“Both Ways limits our understanding of sexuality to a sanitised and heterosexual reference-point”


On 6 December 2019, Liam Payne’s latest album was released and along with it his track, Both Ways. It is a song which explores a bisexual woman’s sexuality through the privilege-tinted glasses of the male gaze – and consequently sets a concerning tone about the societal perceptions of bisexual women.

Within the dominant heterosexual mainstream media, bisexual women are frequently considered a titillating show for the straight male-gaze and Payne’s lyrics reinforce the stigma and fetishisation of bisexual women. 

It is concerning that someone with the following that Payne has is capitalising on these stereotypes and shaming bisexual women who wish to express their sexuality for themselves. It also appears to condone sexual expression between two women – but only when it is carried out to fulfil and entice a man.

A caption of Payne’s lyrics taken from YouTube.

This limits our understanding of sexuality to a sanitised and heterosexual reference-point, whereby queerness expressed by women is considered a dishonour, a betrayal of societal norms.

The danger of stereotypes

It’s also incredibly dangerous as bi women experience sexual violence at a significantly higher rate than any other sexuality, and if bisexual women do not perform in the manner that Payne suggests, then that poses a concerning risk to their lives and bodily autonomy. 

As a queer woman who experiences attraction beyond gender and who has existed on dating apps, you quickly become disillusioned with the requests for sexual acts between yourself and multiple others, in order to perform and satisfy the desires of other people. This idea stems from the false stereotype that all bisexual women are overtly sexual.

Bisexual women do not exist to be a form of gratification for men. We experience our own struggles and stigmas, which are compounded by such stereotypes that are inherently harmful to the acceptance and recognition of the bisexual identity.

Biphobia in the mainstream

The reductionism that bi people experience is frequently portrayed in mainstream biphobic media, which tends towards a preponderance of hypersexualisation and male gratification – and Both Ways is an example of this. 

The way language is used shapes how we understand and interpret the world, and thus can cause a fissure between bisexuals’ lived experiences and the preconceived notions of bisexual identity expressed through normative language.

Payne has been careless with his lyrics, and thus should recognise his privileged viewpoint and the potentiality for harm he has caused to the bi community.

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