I recently spoke on The Hack program on ABC triple j radio about bisexuality and whether young people are more open to being bisexual.
This was a fascinating discussion that included calls into the station from people that identify as bisexual. They shared their experiences of being bisexual, including some of the biases and stereotypes they have been labelled with by friends and family.
Listen to the audio or read the transcript below to learn more about bisexuality.
I would say that I was bisexual, but I would say it so lightheartedly without any intention to act on it, because I thought that I would never be able to be in a relationship.
Just as gay people have been mistreated and misunderstood in the past, as we’ve just heard, bisexuals are also often misunderstood. Being bisexual means that you are sexually attracted to both men and women, and it’s a sexuality that lots of people don’t take seriously. The common perception is that female bisexuals are just experimenting, and that male bisexuals are gay, but don’t have the guts to admit it. According to our triple j listener survey of 10,000 people aged 18 to 30, around 1 in 10 people said they were bisexual, which is way more than the overall population, which is around 1% for men and 2% for women. Our survey also found that women are more likely to report as being bi.
So, why are young people more likely to say they’re bisexual? Are our attitudes changing, or is it about experimentation? If a person you were dating ever came up to you and said, “Hey, I’ve got to tell you something, I’m bisexual.” How would you react? Love to hear from you. Give me a call. 1-300 0555 36, 1-300 0555 36.
All right, I want you to meet Sasha. She’s telling Sarah McVeigh what it’s like to be bisexual.
Sasha: I think I begun to realise in high school, but I feel like I didn’t fully realise that it was actually bisexuality. I just kind of knew that I was different to most people in some aspect.
Sarah McVeigh: Sasha’s 20 years old, and one of the 11.4% of triple j listeners who say they’re bisexual, though she’s not too keen on labels.
Sasha: I come out and say that I’m attracted to women and men, people are like, “But what do you mean? Which one? Do you like …” I was gonna say the terms, but I won’t say the terms.
Sarah McVeigh: What do you mean the terms?
Sasha: Well, like they would say like, “Do you like dick or pussy?” And I would be like, “It’s not about that. It’s not about the sex. It’s about the person.” But a lot of people, because they are one way or the other, they’re black or they’re white, they don’t understand gray.
Sarah McVeigh: Sasha always had boyfriends in high school. At 16, she hooked up with her best friend.
Sasha: I was with a male, and I was in high school, and I was at a party, and I had this best friend that we had been through so many unexplainable feelings together, like as if we we’re different from everybody else, and I was just intoxicated enough to kiss her.
Sarah McVeigh: Lots of girls, lots of hetero girls hook up with girls when they’re drunk at parties.
Sasha: It’s definitely different. You can definitely kiss your best friend, or your girlfriend, or a random hot chick at a club without it meaning that you’re bisexual, but I think when you go home and you’re still thinking about it, or it’s still resonating within you the next day, I think that’s when you know that you’re not just straight.
Sarah McVeigh: Sasha’s boyfriend found out and was really upset.
Sasha: So, I put those feelings away for a long time. I would say that I was bisexual, but I would say it so lightheartedly without any intention to act on it, because I thought that I would never be able to be in a relationship with a female in an intimate relationship.
Clinton Power: Bisexuality is about the ability to be able to have love and/or sex relationships with either gender, so male or female.
Sarah McVeigh: Clinton Power is a relationships counsellor who works with lots of LGBT clients.
Clinton Power: Certainly what I’m seeing in my clinical practice is there are many more young people who are really … they’re not hung up on labels, for a start, so they’re really happy not to even identify as gay, or bi, or straight.
Sarah McVeigh: So is it that young people are more open about our sexuality than previous generations? The Australian study of Health and Relationships, which is a survey of 20,000 men and women age 16 to 69, found that just 1.1% of men and 2.2.% of women identify as bi. That’s compared with 11.4% of triple j listeners, but Clinton says while more young people than ever are identifying as bi, there’s still stigmas associated with it.
Clinton Power: I think one of the biggest ones is what is often known as bi-erasure. People believe that bisexuality doesn’t really exist. They think that it’s someone just in a stage, or they’re confused, they haven’t made up their mind. They’re either straight or they’re gay, but they haven’t really decided.
Sasha: I just feel like there’s such a stigma around bisexuality.
Sarah McVeigh: Sasha says that when bi women hook up with other women, people often assume it’s for a man’s benefit.
Sasha: Men have to realize that women want other women, too, and that some women don’t want men at all, and I think that’s hard for men to fathom.
Clinton Power: I think there is sometimes more stigma for men.
Sarah McVeigh: Clinton says people often think that bisexual men are actually gay, and just haven’t come out yet.
Clinton Power: I think that’s really common, and this is why it’s so tough for a lot of men to come out as bisexual.
Sarah McVeigh: He says there’s also an assumption that a bi man in hetero relationship is always going to cheat.
Clinton Power: Or if the woman doesn’t think that, their friends think that, as well.
Sarah McVeigh: Now for a happy stereotype. Bisexual men are better lovers. That’s according to a recent Australian survey of women who date bisexual men. You’ll hear about that idea from our guest in sec. A 2013 US survey says the median age when bisexuals report first feeling they could be bi is 13. The median age people say they know for sure is 17, and the median age for first telling someone else is 20. Compared with gay men and lesbians, bisexuals are far less likely to say their sexual orientation is extremely or very important to their identity, and they’re also way less likely to come out.
Sasha: The further along that we go, the more people will come out of their shells. It’s just a matter of time.
Sarah McVeigh: After high school, Sasha dated a guy who came out to her as bi, and she says even she was shaken by it.
Sasha: Definitely. It started a turmoil within me of jealousy, and of feeling that I’m inadequate, because I could never completely fill that person’s full desire. I could never totally encompass all of their cravings.
I finally met somebody who completely understands me as a person, and I guess I felt secure within my relationship.
Sarah McVeigh: Sasha had put aside her feelings for women until recently, when she raised it with her boyfriend.
Sasha: Yeah, I actually called him, and asked him if he would mind, and he said that he didn’t. But then you see things get really tangled up, because if I’m allowed to desire another woman, and act with her out of lust, then why isn’t my partner? You just can’t have both.
Sarah McVeigh: Sasha says being bi doesn’t make monogamy any harder.
Sasha: It doesn’t really matter that I like women as well, and that I’m tempted by women, because my partner is tempted by women every day. He has so many women chasing him all the time, and he’s most of the time still finds a way to say no, so I can do the same.
You do want both, but you don’t want both all the time, and at the same time you still want one thing at a time. Like, it’s not like we have a hunger for two, or that we’re greedy. It’s just that we can see the beauty in both.
Tom Tilley: Sasha was speaking to Sarah McVeigh. A man who says, “Gender is irrelevant when it comes to attraction for me. Chemistry is chemistry.”
Ella from Brisbane, you’re actually close friends with Sasha, and you’re jealous of her freedom.
Ella: Hi. Yeah, I am. My relationship with my partner is very, very different. Initially he was pretty un-phased about my bisexuality, and when recently I kind of told him I find it really hard to suppress my desired for women, he felt really threatened by that, I think. He kind of took that as me wanting to go cheat on him more than it was for me to act out my sexuality and experience women.
Tom Tilley: Right, okay. So, do you have any arrangement about you being able to hook up with girls, or that would be completely considered cheating for you guys?
Ella: I did ask him, and he kind of said, “It’s me or it’s them.” He didn’t really come to a compromise, which is very difficult for me. I don’t really want to choose between the person that I love and actually understanding my sexuality.
Tom Tilley: Yeah, well I just gotta question on the text line saying, “Can bisexual people be monogamous?” Is it harder for you to be monogamous being bisexual, do you think?
Ella: I don’t want to answer for all bisexuals, but for me, yes, because I haven’t fully … like I haven’t experienced my sexuality with women, so I find it very hard to suppress those urges, but people who have experienced things with both genders before getting into a serious relationship, it might be different.
Tom Tilley: Interesting. Thanks for call, Ella. Jen in Melbourne, you dated a bisexual man. How was that?
Jen: I found it quite intriguing, but I didn’t find it off-putting by any means.
Tom Tilley: Right. Did you know about that before you started dating him?
Jen: I did. I found out from a friend at a party months prior to he and I even having our first date.
Tom Tilley: Okay.
Jen: So after a couple of weeks, I actually brought it up with him, and I think he was sheepish, because he didn’t realize that other people were starting to know.
Tom Tilley: And did you have a monogamous relationship, or did you have a different kind of arrangement?
Jen: It was totally monogamous, but the interesting thing about our … well, not our relationship, his sexuality, was that he was not just bisexual, but hetero-amorous, meaning that he was comfortable with having sex with men as well as women, but he could only actually have romantic relationships with women. So to him it was purely physical with men.
Tom Tilley: Okay, really interesting.
Jen: But I think that’s much more common than people acknowledge.
Tom Tilley: Okay. Thanks for the call, Jen. Let’s find out more about what it’s like to be bisexual and what challenges it throws up. Dr. Gavi Ansara is a counsellor specialising in LGBTI issues, has a PhD in psychology, and we have Mikey, who’s proudly bisexual and a freelance writer. Gavi, Mikey, thanks so much for joining us.
Tom Tilley: Gavi, when young bisexual people come to you for help, what are the common problems they have?
Gavi: A lot of people feel invisible, so just referring to that survey of sex and relationships, one of the important things is that although the percentage of people who self-identify using the label of bisexual is very small, in that same survey, when people describe their experiences, and their attractions and relationships, their behaviours, they actually have a much higher percentage. So, it is higher even, in some areas, than the listeners that you have who identify as bisexual. I think that’s the thing a lot of young people struggle with is “Do I have to self-identify as this? Do I need to pick a label? Can I not have a label? Do I need to create my own label that works for me?”
One of the callers mentioned hetero-amorous. There’s a lot of different terms people use, and I think not everyone will use the word bisexual, but really what you’re talking about is people who can be attracted to more than one of the many different genders that exist, so they have a lot of struggle just in terms of being able to express and define who they are even before they get to the stereotypes of others.
Tom Tilley: Yeah, just, I guess, having a strong sense of identity is kind of important to your happiness, especially at a younger age. Mikey, I mentioned before that a common reaction is that if you’re a girl people say you’re just experimenting, or if you’re a guy that you’re just gay and you can’t admit it. What’s your reaction to those stereotypes?
Mikey: I mean, it’s definitely in line with my experience. I remember coming out to a girl who I’d just sort of been seeing quite casually, and I told her I was bi and then she took it very personally, and was suddenly thinking that we couldn’t be together, and that I was gay, and that this was just like a phase that I was going through. At the same token, I’ve told certain gay friends that I was bisexual, and they met it initially with incredulity, but oftentimes once they see me out and about and see me flirting with both men and women, I’ve had a lot of gay friends come up and say, “You are the first person that I’ve seen who I genuinely believe is bisexual.”
That was a big problem for me, though, with the invisibility of it, when I was coming out. I thought I was gay, and that these thoughts were … I was just going to get more and more gay the more I thought about cock. It took me a while-
Tom Tilley: And now you’re in a really long-term committed relationship with a female.
Mikey: Yeah, no. Exactly. And we’re in an open relationship, so I still do get to enjoy my fair share of the other sex, and it’s funny, what your caller was talking about before. Is it harder for bisexual to be monogamous? I feel like it’s harder for people who haven’t yet fully explored their sexuality to be monogamous. If you’re feeling in any way inhibited, and there’s something you want to explore, you’re obviously gonna start looking outside the relationship for that.
Tom Tilley: All right, and Gavi, just before we hit the news, what advice to you give to young people going through this?
Gavi: Don’t let other people tell you who you are or how you have to describe yourself. It may take you a while. I mean, I work with poly people, as well as bi people. There’s poly people who have more than one partner or are interested in more than relationship, and they’re not the same things. There are bi people who are poly, but there are bi people who are very monogamous, so don’t let anyone tell you that you’ve gotta be one way. I think it does take people a while to explore who they are sometimes, but really be authentic to you, and don’t let anyone push you into defining yourself before you’re ready.
Tom Tilley: Good advice. Gavi, great to have you on the show, and Mikey thank you so much for joining us, as well.
On the text line, “I’m a bisexual woman. My experience is that hetero people are more accepting than the lesbian community.”
Nodding heads around the room.
Mel from Melbourne says, “I’m bisexual, and my friends treat it as a joke.” Which sounds like a really common experience.
Well, fantastic discussion there. We’ll continue it on the Friday Shakeup tomorrow at 5:30. I’ll catch you tomorrow.
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