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Surfacing #BiVisibility in the Philippines

Many people get confused – and then deny the existence of – #bisexuality, including in the #LGBTQIA community. Is it just a phase? Are #bi people just confused? Do they just want to have the best of both worlds? #BahaghariTalks delves into this to deal also with bi-phobia and bi-erasure.

Cube (not his real name) has been called “bisexual” by many, even if – he said – he only had one or two bisexual sexual encounters, and yet “never once self-identified as a bisexual person, never having had attraction to same-sex people.” While he doesn’t personally care how he is perceived, this still “impacts my life – e.g. from some women I date questioning my ‘real identity’; to some men I encounter assuming it’s okay to try to hit on me since I ‘play both sides’; and so on.” And so for Cube, “misconceptions around bisexuality “are real… and can have real-life repercussions.”

But what, really, is bisexuality?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the word “bisexual” is used “to describe a person who experiences emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to, or engages in romantic or sexual relationships with, more than one sex or gender.” 

Yes, using the definition, Cube may fit in the category; though to stress, it is his behavior that may be deemed bisexual, not his identity. And – arguably – this is but one of the confusions concerning bisexuality. 

This is why, for Stephen Christian Quilacio, Northern Mindanao correspondent of Outrage Magazine and executive director of the Center for HIV and AIDS Responses (CARE), “dissecting this is relevant.”

“We’re used to using the LGBTQIA acronym,” Stephen Christian Quilacio said. But “the truth is, “not all members of the LGBTQIA community get the same privileges. The bisexual community is among those that continue to be disadvantaged.”
Photo by Serj Tyaglovsky from Unsplash.com

WHO’S BI?

The exact number of bisexual people is hard to ascertain; in fact, even estimates may be challenged.

In the US, for instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2016 that 5.5% of women and 2% of men identified as bisexual. But the Williams Institute and the HRC Foundation estimated that up to 50% of members of the LGBTQIA community may actually be bisexual.

And if the latter (the Williams Institute and the HRC Foundation) can be believed, this means that “bisexuals may be the biggest sector in the LGBTQIA community,” Quilacio said.

Sadly, for a sector “this big, they have a lot of issues… starting with forced invisibility that erases their very existence.” The Bisexual Resource Center, in cat, noted that exactly because of biphobia and bi erasure, bisexual people suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety, domestic violence, sexual assault and poverty; with approximately  40% of bisexual people having considered or attempted suicide. 

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DEALING WITH MISCONCEPTIONS

Raffy Aquino, co-founder of Side B Philippines, a pioneering organization for bisexual people in the country, lamented that there are a lot of misconceptions about bisexuality in the Philippines; and that – yes – these affect bisexual Filipinos’ lives.

For one, there are people who do not think that bisexuality doesn’t exist. And this is even if “you try to persuade people that we exist, they choose not to believe.”

Secondly, there are people who – if they believe bisexuality exists at all – still think it’s just a phase.

Thirdly, there’s the confusion caused by fluidity of identity – e.g. there are men who first self-identify as bisexual, only to come out later as gay; and there are women who first self-identify as lesbians, only to come out later as lesbians. Not surprisingly, there are people who think that “bisexual people are just confused about their sexuality,” Aquino said, adding that these people think that “bisexuals are just experimenting, they just want to try things out.”

This point also touches on the belief that some bisexuals are “just in denial with their true identities”. In the Philippines, for instance, there are men who are exclusively attracted to other men but self-identify as bisexual because: 1) of the lack of local term to use for straight-presenting gay men; and 2) the baggage of the widely used local term, bakla. For Aquino, people need to understand that “bisexuality is an orientation; it’s not gender expression.”

And lastly, there’s the belief that bisexual people – men in particular – are “carriers” of HIV. This is because of the assumption that bisexual people have the “best of both worlds”, and are, supposedly, sexually active. As such, they may be at higher risk for HIV infection because of their assumed multiple sexual partners. This is, obviously, “erroneous and needs to be confronted,” said Aquino.

Aquino said that there needs to be a re-framing of the conversation on bisexuality in the Philippines, starting with its definition – i.e. attraction towards someone in your own gender or in another gender; or if you are a non-binary person, you are attracted to two different genders.

Sadly, “there are still people who think that if you are bisexual, you should be equally attracted to men and women. It’s not true. When you’re bisexual, you are attracted to two genders… and not necessarily (50% apiece; or at the same time).”

Raffy Aquino, co-founder of Side B Philippines, a pioneering organization for bisexual people in the country, lamented that there are a lot of misconceptions about bisexuality in the Philippines; and that – yes – these affect bisexual Filipinos’ lives.
Photo by Serj Tyaglovsky from Unsplash.com

ERASURE IS REAL

Because of these misconceptions, bisexual people tend to get erased. “When you tell people you’re bisexual, they question (the validity of your identity). This, in turn, makes you question yourself,” Aquino said.

Obviously, with the erasure, “you feel under-represented.”

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LOOKING FOR REPRESENTATION

In 2020, GLAAD Media Institute reported that bisexual characters made up 25% of regular and recurring LGBTQIA characters in mainstream media. This was actually lower than 2019, when the percentage was at 29%. Nonetheless, there is representation at least when talking about Hollywood productions. 

For Aquino, this is not true in the Philippines.

At least in his observation, there’s basically zero representation when it comes to bisexual representation in media in the Philippines. But, he admitted, there may be shows that show characters being attracted to both sexes “but they are not representing the bisexual community. These characters are not ‘labeled’ as such.”

There are, of course, celebrities who openly came out as bisexual. Sadly, they may still not end up representing the bisexual community because of layers of discourses among bisexuals – e.g. social class, where these people originated from, and so on. “Bisexuality is very diverse,” Aquino said. 

Unfortunately, Aquino said, “I’m not sure we can impose (proper bisexual representation in the media). If it’s something that won’t sell, they won’t show it, right?”

Aquino added: “There should be communication with the community. If media wants to represent (a specific sector in the LGBTQIA community) there should be communication (with that sector). It’s funny when you see errors in representations in mainstream media just because they didn’t communicate with the specific (sector).”

There are, of course, celebrities who openly came out as bisexual. Sadly, they may still not end up representing the bisexual community because of layers of discourses among bisexuals.
Photo by Irene Giunta from Unsplash.com

CALL FOR LGBTQIA COMMUNITY

Now, is the local LGBTQIA community doing enough to ensure bisexual inclusion?

There are efforts to include bisexual people, said Aquino – e.g. the former International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) was eventually renamed as IDAHOBIT to include bisexual people, intersex people and transgender people. “There are ways where different organizations are including bisexuals in their advocates,” Aquino said.

But more can be done to even better the bisexual inclusion.

To start, “we have to be conscious of the terms we use,” Aquino said. For instance, instead of just saying “gay and lesbian community”, including the others sectors – such as bisexual people – should be normalized.

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In the end, “to be honest, we just want to be accepted for who we are and what we are. Our sexuality exists, and (this isn’t) just a phase.”

GIVE THEM THE MIC

“We’re used to using the LGBTQIA acronym,” Quilacio said. But “the truth is, “not all members of the LGBTQIA community get the same privileges. The bisexual community is among those that continue to be disadvantaged.”

For Quilacio, therefore, “there is a need to highlight this community – Ano ang mga needs na specific sa kanila? Ano ang existing efforts for the LGBTQIA community, and how do we ensure na bahagi sila? Ano ang mga patuloy nating pagkukulang when dealing with this community?”

He stressed the need “to allow bisexual people to speak for themselves.” And so “this challenge, therefore, also lies on the shoulders of LGBTQIA community leaders who are not bisexual but who speak for the entire community. Because for as long as bisexual people are not given the mic – so to speak – to speak about their experiences, about their issues, then we become one of those who promote bi-phobia and bi-erasure.”

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