Is Everyone Really Bisexual?

The Guardian's Marcus Morgan offers a spirited defense of bisexuality against various generalizations. But he still offers one of his own: that everyone's actually bi.

Morgan carefully details the damaging assumptions about bisexuality that keep bisexual people in a closet with "two doors, a bit like an airlock – behind one of them is a cosy atmosphere with no pressure, and behind the other is what appears to be a vacuum." These misconceptions include:

— "Bisexuals are supposed to be equally attracted to men and women – always androgyny, but never to trans people – and always at the same time."
— "They supposedly need to have identical amounts of sex with both, and don't notice the differences between them (which might get painful in bed, I reckon)."
— "We're all told bisexuality is a phase that everyone goes through and grows out of"
— "Bisexuals are depicted as the monsters spreading Aids, and breaking the hearts of partners inevitably cast aside for a different gender."

The idea that bisexuality means a perfectly balanced attraction to both genders (but never to transpeople) is somewhat absurd, and the automatic association with cheating or being on the downlow is unfair: there's no reason that attraction to both men and women should make someone less capable of sustaining a relationship. One look at Tiger Woods should remind us that plenty of people have cheated without the benefit of bisexuality. But Morgan does make one questionable point. He says, "We're all told bisexuality is a phase that everyone goes through and grows out of, and no one's a 'proper' bisexual, even though everyone's bisexual really."

This is a common enough sentiment, and certainly more palatable than its high school variation: "all girls are bisexual but no guys are." And "everyone's bisexual really" does highlight the limitations of labels for sexual orientation. The American Institute of Bisexuality web site quotes Michael Urie of Ugly Betty (pictured), who identifies as "queer" in the February Advocate:

I've been in a relationship for a while now, and if you just met the two of us together we'd be ‘gay.' But that somehow means anything that happened before [we met] didn't count-and I don't feel that way. I know that some people feel that way. They were with women, but it always felt wrong. But it didn't for me. It felt right at the time. It didn't work out, but it also didn't work out with other men-many times. That's why ‘gay' never seemed right.

It makes sense that the terms "straight" and "gay" can feel restrictive for some people, but is calling all people bisexual the solution? The Alliance of Les-Bi-Gay-Transgender and Straight Ally Students at Michigan State University says no. In a Bisexuality and Bisexuals FAQ, they write:

Isn't everyone really bisexual?

Not by any useful definition. A useful definition of bisexuality might be, anyone who has serious relationships with members of both sexes, and anyone who identifies as bisexual. It is possible to suggest that everyone has some potential for attraction to both sexes, but since most people* never act on it, this is pretty irrelevant.

If someone says that they are straight, or (gay/lesbian) then for you to insist that they are "really" bisexual but perhaps just don't realise it is to deny them their self-identity. Everyone should be free to define their own identity for themselves, which invalidates this kind of generalization.

* Research carried out at the Harvard School of Public Health, USA in 1994 found that 20.8% of the men and 17.8% of the women studied admitted to same- sex sexual attraction/behaviour at some time in their lives.

Claiming that everyone is bisexual makes bisexuality less a specific orientation and more a part of the human condition. And if it's not an orientation, what happens to the vibrant bi scene that Morgan describes, the BiFests and BiCons? What happens to people for whom bisexuality is a part of personal identity? Someone who identifies as bi would be more qualified to answer these questions than I am. But I will say that while a label can limit, being part of a community can empower — and it might not be entirely beneficial to define a community so broadly that it includes people who would never admit to being part of it.

Update: Morgan sent us this email after reading the post:

Hi, I think you're misreading me.

I list a number of bi myths, included that "everyone is bisexual" - I
don't think that, and thought the piece made that clear.

Yikes.

I stand by the number I quote - 2% of people.

For more on the "everyone's bisexual" myth, please see the website of
the group I founded:

http://www.bisexualindex.org.uk - and check out the FAQ.

Bisexuals: Putting The B Back In LGBT [Guardian]

Related: FAQ - Bisexuality and Bisexuals [Alliance of Les-Bi-Gay-Transgender and Straight Ally Students at Michigan State University]
BRC News Flashes [Bisexuality Resource Center]