“Biphobia” refers to the discrimination and invalidation of people who identify as bisexual. It’s a common misconception that since this identity uses “bi-”, the prefix literally meaning “two”, bisexuality refers to the attraction to only two genders. That is, men and women only. But to do so eliminates a broad, diverse spectrum of attraction fundamentally included within bisexuality.
Bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders, be it cis or transgender, binary or non-binary, or any other kind of gender identity. Bisexuality includes the attraction to people that exist outside of the gender binary. It is not limited to the conventional “man or woman” gender binary that Western society so loves to enforce.
The nature of biphobia can largely be grouped into three: promiscuous stereotypes, erasure, and mislabelling.
“Promiscuous stereotypes” are fairly self-explanatory, referring to the false belief that because bisexuality encompasses more than one gender, bisexual people are by nature sexually promiscuous, demanding and/or “greedy”. It’s a type of discrimination whose effect is compounded by prevailing societal norms, such as the demonisation of sexual relations outside of marriage. These negative stereotypes aim to confine bisexuality to a purely sexual nature, one with no regard to emotional connect or relationships, thus making it easier to attach feelings of shame, disgust or impropriety to bisexuality.
To see it in action, take the example of “unicorn hunting” — a modern trend of heterosexual couples targeting bisexual women via online dating platforms strictly for sexual relations. The harassment faced by these women, based on their sexual orientation, is unfair and disregarded by larger society. In the words of Aditi Murti, this phenomenon “commodifies queer women” into mere objects for sexual gratification. It is reductive, targeted hyper-sexualisation.
Better, then, to bring your attention to the relationships of bisexual people. Attraction to two or more genders is the definition, not a metric by which to judge bisexual people for their existence. The importance of our emotional, romantic connections is often cast aside in favour of fervent debate on the morality of our sexuality. If one feels both sexual and romantic attraction, then both are within one’s range. They’re not mutually exclusive. To dictate the freedom and right to sexist of the bisexual community according to their sexual habits is such a puritan concept, it’s absurd.
Then, “erasure”. Such a powerful word for powerlessness. After all, how can you demand to be considered equal when you don’t exist? This is the feeling of bisexual erasure: the bias from both heterosexual and homosexual people that bisexuality is not real.
And it’s not as black-and-white as direct statements. Erasure can be exhibited through smaller phrases and actions, just as damaging in their collective impact. It could be implying that someone’s bisexuality is “just a phase”. It could be branding bisexuals as closeted gay people, simply wishing to “appear straight”. It could be enforcing the idea that people can only be attracted to one other gender.
The boldest example of bisexual erasure is what I like to call the “default theory”. To generalise, most commonly, bisexual women are reduced to straight women who are “following the trend”, and bisexual men are similarly called closeted gay men, “faking straight”. The default, here, is common: attraction to men. On its own, by no means a bad thing. But the fact that biphobes use their prejudice to invalidate a community’s sense of self via the undermining of women on the stage of attraction is telling, to say the least.
Details and other examples of bisexual erasure are naturally much more nuanced in practice. This merely serves as a demonstration of one reason that bisexual erasure harms everyone. It reinforces gender roles and serves to undermine the place of women in determining one’s own identity.
Finally, we come to “mislabelling”. In recent decades, a new form of biphobia has emerged particularly in online LGBTQ+ discourse and debate. Identities such as “pansexual” and “omnisexual” have arisen, typically referred to as “micro-identities” as they intend to define bisexuality as a larger umbrella that they fall under, but are not conflated with.
The key distinction that many non-bisexual individuals adhere to is that, pansexuality is the attraction to individuals “regardless of gender”, specifically stating that bisexuality is dependent upon the biological sex of the individual in question.
For instance, a well-worn pansexual slogan reads: “Hearts, not parts!”
Seemingly innocuous; seemingly harmless. But there are many within the bisexual community that resent the separation, considering it a misunderstanding of what bisexuality means and casting our identity in a poorly-deserved light.
The choice to distinguish individual identities is based upon the stipulation that bisexuality is inherently exclusive of people who are transgender, non-binary or who identify otherwise to their biological sex. To many bisexuals, this is discriminatory. It is the argument that bisexuality by its very nature is transphobic and conforming to the gender binary — an image that is at best, offensive and wholly untrue, and at worst, a gross flattening of bisexuality into a two-dimensional tool for heteronormativity.
To suggest that we need a new, different word for people who are attracted to those outside of the gender binary is to suggest that bisexuality is a tool in actively enforcing the gender binary. It is to suggest that bisexuality never included non-binary people at all. Not only inaccurate, but so too, ham-fisted in its derogation towards the non-binary community.
The stance of bisexuals against the use of “micro-identities” is not to demean new sexual orientations and identities from evolving and defining themselves. It is to simply raise the question: if one truly does accept, acknowledge and validate the bisexual identity, are these new terms necessary at all?
The acceptance of the bisexual community is one that is integral to the livelihood of the larger LGBTQ+ right movement. Bisexuality, just as all sexual orientations, carries subtleties that help us understand our own relationship and connections to gender, attraction and self-determination. Healthy inclusion is the name of the game, and deconstructing harmful schools of thought such as biphobia is the first step of the journey.