Content warning: this post discusses biphobia and lesbophobia
A YouGov poll was published the other day which revealed that 43% of 18-24 year olds don’t identify as completely straight, or completely gay, with pretty substantial chunks of other generations also being somewhere in the middle on the Kinsey scale (a third of 25-39 year olds identify this way; heck, even 21% of 60+ year olds don’t identify as exclusively straight or gay). Nowhere in the reporting did it mention how many people identified as bisexuals, preferring to focus on heteros and gay and lesbian people.
In fact, having a look at the full dataset revealed only 2% of people surveyed identified as bi. This held up for the 18-24 year old demographic, and was pretty much the same for most generations, although the 60+s had half that, and my generation, the 25-39 year olds had double the proportion of bisexuals than the younger generation, with a still fucking titchy 4% identifying as bi.
So what gives? Why are there so few bisexuals, despite a whopping 35% of hetero-identified people thinking they might have sex with someone of the same sex when it came down to it? Why so few bisexuals when so many aren’t identifying as exclusively straight or gay?
First and foremost, I don’t think it’s a product of the tumblr-generation-made-up-sexualities bullshit line that usually gets trotted out when queer folk come up with new words which better fit their sexualities. I don’t think this because of the absolutely tiny proportions who would describe their sexuality as something “other” than heterosexual, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. Only 2% of young people chose “other”, and even smaller proportions of the older generations. So, whatever’s going on, it’s got nothing to do with having the right words to express how they feel.
Maybe it’s a gender thing, to do with how women’s sexuality is constructed. That’s a definite possibility. Placing themselves on the Kinsey scale, 76% of women (compared to 68% of men) placed themselves at “completely heterosexual”. Despite this, following up with straight-identified women revealed only 46% would rule out ever being attracted to another woman and only half would rule out sex or a relationship with another woman. This pattern was not the same for men, where roughly the same numbers who identified as het would rule these things out. Something doesn’t quite add up here, and I suspect that it’s down to the fact heteropatriarchy doesn’t really believe sex and attraction between women exists–or if it does, it doesn’t count. It’s just gals being pals. So, women’s heterosexual identity is not at all threatened by the fact they could see themselves fancying other women and having sex with them and growing old together in the same bed.
That might account for some of it. Some of it. But there’s still a hell of a lot of people who fit the definition of bi, but do not apply it to themselves. This is probably because of the fact that bisexuals don’t exist. Ask a straight-identified person, and they’ll probably say bisexuals are actually gays who aren’t out of the closet yet. Ask a gay-identified person, and they’ll also probably say bisexuals are actually gays who aren’t out of the closet yet (unless they’re straights trying to infiltrate queer spaces). You might also get the standard grumble about tumblr-generation-made-up-sexualities–despite the fact the word “bisexual” was coined at the same time as “heterosexual” and “homosexual”.
I can barely think of an instance where I have heard the word “bisexual” applied to a fictional character: um, maybe Thirteen in House? Possibly the slutty one in Coupling, I think they mentioned she was pretending to be bisexual for attention? Did anyone actually outright say that Tick in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was bi? I feel, like, 90% sure that maybe the word came up there? Like, seriously, please leave a comment below if you can think of characters to whom the word “bisexual” is actually, canonically applied, because I am desperately struggling to think of them. Yes, we’re finally getting to see characters who fuck people of any gender, who love people of any gender, who experience attraction… but the word just doesn’t come up.
Because of this invisibility, there’s still a lot of confusion over what being bisexual even means, no doubt obfuscated a lot by structural biphobia (e.g. the myth that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary, the myth that you have to fancy both equally, the stigma attached to the label). Given the invisibility (and the often poor representation that comes up when it’s actually applied), the myths and stigmas can run free, making people reticent to wear a label that actually fits. People don’t feel like they’re “bi enough” to wear it, or they think wearing it means they are upholding an oppressive binary, or they think it makes them gross plague rats. And I can totally see why this means one might prefer no label to one which monosexuals–straights and gay people alike–have turned into a dirty word.
And of course “bi” isn’t a dirty word. It’s an innocuous label, and one which would fit a pretty sizeable proportion of the population if there wasn’t all the stigma surrounding it.
Update, about five hours after posting this: I confused myself, wondering if I myself was right to describe myself as bi. And then I decided I don’t give a flying fuck, and I am bi. You can see me waffling to myself here. tl;dr my goodness sexuality and identity is ~hard~