“I’m Not Missing Anything in My Relationship”: Bi Women and Nonbinary People on the Challenges and Joys of Dating

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.”

Casey Quinlan is a freelance journalist covering gender and sexuality, education, labor, healthcare, and prisons and police. You can find their work at ThinkProgress, New Republic, Teen Vogue, In These Times, Bitch Magazine, The Guardian, and more.

Casey has written 5 articles for us.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is a real thing for me right now as a bi,non-binary femme with a cis, het male partner and a cis monosexual female partner. I teared up at work just knowing i’m Not the only one struggling.

  2. Ooh, yes. I too feel much more at home in spaces where gender fluidity/diversity is the norm. My own fluid expression and attractions are treated less like things to be suspicious of. Plus as one of the bi/pan queers who does have multiple partners of different genders, people’s reading of my sexuality is all over the place. Lesbians have assumed I’m gay and haven’t told my male partner, while my nonbinary partner and I get read as gay or straight (ha) depending on the observer. I love being pan and confusing.

  3. Thank you so much for this article! There’s really a ton of overlap between bi/pan/queer communities, trans and nonbinary communities, and even to an extent asexual and aromantic communities. I happen to belong to all three, and it wasn’t until I put all the pieces together that they really started to make sense. I don’t do much dating, but if I ever decide to pick it up again I think I’ll probably look for someone who shares at least a portion of those experiences. It’s so nice when people truly get where I’m coming from!

  4. Someone recently let me know that me being visible here as a bi woman married to a cis straight man was helpful to them, so: hi! Here I am! Still bi after all these years and all this marriage! 😉 (Still tired of being read as straight unless I wear hugely obvious rainbow clothing or something.)

  5. I definitely had multiple lesbian-identified cis women either decide not to date me or stop dating me before anything got serious. It became so prelevant that I identified as a lesbian for awhile, which set me up for a lot of confusion later. I am now happily married to a cis bi man and having someone who can relate to me on that level helps me feel more comfortable in my sexuality. Yes, we get mistaken for being straight but we know we are still queer, both individually and as a couple.

    • I mean, it is possible that some of these “lesbian-identified cis women” just didn’t want to date you, not *because* they were “lesbian-identified cis women”. I personally tend to think that sometimes folks who say that “it was good to marry X because it made me feel more comfortable with my sexuality”, are precisely the people who actually don’t ever want to feel uncomfortable with their sexualities. How do you know where to position yourself in the very wide spectrum of sexualities/identities, if part of what you try to/or find in the “other” is what makes you feel “comfortable”?

      • Welp, that SURE is a comment with a whole lot to unpack.

        I mean for one thing- what on earth is wrong with being partners with people we feel comfortable with?

        And for another thing- as it turns out, plenty lesbian women ARE biphobic to some degree and the experience of being dumped for being bi+ is one that is incredibly common amongst bi people.

        Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that bi+ people need to Search Deep Inside Ourselves To Find Out If It Wasn’t Actually US Who Were The Problem. It means that a good chunk of cis lesbians need to search deep inside THEMSELVES to figure out why they are discounting other women as partners just cause those women have the capacity to be attracted to multiple genders.

        ..and again I’m going to repeat also that people actually DO get to choose partners who aren’t bigoted against them and that isn’t some kind of failing in self-exploration. It’s just.. finding a person who appreciates you for who you are and who celebrates that, and making the Excellent Life Choice to stick around with that person instead of the people who think that who you are is a flaw or a problem.

      • You’ve missed the point here. This person married who they married because it was right for them, not to run from queerness. That’s the kind of assumption this whole article is talking about. And God forbid people ever want to feel comfortable and accepted.

        • Thank you to everyone who defended my original comment. It was definitely misconstrued by the first commenter.

          I honestly don’t think I could have married a cis man if he hadn’t been queer. Being queer is such an important part of my identity that I personally felt it would have been lost had I married a cis man who was straight. But that’s just me! I know it can be different for other people.

      • Who can say for sure if every single lesbian-identified cis woman who rejected or dumped Kat was bi-phobic, but that suspicion didn’t come out of nowhere. How could bi women not come to these conclusions given the pervasive bi-phobic rhetoric in lesbian culture? (Yeah, yeah, #NotAllLesbians)

  6. Great conversation!

    I just married a lovely man (oof, the whole wedding planning world sure is a strange and alienating place!!! Holy shit!) and I bought the AS “still bisexual after all these years” tee shirt as a little you are still you regardless of marital status or outside expectation present to myself 🙂

    It is extremely soft and I’m extraordinarily pleased with myself wearing it right at this very moment

  7. This is such an excellent article and I really appreciate its existence! I just recently got out of a relatively brief but super intense relationship with a lesbian (who slept with guys sometimes, but very much did not want to consider herself bi+) who was very biphobic and dumped a ton of these stereotypes and fears on me, and having that experience as my first relationship with a woman in ten years was damaging and confusing! I hate that that experience made me feel so wary of dating lesbians because of course #notalllesbians but at the same time…it really made me see the appeal of dating other bi people.

    • I’m not as understanding as I’d like to be about lesbians who sleep with men because as a bi person, my knee-jerk reaction is “what’s so bad about my identity that you won’t claim it even when it describes your behavior?”

  8. Hey girls! If you need to talk about frank topics and remain completely anonymous, then I will join you in our new strange app Wonder for Queer women https://apps.apple.com/app/apple-store/id1348744273?mt=8
    here they will definitely listen to you and understand! We will be very happy to meet new people, so I look forward to hearing from you. App for Lesbians – Wonder https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wonder.dating&&utm_source=wonderusa

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