NOTE: Names have been changed in this story to protect the anonymity of the interviewees.
Rachel and her partner, Joseph, are the proud parents of two children, both 15 years old. Although they are an outwardly appearing straight couple, both identify as bisexual. Their identities have an impact on their relationship with each other, their parenting of their children, and other aspects of their lives.
“From the time I started being attracted to people, I’ve always been attracted to both genders,” Rachel recalls. “I was 13 or 14 when I heard the word ‘bisexual.’ That would have been 1971 or ’72. It was a kind of an ‘AHA!’ moment.”
Coming out to her partner was a different story.
“I was very afraid that I was about to screw up the first really important relationship I had! But Joseph came out to me as bisexual as well, so it was actually the best thing I ever did. The majority of my friends either said ‘So what?’ or ‘I knew that already.’ Or both. There were some negative reactions, but the positive ones far outweighed them.”
Since Rachel and Joseph both identify as bisexual, Rachel said, “I don’t think of our relationship as straight or gay. If anything, I think of it as bi. There’s actually been a lot of discussion of this on the bi political chat lines with the media coverage of same-gender marriage. To say a relationship is gay, lesbian, straight, or whatever is placing a label on something a person from outside the relationship has no right to do. The only thing we can say about a relationship is if it is a same-gender or mixed-gender, and even that is iffy.”
How would Rachel’s experience be different if she were in a similar relationship with a woman? Rachel sees few if any differences. “The fundamentals of a good relationship are the same whether it’s a same-gender or mixed-gender relationship,” she said.
While some bisexual people feel like outcasts in both the queer and the straight communities, or feel that they have to bridge the two worlds, Rachel said, “As an individual, I have generally positive experiences.”
Megan and her partner, Jennifer, have a different perspective as a couple in a long-term, committed same-sex relationship. Both bisexual as well, they are aware of the differences between what they are and what they appear to be to outsiders: lesbian parents.
“I knew that I was attracted to men first and slowly began to realize that I was also attracted to women,” Megan explained. “Because I am attracted to both men and women I think it probably took me a little longer to figure my sexuality. At the time [I was growing up], the only public model for bisexuality that I knew of was Boy George. I didn’t really identify with Boy George. To me being bisexual is not about politics or action; it is about desire.”
That desire eventually led Megan to a Bi Women and Friends discussion group where she met Jennifer. Once it became clear that Jennifer would be in Megan’s life for a while, Megan decided to come out to her family. “She was the impetus for it with my parents,” she explained. “I thought they might not really get it if I came out when I was with a man.”
The years leading up to the women creating a family together were full of mixed reactions from friends, family, and both the straight and the gay communities.
“In general there was acceptance from both queer and straight friends and family,” Megan noted. “I had one friend who sent a number of Bible verses and thought I was going to hell. I have found institutional biphobia from self-identified GLBT organizations. There seem to be a number of folks in the GLBT community who do not believe in the existence of bisexuals.” Megan also feels that “straight folks differentiate between bisexuals and other queers.”
Within the LGBT community, phobia against bisexuals is nothing new. Some gays and lesbians believe (as do many heterosexuals for that matter) that bisexuality is a phase leading to a person identifying as gay. Others are not sure where to place these so-called fence-sitters in their comprehension of sexuality. One of the most difficult stereotypes bisexual people must overcome, however, is the idea that being bisexual by definition means being non-monogamous.
“There is this mistaken idea out there amongst many homosexuals that non-monogamy is under the exclusive purview of bisexuals,” Megan said. “That somehow if you acknowledge that you are attracted to both women and men, then you must desire and actually have sex with both women and men. So it should follow if one likes both blonds and redheads that you must want to have sex with both blonds and redheads.”
Megan calls this outlook “ridiculous,” and says that non-monogamy is unrelated to any one point along the spectrum of sexuality.
Despite qualms others may have about them and their family, Megan and Jennifer are adamant about sexuality being “fundamental” to a person’s sense of self.
“My bisexuality informs how I view and experience the world,” Megan said. “I know in a very deep way that the world is not black or white, either/or, but rather that life and sexuality are expressed in a multitude of ways. I think this deep awakening of realizing that we are not in a dichotomous world has made me a much more creative person and a very good problem solver. My experience of being discriminated against within the GLBT community has heightened my sensitivities to others being discriminated against.
Fifteen years after they met, the couple are raising two sons, ages 4 and 7. Megan says that parenting as a bisexual couple “helps me let my kids know that there are many different ideas for how to do things. I encourage them to give their ideas. We talk about not discriminating against other folks, but rather to be affirming and welcoming.”
Since their children are still young, Megan and Jennifer have held off on explaining the romantic side of their relationship to their sons. But they have taught them about different families.
“They know that there are all kinds of families out there and that not everyone knows that it’s okay to have families with two moms,” Megan said. Attending Pride and other events in the LGBT community has helped further their sons’ education; their parents explain beforehand that “there will be more families with two moms and two dads.”
As families like Rachel and Joseph’s, as well as Megan and Jennifer’s, continue to grow, this type of education will hopefully become more widespread for children from all households.
This article was originally written about five years ago for Rainbow Rumpus – a magazine for youth with LGBT Parents.