The Other Bi: Bigender

Bigender_prideThe labels associated with the BLGT community are many and varied. Bisexual, as we know is generally accepted as the attraction to both genders but is often confused with pansexual–the attraction to people regardless of gender.  The subtle difference being that a bisexual person must be attracted to men and women, whereas the pansexual can be attracted to men, women, transgendered persons and anyone who doesn’t identify as being either male or female or part of the gender-binary system. Add to this the plethora of other labels, such as intersexed, genderqueer, heteroflexible et. al. and it becomes a bit more clear why it is so hard for a bisexual, homosexual—and yes transgendered person too—to discover what fits them, and why; and perhaps most importantly, to be accepted and what they are once they find it.

When doing research for a recent article, I came across a new term that immediately prompted the need for more research. The term “Bigender”—previously unknown to me, but apparently around since the late 90s—denotes a tendency to move between feminine and masculine gender-typed behavior depending on context. A 1999 survey conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health reported that less then 3% of men and 8% of women identified as bigender.

What exactly is Bigender though? Beyond the basic definition above, there doesn’t seem to be much known about it. What is a bigender person? The American Psychological Association’s report Answers to Your Questions About Transgender Individuals and Gender Identity uses the term only once, saying:

“Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, bigendered, and gender queer people. Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person, but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders. Some people who use these terms to descrive themselves see traditional concepts of gender as restrictive.”

Elsewhere on the ‘net, bigender is defined as having the job of describing the behavior of a person, particularly a person who can identify as a male in certain situations and as a female in others—this would seem to be analogous to the way that intersexuality would apply to someone who is born with physical characteristics that are not exclusively male nor female.

While not much is known about this other “bi” culture within the BLGT community, it does seem to share a common thread with bisexuality.  Both are all inclusive gender–bisexuality allowing one to be attracted to and have relationships with both men and women interchangeably–bigender allowing on to present themselves as a man or a woman interchangeably as the situation dictates.  Both share the stigma of being misunderstood as well.  Bigender is often confused with crossdressing or transvestism, rather than being understood as the fluidity of gender that it is meant to represent.  One thing is certain, however, the two terms should not be confused with each other.  It might seem that a bigender identity must go with a bisexual identity but gender identity and sexual orientation are independent. It is possible to be bigender and not bisexual, or bisexual but not bigender.  Regardless of whether bigender defines who you are or bisexual defines who you love, it would appear that being bi is seemingly more complex and more amazing than previously believed.