Is It Okay to Be Bi-Curious?
Questioning, Misconceptions, and Erasure
I don’t think it’s a secret that the MOGAI community is complicated, or that there are a lot of misconceptions about the many, many identities encompassed within that umbrella. From contention around the term "queer," to questions about what the “A” in "LGBTQIA+" stands for, there’s a lot to learn and remember and unpack—and a lot of misinformation to contend with. Moreover, when dealing with such a large community, it’s inevitable that you encounter differences of perspective and opinion, which unfortunately can turn heated.
So, all that being said, is it offensive for someone to call themselves bi-curious?
Some say, "Yes. Absolutely."
But to others… Well, it’s complicated.
First, let’s deal with the word itself. "Bi-curious" refers to uncertainty, and exploration of romantic or sexual orientation that is specific to potential attraction to more than one gender. (Smith 2019; Friedrichs 2019) This experience can also fall under the term “questioning," (Friedrichs 2019) which refers to someone wondering if they’re gay, bi, trans, ace, etc. (Vanderbilt University) "Bi-curious" is a lot more specific, however.
In contrast, bisexuality is a sexual orientation in which a person is attracted to more than one gender, usually their own and at least one other. (Smith 2019; Zane 2016) Similarly, being bi-romantic is the exact same, but with romantic attraction instead of sexual. This is a community and identity that faces a lot of erasure and discrimination. For one thing, bi people are often treated as though their identity does not exist—They’re straight but adventurous, or they’re gay but don’t want to commit to it. (GLAAD; Zane 2016) There’s also often a misconception that bisexuality refers to equal interest in “both” genders, which a) erases nonbinary identities, and b) does not accurately capture the spectrum of bi experiences. Someone can be mostly attracted to their gender, but still have interest in other genders, and that’s just as valid as someone who expresses little to no gender preference. (Zane 2016) This is just the tip of the iceberg, for the stigma and erasure the community faces.
There is, as I said, contention about if the term “bi-curious” is appropriate. Some argue that it implies that exploration or experimentation is a prerequisite to coming out as bi, or that one needs prior experience to determine their identity. This, in turn, feeds into the erasure and invisibility that bisexual people already struggle with, by creating a prerequisite against which people can be measured to determine if they are “really” bi. Some also argue that this term singles out bisexuality, and makes it seem as though this phase of experimentation and exploration is uniquely bi because “lesbo-curious and gay-curious aren't being used,” (Smith 2019) to describe the experiences of homosexual people figuring out their identity. This, it is argued, contributes to bi-phobia. Instead, some argue that people who want to call themselves “bi-curious” should stop contributing to the erasure and stigma, and just call themselves bisexual, or possibly pansexual, depending on what fits their preferences better. (Smith 2019)
But, well… It’s not that simple.
While the term “bi-curious” can certainly be used to harmfully affect, the same can be said of many identifying labels within the MOGAI community. Even the word "queer," which is becoming more and more accepted as a self-identifier and umbrella term for the community, faces backlash and contention (hence, why I use the term "MOGAI" in its place). While the term “questioning” is certainly serviceable, some people might not find that clear enough, or specific enough, to describe their experiences. I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone exploring their identity is engaging in erasure and bi-phobia—If anything, that will only harm them, and further complicate their journey to understand themselves better.
An important thing to keep in mind with this, too, is that “bi-curious” is also a great label for someone trying to figure out the distinction between romantic orientation, and sexual orientation. Bi-curious works wonderfully for situations where someone knows they’re attracted to more than one gender, but they aren’t sure it it’s romantic, sexual, or both. Someone who is cross-oriented (Ferguson 2016) as a bi-romantic asexual, but hasn’t figured out those labels yet, might find “bi-curious” more helpful than “questioning,” because they’ve determined they’re somewhere in the bi community, but aren’t sure exactly where they fall.
It’s also unfair to say that someone who goes through a phase of exploring and experimenting the possibility of being bi is stereotyping or contributing to the erasure of the community, because, well, some people do need to go through this process to determine their orientation. It’s certainly true that plenty of people can come to understand their orientation without experimentation, including many bi people, but that doesn’t make it wrong or stigmatizing if others cannot.
Saying that someone trying to understand if, and in what way, they are attracted to more than one gender should explicitly identify themselves as bi or pan, instead of calling themselves "bi-curious," is also short-sighted. Forcing themselves into a clearly defined label when they’re dealing with uncertainty about their identity might actually make it more complicated and confusing to figure out where they stand, causing them more harm in the long run.
The long and short of it is: Identity is complicated. Oppression is complicated. Language is complicated. There is no clear or easy answer to this situation, but I think it’s incredibly important that we be mindful and respectful of how we all navigate these problems differently, and that we all do our best to not actively harm others—even if we think we’re trying to help.
Ferguson, Sian. 2016. ‘Here’s What It Means When Your Romantic and Sexual Orientations Are Different.’ Everyday Feminism. Retrieved October 7, 2019 (https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/07/cross-orientation-101/).
Friedrichs, Ellen. 2019. ‘Defining Bi-Curiosity and More About the Sexuality Spectrum.’ LiveAbout. Retrieved October 4, 2019 (https://www.liveabout.com/what-does-bi-curious-mean-1415628).
GLAAD. ‘Erasure of Bisexuality.’ Retrieved October 8, 2019 (https://www.glaad.org/bisexual/bierasure).
Smith, Erika W. 2019. ‘What Does it Mean to be “Bi-Curious”?’ Refinery29. Retrieved October 4, 2019 (https://www.refinery29.com/en-ca/what-is-bi-curious-meaning).
Vanderbilt University. ‘Definitions.’ Retrieved October 7, 2019 (https://www.vanderbilt.edu/lgbtqi/resources/definitions).
Zane, Zachary. 2016. ‘Heteroflexible, Bi-Curious, But Mostly Straight.’ Pride. Retrieved October 4, 2019 (https://www.pride.com/bisexual/2016/1/20/heteroflexible-bi-curious-mostly-straight).