I have experience living in the in-between places of identity. I constantly navigate the binaries of being white/latinx, hypomanic/depressive, and straight/gay. This flowing between worlds is invisible. I’m white-passing, so strangers don’t know I’m biracial. I’m managing my mental health, so many don’t know I have a bipolar disorder. I’m straight-passing, so many don’t know that I’m not. It is in my sexuality where I feel the least visible.
I’m part of the plurisexual spectrum–people who are attracted to more than one gender–but not necessarily all genders. Plurisexuals may use various words to identify our sexuality: queer, sexually fluid, pansexual, omnisexual, ambisexual, etc. I use the word “bisexual.”
Plurisexuality is complex and has unique connotations for each individual. Naming parts of ourselves has power; when I name myself as bisexual/queer I am accepting my own identity and living authentically. It empowers me in not only my sexual identity, but in all my other identities.
I came out in my junior year of high school. I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents and two younger siblings. I remember saying it quickly. I was almost defiant, ready for a battle, but I also made sure I was slipping it into conversation. My parents didn’t seem to even acknowledge what I said. I was disappointed with the reaction I got; although I was thankful no one made a big deal about it, I was confused as to why it wasn’t any kind of deal at all.
To me, bisexuality means that I have the capacity to love and be emotionally, sexually, and physically attracted to people of all genders–including people of my same gender. Using bisexual also honors the background and politics of the term.
Arielle, a biracial/latinx cis woman from Austin, describes her identity as queer/bisexual. “There’s no short answer for me about how I identify because it’s inextricably bound up in my personal trajectory,” she says. “I think queer is a pretty comfortable label for me. It’s a political label, a personal label, a sexual identity label. … But bisexual has felt very legible to normies. I can be like ‘I’m bisexual’ and most humans that I come into contact with know what I mean by that. … Queer has a fraught history for some. It has meant different things to different generations–it’s political.”
Rollie, a, white, nonbinary transmasculine person from the Netherlands, identifies themselves as pansexual. “I take pansexual] to mean that I am capable of being attracted to people of any gender identity or sex, or combination thereof,” they say.
I constantly feel the need to prove to myself and others that I am queer. I continually must accept myself so that I can be fully acknowledged.
A 2016 report on bisexuality by the Movement and Advancement Project (MAP) found that 52% of people in the queer community identify as bisexual and a large percentage of Americans have experienced attraction to or sexual contact with people of more than one gender–even if they don’t identify as bisexual. Yet, only 28 percent of bisexual people say that all or most of the important people in their lives know they are bisexual, compared to just over 45% of gay and lesbian folx.
Plurisexuality is not a new phenomenon. The term bisexuality gained traction as early as the 1970s. Pansexual as it is defined today is a newer term, despite being coined by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in 1914. The word popped up here and there since then, but wasn’t used in earnest until the 1980s, and gained prevalence in 2002 with the proliferation of online forums. Despite the newness of these terms, there have been countless plurisexual historical figures.
Plurisexual historical figures are often either acknowledged only as gay, or their queerness has been altogether erased. Erasure is an attempt to invalidate our sexual identities and existence, whether intentional or not. In contemporary times, this erasure looks like quieting the voices of those who are plurisexual, not including plurisexuality in media, or making plurisexuals in books, TV shows, and movies follow incorrect stereotypes of our identities.
The feeling of invisibility and erasure of my identity has stuck with me since I first came out at that dinner table, where sometimes I didn’t believe I counted as bisexual/queer. I recently spoke with my parents about that dinner table confession, and they didn’t remember it happening. Since then, I’ve come out to them multiple times, and I still don’t feel believed. When I spoke to him recently, my father asked “Are you still bisexual?” My sexuality is an integral part of my identity as a human, the same way being a writer, being a woman, being biracial/latinx, having mental health challenges, and being fat are parts of my identity. My sexuality may be fluid, but doesn’t go away. It does go unseen. I have had to come out countless times–to myself, my parents, siblings, friends, and strangers. Yet I still am not fully accepted as a queer person.
I have internalized this erasure, leading to a type of self-erasure. I still feel not “queer enough,” especially since I am in a straight-passing relationship with a heterosexual cis man. I constantly feel the need to prove to myself and others that I am queer. I continually must accept myself so that I can be fully acknowledged. It is exhausting. But while I fight against self-erasure, others practice it as a safety mechanism.
A queer black woman from Dallas says she hasn’t come out to others yet, and is not sure she will. “I maintain a status of coming across as just being attracted to cis men. I feel like I’m complicit in erasure by doing that, but simultaneously it’s not entirely safe for me to be out,” she says. “I feel like I’d lose a lot of credibility in the community. I’ve had so many heated discussions with even black professionals about LGBTQ people and I don’t want doors shut on me. … I also know what it’s like to be pigeonholed and tokenized for my visible marginalizations. I don’t want to add another one. … So, I feel I don’t have a right to queer identity.”
When we are seen in society’s eyes, we’re still being erased. We are called “not natural,” “immoral,” and “disgusting,” like many other queer folx. Rosa is a bisexual, biracial/latinx cis woman from San Antonio. “I had come out to [my mom] and I remember my Tia being in the car and her going ‘It’s disgusting.’ And my mom going ‘Mija, it’s just a phase’–completely dismissing it. Then, when I got married [my mother] said, ‘Well, I guess that phase is over,’” Rosa says. “Recently [my mother] had said–we were talking about the LGBTQ community and how she doesn’t agree with it but, of course, if one of her kids … was gay that she would still love them. And I was like ‘Mom, but me and [my sister] are gay– we are bi.’ And she was like ‘You married Tom’ and walked away. She still will not acknowledge me.”
It is this slightly dehumanizing moment. Like what am I? A sex toy?
We also must battle stereotypes that dismiss our sexuality as a “hobby,” something straight girls do to please men, or a step to coming out as a gay. Some people dismiss plurisexuality as completely fake. Others joke it’s an excuse to be promiscuous–that we’re greedy and indecisive and can’t commit to just one relationship. People assume we will never be satisfied in monogamy–that we must all be having threesomes. In reality, plurisexuals are in all types of intimate partnerships: monogamous, open, poly, or anything on that spectrum.
We’re often not welcome in queer spaces; we have to do a risk assessment of coming out not only in straight spaces, but here as well. Take, for example, this notion of the “gold star lesbian.” Some lesbians refuse to date plurisexuals who have been with masculine people. Alli, a white, cis woman from Austin, identifies as bisexual. “There have been women I’ve met who–we’re talking, we’re getting along, and when I mention that I’m bisexual, normally they don’t say anything, they just lose interest really fast,” she says. But sometimes they do say something akin to us being “tainted.”
Those times when we are accepted as legitimate in our sexuality, feminine-presenting plurisexuals are often fetishized, or objectified. At a bar one night, Arielle caught the eye of a woman. Although she noticed the woman had been interacting with a male partner, Arielle wasn’t prepared when the woman made a suggestion to her before they started making out. “I was really offended!” Arielle says. “It was just such a fascinating thing that those are her first words out of her mouth, like ‘Ok, we’re going to have to do this for my boyfriend too.’ No, I have to do absolutely nothing on this planet for your boyfriend. … It is this slightly dehumanizing moment. Like what am I? A sex toy?”
All these types of discrimination and erasure are damaging to our health. The discrimination and erasure we face may contribute to increased risk of health problems. People of color, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, and other marginalized populations have additional stressors, and the hardships of being plurisexual compound upon those.
Adam Maurer, sex therapist at Moontower Counseling in Austin, says there is privilege that comes with being perceived as straight; giving up that privilege to express more of an authentic self is a risk. “Safety, connection to family and friends, housing, career; all of these could be compromised for simply being true to yourself. That can create feelings of anxiety and/or depression, especially if a client has never explored romantic and erotic connections with other genders,” she says.
Bisexual youth and adults have poorer mental health and higher self-reported rates of anxiety, depression, other mood disorders, and suicidal ideation and behavior than binary sexualities. We have higher rates of STI diagnoses, heart disease and cancer risk factors compared to straight people.
In order to combat the stigma and health risk associated with plurisexuality, we must all get to work. “We have made great strides in decentering heteronormativity and cisnormativity, we need to continue this work with monosexualnormativity by changing language that presumes a singular orientation that remains stable through the lifespan,” says Faith G. Harper, therapist and certified sexologist in San Antonio.
We must figure out what it is we truly need to thrive in our sexuality. For Kathryn, a bisexual, white, cis woman living in Austin, she says she needs community. “I realized it meant being very out. Talking about being bi, saying it as much as possible,” she says.” [I need] this feeling like I count and that my differentness counts. That means just everything to me.”
We must be kind to our internalized biphobia and self-erasure. Adam says the best thing to do is be curious with ourselves when we notice any shame or judgment rise up around our sexualities. “Invite compassion and understanding to take over the inner conversation,” he says. “I recommend that people only talk to themselves in the manner in which they wish a kind, caring adult would have spoken with them when they were in middle school.”
Alli says that, when it is safe for us, we should come out publicly. “When people see more people identifying as bisexual … over longer periods of time and they see them as normal people who can maintain long-term relationships regardless of what gender it’s with, it breaks down those stereotypes,” she says.
Lastly, gay, straight, and lesbian people must become our allies by helping us thrive, battling stigma and stereotypes, and supporting us when we come out.
“It might be frustrating or complicated to be who we are, to admit it to ourselves or to others,” Rollie says, “but despite recurrence of violence or periodic resurgency of intolerance as political pendulums swing, this is absolutely the most exciting time to be alive so far for queer people.”
Resources for plurisexuals: