1.It’s not a phase.
Repeat after me—it’s not a phase. Repeat after me—I will not ask the bisexual identified person if they’re going through a phase.
The queer person who said they were bisexual for a little while and then later adopted a gay label was never a bisexual person going through a phrase. They were a gay person going through the phase of still reconciling their sexual identity and finding an appropriate label. That’s perfectly okay, but this distinction is a very important one.
So leave bisexuals alone. Start asking your gay/lesbian friends if they’re going through a phase and if they plan on changing their identity label to bisexual. Just kidding. Nope. Don’t do that either. That’s also a real jerk move.
Be a good a friend. Listen to someone self identify, and then believe them. Believe in them. Cheer for them. Support and affirm them.
2. Don’t assume you know what type of relationship bisexuals are inclined to have: monogamous vs non-monogamous?
Instead, ask us the following question: What type of relationship are you looking for? a fun and casual relationship? A serious one? A life long partnership? An open relationship? A monogamous relationship? Or any other possible type of relationship?
3. Don’t assume you know what type of sexual practices are or are not pleasing to bisexual individuals.
Television shows have a habit of representing bisexuals as non-monogamous, duplicitous, sexually adventurous, and wild in their sexual practices. And some bisexuals are.
On the other hand, a wild weekend for me is listening to NPR and frequenting farmer’s markets with my partner. That’s also a non wild weekend for me, which is to say, this is how we spend most of our weekends. My mating style is closer to that of the penguin. Penguins mate for life. I have never wanted anything other than a loving long-term partnership. Casual sex has never appealed to me. Casual relationships have never appealed to me. I don’t even particularly like social media and internet culture when it encourages large volumes of surface level relationships over cultivating true depth and intimacy with people.
You can comfortably assume that in an online dating environment, most bisexual people you know are frequently propositioned for three ways, group sex, etc…before the person on the other end of the internet has even bothered to ask for their first name and one or two trivial facts about them. Do not be this person. You know what they say about people who “assume.” They make an “ass out of u and me.” If someone’s online profile indicates that they’re game for a diversity of sexual acts, practices, etc….then ask them about that. Inquire deeper. However, many bisexuals specifically say that they are looking for a long-term monogamous partner in their dating profiles. And if that’s case, that’s truly what we mean. Take the time to read the profile. And don’t ask us for things that aren’t consistent with what we’ve stated we want in our lives and in our relationships.
4. Bisexual people may experience attraction differently than you do. We might be attracted to people of multiple genders when you are not. We might have long stretches where we are attracted to the same gender or different genders. We might be attracted to hearts and not parts with no discernible pattern of gender. We might be attracted to particular physical features in many genders. This is nothing to be afraid of, and it does not mean we will cheat on you.
Both my partner and I cycle through diverse attraction phases. Outside of our connection and attraction to each other we may have quite a long stretch of time where the people we are most drawn to are people of the same gender, or people of different genders, or some mix of all of the above.
If my partner has a crush on a particular male movie star, then I go out of my way to watch the movie with her. If she has a crush on a woman who works at a restaurant then we find reasons to frequent that particular restaurant. And she does the same for me. Giving each other space to indulge harmless crushes does not signal the demise of our relationship. But telling each other that we have to stuff or repress our real feelings or our true selves would be a sure-fire way to damage the relationship. I find the depth of her love, caring, and capacity for attraction endlessly fascinating. I will spend the rest of my life learning who she is and what makes her tick. And she does the same for me. We stay on the same page by being transparent about our feelings. No secrets. Secrets hurt relationships. Transparency enriches relationships. We also stay on the same page by always putting each other first.
5. Bisexual people have most likely endured a feeling of erasure that is unique to this particular identity category.
It is so powerful to feel known, really known, and really understood. Whether a bisexual person is single, or partnered, many of us don’t feel known if we have not had a chance to make ourselves visible or to offer some aspect of our stories. Most of us get sorted into a straight category if we have different sex partners. Most of us get sorted into the gay category if we have same-sex partners. Either way, that can lead to feelings of isolation, separation from self, and feelings that people don’t actually “get you.” There’s nothing more frustrating than being with people who should be your people, and feeling isolated anyway. When I walk around in LGBT spaces and people assume that I’m gay because of my partner, I feel the same uncomfortable sense of being “in the closet” or being separated from myself as I do when I walk around church spaces without my partner and people just assume that I’m straight as a default category. This doesn’t mean that I want to talk about my bisexual identity all the time. But it really matters, and it really means something to me when people take the time to say, “How do you identify?” rather than assuming they know.
It means even more to me when people take a genuine interest in my experiences, in my story, and in the nuts and bolts of how I arrived at a bisexual identity. I even have a strong personal boundary. I have what I call “the 20 min rule.” I ask myself, am I worth 20-30min of this person’s time and a cup of coffee. If the answer is no, I will likely draw back and restrict communications to a more formal communication style.
This is not a personal slight, but that signals to me that the other person is not invested in me personally and I need to adjust my boundaries accordingly and appropriately to keep myself safe. I deserve to feel safe. I deserve to feel valued. I deserve to feel known on my own terms. So take the time to actually get to know your bisexual friends and partners. Draw them out. Invite them to share something of their stories. Don’t just allow them to exist as window dressing or background actors in LGBT spaces. Don’t assume you know their story. Be open to what we may have to teach you. We are worth the time and effort of being truly known.