When a woman announces she’s bisexual at a dinner table, a social gathering or in bed, usually one out of two things will happen: She is sized up amorously by diners, social gatherers, or her current paramour, and thought to be “easy” and/or “loose”. She is sized up dubiously by diners/ social gatherers/current paramour and thought to be inclined to cheat on her partner. Both of those two things can be chalked down to the simple truth: she likes men and women, and she cannot lie. And then, of course, there’s the entire archaic malarkey about threesomes

25–year-old Suryatapa, a journalist from Delhi, says, “Biphobia can be terrible against bisexual men – I have seen it. For them, it’s almost worse than that against gay men. For us, it’s the opposite. It’s fetishised and sexualised.” Parthavee, a 28-year-old media professional, laughs off the idea of a threesome when it is thrown at her. “It inevitably is. Particularly at parties, where couples will ask me to come along with them to their houses, without even asking me if I’m okay with it. I actually hate the idea of a threesome and never want to do it.” She continues, “What’s problematic is that this assumption doesn’t just come from straight people, but from within the queer community as well.”

According to Human Rights Campaign, a bisexual “is someone who can be attracted to more than one gender; but adults and youth who identify as bisexual sometimes describe themselves differently… it includes people who identify as pansexual, queer, fluid and other labels that suggest potential attraction to more than one gender.” Biphobia is real, and a very real problem. The aversion towards bisexuality and/or bisexual people as individuals or as a group can take the form of both denying that bisexuality even exists, or perpetuating myths and stereotypes about that identity. The doubts are insidious, the suspicions harmful, the dismissiveness fearfully real.

Shyama, a 33-year-old sales professional in London, recalls being open and out in relationships from the get-go. “I’ve always been very vocal about liking both men and women – and this was a time when 377 still made it a criminal offence in India. I’ve only ever had one samesex relationship while I was still in India, and she was a lesbian. We both explored our sexuality together.” At the time, she wasn’t sure of who she was, having only been physical with a woman. Since, she’s been with men — of whom, she recalls — at least one asked her to a threesome with him and another woman. “We attempted it, but he really wanted me to act out this male heterosexual fantasy of two women and him. I’m not very keen on threesomes, I find them very intrusive.” “What people don’t understand,” she says, wistfully, “is that it doesn’t work that way. I think being bisexual for people is their pornographic fantasy come to life.”

For Suryatapa, it has “thankfully not been something I have needed to explain. Lately, I’ve been dating more queer girls, so it’s not been an issue. Even when I’ve dated a straight guy, I’ve noticed he was careful about what he said. But I don’t know if that’s because of the circle I’m in. I cannot be in relationships with people who I have to explain things to anymore.” She does recall, however, an unfortunate time in the beginning of her dating trajectory, when she found herself catering more to a “straight girl” stereotype. “I felt like I had to cater to certain idea of femininity, so I kept my hair long, etc. That’s when I noticed people were really surprised when I expressed my interest in girls.”

Parthavee has little patience for adverse audience participation, though. “I just snap. Earlier, my exes who were men would go around flaunting my bisexuality to their other guy friends, which was humiliating. With women, they’re more understanding and I’ve barely had to explain it at all. My current relationship is finally with someone who gets it. For him, cheating is cheating — whether it’s with a guy or a girl.”

Misconceptions abound aplenty about bisexual people “having it easy” because they can always flaunt a person from the opposite sex to their parents instead of a same-sex partner. But a love affair (or indeed, a casual hook-up) doesn’t work like that. Besides, Shyama is intent on shattering the awful myth that she’s heard nearly all her life — that “bisexuality is just a phase”. That she’ll grow out of it. “I think parents are really smart — no matter how much you think otherwise, they always know. My ex-girlfriend was home a lot on ‘sleepovers’ and I got the sense that they knew. I’ve chatted with my mother about my bisexuality and, all things considered, she’s quite cool – although she said, ‘lekin pura lesbian mat ban jaana. Ladke se hi shaadi karna’.” Parthavee came out to her mother and brother in 2017, and was happy to see that they weren’t disappointed. “In fact, my mom asked me what it feels like, etc. But I cannot let the rest of my family know. I’m financially independent enough to not suffer if they cut me off. I’ll miss them though.”

Suryatapa thinks she was privileged by the fact that her older sister identifies as a lesbian. “My sister’s always been out. When she was 10 years old, she’d borrow a buck from my mom to buy a rose for her female teacher who she had a crush on. But since we come from a small town, people would always be calling up my parents to speak shit about her. So, whatever my parents had to go through, they already went through with my sister. And by the time I came out at 18, it wasn’t so major.” She rues the fact that they’re not “accepting”, but “they’re not ‘shitty’ about it. “I make it a point to talk about everything LGBT with them all the time,” she laughs.

Shyama remembers a time when an old work colleague warned her not to touch her breasts on a sleepover. She laughed and said that she wouldn’t touch anyone’s breasts, for that matter, without their consent. She recalls, also, the time a friend said she wouldn’t want to introduce her to her fiancé for fear that she would “steal him away”. If the distrust is something that bothers her at the micro level, at the macro, she’d like to see bisexuality get its due. “Just don’t brush it off as a phase someone goes through. Also, don’t consider us as opportunists as people sitting on the fence and having the best of both worlds. I’m sorry if it bothers you that we can like both sexes.” Parthavee agrees. “I also want more people to know that bisexuality doesn’t mean hypersexuality. A person’s libido has nothing to do with their sexual orientation.”