Despite the fact that bisexuals comprise the single largest group within the LGBTQ community, they are nonetheless among the most invisible and marginalised of the bunch. What is a potentially incredible identity to embody—one of freedom and diversity and agency—is, unfortunately, too often associated with immense discrimination, as both the heterosexual and queer communities shun bi+ individuals.
Last week’s Bi Visibility Day called attention to the ongoing struggle for self-determination and visibility of the bi+ community, which still fails to gain recognition by their queer peers and society in general, and hardly ever has its specific needs met.
Although the past few decades saw a steady improvement in the overall treatment of the LGBTQ community, it is mostly cisgender gay and lesbian folks who got to reap the benefits. Until this day, individuals identifying as bisexual face high levels of discrimination and alienation. Many, both queer and straight, view bisexuals with great scepticism; some refuse to believe they even exist. Regarding bisexuality as a ‘phase’ or a ‘layover’ on the way to being gay has become the social norm. And while the number of individuals (particularly youths) identifying as bisexual is rising, lingering fears of rejection, retaliation by loved ones, or the dissolution of their relationships discourage many bisexualis from embracing their identity.
Bisexual writer and speaker Zachary Zane says that despite being out as bi for several years, people in the community still label him as gay and often invalidate his identity. “Even if people accept it, you don’t necessarily feel like part of the community, and I think that’s something I struggle with,” Zane told Screen Shot. “Even my gay friends who know and love that I’m bi… it’s like they’re fine with me being bi until I bring up having dated a woman or being attracted to a woman, and that makes me feel like I’m not equally part of this queer community, even though I 100 percent am.”
Similarly to other queer individuals, many bisexuals suffer from deep-rooted shame associated with their sexual orientation, often spend years concealing their identity (a 2013 study estimated that only 12 percent of bisexual men are officially out), and feel pressured to adhere to heteronormative conventions of their gender. Unlike gays and lesbians, however, bisexuals often face phobia and erasure from within the LGBTQ community itself.
This compounded discrimination experienced by so many bi individuals contributes to heightened rates of mental and physical issues within the bi+ community. “I think the biggest issue that we face now is health disparities,” said Zane. In his work, Zane cites studies indicating that bisexual people are prone to significantly higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality compared to their lesbian and gay counterparts. “Bi women are twice as likely as straight women to experience sexual assault, [and are] also more likely to have opioid addiction issues,” Zane said, reiterating that the prevalent discrimination against the bi community “has actual mental and physical health ramifications.”
Many bi activists argue that in order to dispel myths and stigmas around bisexuals, there has to be a greater collective effort to present a positive image of bisexuality in the media and popular culture, while pushing for systemic change by advocating for policies that acknowledge the unique needs of bi+ people.
A growing portion of the bi community also calls to ensure that healthcare providers are familiar with the specific needs of bisexuals, and that discussions with patients are conducted sensitively and in a manner that fosters a sense of security and trust. This is not the case at the moment, as doctors often shame bisexual patients, invalidate their identity, and fail to provide them with the appropriate treatment.
Finally, as bi people often feel excluded from both straight and gay or lesbian spaces, which exacerbates their isolation and distress, it is important to create more spaces where they could socialise, engage with one another freely, and feel supported and validated.
Zane points out, however, that while there is a need for more physical bi spaces, the community is already thriving online. “So often people don’t come out as bi because they think there’s no one else that’s bi. I know that’s why I didn’t come out as bi—I didn’t even think it was real for so long. And I think one thing that is clear via Twitter is just how many people are bisexual and how many people support one another.”
With increased visibility come recognition and solidarity. A more widespread and positive representation of bi individuals in public spaces and media platforms would educate the public about the complex and nuanced truths about bisexuality; it would obliterate rife misconceptions, such as that in order to be bi one has to be exclusively attracted to cis men and women to the same degree at all times.
Hopefully, with myths being shattered and a greater presence achieved, more bi folks would feel encouraged to come out proudly and take part in building this ever-expanding community.
This month sees the launch of Enby, a new, gender-neutral sex toy. Wild Flower, an independent sex shop based in Brooklyn, has designed the toy in-house. Founded by Amy and Nick Boyajian, both of whom identify as non-binary, Enby is their first own-brand toy, named after the common shorthand for non-binary people, NB, pronounced ‘enby’.
As a retailer, Wild Flower is committed to inclusive and sensitive attitudes toward sex. The shop’s website has a blog with sections dedicated to “mindfulness & sex” and “non-monogamous relationships”, for example. On its Instagram, it features a gorgeous range of individuals—people of all ages, genders and sizes—as well as some hilarious memes. Wild Flower’s merchandise reads: “Trust Yourself, Feel Yourself, Touch Yourself, Please Yourself, Hear Yourself, Know Yourself, Fuck Yourself, Love Yourself”.
Much of the sex industry is still surprisingly gendered, often unnecessarily. Identical toys might be packaged and marketed entirely differently in order to appeal to women and men. Online, toys are generally categorised into ‘for him’ and ‘for her’, even though, to be blunt, a dildo is a dildo, regardless of the user’s gender.
Slowly but surely, however, more options are becoming available for trans and non-binary people, designed with diverse bodies and queer pleasure in mind. Amy and Nick consulted various members of the LGBTQ community while developing their toy. One trans friend of theirs complained about how she had thrown away all of her sex toys after her surgery, because they were no longer compatible with her body. Other trans people have explained how they often resort to toys not marketed at their gender identity, which can worsen existing gender dysphoria.
Enby looks somewhat unusual, unlike any other toy on the market, but this just demonstrates its innovation. It is something different and new. It’s available in black and deep purple, colours chosen for being gender-neutral, especially compared to the pinks and reds that dominate the market. The Enby can be humped, used to masturbate, tucked into a harness. “Hump it, stroke it, tuck it, share it”, reads the product page—it’s like a dirty Bop It.
Enby might not be the first toy to claim the title of being gender-neutral. PicoBong launched the Transformer in 2014, offering “millions of sex toys in one” with its product description listing the sex toy’s possibilities, “It’s a rabbit vibe, a clitoral massager, a cock-ring, a G-spot stimulator, a prostate massager, a double-ended vibe, and much more”. However, its success was debatable. One review summarised, “In trying to create a sex toy that can be used by everyone, PicoBong made a sex toy that is useful to no one”.
The Enby, meanwhile, has received stellar reviews so far, with an average of 4.89 stars out of 5 and comments such as “A game changer” and “Super validating”. Enby is available to pre-order and ships from the U.S. at the end of July. I discovered it myself last month at a community market in Manhattan. I now regret not investigating further at the time.
An online review at Allure recommended the Enby to a transgender man, concluding with: “Overall, I’d recommend Enby for anyone, regardless of gender or genitalia. As with any other sex toy, you’ll have to play around with it to determine how it best works for your body, but it’s absolutely worth it once you find that sweet spot”.
Enby represents a new direction for the sex toy industry, one that is more open, diverse and inclusive. Just like in the porn industry, small, independent brands are inevitably leading the way, but with such positive results, hopefully bigger brands will follow suit. After all, everybody—and every body—deserves pleasure.