By ADINA LAKSER
As Dr. Meg Baker, a UK psychologist who led a study on bisexual health in 2008, concluded: “Bisexuals are invisible – not represented in mainstream media, policy, legislation or within lesbian and gay communities. Government and communities need to single out bisexual people as a separate group in order to address this equality gap.”
Bi-invisibility and biphobia are real issues that cause harm in many different ways.
To start, even the language of bisexuality can be difficult to manage. The term “bisexual” is very binary, implying only two genders and an equal attraction to each. Some people prefer language like queer, pansexual, sexual fluidity, mostly hetero or other terms. With bisexual visibility already quite low, not having common or comfortable language increases the marginalization.
As well, there is a lot of stigma and discrimination of people who are bisexual. Those who may be attracted more than one gender are often stereotyped as promiscuous, greedy, “not gay enough,” confused, immature, or attention seeking. Being bisexual is often not considered a “legitimate” way of being.
Not surprisingly, invisibility, marginalization, and stigma can play a significant role in mental health. Unfortunately, people who are bisexual experience higher rates of depression and anxiety than their heterosexual, lesbian or gay counterparts. They are more likely to self-harm or attempt suicide, and less likely to seek social supports or disclose their sexuality to others.
I keep writing “they” but I should be writing “we.” Apparently, I too have internalized biphobia. I don’t refer to myself as bisexual, I prefer the word queer, but whatever language I use, I don’t find it easy to disclose my sexual identity, even to myself.
I have been active in the local LBGTTQ scene, but I present myself as an “ally” rather than as a participant. Since I mostly date men, I often don’t feel like I am entitled to call myself queer or bisexual. Since I usually have a male partner, and walk hand-in-hand in public with him or talk about him in conversation, I recognize that I have a lot of straight privilege. Can you experience straight privilege and biphobia at the same time? You bet.
As Elle Dowd wrote in her beautiful piece “Biphobia after the Pulse Massacre:”
“Being bi comes with the double edged sword of “passing.” Because I am married to a man, and because of my high femme presentation, most people will assume I am straight….But the horrible thing about passing privilege is the closeting, the erasure.”
The tension between experiencing privilege and invisibility seems to be at the core of living with bisexuality. Not because there is something inherently wrong about bisexuality, but because our binary, “either/or,” “black and white,” “this or that” culture doesn’t give room for people to cross “boundaries.”
Desire, like many human emotions, does not conform to our cultural need for “boxes.” It transcends what we might think as “normal” or “proper” and even eludes attempts at concrete definition. Desire is powerful stuff that cannot be contained. We keep learning, as a society, over and over again, that attempts to stifle desire only leave us with shame, silence, and violence.
Because of my life’s many complexities, I think I have tried to minimize or dismiss my own bisexuality as an attempt to live more “simply.” It feels too messy to sometimes date men, sometimes date women, and can lead to questions like “Which dating sites should I go on? How should I present myself? What’s my identity”?
But desire doesn’t adhere to my attempts of simplicity. Just recently, I was at a work event, and while talking to a woman I had just met, I got all giggly and was working to keep her attention. Afterward, I wondered what was going on for me until I realized, “Oh yeah, I was flirting.”
I may try to live as a straight woman, but desire will creep up on me and remind me of my expansive being. Identity is a complex business and trying to simplify it, or “rate” myself against other’s standards is proving to be way more work than just accepting my non-linear self.
Bi Visibility Day is about ensuring that biphobia is addressed on a social, political and community level but, like all movements, we got to start with ourselves.
So, maybe I should just go ahead and call that woman that got me all giggly?
I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions or if you’d like to learn how working with me can help you to express your authentic sexual identity.