Bi Week 2021: Biphobia is Alive in the LGBTQ+ Community
When I was 13 years old, I came out as bisexual to my mom in the passenger seat of her SUV. 14 years later, that hasn’t changed, but I’ve had to come out many more times since then. I’ve heard every biphobic response in the book from both the straight and queer people I’ve dated and had my personal boundaries and judgments reduced to my bisexuality, assuming it was just another example of my indecisiveness.
Biphobia exists amongst heterosexual people, but it’s also alive in the spaces we’re supposed to feel safe and accepted in. After leaving Catholic high school to move to Brooklyn to attend art school, I was thrilled to finally join an LGBTQ+ student organization as soon as I could. After a few meetings, the excitement wore off. I felt pushed out of the conversation and largely ignored as ‘not queer enough.’ I went from being a big queer fish in a tiny Catholic pond to a tiny, not-queer-enough fish in a giant art school pond. Once again, I felt out of place and excluded. Research proves that I’m not the only one. Unfortunately, biphobia continues to thrive in LGBTQ+ community spaces.
What about the B?
Bisexuals make up the single largest group under the LGBTQ+ umbrella; almost 50% of people in the queer community identify as bisexual. Despite this, bisexuality is still associated with negative stereotypes and silenced from the conversation. Why?
For me, acceptance has been decided by who I was currently in a relationship with. If I left a relationship with a woman, it felt that the LGBTQ+ community around me dissolved, my unspoken membership in these groups retracted. When I started a relationship with a woman, I restarted the painful process of coming out all over again, especially to members of my own family who would rather forget my bisexuality when I wasn’t in an active, serious relationship with another woman.
In and Out of the Closet
When I was younger, I would come out again and again to avoid the biphobic responses of those around me. I think I’m gay and maybe I’m straight were things I said over and over in my teenage years. I was confused, not because I was bisexual, but because those around me insisted that I “pick a team.” I bent to other people’s need to define me and erase my bisexuality. Looking back, I had confidently claimed my bi-ness as far back as middle school. It was not my sense of identity that was wrong, it was the push and pull of others refusing to accept who I am.
As I got older these harmful stereotypes about bisexual people were confirmed. When I signed up for a WLW dating app called Her, I would swipe through many profiles of Lesbian women who would write “NO bisexuals” or “I don’t date bisexuals. Sorry. 🤷♀️” I tried to pretend like the prevalence of profiles like this didn’t hurt me, but they did.
I’ve always leaned more towards attraction to women, but these days, I refuse to bend to the neverending biphobia around me, especially in the lesbian community. If someone doesn’t want to date bisexuals, their loss. We’re pretty damn great.
B is for Bigoted: The Harmful Stereotypes of Bisexuality
Bisexuals seem to be either fetishized or erased, depending on the community and the person. If a woman reveals her bisexuality to a potential male partner, they are often met with an immediate assumption that they would consent to a threesome. If a man reveals his bisexuality to a potential female partner, they are met with fear of promiscuity, infidelity, and dishonesty.
Bisexual men are often seen as ‘on their way to being gay’ even if they are persistent about their bisexuality. It’s common within the LGBTQ+ community to say that bisexual men don’t even exist, which is flagrant and hurtful erasure.
Male Biphobia and the AIDS Epidemic
During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, bisexual men in particular were vilified for ‘infecting the straight world’ with HIV and AIDS. This biphobia from the heterosexual world slowly founds its way back into the LGBTQ+ community. Bisexual men became the scapegoats of the fear and loss of that tragic time. The scars of the AIDS epidemic run deep, and many people in the LGBTQ+ community are unaware that their biphobia links back to that tragic time in history.
You Get a Gold Star for Being Biphobic
A gold star lesbian is a lesbian that has only ever slept with men, which somehow makes one deserving of a reward. Throughout my adventures in queer spaces, I’ve heard the term over and over, and it’s grossly problematic on so many levels. Aside from being biphobic, it’s also transphobic and bioessentialist. Biological essentialism, or bioessentialism for short, is the insistence that reproductive organs define one’s gender and the queerness of a sexual encounter. This discludes trans people from the conversation, and in terms of lesbian identity, discludes transwomen and reduces them down to their bodies. Aside from being harmful and exclusive to bisexual and transgender people, it can also be triggering to survivors of sexual assault.
The Toxic Belief That Bisexuality is Transphobic
The word bisexual is defined as a person who can be attracted to more than one gender. Since gender and sexuality are two different things, trans and intersex people can be bisexual. Bisexual representation and inclusion is important for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
I am a bisexual cis-gendered woman, and I have had romantic and sexual relationships with trans women, trans men, and genderfluid folks. I’ve had people insist that makes me pansexual, but I disagree.
The prefix bi- is taken to mean two, which creates the incorrect assumption that bisexual people are only attracted to two genders, men and women. The bi- prefix in the term bisexual actually comes from attraction to one’s own gender and others. The duality exists in the ‘homosexual’ aspect of attraction to one’s own gender and the attraction to all other genders besides one’s own. A similar etymological example is the word bilingual. Being bilingual means that you speak two languages: your native language and any other language.
Many people have conflicting opinions about the difference between pansexuality and bisexuality. Pansexual is often defined as an attraction to everyone, regardless of gender. For me, bisexuality means that I am attracted to anyone, my own gender or otherwise. When it comes to the discussion of these two labels, my advice is to go with whatever feels right for you. I have always been more comfortable with identifying myself as bisexual.
Intimate Partner Violence
Bisexual women experience sexual assault and violence more than any other group in the LGBTQ+ community. Transgender women follow closely behind, making transgender women and bisexual women the most at risk to experience violence.
In the United States, 61% of bisexual women have experienced intimate partner violence, including rape, physical abuse, and stalking, more than any other group in the LGBTQ+ community and almost twice as much as heterosexual women. It’s clear that bisexual women are at risk of abuse and violence, and many who seek solace in LGBTQ+ spaces are turned away. Without this network of security in the LGBTQ+ community, bisexuals are left to fend for themselves. As a consequence, bisexual people suffer from mental health disorders and addiction at a higher rate than other groups.
Breaking Down Harmful Stereotypes
Let’s end this article with a list of some of the most common stereotypes about bisexual people. Along with each stereotype, I’ll break down their misogynistic and transphobic roots.
Bisexual people can’t make up their minds or choose a side
By insisting that there are sides to choose from in the first place, you are erasing gender identities outside of the binary of male and female. There is no choice to be made. Bisexual people are inherently attracted to their own gender and others, regardless of their current relationship.
Bisexual people are unfaithful and promiscuous
There is no data or research to back this up. Bisexual people are capable of infidelity just as any other group of people is, but aren’t any more prone to cheating than anyone else. This stems from the belief that bisexuals will never be satisfied with one person of one gender if they’re attracted to any gender. This is, once again, reducing people to a gender binary.
Bisexual women are just experimenting and will go back to men eventually
The idea that women ‘can’t make up their minds’ is misogynistic and harkens back to a time where women were assumed to be unable to make decisions for themselves.
Bisexual men cannot accept their gayness and will eventually come out as gay
This goes hand in hand with the belief that bisexual men are just using their relationships with women to hide their gayness. This is invalidating bisexual relationships and erasing bisexual identity, and it is harmful. There is no scientific evidence or data that suggests that bisexual men eventually become gay.
This article was written by Liv Pasquarelli. Liv is a proudly bisexual writer who covers mental health, recovery, and queer identity. She is the co-founder of The Indie Mood, a blog about indie beauty, and is currently working on her first novel, which story is inspired by the intersection of queerness and eating disorders. She lives in Rhode Island with her girlfriend and her two cats, Merlin and Moishe.