Life in the middle of the Kinsey scale is diverse, complex and often confusing. A common misconception about bisexuality is that the attraction to your own gender and other genders is a 50/50 split, identical on both sides. The reality is a lot more nuanced.
What you find attractive in a cisgender man could be completely different to what you like about a femme non-binary person. You might not check out all the women when you walk into a party, but that one conversation with a girl in the smoking area could make you fall head over heels (having never been with a girl before). Both are intense and legitimate attractions, but when bisexuality is portrayed as a perpetual state of threesome in popular media, rather than the intricate and varied form of queerness that it is, it can be easy to compare the two and obsess over which category "dominates" the other. Needless to say, this does not make coming out as bisexual any easier.
Personally, this is why I like the term "queer fluid". It gives you the freedom to move around your attractions to different people without your sexuality being numerically valued. While this is by no means the case for everyone, I spoke to some other bisexual – or "queer fluid" – people who are attracted to different genders in different ways, to better understand what it means to be bi.
"The biggest difference in my attraction to men and women is that, with men, I seem to have 'types' that I'm naturally drawn to – certain physical appearances that I like. But with women, I can’t really put a finger on which physical appearances I like more than others. Femmes or butch, I like it all! Mainly it's a woman's energy that catches my attention and attracts me initially.
"A typical question that followed my coming out was, 'If you also like women, what’s your type?' When it's harder to define than my attraction to men, it isn't seen as valid in the same way, as though my attraction to women is just an experimental phase. But I've come to realise over time that I don’t have to define or prove my attraction to anyone. It isn't any other person's business but my own."
"I'm cis female and for a long time identified as straight. I knew a lot of people who were bisexual, but I always assumed they liked men and women equally. It wasn't until a friend said she liked women a lot more that I realised it doesn't have to be a 50/50 split in attraction. I'm mostly attracted to men at the moment, but I do occasionally fall for women. Having only accepted this recently, though, it's a bit like being a teenager again... when I started being attracted to men I was terrified of the ones I fancied, and very shy around them. I'm the same around women now. In time I think my confidence will grow, but I'm in no rush – it's something I'm letting myself accept naturally."
"As a bi man who's more 'straight'-orientated, I've always struggled finding the same sex attractive. With men it's more about sex with me – I don’t need to have a massive attraction; it’s quite simply 'yes I would' or 'no, not with him'. But as time goes on I’m starting to find things attractive about guys that I never did before, and I certainly have an 'ideal man'. With women it’s much more straightforward: I don't have a type, I find women of all shapes, sizes and colours attractive. Which is more socially acceptable, of course.
"Initially, my same-sex attraction was something I was ashamed about, so I kept those lives very separate. Time and maturity helped, but the biggest thing was having a female partner who actively encouraged it. This allowed me to be more open to at least a certain portion of my friendship group, which feels good. This reassurance has opened my mind for it to be OK to find the same sex attractive."
"One of the hardest parts of coming out was distinguishing jealousy from attraction. Most of the problems arose from the socially ingrained need to compare ourselves to other women and compete. Often, the feelings I thought were envy were actually feelings of repressed sexual attraction, and once I realised that I didn't want to be these beautiful women, I wanted to be with them, my own self worth and confidence grew. This actually was made apparent to me really drunk at 6AM in a strip club. It was, I suppose, the first time a woman had presented me with her body in a sensual context, and that was when I realised I am definitely sexually attracted to women."
"In my own experience there's been a certain power dynamic in hetero relationships that exists less in queer relationships. It sounds awful to say this, but I feel more likely to make a move or have an open conversation about being attracted to someone in the queer community. It's as if I need to be on the backfoot more if I'm attracted to a cis man. I very much don't have a type: I've been attracted to people of all genders, backgrounds, physicalities. But I've often felt more vulnerable when it comes to same-gender attractions; perhaps that has a lot to do with internalised heteronormativity.
"But I think my attraction is based much more on who they are as people, rather than any gender-based attribute. Curiosity, creativity, kindness, wit: those are things in any human being that I find very attractive, and they can be present in any gender."
"Speaking in very simple terms, I have a very specific idea of a man that seems attractive to me. I'm only attracted to men who display feminine qualities, and it's hard for me to be interested in anyone too masculine. While I think masculinity can be beautiful, most men inhibit a very toxic version of that, and that's mostly what makes it unattractive. However, for women it's a lot more broad for me. For example, my girlfriend has feminine qualities, but she could also be considered very masculine by some. That's why I don't really like describing my sexuality with gender, but rather with attraction to certain kinds of masculinity and femininity.
"The most liberating thing was finding out about the label 'queer'. I'd been identifying as bisexual for a while, but I never felt it was accurate, since I don't feel the same attraction towards men as I do towards women. Being queer means, to me, that I don't have to constrain myself to being attracted to only one or two genders, but instead I can be attracted to people and their qualities instead of their labels."
"Unfortunately I'm quite squeamish when it comes to a lot of stuff with men, whereas EVERYTHING about a woman turns me on. How she looks, smells, tastes, what she says, whether she sweats a lot, moans, etc. But the tiniest detail 'wrong' with a guy can turn me off completely.
"But I know I’m fully capable of being extremely attracted to a man and falling in love with one. My ex was a man, who I was with for seven years – we even got married! Our breakup was nothing gender specific, but I think I only discovered how amazing sex with women can be after my divorce. But I also think my sex with men will be much better as a result, because I know what I need to be fully sexually fulfilled.
"I think consent plays into it, too. I have to use my 'no' with men a lot, and I can’t remember ever doing that with women. Women, in my experience, understand that boundaries change from day to day, and that allows me to relax and enjoy the sex more. But at the end of the day, amazing sex is amazing either way – it doesn’t have to be defined by gender."
"I'm attracted to men a lot less frequently than I am women, so I’m usually 'caught by surprise' if I see a hot one. Typically it's a big yes or an absolute no when it comes to guys, but I'm generally attracted to charm. With women, it can be more gradual. Someone’s skills, hobbies and habits weigh in a lot more with what I'm attracted to, in addition to personality and chemistry."
"I'd say my attraction to women definitely starts out as a more initially physical thing, but with guys it's more about getting a good communication rhythm going. Bisexuality was always a thing I was aware of and was on the table, but through high school I had a lot of very confusing (for me) male friendships, where I couldn't quite understand why – for example – I decided to spend hours on the phone with a male friend when I wouldn't do that with many other folks. When I had female crushes I immediately understood those feelings as sexual, but it took a lot longer to recognise that with guys."
*Some names have been changed.
Quotes edited for length and clarity.