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Queer Mirror: Bisexuality unpacked

Monday 10th, November 2014 / 16:56
By Kevin Allen

CALGARY — In the LGBTQ acronym for the queer community, I sometimes feel that the B, (bisexual), is a rather underappreciated letter. Bisexuals have had a history of being misunderstood and doubted by gays, straights, and even the scientific community for decades.

Until recently researchers studying the science of sexual orientation posited that bisexuals not only make up a tiny minority of the population, smaller yet than the homosexual population – but also that they might not be completely honest in their identification. In sexual arousal studies bisexual men looked like they were really gay, and only possibly romantically attracted to women as opposed to sexually. These findings supported the stereotype that bisexual men are somehow self-deluded gay men or extremely open-minded straight men. [As for sexual arousal studies in women of all orientations, the scientists still are working on it…]

However, Allen Rosenthal, a senior researcher at Northwestern University, led a major study on bisexuality in 2011 that corrected weaknesses found in previous studies and confirmed that there are indeed bisexual men who experience strong attractions to both men and women.

Although we all might know someone whose self-reported sexual orientation has changed over time, it does not mean that bisexuality is a “layover to gay town” – a famously quoted line from Sex in the City.

So I thought I might quote a more knowledgeable source, my colleague on the Calgary Gay History Project, and friend, Tereasa Maillie.

BeatRoute: Have you always identified as bisexual or has your self-identification changed over time?

Tereasa Maillie: As a child, I had no idea there were these labels. I was just me. Only when I was in high school did I realize there was a label, a spectrum of sexuality that was not so black and white, straight or gay. So for many years I was bi. But now that label is really only for other people, so they feel better about defining who I am with sexual preference. It’s very arbitrary to me now.

BR: Do you ever get the sense that you are not welcomed in queer society? Are “pick a side” sentiments shared ever with you?

TM: When I first realized I was bisexual, there was no sense of acceptance from anything or anyone, to be honest. I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I ‘looked’ like a white, straight, mainstream girl with my Coach handbags – and I still do, that I self-identify as Métis, queer, super-geek, with my hug-a-tree love-the-earth shit…that just weirded people out in the community. Hetero friends were just really confused, to downright hostile. I lost friends in college because they thought I was a pervert. Really. And I’m so personally conservative it’s funny. Gay friends thought I was ‘greedy’ or confused. Yes – I heard ‘pick a side’ a lot. Less now. But the 1990s in Calgary was hell if you weren’t on a side. I just stopped talking about it after a while. Because what was the point?

BR: In your opinion is bisexuality visible enough? Does it have a presence in the queer community? 

TM: No, bisexuality does not really. There’s a timidity about coming out still as people have experienced negative results when they do share to everyone. So I think that’s one big reason. The other is the lack of role models – mainstream media likes it when the gay woman or man comes out but rarely if anyone comes out as bi, is it mentioned. That’s hurting us all to not see the shades of grey of human sexuality.

BR: What are some stereotypes about bisexuals you have encountered?

TM: There are still too many stereotypes and they are perpetuated in film and TV. Women are bisexual just to turn on a man; or can’t commit and are emotional failures; or they have no morals. So these attitudes permeate the society around us. I’d like to see more films and plays like The History Boys, which challenge the idea of a bisexual being nuts. The bi character is the only one who has it together!

I just believe you love who you love, gay, straight, bi, transgender, whatever you want. And to different levels as you age. More people are starting to go to extreme labeling as I call it: cis or pansexual as a definition for themselves. And that’s OK because having a definition helps you figure out who you are. But human sexuality is fluid, and we need to stop as a community from judging people based on sexual orientation and gender.

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