Bisexuality, Gender & Romantic Relationships

This originally appeared in BCN issue 114.

An analysis of the lived experience of bisexual women and their romantic relationships.

Even in contemporary society there are still many prejudices that are held against individuals and their identities.

As we know, bisexuality is a prime example of an identity which struggles to be seen both in wider society but also in the LGBT community; despite being included in the acronym bisexuality is often invisible in discussion or research surrounding issues faced by people within the LGBT community.
This was a major contributing factor when developing and undertaking my research project entitled “Bisexuality, Gender and romantic Relationships” which concentrates on providing a detailed analysis of the lived experiences of five self-identifying bisexual women and their romantic relationships in order to establish and share an accurate understanding of what it means to be bisexual in contemporary society and the issues that still surround this which can affect societal  relationships as well as personal relationships.
As much literature suggests it is contested that bisexuality is a valid sexual identity by many theorist and indeed many individuals throughout society; bisexuality is often thought of by these groups as a self-contradictory identity. It is this that leads to bisexuality being either disputed as a valid identity or being seen as “half and half”; a combination of both homosexuality and heterosexuality (Rust, 2002). However, all of the women interviewed in this research project stated how clear they were about their identities as bisexual women and what this meant for them. Claiming a bisexual identity was considerably linked to a fluidity of gender in that gender is seen as a free-floating artifice that does not necessarily coincide with the sex of a person; this was directly linked with the women’s experiences of romantic attraction to both sexes.
Substantial emphasis was placed on the importance of individuality when feeling a sexual/ romantic attraction to another person; the women interviewed stated that any attraction they feel is based on individual traits, which may be stereotypical to a certain gender but to them were qualities that either a man or a woman may possess such as trust, friendship, a ‘connection’, etc.
The research findings illustrate that there is a direct correlation between the importance of individuality when looking for romantic relationships and the notion that romantic love can be experienced and perceived differently for everyone; this is mainly demonstrated in each woman’s description of how they view romantic love in terms of the person whom they love and the qualities/ traits of this person. However, this is an area that requires significant further research in order to fully explore this concept; research which has yet to be undertaken.
As briefly mentioned above and interlinked with the notion of ‘importance of individuality’, the binary concepts of gender and the stereotypes surrounding these is a notion which each of the women interviewed fundamentally reject. The participants here were keen to distance themselves and their experiences of romantic relationships from any notion of hetero-normative gender boundaries, although they did agree that unfortunately these gender boundaries still exist in contemporary society. Most participants do not link gender boundaries with concepts of romantic love; it was stated that although sometimes gender boundaries can be seen in romantic relationships this is primarily down to socialisation and the unnecessary importance that hetero-normative society places on gender roles. Therefore, gender boundaries seen in romantic relationships are not constrained by gender but instead are a product of gendered socialisation. For these women, claiming their bisexual identity and their romantic relationships illustrates the futility of binary concepts of gender as it is about individual preference or style rather than gendered norms values and expectations.
Bisexuals are often victims of negative stereotyping, not only among the general community but also within the LGBT community; this not only affects the individual but also affects their romantic relationships. The range of stereotypical misconceptions and insults used against bisexuals will be well known to everyone who identifies as bisexual from “you just can’t make up your mind”, “it’s just a phase”, “you must cheat all the time” to countless more disrespectful stereotypes based solely on hetero-normative societies’ misconception of bisexuality as a valid sexual identity; often resulting in bi-invisibility or biphobia.
This can have a significant impact on the romantic relationships of bisexuals as several of the women stated that their sexuality is assumed to be either heterosexual or homosexual depending on the sex of their sexual/romantic partner; bisexuals therefore often have to ‘come out’ with every change  in their romantic relationships. This indicates that love and romantic relationships may be somewhat more difficult for bisexuals to define as not only does it define their marital status but it also defines societies’ perceptions of them.
“Romantic love”, for Giddens (1992), is a concept that is heteronormative in its qualities and therefore mainly experienced by heterosexuals. Giddens (1992) states that affection, passion and commitment are all attributes of “romantic love” which insinuates that love for people with non-heterosexual sexual identities are unlikely to experience these qualities in their relationships.
However, the participants in this research all described their relationships using adjectives which correspond to Giddens’ notion of “romantic love”. Thus, it is clear to see that “romantic love” is not a feeling which is exclusive to heterosexuals. The women interviewed all stated that love and romantic relationships are experiences that are different for everyone no matter your gender or sexual identity.
Given the misconceptions of bisexuality and its link with necessary non-monogamy (Kleese, 2005) it is important to state that only one of the five women interviewed openly shared that she did indeed practice non-monogamy in her romantic relationships. However, Scarlet also shared that non-monogamy is a part of her personal identity and not a part of her sexuality; “Those are both two separate things and there’s a part of me that thinks even if I was not bisexual, even if I was hetero or homosexual, I would still have that part of me that likes to have other people involved in the relationship too. So, I don’t see it as being part of being bisexual.”(Smith, 2012)
This statement illustrates two important points namely non-monogamy and bisexuality are not necessarily interlinked; this is a matter of personal preference and is just as likely to be visible in heterosexual or homosexual relationships and secondly, since Scarlet is happily married and non-monogamy is an agreed and discussed part of that marriage, it also shows that romantic love is an experience which is a highly individualistic. Therefore, Giddens’ (1992) dualistic notion of love has been significantly contradicted and it is clear that perceptions of romantic love and romantic relationships are not linked to sexuality or gender but instead are subjective experiences.
This research cannot offer a generalised view of how all bisexuals perceive love and romantic relationships and indeed that was never the point of undertaking this research. However, it was made clear through the phenomenological experiences of the five women who took part in this study that romantic relationships/ romantic love is a concept that is not easily theorised; participants demonstrated a variety of features that they attribute to their experiences of romantic love and relationships and what is most evident throughout this research is that these experiences were neither motivated or defined by gender or sexuality.

Emma Smith
Further reading & references:
Giddens, A (1992), “The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love & Eroticism in Modern Societies”, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd
Kleese, C (2005), “Bisexual Women, Non-Monogamy and Differentialist Anti-Promiscuity Discourses.”, “Sexualities”, 8 (445), pp. 445 – 464, London: Sage Publication
Smith, E (2012), “Bisexuality, Romantic Relationships and Gender”, Edinburgh: Queen Margaret University
Rust, P.C. (2002), “Bisexuality: The State of the Union”, “Annual Review of Sex Research”, Issue 13, pp.180-239