As I sat across from my date at a bar patio, the orange hue of street lights creating a halo around her, I shared the story of an awkward date. She asked for the gender of the person. Yes, this was a man, I informed her. It seemed like a harmless question until later in the date, when she proceeded to talk about her poor experiences with bi women. At our next bar, she talked about how her previous dates and online connections with bi women eventually ended without any physical connection and surmised that they really wanted to date men. She questioned if these people actually wanted to sleep with women at all. I wasn’t sure what she imagined they wanted out of their dates with her.
There’s no comparable situation with men. The world still assumes heterosexuality as the norm and the world generally sees me as a straight woman rather than a bi nonbinary person. So men usually aren’t going to assume that my lack of interest in sleeping with them, whether immediately or never, means that I’m not interested in any men at all. When I have told straight men I’m dating that I’m bi, the reaction has often been a swift change from sharing favorite movies to overtly sexual comments. Once, within minutes of mentioning that I’m bi, my date escalated his aggressive behavior to sexual assault. I felt that the way bisexual women and femmes in particular are portrayed as performing their sexuality for men may have made it easier for him, along with other misogynistic ideas he may have already held, to justify this dehumanization. Bi people of all genders have consistently treated me with more respect, with one date waving her hand at me over a couple beers and saying “You don’t have to go through your dating history with me.” In my experience and my bi friends’ experiences, we’re often asked to share our romantic and sexual histories with various genders on dates, and it gets tiresome.
Several people who spoke with Autostraddle shared their unique experiences dating as bisexual and queer people, including the hyper-sexualization of bi people and polyamorous people in particular, the idea that bi people will always “leave them” for a person of another gender, how bi people seek out other bi people, and the ways nonbinary people have treated their bi dates and partners with more understanding. Being bi has shaped the way they have dated, such as preferring to date other bi people, the hypersexualization of bi women by straight men, managing the insecurities and expectations of other people they’re involved with, or debunking myths about their relationships in their own community. Some of the bi women and nonbinary people Autostraddle spoke with chose to go by either their first name or a psuedonym. They will have an asterisk by their name.
Bi women face a number of health and economic barriers compared to other people in the LGBTQ community. Bi women have reported poorer health outcomes and are more likely to depend on SNAP benefits and Medicaid than monosexual peers, according to 2018 analysis from the Center for American Progress. Some of bi people’s negative health outcomes may be the result of feeling alienated from all monosexual communities, internalization of the stigmas bi people face, and the loneliness that comes as a result of it, researchers say. Bi people are also less likely to disclose their bisexuality to healthcare providers, according to 2012 research from the Williams Institute. Research on sexual violence has established that bisexual women have higher rates of sexual assault than straight or gay women. A 2017 Lehigh University researcher examined why that may be the case and found that sexual violence against bi women may result in part from “social construction of bisexual women as especially worthy of distrust, jealousy, and other emotions” and that the hypersexualization of bi women by men, reinforced by media representation of bi women, is also a factor.
Fear of harassment or uncomfortable interactions with lesbians has affected the way some bi people feel about dating lesbians. Miryam T*, who is nonbinary, said she hasn’t experienced direct harassment from lesbians for being bi but the rhetoric she has seen from some cis lesbians online about both bisexuality and trans people is enough to make her wary.
“Between the combination of experiencing biphobia and experiencing transmisogyny, I don’t really interact with cisgender lesbians if I can avoid it. I don’t go out of my way to avoid them but I don’t trust that they will be really happy to see me in their spaces,” she said. “ …Most of the people I’ve seen in the past few years have been trans men or nonbinary people and there’s a good reason for that. And it’s basically because those are the folks that I feel more like they understand me and I understand them.”
Miryam T said that although gay men have expressed interest in her, she tends not to date them, and tends to date trans people and bi people she can relate to more.
“I’ve been in situations with gay cis men where they were into me and I was into them but they made me feel like they thought of me more as a man, like talking about genitals,” she said. “Mostly whatever else they thought or said, they were so genital-focused… All around I feel safer with more own niche community than trying to see what the ‘proper gays’ are up to.”
Sarah* came out in her late 20s as bi after realizing she was in love with her best friend. She has had one serious relationship with a woman and is now in a monogamous relationship with a man. She said that her girlfriend at the time said she was concerned that she might leave her for a man.
“I don’t think it was so much biphobia as to have a partner who can easily meld back into heteronormativity. I think if I were a lesbian I would fear that too. But also as the person who is dating a woman it feels a little unfair, like well maybe, but currently we are dating,” she said.
She said that when she learned her best friend had feelings for her but that she was going to date a man instead, she said she felt like she was on the “opposite side” of it.
“Is she deciding to date this man over me because that is more comfortable out in the world?” she said she asked herself at the time.
Sarah added, “Knowing myself as a person who has dated a lot of men before coming out, it is comfortable for me to date men so it was a fear that I had that women I’ve dated would not want to date me or that they wouldn’t want to be with me because my experiences were mostly with men.”
She said that partners may use bisexuality as the thing they focus on as a relationship problem when they’re insecure about their relationships in general.
“I think to some extent there is a sense of insecurity in a lot of relationships that you aren’t enough for the other person — particularly in hindsight if it didn’t work out — and gender is a really tangible thing to grasp onto as a reason you think maybe you are unsatisfying to a partner or former partner,” she said. “I think it’s often an anxiety in a relationship with a bi or pansexual person because it’s so surface level. It’s so much easier to think ‘she left me or I worry she might leave me because I’m not a man/woman’ than ‘she left me because I was an asshole.’”
Chaya Milchtein, a queer polyamorous woman and automotive educator said that being poly magnifies certain stereotypes people already hold about bi people. Milchtein’s fiancée is a woman, which also affects how people receive her sexuality.
“A lot of times people assume I will date ‘the opposite sex’ like I’m missing something from my partner and where do you get all those stereotypes of bisexual people? I identify as queer but you get those bad stereotypes — like a bisexual person will cheat on with you with the opposite sex because they’re missing that or whatever. I’m not missing anything in my relationship. It’s fantastic and it’s going great. We just got engaged and who I date who is not her has frankly nothing to do with her and is no reflection on her or what she offers.”
Milchtein said that people’s perception of her sexuality has depended on her community at the time and that trans and nonbinary people have generally understood it better.
“I never dated a nonbinary person but I had the privilege of spending many years in New York where my community was mostly flexible,” she said. “But when I came out to Wisconsin, it’s a lot more rigid. I haven’t encountered many nonbinary or trans folks who are like ‘Oh I want to know who you fuck’ but the cis women have a big issue with it.”
“I quite frankly haven’t had a serious relationship with a man in a long time but I have dated and had relations with people of other genders,” Milchtein said. “But people are really surprised like I’m betraying my sexuality or something by talking about the experiences I’ve had with men in the past or that I might be interested in in the future.”
Although she said that cis men haven’t seen her attraction to other genders as a dealbreaker, she said they have focused on her queerness so much that all she becomes to them is the potential for a threesome. Milchtein said she doesn’t have a problem with threesomes and has had them and enjoyed them, but doesn’t it want it to be the focus of a date when it hasn’t previously been discussed.
“They just turn into blubbering idiots and whatever you were possibly having a conversation about all the sudden turns sexual,” she said.
Sarah said she has also experienced this assumption that her partner can’t offer her enough satisfaction because she is bi, but from her boyfriend. She said that his anxiety about it is “pretty minor” but that “men showing more than a passing comfort with bisexuality” has been a litmus test for her in any relationship she entered into with a man.
Melanie Cristol, founder and CEO of a queer-inclusive sexual health company Lorals, is a monogamous relationship with a nonbinary partner and said they have been very accepting of her sexuality.
“Their attitude toward bisexuality is so refreshing. They don’t remotely care about the genders of my former partners, and there’s not a weird undertone of fear that I’ll leave them for someone of another gender,” she said.
Another challenge for bi and queer women and nonbinary people is assumptions from monosexual people about their relationships either erase their sexuality or don’t consider that their gender and gender presentation affects which relationships people see.
Miryam T said she calls a relationship a queer relationship if queer people are in it, and being trans and bi can certainly affect how people read your relationship.
“As a baby trans woman who was dating a person who would eventually come out as a trans man in college, we both identified as queer already and we felt super weird about the appearance of being a straight couple. When in reality we were pretty far from that.”
She added, “There’s this interesting phenemenon of two people dating each other and especially two bi trans people dating each other where we’re approaching heterosexual conventions but at a great remove and great distance. If there are two cis people who are both bi and dating each other, they’re not really heterosexual. You do things to blend in and you might do things that are conventional in some ways but there’s a good chance that you’ll both be alienated enough that it will be different.”
She said that dating a trans man she and her partner could be mistaken for lesbians and a straight couple assuming genders one way and then a straight couple again with genders assumed another way all in a matter of a few hours. She said she sees things in being nonbinary and being bi tie their experiences together.
“In gay men’s dating culture there are a lot of rigid roles and sexual interests, at least that they proclaim, and lesbians say they don’t do this but they do this too, especially with the butch-femme dichotomy. It’s something that is subversive of all sexuality to be bi. The fulfillment that comes from feeling like, when things are going well, that you embody something that doesn’t quite fit cleanly into one category or another. That is what I keep coming back to as to why bi and nonbinary and trans people are all linked. We have a lot of common characteristics and experiences even if some of us are cis and a lot of us aren’t.”
Sarah said that since meeting her boyfriend, she has felt less comfortable talking about her sexuality in queer spaces. She doesn’t feel that fear in predominantly straight spaces, where she said she doesn’t have a problem correcting straight people who believe she’s straight too.
“Well I kind of felt like I came out and started dating a woman and it lasted a few months and was exploring my queerness and wanted to be in queer spaces. And then I met my boyfriend and it was unexpected and sort of fell into this relationship,” she said. “He’s great and amazing and I love him. But I do feel like now all of a sudden, I was exploring my queer sexuality and now I’m back in a hetero relationship. I’m a little timid about exploring queer spaces and trying to be open and vocal about my queerness. It’s something I struggle with day to day.”