…In a world that still thinks bi women will sleep with anyone.
Say the word “bi” and most people will assume you are using a diminutive of the word “bisexual” rather than referring to the word “biromantic”. Indeed, it is a not-uncommon belief that having a lower-than-normal, or non-existent, level of sexual attraction to others means you do not have feelings of romantic attraction. And of course, when it comes to the word “bi” applied to someone’s orientation, many people will think of the classic bi stereotype of promiscuity and a lack of selectiveness when it comes to choosing partners, making it hard for them to accept that even someone with a “normal” sex drive can be bi. Being bi and on the ace (or asexual) spectrum can be tough.
Rachel, 27, is biromantic and greysexual, meaning she is romantically attracted to more than one gender, and rarely experiences sexual attraction. “Strictly speaking, because I experience occasional sexual feelings, I could call myself ‘bisexual’”, she tells CURVE. “But the romantic part is what makes a relationship for me. Of course, most ‘bisexual’ people are also ‘biromantic’, but unfortunately our society seems to place a lot of importance on sex, so ‘bisexual’ has come to encompass both sex and romance.”
Despite being open about her greysexuality, Rachel has experienced much the same discrimination as her non-ace bi friends. “Unfortunately, having openly dated men, women and non-binary partners in the past, I’ve been victim to all the usual jokes about threesomes and sleeping around,” she says. “It can be hard to make someone listen or care when you try and explain. They just see you as ‘easy’, even if sex isn’t on your agenda. Either that, or they half-listen, only to respond with a long lecture about how there are ‘too many labels’!”
“I have been told countless times not to call myself ‘bi’,” sighs Helen, 41, who is biromantic and asexual, meaning she never experiences sexual attraction. “Even my (bisexual-identified) best friend still insists that ‘bi’ can only mean ‘bisexual’. She can’t understand why I need a label for who I am attracted to if I’m not attracted to anyone, despite my constant protestations that I am attracted to people, just not sexually.” Helen’s friend, like many others, sees romance without sex as simply friendship. “She’s like, ‘Helen, if you’re going to date people you don’t fancy, you might as well date me!’ She just doesn’t get it.”
Helen believes that many people on the ace spectrum don’t realise it, or don’t wish to acknowledge it for fear of stigma. “It’s astonishing how many people who don’t consider themselves part of the ace spectrum complain about differing sex drives in relationships, yet are unwilling to accept it when others want to label themselves in order to feel comfortable with not being interested in sex, or with being interested in sex at a different level.” She also despairs at the lack of representation. “If you thought openly bi characters were rare in mainstream movies, TV and books, when’s the last time you saw an openly ace character, let alone an openly bi and ace character? Exactly.”
Finding acceptance as a bi person in the LGBT+ community is hard enough, but as an ace-spectrum bisexual you not only face accusations of straight privilege, you also face being accused of not possessing a “real” alternative sexuality, because, well, it’s defined by a lack of sexuality. But if supporting people whose sexual and romantic inclinations are outside the mainstream is the purpose of our community, then what’s the problem? Unfortunately, as Rachel puts it: “The problem is that bi and ace-spectrum people are perceived as being discriminated against less, when in actuality they are often discriminated against just as much as, or even more than, their lesbian and bisexual contemporaries, thanks to a lack of visibility and understanding. Neither group quite fits in with the lesbian and gay community, but the heterosexual community won’t have them either.”