What is Bisexuality?

With celebrity advocates like Janelle Monae, Asia Kate Dillon, Keiynan Lonsdale, and Sara Ramirez; history-makers like Assemblywoman JoCasta Zamarripa and Senator Kyrsten Sinema; and viral social media campaigns like #BiWeek and Bisexual Health Awareness Month shaping the media; people are talking about bisexuality and the bisexual+ community more than ever.

But what is bisexuality, and how does it relate to pansexuality, and other terms that the BRC and other organizations include under the umbrella term bi+ or bisexual+?

Below, we will talk about what these terms mean to us as an organization, and our community members as individuals; there is no one definition. The experience of talking about what bisexuality is is just as nuanced and diverse as the identities of bi+ folks themselves.  

Bisexuality

Attraction to more than one gender.

This attraction could be physical, romantic, and/or emotional.

Bisexual people may experience different kinds of attraction to different genders, and their attractions may change over time.

Pansexuality

Attraction to all genders and/or regardless of gender.

This attraction could be physical, romantic, and/or emotional.

Pansexual people may also experience different kinds of attraction to different genders, and their attractions may change over time.

Pansexual and bisexual are identities that overlap and have nuanced differences, and someone who is attracted to all genders or regardless of gender might also identify as bisexual.

Bisexual+/Bi+

An umbrella term that includes all people who experience any kind of attraction to more than one gender.

Every Bisexual+ Experience is Different

Someone might use multiple terms to talk about their identity, might use different terms in different contexts, or might prefer one term over another for many different reasons.

Although bisexual and pansexual are the most common terms, they’re not the only ones! People who are attracted to more than one gender might also use words like multisexual, omnisexual, polysexual, heteroflexible, or queer to describe their identity. 

Multisexual Colors
Omnisexual Colors
Polysexual Colors

Regardless of the terms we use, the bisexual+ community is a home for every person who is attracted in some way to people of more than one gender.

Bidentification Station

Click to download your very own bi+denitification card!

“What is bisexuality?” is almost trick question: the bi+ community is so diverse and multifaceted that a few paragraphs can’t possibly cover all the different ways people define the concept, both to themselves and to others. 

Because the thing is, every person gets to decide what their identity means to them.

So instead, we asked folks in the bi+ community to talk about bisexuality through the lens of their own bi+dentities. Here are some of those responses.

Community Call-Out: How do you talk about your bi+ identity?

I’m transgender and attracted to people regardless of their gender. I describe myself as bi, pan, or queer, depending on who I’m talking to. I think “queer” resonates the most with me, but I love the word “bisexual” because it makes me feel more connected to the history of the LGBTQ+ community and the bisexual activists who came before me.

– River M. (they/them)

It really depends on the context. If in a straight-dominant space I say I’m queer and specifically bisexual if people assume I am lesbian. If I am in a friendly LGT+ space, I just say I’m bi. If I am in a sophisticated LGBTQ+ space, I’ll go further and say that I’m a Bi, demi, nonbinary person. If I am in any unfriendly straight or LGT+ [space], I won’t mention much about myself, and that includes orientation, since I won’t be back anyway. Despite so much progress, trust still plays such a big factor for all queer people.

-Patricia S. (they/them)

I use the word “bisexual” to describe myself personally, but “pansexual” fits me just as well. I also use “queer” when I’m referring to myself in the context of the larger movement for liberation.

– Belle S. (she/they)

I say that, even though the majority of my intimate relationships have been with men, I know that I’m attracted to people of all genders (that is, people who are the same gender as I am, and people who are of a different gender from me). I have the capacity to have intimate relationships with people of all genders. I always like to sum it up by saying, “I’m bisexual because I say I am!”

– Gloria J. (she/her)

I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree. For me, the “bi” in bisexual refers to those with genders similar to my own, and those with ones that are different.

– Robin O. (she/they)

I’m not sure if [a bi+ identity] applies to me. Sometimes I think it does, sometimes it doesn’t. My local bi+ community has always felt welcoming and has made it clear to me that this is okay. 

– Joel T. (he/him)

Why limit my options?

− Bob D. (he/him)

I say Bi or Queer, but there’s elements of Pan and Demisexual in there too. I’m also not Cis & that’s impacted my identity too. Some still think Bi [is] binary and it’s not.

– An Instagram follower

I use bi and pan interchangeably. I’m pan but [it’s] often easier to say bi.

– An Instagram follower

I am bisexual. I’m attracted to more than one gender, but I don’t know if I’m attracted to all genders because I don’t think I’ve met folks of all genders. I also don’t say that I’m attracted regardless of gender because my attractions are gendered.

– Camille H. (she/her)

Honestly, I almost never talk about my bi+ identity. But if I were to I would say that I am bisexual because I have been in relationships with men and women and enjoy them for different reasons. My attraction to different genders has changed throughout my life; currently I am more interested in men than other genders. I also enjoy monogamy and the intimacy from a single partner, which is important to mention since it is a common stereotype that to be bisexual requires polyamory. That is not the case for me.

− Neil A. (he/him)

Additional Resources

What is Bisexuality?

What is Bisexuality?

The bisexual community is diverse and multifaceted; we include those who identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, fluid, or even no label at all under our bi+ umbrella. The label bi+ includes anyone who is – or has the capacity to be – sexually, romantically, and/or emotionally attracted to more than one gender.

“What is bisexuality?” is almost trick question – it might get you completely different answers depending on who you ask! Every individual may have their own definition of what their sexuality means to them. Bisexuality can be defined by behavior, actions, attractions, or any combination thereof. Your interest doesn’t have to be (and in fact likely won’t be) evenly split between whichever genders you’re interested in. You may find yourself more sexually attracted to some genders and more romantically attracted to others. You may be attracted almost entirely to one gender, but find the rare exception. You may end up in a monogamous relationship and only be with that one person for the rest of your life. Your identity, sexuality, and attractions may change throughout your lifetime. No matter what, your identity is yours alone and if you identify as bi+, no one has the right to tell you otherwise.

Here’s Robyn Ochs’s story:

My own understanding of bisexuality has changed dramatically over the years. I used to define bisexuality as “the potential to be attracted to people regardless of their gender."

Then one day I was chatting with my friend Alberto, who, like me, identifies as bisexual. I tossed out my definition and he looked at me like I was crazy.

“Regardless of gender? No, no, no! There’s no ‘regardless’ about it for me. For me it’s all about difference. I’m attracted to cheerleaders and football players. It’s precisely the extremes of difference that attract me.” Alberto is attracted to the poles, to super-masculine guys and super-feminine girls.

Others are attracted to masculinity and/or femininity, regardless of a person’s sex. Some of us who identify as bisexual are in fact “gender-blind.” For others—in fact for me—it’s androgyny or the blending of genders that compels.

Then, to complicate things further, I have learned a lot from my intersex, genderqueer and transgender friends. I now realize that I had been confusing gender with biological sex and that the two are not synonymous. Though in reality the difference between sex and gender is far more complicated, I find useful the expression, “Sex is between your legs; gender is between your ears.” In real people, sex and gender do not always correspond. I also learned that sex and gender each exist on a continuum; thus there are more than two sexes, and more than two genders. A male-bodied person can identify as a woman, or as a combination of man and woman; and a female-bodied person can identify as a man, or as a combination of man and woman. And some people’s bodies do not fit their cultures’ standards of male or female.

What does all this mean for our understanding of bisexuality? Dictionary definitions of bisexuality that rely on an idea of “both sexes” are inadequate. As human beings, we live and love in a world that is far more complicated than these narrow ideas allow. Our attractions do not stay within tidy borders, and our understanding of bisexuality must adapt to this. Every one of us must make sense of our own experiences and assign to them our own meaning.

Here’s my current definition of bisexuality: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge in myself the potential to be attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”