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.