Getty

7 Things Porn Won't Teach You About Bisexual Women

You might want to pay attention.

Fantasies about bisexual women are pretty ubiquitous. From the "one time in college" cliche, to the entire porn industry, it's not hard to find an overly-sexualized version of bisexual experiences.

But since we don't believe everything we see on TV or the internet, we wanted to take a moment to talk to some for-real bisexual women about their experiences and daily lives, and see what they think about the assumptions and stereotypes surrounding their sexuality.

So we spoke to Alexandra Bolles, Audrey White, and Hannah Hodson. As GLAAD’s Communications Manager, Bolles spearheads the organization’s bisexual-related advocacy, while White and Hodson are Contributing Editors at Autostraddle, a site which bills itself as a “progressively feminist online community for a new generation of kickass lesbian, bisexual and otherwise inclined ladies.”

  1. They’re Less Likely To Come Out
    Getty

    Bisexual people can often feel invisible. studies show that individuals who identify as bisexual are “more likely to binge drink, engage in self-harm, and have suicidal thoughts than gay, lesbian or heterosexual people.”

    Because they have to contend with negative stereotypes, they are also more hesitant to come out compared to their gay and lesbian counterparts. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, “only 28% of bisexuals said most or all of the important people in their lives knew about their sexual orientation, compared to 71% of lesbians and 77% of gay men.”

  2. Their Relationships Don’t Define Their Identities
    Getty

    Bolles said she’s met a number of people who “think a bi person’s identity is defined by who one happens to be dating – as if you’re only bisexual when you’re single.” She’s also run into people who think that bisexuality is “something women do to turn men on.” What really matters, according to Bolles, is what she thinks. After all, Bolles says, “Who I am isn’t determined by the people I date because my identity is mine, and it’s inherent.”

  3. They’re Affected By Bisexual Erasure
    Getty

    Bisexual erasure has had a profound effect on White. It is “so prominent and profoundly rooted in our society” that it took her 22 years to realize that she was bisexual. White didn’t have “positive examples of bisexual people,” so she “always understood bisexuality to be either a nonexistent joke or something negative.”

    Bisexual erasure might be one of the most common slights against bisexual individuals, but Bolles said it has “real impacts on their wellbeing—anxiety, depression, risk behaviors, and more.” This is the “seemingly simple task of taking people at their word and showing them respect” is so important.

  4. They’re Not “Indecisive” or “Seeking Attention”
    Getty

    We couldn’t talk to White, Bolles, or Hodson without finding out the stereotypes they most want to shut down. Bolles says the misconception that bisexual people “are in turmoil and indecisive,” or always sad, bugs her the most. While that doesn’t apply to her experience, those are the types “of one dimensional portrayals that people see over and over again in the media.”

    Hodson says the most common assumption people have of her is that she is a “confused liar.” People have asked her if she’s “sure” about her sexuality, and she’s met others who assume she is “doing it for attention.” Hodson believes the idea that bisexual women are sluts is harmful, “especially for young people who are exploring their sexuality.”

    She also says she is able to let these things slide because of her support system, but she knows a lot of teens don’t have that. This is troubling because the bullying and stereotyping they face can “cause severe depression and long term mental and physical health problems.”

  5. They’re Not All Alike
    Getty

    Hodson was quick to point out that her experience “is nothing like the next bisexual person’s experience,” and she “wouldn’t want anybody to conflate one bisexual person with another just because they share a sexual preference.”

    White was adamant about wanting everyone to know that bisexual people exist and that they are complicated:

    “We are cis, we are trans, we are women of all races."

    Bolles says that, with the general public becoming “increasingly familiar with the diversities of the LGBT community,” people now understand that “there’s not just one way to be a feminine woman, or to be a queer person.” She acknowledges, for example, that she is “a woman, Armenian, an Episcopalian, a feminist, and bisexual.” But that’s not all she is; she also loves corgi Instagram accounts and has no idea how to cook.

  6. They Need Gay And Straight Allies
    Getty

    White, Hodson, and Bolles all remarked on how important their respective support systems are. Bolles says she was “very luck to have an incredibly supportive and loving network of family and friends.” For people who want to be allies, she recommends staying informed on issues that affect the LGBT community. They also need to think critically “about portrayals in news and entertainment media.”

    Hodson explained that bisexual erasure and stereotypes are found in the LGBT community as well. When she was in college, she often felt ostracized because she “didn’t feel queer enough.” She also worried that her heterosexual relationships would be criticized. According to Hodson, this “led to me downplaying my sexuality in a time when I should have been exploring it…I sort of had to force myself into a second coming out after I left.”

  7. They Need More Role Models
    Getty

    Because this is Women’s History Month, we also wanted to find out who their LGBT role models were. White called out Roxane Gay, Alison Bechdel, and Janet Mock – as well as Riese Bernard and the Autostraddle team. Hodson, who also mentioned Gay, name-checked Angel Haze for “killing the rap game.” Bolles cited Carrie Brownstein for her work on Transparent.

    Bolles acknowledged that they have few people to hold up as “publicly owning ‘bisexual’ as an identity,” but that’s why she believes “every person who is able to be open and honest about their identity is already starting to make a difference.”

If you want to learn more about how to be a better ally, visit GLAAD, The Trevor Project, and Look Different.