Biphobia- When "Majority" Just Means More Discrimination
By Jack O'Dwyer
It’s no secret there’s a lot of discourse in the LGBT+ community. As Pride month roars its way along, rolling the spotlight somewhat warmly in our general direction, a lot of us can’t help but be reminded of the all the clashes we face both inside and out. Who really belongs in our spaces? What are we doing with our flag and when do we use it? What kind of specific criteria do you need to meet in order to be “x” identity?
There’s always a ton to keep track of. Ironically enough, however, there’s one issue that I haven’t seen discussed to its deserved extent: biphobia and bi-erasure.
I was lucky enough to march in NYC Pride this year and as I walked the streets, I noticed a concerning lack of bisexual merchandise. Maybe it’s because I was keen on finding souvenirs for my girlfriend or just handling the Pride high better than usual. Trust me, nobody understands how easy it is to get lost in the rainbow-glitter-block-party better than me. All the colors can be blinding. It’s exciting to see so much support and so many other queer folks in one space! Plus, there’s more cool free stuff here than at any college fair ever. I got so many things from CVSHealth - including my new favorite sunglasses. Even Citi bank was handing out transgender flags!
But this wasn’t enough to distract me. The lack of bi-visibility stuck out in my mind, regardless.
Biphobia is an issue I hold close to my heart, despite not being bisexual. In truth, I feel a bit of personal responsibility to speak out about it. A disturbing amount of this comes from the lesbian community and several of my longest, closest friends are bisexual. I’ve found the flack my friends catch for their identity increasingly infuriating over the years -- the absent discussion even more so.
So, what is biphobia? It’s a name given to a certain set of behaviors and phrases that ostracize, eclipse, and deny the validity of bisexual individuals. Often it takes the form of implying that an individual’s identity is a temporary phase, that they are inherently promiscuous, and/or that they are “less than gay” or “half gay” instead of being a whole identity on their own. People are very quick to assume that bisexuals are selfish or greedy. Some might even go as far as to say that they have a higher risk to cheat because they “can’t make up their minds.” Bisexuals are also subject to a unique situation where the legitimacy of their identity is focused on the gender of their partner rather than their own feelings of their own sexuality. Apparently, it’s possible to find yourself excluded from LGBT+ spaces and support based on your non-monosexuality alone.
This kind of discrimination often comes with awful consequences at the hands of offenders and the societal perceptions they exude. Despite making up over half the demographic of the LGBT+ community, bisexual representation in the media is sorely lacking. When it does occur -- if it does occur -- it’s rarely positive or impactful. Bisexuals are often depicted as deceitful villains without a moral compass who use their sexuality to take advantage of others. More often they are female (25%) as opposed to male (7%). It sets up a dangerous association between the individual and the concept of being promiscuous or easy. Bisexual women are more than twice as likely to be raped -- 46% compared to 17% in heterosexuals and 13% in lesbians. They experience sexual violence 61% of the time -- that’s one in two people or more than half -- and nearly half are assaulted for the first time between the ages of 11-17. One in three bisexual men have experienced sexual violence compared to one in four gay men.
The lack of support from both heteronormative and LGBT+ communities also takes a drastic toll on mental and physical health. Half of bisexual women and one in three men have contemplated suicide. They have much higher risks of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. For women, it’s 59% compared to 44% for lesbians and 31% for heterosexual women. Rates of HIV in bisexual men is just as high as gay men. In general, bisexual individuals are twice as likely to live in poverty and have substance abuse issues, as well. It’s much more likely that bisexual people remain closeted as they have a very poor perception on how they would be received. This can most likely be associated with the constant correcting and re-coming out they have to do due to the aforementioned “your sexuality is actually defined by your partner” clause.
Speaking of that, let’s go over bi-erasure. You could call it something of a byproduct of biphobia or another aspect of it. This is the act of completely ignoring either the validity or existence of someone’s identity as bisexual. Representation in the media -- again, when/if it happens -- often plays into this. For example, Piper Chapman in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black is constantly called everything except bisexual. Her then-fiance calls her a lesbian, her lesbian girlfriend calls her a straight girl, but nobody in the whole show takes a moment to consider that she might just be bisexual. Bisexuality is often treated like a gluttonous act or a hobby done on the side, “but don’t worry, this character is definitely straight.” It’s essentially the systematic disregard and monosexual replacement of an individual’s identity. Some common victims of this are Freddie Mercury, Keke Palmer, Alan Cumming, Margaret Cho, Virginia Woolf, and Kristen Stewart.
Upon finding out I was writing this article, a close friend and colleague of mine was gracious enough to give me some firsthand examples of the discrimination she faced.
“I once had a partner who told me that even though I was bisexual, they could get me to go ‘full lesbian’ because they ‘knew I had it in me,’” she writes. “Another time someone told my transmasc partner and I that we were ‘making the pride space unsafe’ because we were ‘filthy breeders.’”
She continues, “I feel like I’m not a welcomed part of my own community, seen as either a poser, a traitor, a whore or an indecisive tourist in queerness. This has led both myself and my partner, both bi, to avoid social situations that are not explicitly bi-inclusive to avoid being fetishized or ostracized by the queer community.”
“The phase questions, people wanting you to be a unicorn, men invalidating your sexuality by saying it’s not cheating if you sleep with women, people assuming it means you’re promiscuous, lesbian women refusing to date you because they assume you’ll leave them for a man… being asked if you’ve slept with/dated multiple genders in order to ‘prove’ yourself,” writes another friend I’ve known for nearly a decade.
Another, still: “Pretty much every time I told a boyfriend I was bisexual, their response was ‘so you’re down for a threesome?’ It was like I told them something important and personal and their first response was ‘how can this work for my fantasy?’”
These stories aren’t the exception. They are the rule. They’ve been the rule for years and I am absolutely sick and tired of something as arbitrary as a partner’s gender being the sole validifier of an individual’s orientation. Which, then, is either straight or queer washed depending on that partner. I’m tired of the “all roads lead to dick” phenomenon where bi women are “just pretending for male attention” and bi men are “just afraid to come out.” I’m tired of lesbians complaining that bi women only date men when they throw vitriol at bi women simply for being bisexual. I’m tired of the double discrimination and the toll it takes.
And if I’m tired of it, imagine how real bisexual folks feel.
As my girlfriend so eloquently put it, “Sexuality is a spectrum. Deal with it.”