Bi people do not have it easy. They are surrounded by judgment and negative stereotypes from both sides: heteronormative society and the LGBTQ+ community. But before we get into that, let’s get some things straight (or not so much).
What are we even talking about?
Bisexuality has had many different definitions over time. The most commonly known one is that someone is bisexual if they are attracted to both men and women. But a more inclusive definition is that someone is bisexual if they are attracted to people of a similar gender to their own and to people who are a different gender (either romantically and/or sexually). This definition operates with bisexual as an umbrella term, which includes bisexuals, but also pansexuals, queers and so on.
Now biphobia is aversion toward bisexuality overall and bisexual people as individuals. It can surface as denying that bisexuality as an orientation even exists, or by believing and perpetuating negative stereotypes about bisexual people. Denial might sound like: “It’s just a phase” or “You are just confused but you’ll figure out sooner or later if you are straight or gay” etc. Some negative stereotypes about bi people are that bi people are likely to be greedy and unfaithful because they want men and women as well, that they can’t stick to a monogamous relationship, that they are promiscuous, and that they are indecisive and confused. The list goes on. Some of those might be true of some bi people, but they might equally be true of anyone with any sexual orientation.
Denial of bisexuality often leads to bisexual erasure, which means that because the general public denies the existence of bisexuals, we don’t know about or meet bisexuals either as historical figures, celebrities, or characters in fiction. These figures are either categorized as “really actually straight, and the same-sex attraction/relationship was just one hiccup/experimentation” or “they were gay/lesbian all along and finally realized it”. And unfortunately, bi-erasure also leads to more denial. “You cannot be what you cannot see” (Marian Wright Edelman) Bi entertainment needed! If bi people are not visible, they might as well not exist in the public eye. What’s more, representation needs to be varied, since bi people are also varied, and other aspects of their personality intersect with their sexuality.
A specific example of bi-erasure happened to David Bowie, who came out publicly as bi several times yet got asked about it again and again by reporters.
Below are some examples of bi-erasure among functional characters:
“Bi-Visibility: How The Media Plays A Part In Bi-Erasure” https://www.thebubble.org.uk/lifestyle/sex/bi-visibility-how-the-media-plays-a-part-in-bi-erasure/
“Bisexual erasure is a thing (Even within the LGBT community)” https://yr.media/news/bisexual-erasure-is-a-thing-even-within-the-lgbt-community/
“Bisexual Erasure in Grace and Frankie” https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/bisexual-erasure-grace-and-frankie
The effect it has on bi people
The prejudice about bi people affects men, women, and non-binary people differently. According to popular opinion, bi people perceived to be men are “actually gay” while bis percieved to be women are“only be experimenting” or “doing it for attention”.
Biphobia has a diverse negative effect on those who identify as bi. In the US, for example, they experience:
- higher likelihood of risky behavior amongst high school students, compared to their gay or lesbian counterparts
- a higher likelihood of anxiety and mood disorders amongst bisexual women and men who report having sex with both sexes
- a lower likelihood of being out to the important people in their lives
- “Bisexuals report higher rates of hypertension, poor or fair physical health, smoking, and risky drinking than heterosexuals or lesbians/gays”.
- And on the topic of interpersonal violence (statistics from the US from 2010 and 2015):
- Compared to 1 in 3 women figure quoted above 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women experienced interpersonal violence during their lifetime.
- The difference in the number of men experiencing interpersonal violence based on their sexual orientation is smaller: 26% of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men.
- The perpetrators of violence were mostly male when the survivors were bisexual women or gay men, while mostly female when the survivors were lesbians and bisexual men.
Sources here. For more in-depth reading on the subject see:
- The LGBT in Britain, bi report by Stonewall
- Or the report on bisexual invisibility by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission
What can we do about it?
To combat bi-erasure, we celebrate Bi Visibility Day (Sept. 23rd) and Month (September) all over the world. It celebrates bisexual people, the bisexual community, and the history of bisexuality. If you are in a position to give bi people the spotlight then please do so.
In order to be a good ally keep the following in mind:
- Believe bi people if they come out to you.
- Remember that bi people are varied and might be single, monogamous, or non-monogamous. All of these options are valid.
- Someone can be bi even if they previously identified as straight or gay. Don’t assume someone’s sexual orientation based on the relationship they might be in.
- Speak up if someone is denying bisexuality!
- Stand up against homophobia (which affects bi people too) and against biphobia! Remember bi people may be biphobic against themselves as well. Stick up for them if you are close 🙂
- Help bi people find a community if they need one
Bi people are here and here to stay. Let’s just all try to get along.