The AfterEllen Bisexuality Roundtable (Part 1): Real Talk About Stereotypes and Misconceptions

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At AfterEllen, our amazing writing staff comes from various professional backgrounds, upbringings, ethnicities and sexual identities. Some of us identify as lesbian, while others are proudly bisexual and queer. Each and everyone one of our writers puts their heart and soul into the articles you read, which is one of the reasons we wanted to have a frank, candid talk about bisexuality. What we’ve noticed is that on pieces that feature bisexual women, or bi characters, the comments section becomes quite heated. Add to that the data from a recent study that shows that bisexual women are more likely to “experience poor mental health and mental distress than lesbians,” suffer from eating disorders, self harm and depression. The stigma that the bisexual women in our community face is real, and cannot, and should not be ignored. We asked our bisexual identified writers Anna Pulley, Eboni Rafus, Ali Davis, Chelsea Steiner and Miranda Meyer to talk about their experiences as bisexual women, and the stigmas they face. The discussion was led by lesbian identified Staff Editor Dana Piccoli.

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Dana Piccoli: When did you first know you were bisexual?

Anna Pulley: Around 20. I had been straight up until that point, and then, like, developed a huge crush on a girl, but certainly didn’t feel myself like being 100% gay and I certainly got a hell of a lot gayer after that. Yeah. So it was around 20. You know, college—the experimental college days.

Eboni Rafus: I was an even later bloomer. I always knew that I thought other girls were pretty or there was some sort of attraction there, but I don’t think I realized that that was romantic or sexual attraction. I was always, like, best friends with the most popular and most beautiful girl in school, and all the guys had crushes on her. I think it took me a while to realize that that was probably a crush as well—how I felt towards her. I didn’t come out as bisexual until I was 30. I’m 37 now. Yeah. Well, I thought that I might be in college, but I just never got a real chance to like date a woman until I was 29, and then once I realized that, that was the case I came out that I was bisexual. I came out two months later.

Ali Davis: Definitely college, realizing it, but I felt like I was just dealing with the fact that I had a huge crush on a girl and I remember—like I had this moment where I was walking along across campus thinking like, “OK. So I’m in love with a girl. I guess I’m a lesbian now.” And then walking past the men’s soccer team practicing shirtless and being like, “Ah. What am I then?” So, figuring it out probably, yeah, 20, but then probably not really dealing with it because it wasn’t a thing I wanted to be, and so probably 24 or 25 was when I was like, ‘This is what fits and that’s an OK thing.”

Chelsea Steiner: I don’t think I had the name for it, but in high school I definitely remember being attracted to women. But I came from a family that, while super liberal and gay-friendly, didn’t consider bisexuality “a thing.” I assumed that since I still liked guys, I was just “confused.” Ugh, I hate that word. It wasn’t until college when sexual fluidity joined the lexicon and I let myself be myself that I realized I was bi and it was OK. 

Miranda Meyer: It’s kind of a weird drawn-out process. So I went around like kissing girls and had being madly and pathetically like constantly in love with this woman in college, and didn’t come to the conclusion that I was bi until, like, last year. I’m 25 now.

Dana: So, welcome!

Miranda: Thank you. For years and I’m not sure why. I think maybe because I had never—kind of similarly—just had a real opportunity to, like, explore it in a more serious way, so it was always, “Oh, that sort of thing just happens. Let’s not think about it.” And the, like—this is sort of hilariously millennial of me. I came across some post on Tumblr, actually, that was sort of giving a different definition of bisexuality than I had ever seen before. And I can hook this up for you later if you want or maybe, like, while other people are talking, but it made a point of being, like, that this person likes these definitions because it’s more inclusive—like it doesn’t have to be like you’re exactly 50/50 in your attraction. And I thought about it and I was like, “Well, I think that does apply to me. So OK then.” After that was sort of easy. So, yeah, it was a strangely kind of staggered process.

 

Dana: What do you think is the biggest misconception about bisexuals?

Anna: Oh, God. There’s so many. I think probably the biggest one is that people continue to think we don’t exist, especially with bisexual men. Bisexual women—they’re more just doing it to turn men on, or apparently out to break every lesbian’s heart because there seems to be kind of a personal vendetta. Like one bisexual hurts your feelings and then you’re just like, ‘That’s it. Fuck them all. I’m done. I don’t want to deal with these people anymore.” So, but yeah, probably the existence thing. It’s still sort of considered a phase or an indecisiveness, or like the stepping stone to your true orientation. And also that if your partner is monogamous, stay with one gender, that your bisexuality is erased—that you don’t have that desire anymore.

Eboni: Yeah. I agree with everything that Anna said, but also the idea that you can only be satisfied dating one gender or the other. So, if I’m dating a woman then I’m obviously going to cheat on her because I just need to be with a man as well, and vice versa. And basically what it comes down to for me is that people think of my sexuality as who I’m dating, not that it’s innate, and that’s a part of who I am, but based on who I’m with at the time. So when I’m with a woman, people assume I’m a lesbian. If I’m with a man, people assume I’m straight. And if I’m dating a man and then I date a woman, then all of a sudden I’ve turned lesbian and if I’m dating a woman and then we break up and I’m dating a man it’s like I’m a hasbian, not a lesbian. So it’s just my sexuality is just based on whoever I’m with, not based on my own sexual attractions, and that’s part of my identity.

Ali: Yeah. I would echo both these fine ladies. Yeah. It’s the misconception that if you’re bi you’re always looking for something else or that you have to be actively bisexual and dating multiple people or you somehow checked out of it, and then that in turn leads to an idea that’s temporary. Like I even have a second cousin who is a gay man and he was weird about me, like he thanked me for going to an anti-Prop 8 rally once, and I was like, “Well, it affects me, too.” And he’s like, “Well, no, because you’ll just end up with a man, right?” I was just like, “You’re supposed to know better.” And that’s saying of like it’s the thing you do for a while and then you either realize you’re a lesbian or you pretend your straight, or whatever the—there’s no legitimacy to it. You can always move the goal post so that it’s not a real thing.

Dana: [laughs] I like the moving the goal post analogy.

Chelsea: I think that everyone assumes we’re slutty, indecisive cheaters! What’s frustrating is that no matter who you end up with, that partner becomes your default signifier. Now that I’m in a long term relationship with a man, everyone assumes I’m straight or that my dating women was some kind of phase. And on the other hand, if you end up with a woman, then you were “gay in denial.” We can’t win, y’all.

Miranda: Yeah. I mean I think everybody kind of covered most of the common ones. The thing I always think is interesting is I feel like they’re all sort of thematically connected by this idea like of flightiness. So if you’re greedy because you’re never going to settle down, you’re never going to pick someone, but at the same time that same flightiness is the reason that like your orientation isn’t real because it’s just you doing whatever you want, which is why, in turn, you’re then going to, like, pick a side or the other, and it all going to go away and it was just a phase. So, which all kind of ties into this idea of, like, it’s not a real thing.

 

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