The LGBTQ+ community is doing better than ever. The past years have finally brought forth increased waves of representation, visibility and a surge for equal rights in legal issues, workplace rights and more. Though much is still needed to be done to provide a truly safe environment for this marginalized group, their battle is continuously resulting in direct, felt benefits.
One part of the community, however, often still feels particularly unseen or excluded. Studies have found that bisexuals struggle with their identity more severely than even homosexuals. They not only face the highest rates of sexual violence, but also report the most severe cases of mental health issues, and bi women are the most likely group to abuse opioids.
Though many presume bisexuals to be privileged in their broad sexuality, which allows for so-called ‘straight-passing’ when they are in a heterosexual relationship, 33% of bisexuals are not open about their identity, compared to 8% of gay and lesbian people. Bisexuals are often boxed into a sexuality that isn’t true to their personal feelings, being assumed to be either straight or gay, which makes many feel uncomfortable or ignored.
It is undeniable that bisexuals in straight relationships benefit from a privilege that many in the LGBTQ community do not have. This privilege comes from the fact that when they leave the house with their different-sex partner, no one assumes that either party is bisexual. They are ‘straight passing’ – people see a heterosexual couple, they are not harassed, threatened or attacked.
Understandably, this can lead to a sense of annoyance within the rest of the LGBTQ community, who cannot benefit from similar circumstances. What happens as a result can be very emotionally dangerous for bisexuals – they are isolated, facing homophobia from heterosexuals if they are open about their identity, and biphobia from their own community.
Historically, Pride parades have excluded bisexuality. New York City had no bi grand marshal until 2015 and London only introduced its first bi pride float in 2017.
A 2018 study found that the most prevalent stereotypes existing in lesbian communities are that bi women are untrustworthy, greedy and incapable of monogamy. Bi women face the most harassment from within the LGBTQ community itself, often called “straight women in disguise”. Their attraction to men is presumed to always be greater than their attraction to women and many lesbians claim that they would not date a bi woman out of fear of being left for a man. Some also accuse them of “sleeping with the enemy.”
Bi men, who are also erased and occasionally harassed by the LGBTQ community, get away with often being seen as a “gay man in disguise”, their identity is seen as simply a stepping stone to their true self. Though this doesn’t result in the same exclusion from their community, one of the few safe spaces they have access to, it does lead to a painful erasure of their identity.
Bi people are often not chosen as leading figures in legal cases because they are not deemed as representative enough. Arguments about gay rights, both in court and on the street, focus on “gays and lesbians”, completely ignoring the existence of bisexuals. Their validity and the importance for their own safety is thereby erased.
In 2009 in the US, Sandy Stier, a bisexual woman, and her female partner sued the state of California for their right to marry. Stier had previously been married to a man, which her own lawyer referenced when putting her on the stand and asking her: “What are you really? Sometimes it’s this, sometimes it’s that.” Though some believe that this was his way of offering Stier a way to explain her sexuality, it also clearly signaled to the court that this line of questioning was okay – a dangerous message in a landmark case.
Another factor especially prevalent for bi women is the fetishization of their sexuality. “If you kiss a girl, that’s not cheating, that’s hot,” is a statement often heard, even in relationships of bi women with heterosexual men, suggesting that sexual interactions are only to be taken seriously if a man is involved. Bi people’s coming out is often dismissed as “just a phase,” especially if they continue to engage in heterosexual relationships after. Bisexuals are expected to prove that they are “gay enough” and if they cannot give evidence of a considerable amount of previous relationships with the same sex, they are not taken seriously. This goes against what sexuality is really about, which is desires, not actions.
Bisexuality has historically been ignored and erased, resulting in extremely high rates of mental illnesses among its community. As a whole – heterosexuals and the LGBTQ community – we must do better to create a safe and welcoming space for people of all identities. Bisexuality is valid and must be increasingly made visible in our fight for a fair, equal future.