The am-Bi-guity in being bisexual


Sarah Cutshall | Visual Editor

According to Frank Karioris, a visiting lecturer in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, bisexual characters aren’t widely written because bisexuality isn’t as understood as other sexualities.

By Madison Brewer, Staff Writer

While most people have heard of the term “bisexual,” they won’t all give the same definition. Amanda Parent, a junior biology and French double major who identifies as bisexual, said she is attracted to people regardless of gender — that is, men, women and everyone who doesn’t fall into the gender binary.

“The bi prefix, it has the history of gender binarism, but I completely neglect that,” Parent said. “I like my own gender and others, that’s the ‘bi.’”

While Parent defines it this way, the American Psychological Association defined bisexuality as being sexually attracted to both men and women. According to a 2016 survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2% of men and 5.5% of women in the United States identify as bisexual.

Dan Hayes, a sophomore accounting and economics major who identifies as bisexual, uses this definition. Because the definition of bisexual is so malleable, Hayes said there is a lot of room for confusion.

“[Bisexuality] is such a hard concept to truly understand,” Hayes said. “We don’t even have a clear definition of what bisexuality is across the LGBT community.”

It can also be difficult to pinpoint bisexual representation in media. Bisexual Pitt students and professors who teach about sexuality explained how this lack of representation feeds into misunderstandings about what bisexuality is and how comfortable bisexual people feel about their sexuality.

Ken Salzer, a lecturer in the English department, has been teaching Sexuality and Representation, a class where students explore representation of LGBTQ+ people in media, for eight years. According to Salzer, this semester’s unit on bisexuality had students consume media from a sociological essay on bisexuality to a first-person essay called “Yes, I Really Am Bisexual. Deal With It.” Salzer said he teaches a variety of texts like these in order to give students a full picture of the representation of the sexuality being covered.

“We’re interested in looking at how sexuality or sexualities get represented in various media,” Salzer said. “Different sexualities get represented differently at different times.”

According to Frank Karioris, a visiting lecturer in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, bisexual characters aren’t widely written because bisexuality isn’t as understood as other sexualities.

“We like characters that are knowable, and we believe at this moment knowable means either gay or straight,” Karioris said.

According to Karioris, a lot of people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of bisexuality. He said this is due to the way a bisexual person is “nonchoosing” between men and women. When someone is gay or straight, we know what gender they will end up being with — the only question is who. But when someone is bisexual, there isn’t a partner with a prescribed gender. This mystery, he said, leads to distrust, which has a very real impact on bisexual people’s lives.

“It’s not that they become invisible, it’s that we really seek to minimize their bi-ness,” he said.

Karioris mentioned the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” — the 2018 biopic about Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the British classic rock band Queen — when speaking about media that limits a character’s sexuality to either heterosexual or homosexual. Karioris said he believes the film glosses over Freddie Mercury’s complicated sexuality to focus on his homosexual relationships as opposed to his heterosexual relationships.

“It slides right past the reality, which is that Freddie Mercury’s sexuality is far less simple than just ‘he was into dudes,’” Karioris said.

This and other films, he said, are lies by omission as result of biphobia, the distrust or dislike of bisexual people. According to Karioris, biphobia exists because people seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of bisexuality.

“Biphobia is legitimately more just about silence rather than the violence of homophobia,” said Karioris.

Karioris said biphobia has persisted for generations. In the ’80s, bisexual men were seen as the ones who infected straight people with HIV, according to Karioris. Today, there are claims that bisexual people are “confused” or “greedy” or even “transphobic,” Karioris said. He feels bisexuality is not understood by the general population.

Jae Abbondanza, a senior neuroscience and political science major who identifies as pansexual, said the lack of representation made it difficult to understand her own sexuality. Abbondanza defines pansexuality as being attracted to all gender identities, while bisexuality is being attracted to two or more gender identities.

“If I had that kind of contact, even if it was through watching a character on a screen … I probably would have realized [my sexuality] a lot quicker than I did,” Abbondanza said.

Some bisexual people feel they have to “prove” their bi-ness. According to Salzer, there is a constant expectation placed onto bisexual individuals.

“The difficulty of identifying as bisexual is that the straights don’t believe you, the gays don’t believe you,” Salzer said. “How do you prove it? You have to have a man and woman on either side of you at all times.”

According to Parent, part of the reason bisexuality is not widely understood is due to the limited representation and that people often expect her to “act bisexual.”

“The media has a really big effect on not only how I act and how other bisexual people act, but how people act toward me,” Parent said. “By seeing in the media this hypersexualized person that can’t make decisions, they make jokes about how I can’t make decisions … they ask me about threesomes … they expect certain things of [me] that sometimes I can’t give them.”

A Pitt student who identifies as bisexual, but wished to remain anonymous because they are not out, said they often find people expecting them to be looking for sex, especially threesomes. They found people will sexualize their bisexuality.

“My orientation lends itself to their fantasy,” the student said. “That’s not what I exist for, that’s not what anyone exists for.”

Parent said these expectations came from both straight people and the LGBTQ+ community.

“It seems clear that [bisexual] is not a category that makes anybody very much happy,” Karioris said. “What is the impact of the distrust of bi people? … A lot of bi people end up having to pass as straight … or gay.”

Parent said she feels like she must pass as either straight or gay every day.

“To me, passing … as straight or passing as gay … is something I consciously think about when I get dressed in the morning,” Parent said. “Passing for me is largely because … I don’t want people to view me a certain way without talking to me.”

According to Salzer, things are on their way to improving. He said he believes bisexuality is becoming visible in the public eye and he thinks more representation will be seen as more bisexual people share their stories.

“The more people who self-identify as bisexual and contribute their representations either in fiction or nonfiction form to the larger pop-culture audience, I think we can benefit so it’s not just that one view of what bisexuality is,” Salzer said. “The more options we put out there the better.”

Mary Rose O’Donnell contributed reporting.