Last week marked the 16th anniversary of Bisexual Visibility Day, an occasion social media and LGBTQ Pride organizations met with enthusiasm all over the world.
But while the pink, blue and purple colors of the bisexual pride flag waved high, bi folk continue to experience significant discrimination and erasure: they are twice as likely to experience depression, and are more likely to self-harm and attempt suicide. Accompanying stereotypes and the pressure to “choose” can be overwhelming.
Bisexual people experience romantic or sexual attraction to two or more genders. Some people use the word “pansexual” to describe attraction to multiple or all genders, but both words may be used interchangeably to describe fluid attraction.
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Along with heterosexuality and homosexuality, these identities exist on a spectrum. Contrary to popular belief, bisexuality doesn’t exist at the exact midpoint between heterosexuality and homosexuality — attraction is more complicated than that. Bisexual people may be drawn to one gender more than others, or experience primarily sexual desire with one gender and primarily romantic attraction with another.
Understanding the definition of “bisexual” does not mean we can make assumptions about others’ identities; everyone’s sexual identity means something different to them.
Bi-furious about stereotypes
Culture and the media are fraught with stereotypes about bisexuality. Bisexual men are often believed to be secretly gay, and bisexual women are often accused of merely wanting attention. Some lesbian and gay communities don’t view bisexual people as truly queer, and the common belief of bisexual promiscuity often results in people being reluctant to trust or date them.
LGBT Caucus Chair for the College Democrats of Wisconsin Danny Levandoski expressed his discomfort with this notion. He said in an email to The Badger Herald bisexual individuals are often seen as fake LGBT because they can assimilate.
“My partner and I have been called out in the past for being ‘straight’ and occupying an LGBT space,” Levandoski said. “People don’t want to acknowledge us.”
Coming out as bisexual invites all sorts of unwelcome assumptions. Because people often perceive bisexuals as incapable of monogamy or commitment, they presume bisexuality translates into a desire for threesomes or loose sexual experimentation.
Bisexuality is also perceived as a transition or experimental phase rather than a concrete identity, although several scientific studies have proven the stability of bisexuality as a sexual orientation.
These prejudiced views translate to discrimination easily. LGBT Campus Center Event and Accessibility Coordinator Taylor Mathewson said in an email to The Badger Herald the problem with many stereotypes is they delegitimize bi identities and enforce a binary of either straight or gay.
The doubt, disgust and dismissal faced by bisexual people can be daunting. Working against these stereotypes and becoming conscious of our own prejudiced beliefs can lead us to a more accepting, inclusive community.
The erasure of bisexual identities
Though bisexual people slightly outnumber lesbian and gay people, bi identities are constantly ignored throughout history, literature, academia and the media. This phenomenon is called “bi erasure.” When someone expresses same-gender attraction, the assumption is they must be gay, never bisexual.
Important figures, including Frida Kahlo, Malcolm X, Walt Whitman and Angelina Jolie identify as bisexual, but their orientations are commonly passed over in textbooks and mass media.
It is essential to include bisexuality in our discussions of relevant figures, as we do with homosexuality.
“We are often left with just the stereotypes that are then perpetuated because of a lack of other representation,” Mathewson said. “People will also make the assumption that no one can actually be bi and choose to label self-identified bi people as either straight or gay.”
Without depiction of bisexuality, people struggling with their own bi identity may feel even more invisible than before. Remember that the only validation required for an identity is to feel it deeply: you legitimize your own experiences.