For something that’s within the first three letters of the LGBTQIA+ abbreviation, bisexuality is arguably one of the most misunderstood sexualities of the queer community — perhaps even more so than the L[esbians], G[ays], and T[rangenders], a.k.a. the three often mentioned when discussing the most basic foundations of sexual or gender minorities. This is often due to bi-erasure or the constant dismissal of bisexuality as a legitimate sexual preference, simply because people cannot accept the idea of an individual being able to ‘swing both ways’. And unfortunately, even within the LGBTQIA+ community, bi-erasure is still very much prevalent.
Now, don’t get us wrong. This is not about pitting against each other. Rather, it is to highlight the struggles of those who identify under this rainbow-coloured umbrella but are often dismissed due to lack of understanding or plain indifference. This is, of course, amplified with Asia’s more conservative culture — which is not an excuse, but still our reality, unfortunately.
We chat with Singaporean artist and influencer Leon Markcus, Filipino freelancer and content creator April Perez, and events host *Belle Que on coming out as bisexual, finding their place in the LGBTQIA+ community, and addressing misconceptions about their bisexuality.
Misconception: Bisexuality is just an experimental phase you go through because of your raging hormones.
Bisexuality, as defined by bi-advocate Robin Ochs and referenced by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation or GLAAD, is having “the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
Despite this, many people still see bisexuality as an experimental phase usually objectified to fit certain — often hormone-fuelled — fantasies.
Leon immediately shut this down: “I knew that I had been interested in both sexes since I was a little kid. I used to get possessive over my boyfriend and girlfriend in kindergarten like a typical child.”
It was the same for April, who shared that she was just around six years old when she started to be attracted to girls. Since she was in an all-girls Catholic school with more “openly lesbian” seniors, this was what she initially thought to identify as. However, she felt a disconnect from being a lesbian as she is a "typical girly girl”, which contrasted with the concept of what ‘girls who like girls’ should look like.
“It was only until college that I realised what ‘bisexuality’ was. I used to think that it’s either you’re straight or you’re a butch type of lesbian. Thanks to the internet (such as micro-blogging site Tumblr), I was able to nail down the differences [between these preferences] and I am able to identify as bisexual.”
It simply shows that age or puberty or any other circumstance does not necessarily have anything to do with bisexuality. Still, these can be supporting factors for others to discover their true selves.
“I think it’s because being bi isn’t really a ‘thing’ growing up, so up until college, I just thought I was straight because I was mainly dating guys. I thought of my attraction to girls as simple ‘girl crushes’ which my other straight female friends also have.”
She clarified, however, that unlike how some people see it, it is not about “fooling around with the same sex while still getting involved with the opposite sex”. Bisexual relationships — as with other LGBTQIA+ relationships, for that matter — are not any different from heterosexual relationships. They also involve trust, respect, and growth and should never be over-analysed simply because people cannot “grasp the basic concept of simply ‘liking either sex’.”
Misconception: Coming out is easy because half of you is ‘heterosexual’ anyway.
Another misconception about bisexuality is that it is easier to come out simply because ‘half’ of their preference is already accepted by the norm. But that is not the case.
“I haven't really come out yet, at least to my family or to anyone outside of my circle of friends who know that I'm also dating girls,” Belle said. “I'm the only girl among four kids and I feel like my parents and my brothers would never really understand.”
She elaborated that despite the changing perceptions about the LGBTQIA+ community, she is still not ready for people to “ridicule, scrutinise or over-sexualise” her preferences to fit “their definition” of her sexual preference.
For Leon, coming out at 14 years old was quite tough as “there weren’t many LGBTQIA icons or representation” during that time. Thankfully, due to the #ItGetsBetter campaign, he felt more empowered to live his truth.
“I was tired of facing it alone and was miserable trying to be someone that I was not. I was also bullied a lot in school, so I thought why should I let the bullies have power over me when I can take back my power by embracing who I was,” he said.
He continued: “The first person I came out to was my best friend. We were going up an escalator and I went, ‘I like boys’ and she went, ‘Cool, what do you wanna eat?’ It was honestly really nice to know she didn't really care. The second person I came out to was to my sister. She was more logical, telling me she needed more time to look it up and she did. Eventually, she was cool with it. The last person I came out to was my mother, who had a huge reaction. She was crying and sobbing and I felt so guilty. Our relationship soured for about eight years. But now, it’s starting to blossom again. She was in the crowd when I performed at Hong Kong's Pinkdot.”
April also shared her struggles, saying that after disclosing to a friend that she had a crush on their school band’s drummer, who also happened to be the daughter of one of their math teachers, she suddenly became “the talk of the town”. She got the usual “it’s a sin” commentary from both peers and teachers to the point where she felt ashamed that she opened up about who she was, despite doing so in confidence. Thankfully, after a challenging couple of weeks, the issue died down and even encouraged other students in her all-girls school to come out as well.
Misconception: You can easily switch from liking either sex in a snap.
Probably the most widespread misconception of all, some people also believe that those who identify as bisexual can easily go from liking men to women and vice versa in as easy as one, two, and three.
“There’s no button or switch that you can just flip and say, ‘Oh, today I think I’ll like boys then tomorrow, it’ll be girls,” April said.
Leon agreed, saying that bisexuality is often the object of many jokes or sarcasm “both from heterosexuals and the queer community” with remarks like, “Why are you so greedy? Why can’t you choose one?” or “Just say you’re ‘gay’, why must you pretend [to be bisexual]?” This kind of pressure initially made him come out as gay because he never had the knowledge at the time that “it is possible to have feelings for both [sexes].”
“But as I grew older, I could never shake the feeling of having butterflies [in my stomach] when I fall in love with a girl or find myself sexually attracted to one. I kept pushing it away, refusing to accept that side of myself as being with men was what I knew,” Leon shared. “But then one day, I decided, you know what, why be afraid? I let my heart go and dated a girl and it was then that I knew it was a part of me that I have been denying for so long.”
Now, he has learnt to deal with criticisms by simply saying, “I don’t have a ‘preferred sex’. I'll sleep with whoever I fall in love with!”
“It's not a 60-40 or 90-10 kind of thing for us,” said Belle. “But there's also nothing wrong if you identify as bi and have a dominant preference. What’s annoying is when people just keep fixating on that. It's love. At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with math.”
Love is love
“I think before, a lot of people used to think that those who call themselves ‘bisexual’ are just joining the [LGBT] bandwagon,” said April. “But I never really cared, to be honest. People know me as strong and opinionated so nobody really made me feel as if I’m not part of the community.”
“I had to come out of the closet [as gay] then go back in to come out of it again [as bisexual],” Leon said. “It’s because some of my gay friends couldn’t accept me — the irony — but some were cool [with it]. These pressures of trying to fit into the labels that people put on me just strip away that confidence of what and how I know myself as.”
Despite these challenges, however, they are adamant in letting people know that these hurdles should not limit anyone from expressing themselves, bisexual or not.
“I may not be ready to come out yet — to my family, at least,” said Belle. “But to those who are struggling, there is a community out there for you. There are friends who will understand. They will be your sanctuary.”
April agreed, saying, “I hope the stigma against bisexual people — and those who are part of the LGBTQ community — will eventually dwindle. We have to accept the fact that people get to know more about themselves every single day and that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just fitting in the two genders that society is forcing us to be part of.”
Still, these three individuals feel the need to stress the most important aspect of acceptance: the one coming from within.
Leon shared: “If you identify as bi, be proud, be bold. There’s no need to overthink it.”
“External acceptance is okay and all, but how you accept yourself, deep down, is what truly matters,” Belle expressed.
Finally, Leon added: “I think one thing the LGBTQIA+ community has in common is [having to deal with] people's misconceptions of who we are and what our roles are in society. I hope that with this knowledge at hand, people in the community will focus more on uplifting and accepting others for who they are as they are.”
Cheers to that.