Bisexual (often shortened to Bi) refers to someone who is attracted to two or more genders. It is also sometimes defined as the attraction to genders both the same as and different to one's own. This does not necessarily refer to one only being attracted to men and women, as some think: the bisexual community has an extensive history of challenging the gender binary, and bisexual activists have been outspoken about this fact.
Bisexuality encompasses a wide spectrum of attraction. A bisexual may be attracted to any number of genders, from two to all, and may be attracted to any genders in any combination (including non-binary genders). Bisexuals may or may not have a preference and may or may not feel a difference between their attraction to different genders.
Bisexuality can be similar to pansexuality and other multisexual identities. The differences between these identities usually comes down to individual preference, particularly where some may feel that different terms communicate their personal experience of attraction with more accuracy. Each bisexual individual may choose to define their attraction slightly differently.
The romantic counterpart is biromantic.
According to zoologist Alfred Kinsey's research in the mid-1940s, most individuals are not exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. The Kinsey scale measures sexual attraction and behavior on a seven-point scale ranging from 0 ("exclusively heterosexual") to 6 ("exclusively homosexual"). It was found that most of us fall somewhere in the 1-5 category and are believed to have "varying bisexual responses". However, those who rank anywhere between 2-4 are most likely to be recognized as bisexual, as they are often not one extreme or the other. For those individuals ranking either a 1 or a 5, the terms heteroflexible and homoflexible have come into the mainstream, though it is also recognized to use the label of bisexuality for their sexual orientation, as sociologists Martin S. Weinberg and Colin J. Williams wrote that, in principle, those who rank anywhere from 1-5 could be considered bisexual.
The psychologist Jim McKnight was one of the first to write that the idea of bisexuality is a form of sexual orientation, as suggested implicit in the Kinsey scale, which he cites often in his work. However, despite McKnight and Kinsey's work on human sexuality, this conception of bisexuality has been severely challenged since the work Homosexualities (c. 1978) was published by Weinberg and his psychologist colleague Alan P. Bell.
Flag and Symbols
The bisexual pride flag was designed by a team led by LGBT activist Michael Page in 1998. The flag was created in order to give the bisexual community its own symbol which was easily recognized and comparable to the gay pride flag (rainbow flag) that represented the larger LGBT community. Page's aim was to increase the visibility of bisexuals, both among society as a whole, and within the LGBT community.
Page took the colors of the bisexual pride flag from an existing bisexual symbol, the biangles. The biangles, or bisexuality triangles, are another symbol for the bisexual community. The symbol has unclear origins, although it is most likely based off of the pink triangle, another symbol for the gay community in specifics.
Pink represents same sex attraction (gay and lesbian). Blue represents attraction to the opposite sex (straight). They overlap to create the color purple, representing the attraction to both sexes. Page also describes the flag's meaning in deeper terms, stating: "...the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the real world, where bisexuals blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities." The colors of the bisexual flag are often incorrectly reinterpreted to represent attraction to women (pink), men (blue), and non-binary individuals (purple).
Other symbols used by the bisexual community involve the bisexual crescents (a pair of back-to-back crescents) and the bisexual symbol, an infinity symbol featuring the female (Venus) and male (Mars) symbols as well as a blank circle for the genders and attractions between.
History of Bisexuality
Ancient Greek religious texts, which reflected cultural practices, had bisexual themes throughout. Ancient Greece is generally considered to have been largely accepting of LGBTA individuals, albeit with different standards of morality. Same sex relationships between boys and men were common and considered a part of life and learning, although it was expected that men would have relationships with women to procreate as they grew older.
In Ancient China and Japan, homosexuality and bisexuality was also documented, both men who had sex with men, and women who had sex with women. There were even ancient Japanese art prints, called shunga, which depicted homosexual relationships in full detail. Ancient China had similar artwork, which even at times depicted polyamory.
Origin of the term
The first English-language use of the word bisexual referring to sexual orientation was by the American neurologist Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his 1892 translation of Psychopathia Sexualis, a seminal work created by Krafft-Ebing. Psychopathia Sexualis concerned itself with the pathologisation of sexuality and considered homosexuality a mental illness; 'bisexual' therefore referred to those who were both heterosexual and homosexual (hence 'bi'). Prior to this, the word "bisexual" was used in reference to plants, suggesting that species were hermaphroditic or intersex.
Openly bisexual individuals in early history
The first openly bisexual individuals in history were rare in early American life. Some examples of this include poet Walt Whitman, who has been described as both bisexual and homosexual in his feelings and attractions. In the early 20th century, during the Harlem Renaissance, blues singers Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith made no secret about their relationships with men and women. Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was also openly bisexual.
In 1948, Alfred C. Kinsey, an American biologist who was also bisexual, published two books on the topic of sexuality, named Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. He formulated a scale, which went from 0-6 respectively (0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual)to demonstrate varying bisexual responses for those who aligned themselves on the scale. Kinsey also said that anyone who was between 1-5 on the scale to be considered bisexual or ambisexual specifically.
1950's to present day
With the rise of LGBT activism in these decades, such as political debates, the Stonewall Riots, and Gay Pride Parades, bisexuals were included in the fight for LGBT rights. In the first public protest for gay and lesbian rights staged in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C, two of the protesters identified themselves as bisexual.
Bisexuals also became more prominent in the media in the 1970's, and in the 1980's, with AIDS starting to affect the LGBT community, many bisexual activists presented safe sex education in bathhouses and BDSM clubs in San Francisco. They also fought for the rights of lesbians and bisexual women in the AIDS epidemic.
In the 1990's, bisexual characters and literature started to appear in media, becoming more common as time passed. Today bisexual characters are among the most represented of the LGBTA community, with bi women far more likely to be represented. Only 16% of bi characters in media are bisexual men.
Biphobia and bi erasure (the practice of obscuring or denying a bisexual individual's orientation in favour of portraying them as either gay/lesbian or straight) remain common, and despite efforts from bisexual activists the cisheteronormative perception of the gender binary continues to affect how bisexuals are perceived, in particular attempting to enforce the gender binary on the sexuality despite its defiance of the concept. Bisexual visibility and awareness have, however, been increasing in recent years.
The Greek prefix bi- means "two", referring to the initial usage of the term to mean "both" heterosexual and homosexual. The bi- prefix is sometimes reinterpreted to refer to "two genders", as bisexuals are attracted to two or more genders.