure path to a threeway. “A lot of straight guys think it’s a turn-on, which is an immediate sign for me to stop dating that person. My sexuality isn’t for your amusement,” says Amber, 26.
Bisexual men, on the other hand, reported that many female partners were uncomfortable with their identity. “I was branded a ‘fag’ by an ex to a large social group when my next partner was male,” said Wil, 24. Fletcher recalled a major scene that involved spitting and “the phrase ‘cum-stained lips.'” Which is not to say that things are always negative for bisexual men who date straight women: a thirty-four year old man from Montreal told me that he “had a straight ex who was excited about being able to gossip about dudes with me.”
As to the survey’s suggestion that heterosexual men have the most difficulty understanding bisexuality? Tensions seemed strongest between bisexual men and their straight male friends. “I tend not to discuss it with straight men, in the past they’ve reacted pretty badly and now I just don’t bother,” a man from New Zealand reported.
Many of the people I spoke with reported a primarily heterosexual dating history, though less because of desire than the greater probability of finding a compatible partner. As Liz explained, “If the accepted figure is that 10% of people are gay, then I’ve got — at best! — a 1 in 10 chance of having an advance accepted by a lady that gets my motor running. Which are shitty odds.”
For many, the advent of online dating services has presented an opportunity to be candid about bisexuality, and provides the means to screen out biphobic suitors. But it should be noted that this strategy is not without its perils: “A lot of people out there assume that bisexual (and non-monogamous) means ‘will sleep with anyone’ and message me asking for threesomes with them and their wife/husband, or with the assumption that I will sleep with them because they’re alive,” reports Katie, 26.
Of course, there remains the strategy of dating the one group guaranteed to be comfortable with bisexuality. As one gentleman told me, “The most positive reaction [I’ve gotten] is simple relief, from fellow bisexuals because they feel–as I do, actually–that dating other bisexuals saves them a lot of hassle.” In this case it seems opposites don’t attract, especially when your opposite is attracted to both genders.