By Catherine Appleford
The Problematic Nature of Biphobia and Bi-erasure, and Why the LGBTQIA+ Community Often Perpetuate the Same Harmful Discourse as Heteronormative Society
Bisexuality, where an individual is ‘sexually attracted to both men and women’ is often perceived differently dependant on certain groups of people. As of writing this article, it is bisexual awareness week where, from 16th – 23rd September, acceptance and a greater understanding of this sexuality is sought. Statistically, it was calculated that in 2019, 1.1% of the UK population aged 16 or older identified as bisexual, an increase from 0.7% in 20152. Although it may not seem a significant ratio, with a population of 6.65 million in 2019, that percentage accounted for 733,150 individuals. With LGBTQIA+ awareness rising every year, that number will only increase as people learn more about sexuality spectrums, and as such it is imperative that myths and negative stereotypes around non-straight sexualities are discredited.
Despite this form of sexuality being scientifically accurate and authentic, many people still question those who identify as having it. Bisexual individuals often experience comments, be they tone-deaf but said in a comedic manner, or solely prejudiced, from both heteronormative society and the queer community. Comments such as ‘being greedy’, ‘indecisive’, ‘a passing phase’, ‘too scared to fully come out as gay’, ‘just experimenting’, ‘“not properly LGBT”’, ‘unicorns’, or having STI’s due to the false preconception that bisexual individuals sleep with more people and are more promiscuous, are rife. Furthermore, some of this backlash seems to stem from society’s anxiety over polygamy (and that bisexual individuals perpetuate this practise), as well as both heterosexuals and homosexuals wanting more ‘stable’ sexuality terms, so that they can’t be accused and/or questioned over fluctuations or changing their sexual beliefs into something more ambiguous.
Although the comments are in the minority, with many members being supportive, in the LGBTQIA+ community bisexuals receive disparaging comments because other members, such as lesbians or gay men, feel that bisexuality allows individuals to ‘mask’ as straight and therefore do not share the same discrimination. Other comments include not understanding the same struggles, that they have ‘turned straight’ if they get into a heterosexual relationship, or that bisexuals do not share a similar level of intrusive questioning. Ironically, bisexuals are prone to get more comments than the average gay or lesbian individual, and even if they didn’t experience the same amounts of comments, that does not negate the fact that the ‘B’ in LGBTQIA+ should not be excluded as, quite simply, bisexual people are not heterosexual. What makes this discrimination within the queer community even worse, is that a bisexual woman – Brenda Howard – organised the first Pride parade in New York, on the first-year anniversary of the infamous Stonewall Riots. Much of what is rightfully celebrated annually across the world through Pride is credited thanks to Howard, and by perpetuating such incorrect and hurtful assumptions about bisexuality dishonours her memory and the impact she made.
"...in the LGBTQIA+ community bisexuals receive disparaging comments because other members, such as lesbians or gay men, feel that bisexuality allows individuals to ‘mask’ as straight and therefore do not share the same discrimination."
These incorrect statements and repetitive questioning over bisexuality eventually compounds until health, both mental and physical, starts to worsen. Studies have shown that bisexual people experience higher likelihoods of suffering from anxiety or depression, and increased rates of substance abuse – be it smoking, drugs or drinking. Additionally, bisexual women in monogamous relationships are more likely to have abusive domestic partners, compared to women in straight or lesbian demographics. Those who identify as bisexual may not feel safe to come out even amongst their queer peers, and have a sense of shame that they ‘aren’t quite gay, aren’t quite straight’, a trivialisation from accusers that can become overpowering with no one to share these thoughts with.
As a result, in order to destigmatise this area of sexuality, education is paramount. By introducing this topic into school curriculums and widely consumed media such as popular television shows (like Detective Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine), the process of normalising this area of sexuality will allow for more people to feel comfortable to ‘come out’, accept this part of themselves, and become overall happier on a daily basis. Helplines, be they through in-person appointments, phone calls, or texts, are increasing to keep up with demand from the bisexual community. Organisations such as ‘Bi Cymru/Wales’ deals specifically with bisexual individuals seeking support, as well as more general queer associations that include bisexuality in areas that they provide comfort and assistance, like ‘Galop’, and ‘Switchboard’.
"Those who identify as bisexual may not feel safe to come out even amongst their queer peers, and have a sense of shame that they ‘aren’t quite gay, aren’t quite straight’..."
In addition to education and helplines, certain occasions that bring together LGBTQIA+ members will help increase quality of life. There are events held throughout the year that celebrate bisexuality, aside from the famous Pride Festivals that take place in various cities. The largest and most well-known is BiCon, which originated in London in 1984. This conference, held over multiple days, allows for people to come together, discuss bisexuality, and enjoy themselves. Events such as these helps break down the barriers within the queer community, allowing lesbian, asexual, gay, and bisexual individuals to learn more about each other and their respective stories, so that bisexuals can feel safer and a greater sense of belonging. Although biphobia and bi-erasure is still common within various areas of society, by including these steps towards acceptance will allow bisexuals to rid their protective shells that they have build around themselves, allowing for full freedom of expression and happiness.