Bi the Bi: Does 'Bisexual' Imply That There Are Only Two Genders?

Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues

This blog post is part of an ongoing conversation between two bisexual activists. A.J. Walkley and Sarah Smith* are both monogamous, bisexual, cisgender females who are in long-term relationships. A.J. is in a relationship with a cisgender male, and Sarah is in a relationship with a cisgender female. Both A.J. and Sarah are committed to remaining visible as bisexuals in spite of society's tendency to want to label A.J. as heterosexual and Sarah as a lesbian. Together they came up with the idea for "Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues" as a way to help eliminate stereotypes and bias against people in the bisexual community.


Question: "Does 'bisexual' imply that there are only two genders?"

A.J.: The idea that bisexuals are attracted to only two genders is an incredibly common stereotype of all bisexuals. Many people assume that the "bi" aspect of the word "bisexuality" implies a gender binary, and that those who identify as bisexual are only attracted to males and females. Though there are definitely bisexual individuals who are only attracted to cisgender people with male and female gender identities, there are also bisexuals who are attracted to people who are transgender, intersex, genderqueer and more; this assumed definition of "bisexual" leaves out those of us who are attracted to gender-nonconforming people -- those who fall outside the "male" and "female" ends of an incredibly wide gender spectrum. Last summer I actually wrote a blog post about this issue in which I explained that, according to the definition of bisexuality put forth in the 1990 "Bisexual Manifesto," bisexuality does not "assume that there are only two genders." On the contrary, the binary implied in the word "bisexual" pertains to our ability to be attracted both to individuals who are the "same" as us and to those are "different" from us -- meaning we have the capacity to be attracted to people all across the gender and sexuality spectra.

Unfortunately, definitions of "bisexual" do not always encompass this truth. Just look at the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of the term: "of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward both sexes." The fact that "both sexes" is referred to not only leaves out an incredible amount of people with whom many bisexuals enter into relationships but disregards the fact that there are many, many more than just two sexes or genders. Would you agree, Sarah?

Sarah: Defining bisexuality, just like defining any identity label, can be complicated and controversial. My definition of the label "bisexual" is informed by the work of The Bisexual Organizing Project. It includes people who use labels such as "bisexual," "non-monosexual," "persexual," "omnisexual," "ambisexual," "pansexual," "queer" or any other term that people use to identify themselves as individuals who are emotionally, romantically or physically attracted to people of more than one sex, gender or gender identity. I also recognize that not everyone chooses to adopt a label to describe their sexual orientation, and I also include non-labeling people who see themselves as part of a queer, non-monosexual or bisexual community under my definition of "bisexual."

When I say I'm a bisexual activist, I conceptualize myself as someone who is taking action to improve the lives of all people who fit under my definition of bisexual. As a bisexual person I have a tangible understanding of what biphobia is and how it is unique from other forms of oppression. I understand the power of bi pride, and I'm on a mission to strengthen it in myself and share it with others.

The word "bisexual" doesn't imply that there are only two genders any more than the words "heterosexual," "homosexual" or lesbian do. Each of the sexual identity groups I just mentioned is going through its own process of developing a more sophisticated understanding of gender. I applaud everyone who is talking about and challenging the concept that people must be trapped in gender roles assigned to them by society. I stand in solidarity with those who are working to build a society that embraces all forms of gender identity and expression.

Readers, it's your turn: How would you answer this question?

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