Megan Fox, Billie Joe Armstrong, Angelina Jolie, Andy Dick, Clive Davis, and ‘Mama June’ Shannon- the mother of pageant and reality star, Honey Boo Boo. What do these people all have in common? They’re all bisexual! But despite being prominent figures in pop culture and media, their sexuality, like mine and many other Americans’, is constantly erased or misrepresented. There are many harmful stereotypes of bisexuals like that we are greedy, unfaithful, promiscuous, confused, in transition, attention-seeking, and so many more. With little validation from our allies, constantly having to prove our identity and our worth, and an overall misunderstanding of who we are and what we believe, the widespread erasure and hatred of bisexuals is taking a toll on bi youth and adults. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being bisexual and we need to continue speaking up and raising awareness to ensure that bisexuality is no longer invalidated by heterosexuals or those who fall under the LGBT+ umbrella.
Let’s start with the basics of bisexuality. Is it common, what is it and why do people refuse to acknowledge its existence? Bisexuals make up the largest group of the LGBT+ community, and 5.5% of all women and 2% of all men identify as bisexual (“Understanding Bisexuality”). However, despite making up almost half of the LGBT+ community, bisexuals are the least likely to be ‘out of the closet’ with 28% saying they’re out, compared to 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians (Pew). So while it is not a rare occurance for someone to identify as bisexual, it is rare for them to tell people about that fact.
What it exactly means to identify as bisexual, according to the American Psychological Association, is to be someone “who experiences emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to, or engages in romantic or sexual relationships with, more than one sex or gender.” The biggest misconception of bisexuality comes from the definition itself. Most people are familiar with the latin prefix “bi-” to mean “two” or “twice” or “both” (Mirriam-Webster). However, bisexuality is not just attraction to two genders, but rather, attraction to two or more genders or to some as attraction to people of a different gender than themselves and also to people of the same gender as themselves, or both different and the same. Unfortunately, due to this semantic misconception of bisexuality- and the lack of awareness of this misconception- bisexuality is considered by some members and allies of the LGBT+ community to be transphobic, or offensive to transgendered people and the progress they’ve made as they fight for their own visibility and validation Joyner. Some bisexuals actually are transphobic, but it certainly is not because they are bisexual. Cissexism, favoring and defaulting to cis-gendered ideology, is a pre-existing societal norm and the idea of bisexuality only being able to exist alongside a gender binary is a side effect of those ingrained beliefs and not a side effect of transphobia (Joyner). Just as those who identify outside of the gender binary are harmed by the existence of such a system, bisexuals are misconstrued to only be attracted to “both” men and women when this is not how most bisexuals choose to define their identity.
Falsely relating bisexuality to transphobia is not the only other reason LGBT+ folx roll their eyes at the inclusion of the ‘B’ in their community. The identities “gay” and “lesbian” are considered monosexualities which are either attraction to a different gender than your own or attraction to the same gender as your own. Monosexism is so common in our society that bisexuals- among other queer identities- are often erased or invalidated. In 2004, when Robyn Ochs, a bisexual activist, married her partner Peg Preble in one of the United States’s first same-sex marriages, they made headlines with their heartwarming story of love and fighting for the right to have that love. Those headlines, however, read “Lesbian Pair Wed” and the articles discussed the issue of “gay marriage” in America (Cruz). The problem with this is that it erases Ochs’s identity within the straight community and the LGBT+ community. When a bisexual woman is in a relationship with another woman, she is labeled a lesbian. When a bisexual woman is in a relationship with a man, however, her ‘queerness’ is questioned because now she is in a seemingly straight relationship. This monosexism is a large root of biphobia. Often told to “pick a side” or that they are just “confused” by both gay people and straight people, bisexuals face constant invalidation no matter what kind of monogamous relationship they engage in. What is most misunderstood here is that the sexual attraction a person feels does not change when they enter into a monogamous relationship.
Another large fear monosexuals express when entering into a relationship with a bisexual, however, is our infidelity. I have been rejected by both men and women because they fear that they are “not enough” for me. And I am not the only person to experience this. It’s common among those who do not understand bisexuality to be hesitant to enter a relationship with a bisexual because of their supposed attraction to many genders. What if they grow tired of them and want to mix things up? The pool of prospective partners is double as big as the pool for monosexuals, right? This kind of thinking is harmful to the bi community and to bi individuals. Faithfulness and sexuality are two distinct things. An online survey study from the University of Kentucky, bisexuals are more likely to question or view monogamy as a sacrifice, but 78% of the bi men surveyed and 67% of the bi women indicated that they were in a serious, monogamous relationship and the margin of bisexuals who felt monogamy was enhancing to a relationship to those who felt it was a sacrifice was miniscule. The conclusion is that bisexuals cannot be grouped under one stereotype, especially because they were not the only subjects tested who had negative responses to monogamy (Vrangalova).
Another common, but harmful phenomenon is the oversexualization of bi people. It is hard for biphobes to separate the action of sex from the sexual orientation. Men are the biggest perpetrators of this, shamelessly inviting bi women to engage in ‘threesomes’ with them and their girlfriends or wanting to watch their bi girlfriends participate in sexual activity with other women because it is a turn on for them. These are not examples of support for the bi-community but rather objectification of bi people for selfish sexual gain. However, rude comments are the least of a bi woman’s worries. Corrective rape is the term for when a person is forced into sexual activity for the purpose of ‘correcting’ their sexual orientation, most often to conform with heterosexuality. According to a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence study, “61% of bisexual women reported experiencing rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.” Comparatively, 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians have experience one of the above. Codi Coday, advocate and writer for the Bisexual Resource Center, attributes this staggering number to the objectification of bisexuals and rather than allowing them to think and choose for themselves, violence is used instead. Further, Coday points out, “Because of bi+ antagonism and misconceptions that bi+ people are slutty, unreliable, selfish, indecisive, dishonest, and more likely to cheat, a lot of bisexuals don’t report these crimes.” Unfortunately, it is a reality that stereotypes of bisexuality can directly harm people who identify as such.
Physical violence is not ignorance’s only threat to bisexuals’ health. As mentioned earlier, bisexuals are significantly less likely to have told people about their sexual orientation most likely due to the discrimination they fear they’ll face for it. At first, there was little research to back this up largely in part to the fact that bisexuals were not included in studies or were lumped in with other sexual minorities like homosexuals. In a recent meta-analysis of several previously conducted studies that included bisexuals in their research and reported on depression and anxiety, it was concluded that bisexual people experience are “at disproportionate risk for depression and anxiety” and they identified three key factors that could contribute to bisexuals being at as high or higher risk for these outcomes than gays or lesbians which include “sexual orientation–based discrimination; bisexual invisibility and erasure; and lack of bisexual-affirmative support.” (Ross et al). A different study focusing on young bi women’s experiences’ on their mental health found that having to prove their sexual identity was a large source of mental health disparity among the subjects (Flanders et al). This study also concluded that further education of bisexual identity and monosexism within heterosexual and LGBT+ communities could prevent beliefs and actions that “may be detrimental to the sexual and mental health of bisexual people.” (Flanders et al).
The bisexual identity has been scoffed at, made fun of, purposefully ignored, and demanded proof of over and over and over again. Continuous widespread erasure and misconceptions have put people at risk of violent assaults and is attributed to mental health disparities among sexual minorities. The only way for bi people like myself to feel seen and validated is to continue educating and advocating for our place in the LGBT+ community and the world. There’s definitely a reason you might not even know your favorite celebrity is bisexual and it’s because of ignorance, plain and simple.
“Bi.” Mirriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bi.
Coday, Codi. “5 Reasons Why Oversexualizing Bisexuality Is Not Supportive.” BRC, Bisexual Resource Center, 23 Mar. 2017, biresource.org/5-reasons-why-oversexualizing-bisexuality-is-not-supportive.
Cruz, Eliel. “When Bisexual People Get Left Out of Marriage.” Advocate, PRIDE Publishing Inc., 26 Aug. 2014, www.advocate.com/bisexuality/2014/08/26/when-bisexual-people-get-left-out-marriage.
Flanders, Corey E., et al. “Sexual Health among Young Bisexual Women: A Qualitative, Community-Based Study.” Psychology & Sexuality, vol. 8, no. 1/2, Mar. 2017, pp. 104–117. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/19419899.2017.1296486.
Joyner, Jaz. “Is the Term ‘Bisexual’ Transphobic? A Fact Check.” PRIDE, PRIDE Publishing Inc., 23 Sept. 2016, www.pride.com/bisexual/2016/9/23/term-bisexual-transphobic-fact-check.
Nichols, James. “30 Stars You Might Not Know Are Bisexual.” HuffPost, HuffPost News, 2 Feb. 2016, www.huffpost.com/entry/30-bisexual-celebrities_n_4023562.
Pew Research Center. “Chapter 3: The Coming Out Experience.” A Survey of LGBT Americans. Pew Research Center, 13 June 2019, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/chapter-3-the-coming-out-experience.
Ross, Lori E., et al. “Prevalence of Depression and Anxiety Among Bisexual People Compared to Gay, Lesbian, and Heterosexual Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The Journal of Sex Research, vol. 55, no. 4/5, 2018, pp. 435-456. Taylor and Francis Online, doi:10.1080/00224499.2017.1387755
“Understanding Bisexuality.” APA, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/bisexual.
Vrangalova, Zhana. “Are Bisexuals Really Less Monogamous Than Everyone Else?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 27 Sept. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/strictly-casual/201409/are-bisexuals-really-less-monogamous-everyone-else.