The Bisexual Is The Political

Two years ago I finally decided to identify as bisexual out loud.

Finding a label that helped me understand my sexual orientation was both exciting and scary. It was exciting because I felt a lot more at peace with my internal struggle of understanding who I am, as I have always been deeply in touch with my sexuality and feelings. It was scary, though, because I had to deal with my own internalised biphobia, social expectations and, well, the judgemental people and voices in my head.

Since then, I have talked more openly about my bisexuality with my partner, friends, family and my feminist online community. And with this – and a whole lot of reading – I’ve found myself tired of hearing the accusation that  bisexual individuals are cissexists because they supposedly reinforce the gender binary.

Drawing from Julia Serano‘s wonderful insights in her latest book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive and Shiri Eisner’s amazing blog Radical Bi, I will explain the importance of the label bisexual, as opposed to “more inclusive terms” such as pansexual or omnisexual, within the queer movement because of the uniqueness of our struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure.

Before we continue, I’d like to clarify that I am not against people identifying with the labels BMNOPPQ (bisexual, multisexual, no label, omnisexual, pansexual, polysexual, queer). Everyone has the right to identify as they want. I am just advocating for the use of bisexual* as an umbrella term to create a strong bisexual* community against our unique struggles. 

Bisexual and transgender with the asterisk (*) at the end signify umbrella terms. 

Is Bisexuality Cissexist? Or Is Pansexuality Biphobic?

There are many different definitions of the word bisexual. These definitions vary from person to person and their individual experiences. However, the traditional definition of bisexual denotes a person that feels sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of both the same and different genders. So, there is the implication of being only two genders by using ‘attraction towards both genders’.Other traditional definitions replace ‘same and different genders’ with men and women, making it more explicit. These definitions are assumed to reinforce the gender binary and; as a result, are accused of being cissexist

But, there are other definitions of bisexuality that are gaining momentum. Julia Serano defines bisexual in her book as “people who do not limit their sexual experiences to members of a single sex or gender”. What is the dichotomy being used in here? She makes the case that being heterosexual, gay or lesbian reinforces the gender binary just as much as the traditional definition of bisexual since they are exclusively attracted to the opposite or the same genders. Same/Opposite dichotomy, anyone? And they are not even using the words men and/or women!

The Bisexual Index enlightens us by saying that the definition of heterosexual, gay and lesbian have changed over time because now people recognise the existence of more than two genders. For this reason, heterosexual, gay and lesbian are now defined as people that feel sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of a broadly different or similar gender, respectively. Gender is a norm and so, it kind of exists like a rigid box (take, for example, men and women), but actually, no gender performance (for lack of a better word) is ever the same. Your gender, my gender, his, her, zie gender might be similar in expression, but they are all unique!

The Bisexual Index defines bisexual as the possibility for romantic and/or sexual attraction for people of more than one gender. 

But regardless of these definitions that acknowledge all genders, there are individuals that advocate for the complete elimination of the word bisexual for its ‘inherent’ cissexism. Some individuals who claim that bisexual is only about attraction towards men and women, may choose to identify as pansexual, queer or less popular labels like omnisexual, polysexual, multisexual or no label at all.

The word pansexual denotes a person that can feel romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people of all gender identities and expressions. Or as it is often described, a pansexual individual feels romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

So, speaking from my point of view, the two are very similar. In fact, a lot of people use them interchangeably. If so, why do people keep fighting over the use of these terms? Is it to find who is the queerest of us all?!

While there are many similarities between bisexual and pansexual (and not just the fact that we feel attraction towards more than one gender), there is one crucial difference that provides the answer to the question asked above.

Activist Shiri Eisner explains in this blog post and Julia Serano explains in her book that bisexuality focuses on sexual identity while pansexuality focuses on gender identity and expression. This means that those two different identity labels are concerned with different oppressive binary structures: bisexual is concerned with the hetero/homo dichotomy that reproduces monosexism (we’ll get to that in a bit!) and pansexual is concerned with the sex/gender binary that reproduces cissexism. 

So, basically, when a person identifies as pansexual, they prioritise ending the oppression – in the form of cissexism and transphobia – that their possible partners might suffer because of their gender identity and expression. This means they are actively seeking to undermine the assumption that what’s between your legs determines if you feel like a man or woman (a.k.a. the sex/gender binary). In short, pansexual individuals focus on making explicit their attraction towards trans* and genderqueer people to end transphobia. 

But when a person identifies as bisexual, they prioritise ending the oppression they face – in the form of monosexism and biphobia – by feeling attraction towards more than one gender.  In a society that has conditioned us to think that people can only be attracted to the same or different gender (gay/straight), claiming a bisexual* identity is both revolutionary and radical since we are proving that we exist and that we are not invisible since our sexual orientations are always defined depending on who we are fucking. It is an act that aims to destroy monosexism and bisexual invisibility (if you aren’t sure of what these two mean, click here for my blog post about it!).

With this, I am not saying that bisexuals are fighting a different fight than pansexuals. Indeed, we have the same goal towards liberation. But just as much as there is transphobia within bisexual circles (sadly!!), there is biphobia in pansexual circles (also, very sad!). This is because of the fact that, regardless of the history behind the bisexual movement and our unique struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure, pansexual individuals choose to identify as such because they don’t want to reinforce the gender binary (and as we saw, bisexual individuals do not reinforce the gender binary any more than heterosexual, gay, lesbians and some trans* people supposedly do). That seems pretty biphobic to me. And frankly, it sounds like the start of the Queer Olympics.

Julia Serano quotes Shiri Eisner’s work in her book because both of them are two bisexual academics in the trans* spectrum that demand the bisexual* community to prioritise undermining their unique struggle against the hetero/homo binary and not the sex/gender one as this contributes to bisexual erasure. Shiri Eisner’s quote is as follows:

“A discussion focusing around bisexuality solely in relation to transgender politics performs structural bisexual erasure, as it prioritises transgender politics over bisexual politics in a discussion about bisexual identity”

For this reason, independently of how people choose to identify within the bisexual* umbrella of BMNOPPQ, it is important to retain the bisexual* umbrella term to fight against monosexism and biphobia. 

Regardless of the fact that many bisexual individuals (and other individuals within the queer and trans* community) want to reduce the meaning of bisexuality to that of attraction towards men and women, aiming to reinforce the gender binary, we need to remember that only we get to define what bisexual means (hopefully in the most inclusive light). As Julia Serano beautifully explains, bisexual is our word: “[it] is about our experiences with sexuality and sexuality-based oppression, and it makes no claims whatsoever about what other people are, or how they should be sexual or gendered”. 

We can’t pretend that the long history behind the word bisexual, as it is the first word bisexual* individuals used to fight for their inclusion within the queer community and their struggle for liberation. We can’t ignore the fact that the word bisexual is the most familiar term for everyone to understand BMNOPPQ identities and that creating new words to describe biphobia, bi-invisibility, bi-erasure, monosexism and so on would be problematic and would only further our invisibility within both straight and queer communities.

We shouldn’t abandon the bisexual* umbrella term because this would undermine any efforts made to create a bisexual community. Sadly, this bisexual community is not as strong, so creating new words would only weaken any attempt at forming it. I advocate for the creation of a bisexual* community to hold each other accountable, share and fight for our struggle and to move away from always trying to assimilate and navigate between gay, lesbian and straight circles. 


I want to remind that this post is not about belittling people within the bisexual* umbrella that choose to identify with any BMNOPPQ terminology; on the contrary, I fully support every individual’s right to self-determination. But I am encouraging us to hold on to the bisexual* umbrella term for political reasons. I did want to bring to light the problems of a weak bisexual community, the biphobia and transphobia within the community and debunk the myth that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary.

If you have any thoughts, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below 🙂

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Why Haven’t You Heard About Queer Sex-Ed?

If you went to a Catholic School like me, it is most likely that you’ve never heard of Queer Sex Education or about how to have safe queer sex. Hell, you might not even have  heard of sex at all, since it probably was abstinence-only education.

One of my dearest friends (who identifies as a girl and received that same education) recently expressed to me that she was nervous to engage in sexual activity with another girl because, “what if she has any STDs?”

And this is a legitimate concern. 

If we are barely taught in school about safe cisgender heterosexual (cis-het) sexual acts and consent, what is there left for queer sex? If cis-het people engaging in sexual activity before marriage is still considered a taboo, what about young people having queer sex? What about gender non-conforming people having enjoyable sex? How does my friend, as a queer woman, have safe, consensual and enjoyable sex?

And what is this division between heterosexual and queer sex anyway? Sex is not only about penetration. Sex is not all about the penis and the vagina or exclusively between men and women. Sex is sex. Period.

By now you are probably imagining the infinite possibilities and ways in which sex can happen or simply realising that heterosexual folks are not the only people with the right to know about how to have safe sex. Everyone, regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, has the right to know about how to have safe, consensual and enjoyable sex. But before we get to the part where we imagine what that would look like, let’s focus first on the reasons why you have never ever heard of queer sex education in school.

4 Reasons Why You Didn’t Hear About Queer Sex Education in School

1. An Exclusive Cis-Het Approach to Sex Ed

I know I mentioned in the paragraph above about people being cis-het, but most of you might be asking, “what does that even mean?”. Am I right?

Cis-het is the abbreviation used to describe a person that identifies as cisgender and heterosexual. Being cisgender means that a person’s gender identity matches with the sex they were assigned at birth (i.e. the doctor claimed you were a female based on your genitalia and you grow up feeling, acting and expressing yourself like a woman). Being heterosexual means that a person is attracted to the opposite gender (i.e. men attracted to women and women attracted to men).

As being cisgender and heterosexual in our society is considered ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, the privilege granted to cis-het identified people by institutions remains unchallenged. Cisnormativity (the normalised assumption that what you have between your legs determines your gender) and Heteronormativity (the normalisation of heterosexuality as the standard and natural sexual orientation) are constantly reproduced and maintained by institutions such as the educational system.

If the school does teach sex-ed, it probably focuses on heterosexual sex acts like vaginal intercourse, (mostly male) masturbation, how to correctly use a condom (oh, that good ol’ banana demonstration) and other mainstream contraceptive methods like the pill. If you’re lucky, you might hear about the morning after pill.

How To Put a Condom By Amy Poehler

There is unchecked cissexism and heterosexism in our educational institutions since these norms dictate which identities and practices are accepted in our society and which are not. Queer sexualities (like gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, queers) and gender-non conforming identities (like genderqueer, transgender, a gender, genderfluid) are usually marginalised, excluded, silenced and oppressed from institutionalised cisnormativity and heteronormativity. In short, queer sexualities and gender non-conforming identities are erased and deemed nonexistent. 

So, if the mainstream is all about reproducing and privileging cis-het identities and furthering the invisibility of non-conforming individuals, why bother teaching queer sex education?

2. Abstinence-Only Education

*Cringes*

The goal of abstinence-only education is to normalise abstinence from sexual activity until marriage in our society. This is because (most) of this education is founded upon religious values such as chastity, marriage and the traditional family structure.

Abstinence-only education is inherently cisnormative and heteronormative as it exclusively requires men and women to abstain from sexual activity until they are married. Since marriage (and apparently procreation), in its religious definition, is something that “can only happen” between and man a woman, trans* and queer folk are completely out of the picture.

As Jessica Valenti explains in The Purity Mythabstinence-only education is not really about sex, it’s about social norms. If virginity, family values and marriage between a man and a woman is something to be strived for and celebrated, something other than that is considered disruptive of the status quo (as if queer and trans* folk cannot form healthy family values around love, respect and commitment). With its heteronormative values, queer sexualities and trans* identities are not considered or mentioned at all within an abstinence-only education framework. Queer sexual activity is simply seen as impossible and immoral. 

Heteronormative and cisnormative expectations are damaging for young people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The social need to be straight and cisgender, to wait to have sexual activity, to want to marry and procreate rob young people of knowing and loving their own authentic selves.

These expectations are detrimental to everyone because they reinforce traditional sexist (and outdated!) gender roles. Girls are taught that their worth is defined by their virginity while boys are taught that they have no self-control (since girls need to be the sexual gatekeepers). These constructs contribute to sexism, misogyny and the reproduction of toxic masculinity.

Mean Girls Sex Ed

But what’s the deal when a lesbian-identified female has sex with another girl? Is she a virgin forever because she was not penetrated? Are heterosexual boys forever virgins or are they just exempt from the virgin status?

Abstinence-only education contributes to queer and trans* erasure and invisibility in our society, while reproducing social norms that are harmful for every young person out there.

3. No Pleasure, Just Babies

Both regular sex-ed and abstinence only education are concerned about baby-making, not sexual pleasure. 

Sex for pleasure? Sex for fun? Sex because is enjoyable? What is that?!

The assumption is that men and women have sex to reproduce. Period. There is no other purpose to engage in such an activity.

*Rolls eyes*

It is funny to think that in this day and age, where everything is about sex and sexualisation, people still want to make believe that sex is not for pleasure. Even solo acts – masturbation – are seen as a taboo and young people that engage in it feel dirty, alone and full of shame.

Only now are schools allowing the sex-ed curriculum to be more comprehensive by including a pleasure-based approach to sex-ed, and some cover queer sexualities; but these curricula are still pretty heteronormative. This is because they might not use gender neutral language, they might follow a monogamous framework or the wrong assumption that queer couples follow a heterosexual mould (one is the guy and one is the girl).

When will we teach about other enjoyable and pleasurable relationships like polyamorous ones? What about queer couples able to reproduce? How can queer woman have safe, enjoyable sex? How to best pleasure your trans* partner whether or not they transitioned? How can we talk about these things without stigma, positioning pleasure as our goal?

This knowledge is vital to engage in healthy and pleasurable relationships, no matter the gender identity, sexual orientation or type of relationship.

4. The Walk of Shame

Our approach to sex-ed uses fear and shame to teach young people to fit in with mainstream social norms. Kids are scared to be queer or trans* because they know they are not “normal” and feel shame. The same happens if you lose your virginity too young or too old, if you are seen as a “slut” for having sex for fun, if you get any STD or HIV. They teach us that wshould feel ashamed of our choices.

This is especially true when it comes to STDs and HIV. These are taught in school as the worst thing that can ever happen to us. They teach about safe sex under the guise of fear, just so people don’t engage in it, because they might catch an STD. And so you think not engaging in sexual activity at all is the best way to go. It’s kind of a masked abstinence-only education, right?

Schools portray people living with these conditions as if their life is over. Schools educate young people to think that if your sexual orientation is other than heterosexual, you are most likely to get one of these infections/viruses. So, people learn to fear those who are queer since they might have a contagious disease. Those that are queer feel ashamed of who they are. Nobody wins.

This is part of a campaign by The Stigma Project that aims to start a conversation with young people about how to eradicate the stigma, dehumanisation and fear around people living with HIV +. For more images, click here.

Credit: The Stigma Project

The majority of our schools are places that teach how to maintain the status quo rather than how to challenge it.

It is important that we ask our schools to implement a comprehensive curriculum that seeks to revolutionise our society for the benefit of us all, not only those that are religious, cis-het individuals.

Imagine what a happier place the world would be if sex-ed focused on how to best pleasure ourselves and our partners? 😉

PS: this post will have a shorter Part II later this week discussing what queer sex-ed should look like (it won’t be a real curriculum, just a compilation of ideas!)