The pervasive stereotype that bisexuality is an exclusive and limiting label is something bi activists have been fighting for decades.

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In April, a more inclusive definition of 'bisexual' was added: “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or lãng mạn attraction lớn people of one's own gender identity & of other gender identities.” NBC News; Getty Images
When Martin Rawlings-Fein, 43, first thought he might be bisexual in the 1990s, he saw the label as limiting. It wasn’t until he met bi people who also identify as transgender and/or outside the gender binary that he realized this perception was something he needed khổng lồ rethink. Rawlings-Fein, a trans man, said at the time people were “really confused” that a transgender person could be anything other than straight and that a bisexual person could be anything other than cisgender.

“At first I was like, ‘bi, binary, well duh,’ but then I started looking at all of those people who were bi at that time, and a lot of them were trans or genderqueer, or in some way they were against the binary in their life, in their expression,” Rawlings-Fein, the former lead organizer for the cất cánh Area Bisexual+ & Pansexual Network, told NBC News. “I started looking at all of those people who were bi at that time. I was like, ‘Wow, this is something I have to lớn rethink & look at, reframe it.’”

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Martin Rawlings-Fein.Kelley ClementsDecades after coming out as bisexual, Rawlings-Fein said he và other advocates still face the misconception that the term bisexual means their attraction is restricted to the gender binary — meaning those who identify as exclusively male or female. Amid this year’s Bisexual Awareness Week, which culminates with Bi Visibility Day on Sept. 23, activists and bisexual-identified people told NBC News that this is a pervasive stereotype, despite published documents dating khổng lồ the 1990s that clarify the term’s expansive meaning and Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s update to lớn its definition this past spring.

Beyond attraction lớn ‘both men and women’

The first known use of the word "bisexual" was in 1793, though it meant "possessing characters of both sexes” at the time, according khổng lồ its Merriam-Webster entry. The definition has changed & expanded many times over the centuries — including this year.


Bisexual+ advocate Robyn Ochs, 61, said she accidentally noticed that Merriam-Webster changed its definition of “bisexual” during a recent Google search. After the 200-year-old dictionary company named the nonbinary pronoun “they” its 2019 Word of the Year, Ochs said she wrote a letter in collaboration with the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD asking for an update to the word “bisexual,” because the expanded definition of “they” created “a contradiction in your binary definition of bisexuality.”

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Robyn Ochs.Marilyn HumphriesPrior to lớn the change, Merriam-Webster defined bisexuality as “attraction lớn both men and women.” In April, a more inclusive definition was added: “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or lãng mạn attraction khổng lồ people of one"s own gender identity and of other gender identities.” The change was due lớn a regularly scheduled update, according khổng lồ Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster.com.

Since the 1990s, however, Ochs, the editor of Bi Women Quarterly, has defined bisexuality as “the potential lớn be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — khổng lồ people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, và not necessarily khổng lồ the same degree.” She credits the work of bay Area activists for helping introduce her to lớn this expansive understanding.

From the Kinsey Scale to lớn the ‘Bisexual Manifesto’

As “a child of the ‘40s,” activist ABilly Jones-Hennin, 78, said he first encountered ideas about bisexuality in a book he found in his father’s library that contained information about the Kinsey Scale, a measure of an individual’s sexuality published in 1948 by the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. Growing up, he said he seldom heard the term “homosexual” & doesn’t remember ever seeing or hearing the word “bisexual” until becoming involved in activism the 1970s.

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Jones-Hennin said he believes misconceptions about bisexuality arise from assumptions placed on bisexual people from those outside the community.

“People don’t believe I’m bisexual because I’m in a same gender-loving relationship, and I have been in one for 43 years,” he said. “People define you as they see you at that moment."

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Loraine Hutchins and ABilly Jones-Hennin.Courtesy Loraine HutchinsWhen Loraine Hutchins, 72, came out as bi in the early "70s, she said the word “bisexual” was used “sensationalistically.” At the time, Hutchins said activists didn’t have the same terminology that exists today khổng lồ describe different gender identities — the term “gender” itself was a word she would only encounter “in an anthropology class.”