The definition of ‘bisexual’ in the Merriam-Webster dictionary has been updated to encompass gender as well as sex, making it more inclusive of trans identities.
The progressive move is thanks to bisexual advocate Robyn Ochs, who reached out to Merriam-Webster in January 2019 asking them to change their definition of ‘bisexual’ to a term that embraces the full gender spectrum.×
When she got no reply she asked for GLAAD’s help in lobbying the publisher, explaining that the use of the word “both” implies that sex and gender identity are simple binaries, which is inaccurate.
Merriam-Webster promptly updated the entry, and as of Bisexual Visibility Day the word now encompasses “sexual or romantic attraction to people of one’s own gender identity and of other gender identities” as well as sex.
The update was celebrated by GLAAD, which applauded the dictionary for contributing to a more “current understanding” of what it means to be bisexual today.
“Merriam-Webster has a strong history of expanding and updating LGBT+ words, which has a direct impact on how the world recognises marginalised communities,” said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s chief communications officer.
“By updating the definition of ‘bisexual’, Merriam-Webster took an important step in helping to create a more accurate and current understanding of bisexual+ people.”
However, bisexual activists have noted that the definition could still be refined.
In a GLAAD blog post, Ochs shared her preferred definition: “The potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
The same definition is used by the Human Rights Campaign, while GLAAD’s own Media Resource Guide uses the following: “A person who has the capacity to form enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attractions to those of the same gender or to those of another gender. People may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.”