Like every other part of society, the LGBTQ+ community has gone through an enormous revolution. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of queer activists, particularly those who are also BIPOC, there are many more identities and forms of expression that queer people are now able to use to identify themselves (for more information on queer BIPOC activists, read here). One of the most important concepts, for example, is “polysexuality.” As the counterpart to monosexuality, this term refers to people who are attracted to more than one gender. Polysexuality has not been very well understood by the majority of society, with misconceptions being rampant. More often than not, polysexual representation is reduced to fetishization for straight male audiences. However, there is still much controversy within and without the queer community on the use of certain types of polysexuality labels, namely pansexuality and bisexuality.
Polysexuality Pride Flag
One of the biggest misconceptions about polysexual identities is that pansexual and bisexual identities are the same. However, this is not true as both are separate identities of their own. Bisexuality has held many definitions throughout the years. The most current definition of bisexual is someone who is sexually attracted to one or more genders, including their own (BRC). While many believe that the label is the same as being pansexual, pansexuality is an attraction to all genders (Merriam Webster). This means that the gender of their partner does not matter to a pansexual person. Bisexual people have an attraction to multiple but not all genders, meaning that gender does play a role in the choice of a partner for a bisexual person. Additionally, some believe that the bisexual label erases the existence of nonbinary people. Those within the bi community have mostly defined the term to mean more than just a binary understanding of gender, however, as seen in the Bisexual Manifesto. Both heteronormative and LGBTQ+ misconceptions exist about polysexual identities, but they do not remove or reduce anyone’s right to exist or their validity in identifying as any of the polysexual identities.
Polysexual people are often told to “choose one”, meaning that they should just choose one gender to be attracted to. These comments come from both the cishet and the LGBTQ+ community, although the cishet community tends to be more vocal about this and other prejudices, which include the fetishization of bisexual women. From the LGBTQ+ community, this prejudice mostly comes in the form of some memes believing that because polysexual individuals can pass as heterosexual, polysexual people can “choose” to be heterosexual at some point, meaning that they are not “truly” part of the LGBTQ+ community. But the truth is, no one can tell a polysexual person to choose whom they are attracted to. As an analogy, no one tells the color purple to choose whether it is blue or red because purple is a color on its own. Similarly, polysexual people are vibrantly mixed colors with their own identities. Therefore, the illusion of “choice” is just that - an illusion - as there is no “choice” to be gay or straight. Polysexual people are simply people with identities of their own that they feel comfortable with.
Frankly, there is nothing wrong with loving more than one gender. Oftentimes, these people who identify as bisexual or pansexual suffer from a great deal of misrepresentation or direct ignorance. On the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, there is no mention of any polysexual identity, aside from bisexuality, which is grouped in with gay and lesbian subheadings (CDC). This is blatant bisexual erasure as it seems the CDC is only concerned with the homosexual relationships that a bisexual person can have, despite bisexuality being a separate identity. The fact that no other polysexual identities are mentioned shows that the general public has a poor understanding of what polysexual labels are and how they are used. Because of this, many queer, polysexual people identify also as bisexual simply because it is easier to explain compared to explaining other polysexual orientations, especially when conversing with people who only have a general knowledge of LGBTQ+ issues.
Like others in the LGBTQ+ community, many polysexual people have also been hit with the phrase “it’s just a phase”. This is a harmful idea, trivializing the experience of a polysexual person to a “phase” of their life - something they are expected to grow out of. This phrase takes real and valid feelings and calls them temporary and childish, expecting that they will change in the future. This invalidation of the individual experience is very harmful to the mental health of someone who is questioning their identity. In fact, according to the National LGBTQ Task Force, 45% of bisexual women and 35% of bisexual men have attempted to die by suicide (National LGBTQ Task Force). Although it’s not clear what the exact triggers of their deaths are, the intolerance that polysexual people face daily can have seriously detrimental effects on their mental health.
At the end of the day, labels are inherently just that: labels. They are not conclusive stamps that define oneself as just one thing. If a label fits, then you can’t be faulted for using it. If a different label makes you feel better later on, then change labels by all means. Choosing one term to put yourself under is not a lifelong obligation, as sexuality is fluid. Not only that, but not having a label is just as valid.
Life for someone that is part of the LGBTQ+ community can often be difficult. However, biases within the community can also affect many people, especially for polysexual people. In addition to polysexuality, other identities, such as asexuality or aromanticism, are also poorly understood. Many of these opinions are formed based on media fetishization coupled with a poor understanding of sexuality and/or gender identity. Because of this poor comprehension, both cishet and some LGBTQ+ people often tell us that we are broken, that we have to choose to be attracted to only one gender, that our attraction is a phase we will grow out of. It can feel particularly bad when people from our community tell us that we do not belong.
However, the hatred and ignorance of others do not diminish your right to exist and thrive. Although it may not be safe to be yourself in certain situations, know that one day you will be able to live as who you are. One day, you will be able to shine brightly as yourself, no matter who you are. Although we’ve made great strides in overcoming discrimination and hate, the LGBTQ+ community still has a long road to go.