In Review: Bi the Way—Is Bisexuality Bigger Than Sex?
Originally published on SexReally.com on August 3, 2011.
I recently stumbled upon this film in my Netflix queue. Released in 2008 by two young women filmmakers, Brittany Blockman and Josephine Decker, Bi the Way chronicles the lives of youth in the Midwest (ages 11-28) who identify as bisexual. Older generations in the film express confusion and disbelief at the concept of bisexuality, dismissing it as an outpouring of the “whatever” generation, who are content to date a boy one week and a girl the next. One women grounds her daughter in response to her daughter’s admission that she is bisexual.
Many of the interviews involve sophisticated assertions by the youth that they can’t be boxed in by simple definitions and that they are guided by attraction that defies even their own understanding of who they thought they might be. They take some degree of solace in images of queer people they’ve seen in mainstream culture. The film includes cameos by the likes of Dan Savage, who muses that gay people’s activism and visibility in the culture at large set the stage for greater confidence among those who identify as straight to experiment outside of opposite-sex-only attraction. Savage maintains that this is, in fact, a good and healthy thing.
Films like this and books like Jennifer Baumgardner’s Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics help set forth complex narratives about what it means to live as a bisexual person in the United States. Neuroscientists, psychologists, anthropologists, musicians, and artists are featured in both the film and the book talking about how, for some, bisexuality is not just a period of exploration, but a way of framing one’s engagement with sexuality and the world. One of the most compelling parts of the film is when one of the scientists mentions a new study that shows that there are entirely different parts of the brain activated for romantic love, lust, and companionate love. The scientist then says that you can experience these at the same time, with more than one person. It makes a striking case for how natural bisexuality truly is to human psychology, because different factors trigger each of the three spheres of the brain.
This film is a great jumping off point for parents interested in talking to their children about sexuality since it provides role models and cultural and historical context to youth who are exploring, or just curious about, bisexual identity. Studies show a rise in numbers of those reporting bisexual behavior: in 2005, the CDC reported that 11.5% of women ages 18-44 reported same-sex encounters, three times as many as ten years before. Yet, as a recent Sexreally post on the subject noted, LGBT youth have been shown to engage in more risk-taking behaviors than their straight friends, and there is evidence suggesting that these behaviors are connected to the prejudice, social policing and hatred LGBT youth encounter on a daily basis.
Bi the Way is a resource for youth who want to hear voices and stories like their own, offering insights from a boy as young as 11 whose father is gay and whose mother is straight and who recognizes a potential freedom in charting a path of his own. One young man is seen asking his former girlfriend if she thought he was gay while they were dating, and the two have a candid discussion about their experiences with one another. The closeness they continue to share post-breakup speaks to the complex and multi-faceted nature of attraction and love. While this young man is dating another young man now, it is clear that his connection to his ex-girlfriend is rooted in genuine respect and love. We as an audience can see that bisexuality for youth is more complex than the detractors would have you believe. The film is poignant because of its focus on the emotional realities of the youth involved. The diverse racial and socio-economic backgrounds of the youth profiled adds to the film’s potentially widespread relevance.
I highly recommend this film for a nuanced look at how bisexual identity is impacting young people and the culture at large—and I recommend sharing it with those around you and in your community. And then share your own experiences.
Katy Otto is a social justice activist, writer and musician who grew up in the DC area. She works in nonprofit management and development.