Being Bisexual: Experiences of Bisexual Women

BCN 123 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 123, February 2014

Being bisexual can be problematic in many ways, namely the stereotypes and stigmas attached to bisexuality. Bisexuality as a sexual identity has, in recent years, been given more thought in academia and perhaps more generally throughout society but how often do we actually hear real life experiences of bisexuals and their thoughts on the issues they deal with daily? We are all far too aware off the issues that surround bisexuality, from being stigmatised within a community that we are supposedly a part of, to the difficulties of finding love in a society that does not acknowledge your existence, as well as a lack of social space and definition in relation to current relationship. These are all issues raised when talking to women about their thoughts on being bisexual, as was the case on interviewing 5 self-identifying bisexual women on their personal experiences surrounding their sexuality.

Many women related to the notion that their sexual identity was established years before they themselves acknowledged it. It seems that many women find, that on reflection, their feelings towards both men and women are apparent from quite a young age, anywhere between five or six to teenage years but these feelings obviously have no outlet at this stage in one’s life and therefore it is mainly during adolescence, and the period of self discovery that comes with this, that women begin to identify themselves as bisexual. The following quotes mirror the experiences of many bisexual women;

Jane:  “Well, I kind…I realized when I was maybe about maybe…twelve or thirteen that I felt things for woman that my friends that were girls didn’t feel. So I think at that point I realized that I was maybe a wee bit different. But I was always, out of my group of friends, the one that was more sexually liberated in the sense that I may be understood a bit more about bisexuality even at that stage before I understood it all myself than what they did.”

Scarlet: “I had, y’know I’d picked that up even from an early child, um, like I think my kinda youngest erotic sort of memory is from maybe six or seven which was towards a woman and then later I had a similar sort of thing towards a guy. So from like a very young age, I had feelings and when I became a teenager I learned what the name for that was.”

No-one chooses their sexual orientation; sexuality is something that we all discover at different times in our lives via different experiences. However, it seems that at least for these bisexual women feelings towards both men and women were apparent from an early age. Although you can be too young to understand what that feeling was, upon reflection these women drew upon their personal experiences to realise that certain feelings towards particular people of both genders were early manifestations of their sexual identity, an identity now that these women embrace wholeheartedly. This was a reoccurring theme throughout the interview process with 4 in 5 women sharing this experience;

Ramona: “I had known that I’ve had feelings for women, um… probably since I was like, an infant but obviously there’s no outlet for it. So, about…, I kind of just accepted it within myself but didn’t, didn’t, y’know no one knows what it means really at that age but, um…yeah when it got to 15 I came out to my mum.”

Amy: “I think have suspected it for most of my life but um… I think I sort of actually came out to myself, late bloomer, possibly around the age of 21 or so.”

Although these women had acknowledged themselves as being bisexual, all faced problems when sharing this identity with others. The stigmas attached to bisexuality are unfortunately exceptionally well known to us all; greedy, indecisive, promiscuous, unable to commit, in denial, to name but a few. It is these stigmas and misconceptions that are more often than not  seen when coming out as bisexual to friends and family as was the case with many of the women interviewed;

Jane: “And my mum actually, we were having an argument about something and it came up and she said y’know it just basically means that you are going to cheat because you are attracted to both genders that must mean that if you have a boyfriend, you’ll sleep with a girl and if you have a girlfriend you’ll sleep with a boy. It’s just there’s just a y’know not a…a lack of understanding and I can understand it is difficult for people to get there head around…”

Amy: “I don’t actually speak to my parents all that much now. Um, obviously being in a different country from them has an impact on that but um, yeah… we have major difficulties even y’know, even though it’s been 10 years um, y’know it still, um, their sort of points of contention are really bigoted, they’ve said some really horrible things to me um, over the years. Y’know, they’ve said all the sorts of things they could say about my sexuality and y’know queer sexuality in general from it’s a phase to y’know it’s a sin and y’know , you’re going to hell and all of that lovely stuff.”

Both of these women can be seen to have come across stigmas that face bisexuals when coming out especially to parents, however, of the women interviewed most conceded that despite the initial reaction, coming out to friends and family was relatively straight forward when compared with coming out in the workplace. This proved a major issue with all participants involved in the interview process, with all either having refused to share their sexuality among work colleagues or experiencing significant negativity when their sexual identity was known.

Scarlet: “I have never come out at work ever, and I have no intention of doing so”

Louise: “Work was probably where I thought it was going to impact on how I was perceived the most; I was working as a support worker at the time, dealing with people who had substance abuse issues, were probably quite vulnerable. Em, there was a number of gay people “out” at work, a lot of people who identified as gay at work, I didn’t have massively strong relationships with them at the time and there was quite a lot of intense relationships at work. Non sexual but intense because of the nature of the work and it was a small team, there was a fair amount of gossip, things like that. I think I was very, very keen to keep my sort of um, professional life quite, separate. I didn’t want questions asked of me personally at work”

Bi-invisibility is a rejection of bisexuality as a valid sexual identity, often by categorising bisexuals as naive homosexuals who cannot yet completely accept their “true” sexuality. This rejection is often put down to bisexuality being seen as disrupting the social norms and values that have been instilled in a heteronormative society. The notion of bi-invisibility can clearly be seen in these women’s experiences in the work place with each of them feeling very uncomfortable with the idea of coming out at work due to the negative attitudes that would face them. Jane, a LGBT youth worker, shared this experience despite her work place being within the LGBT sphere;

“I’m a youth worker with LGBT Youth and there was y’know we were talking about our coming out stories and there was another young woman and I said something about like the first person that I fell in love with was a woman and, and they couldn’t…like one of the girls was like “so you’re gay?” and I said “no, I’m not gay, I’m bisexual”, “but you fell in love with a woman?”, “yeah”, “but that must mean that you’re gay”. And so there were…just, y’know it’s just a lack of understanding it’s just a y’know you must fit into one of those categories.”

Jane’s experience confirms that bi-invisibility is apparent from within the LGBT community despite bisexuality being signified in the acronym. Jane links her experiences in the work place to a lack of understanding, which is clearly visible in the experiences of the other women interviewed; this lack of understanding could be accounted for in the construction of a heteronormative society as well as the strained relationship between gay/lesbian history and bisexual history.

From the above accounts it is clear that bisexuality remains heavily stigmatised if not ignored completely. Bisexuals remain misunderstood despite the recent marginal increase in academic literature concerning bisexuality as a valid sexual identity as well as the recent change in societal attitudes towards homosexuality creating a marginal change in societal attitudes towards bisexuality. However, from talking to these individuals about their life experiences in relation to claiming bisexuality as their sexual identity, it is abundantly clear that it is these women and their fortitude who should be role models for us all.

E. L. Smith