You know the acronym LGB, right? The L, the G and the B so easily roll off the tongue in this commonly used acronym that you would think bisexual people would have the same level of acceptance as lesbian and gay people.
Well, you'd be wrong.
Pink News ran a story during Pride month with the headline "Bisexuals less likely to be out than gay or lesbian people." It stated "The research from Stanford University was analysed by Pew Research Center and shows that only 19% of bisexuals surveyed are out to most or all of the important people in their lives, compared with 75% of gay or lesbian people."
The research also highlighted 26% of bisexual people are not 'out' to any of the important people in their lives, compared with 4% of gay or lesbian adults.
It got me thinking about all my bi friends and the conversations I have had over the years about the challenges of being bisexual.
Bisexual People Feel Excluded From Work, Life and Love
I remembered a conversation I had with a bisexual female who approached me in India whilst I was writing my book. She told me all the struggles she has faced being bisexual in the USA, how others in her community view and treat her and the impact this has in her relationships. She stated that lesbians and gay men have it so much easier.
I think she has a point.
And it seems she isn't the only bisexual person that feels that way.
I did my own research last week, using my LinkedIn network and every single respondent stated:
- Not many people know they are bisexual – usually only their partner or close friends
- They don't feel accepted and supported in society
- They don't feel accepted and supported in the LGBT+ community
Can you imagine not feeling like you fit in anywhere? That blows my mind. And it upsets me that people feel this way; that they are hiding who they really are and don't have a place that they feel safe and welcome. Imagine if that was your sister, brother, best friend or child.
We Live In A Heterosexual World
Fact. Everything you read, watch, hear and experience in day to day life subconsciously expresses to you what is accepted in society.
These messages come from our family, friends, education system, the workplace, justice system, political system, the media, religion, culture to name a few.
Growing up in the 80s, I don't recall seeing any lesbian, gay or bisexual characters on the TV screen. In school I learnt only about heterosexual relationships. Conversations with my friends about lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships didn't exist.
More recently, we have seen an increase in the number of mainstream TV programmes with lesbian, gay and transgender characters. Yet, bi erasure is still evident.
This doesn't mean being LGBT+ is accepted in society, but I do think we have made progress.
However, I don't think this is so for the B in LGB.
We are not taught about what being bisexual means and what bisexual relationships could look like. As a result, society doesn't understand it, partners are threatened by it and it isn't widely discussed. People choose not to come out, which impacts on their physical and mental health, as does bi erasure in society. AND the one place where you would think bisexual people would feel comfortable, within the LGBT+ community, isn't a source of support or acceptance. In fact, I will be bold here and say bisexuals face harsher criticism from the LGBT+ community than in society at large.
There are MANY misconceptions about being bisexual.
I want to address a few of those, in the hope that this increases your awareness and understanding.
The Key Issues Faced By Bisexual People Social Conditioning
We are conditioned from an early age about what is acceptable and 'normal' behaviour in society. Bisexuality is looked upon with confusion by gay people, lesbians and straight people alike. I have overheard on many occasions bi friends being asked if they 'are a full blown gay yet.' Here are a few of the things my bi clients have heard from others that have significantly impacted on their mental health, self-worth and self-esteem.
- Bisexuals are just going through a phase.
- Being bisexual is a student thing. You'll grow out of it.
- People come out as bisexual to soften the blow of coming out as gay or lesbian.
- You're not bisexual. You are just confused.
- You have to pick a side.
- Are you going to be gay or straight this weekend?
- Bisexual? You are greedy.
- All women are bisexual.
- Bisexuals are attracted to anything that moves.
- Bisexuals live for threesomes.
You get the idea. All of these are perceptions formed from societal conditioning – not based on any truth or fact. Social conditioning is the source of most of our judgements, criticisms, fears and unkindness towards others. Misunderstandings. Unchallenged thoughts. Unexplored beliefs.
I have heard time and time again that when my bi clients 'came out' they were instantly judged and the person dismissed the idea that they could be bi. "You are either straight, gay or lesbian. There are no other options."
There is a common misconception in society that you can't possibly be bisexual. There isn't such a thing. When I hear that I instantly think of the gender binary and how society struggles with anything outside of that. When I go to parties, within minutes of me entering the room I will be approached by someone saying "I don't get this whole non-binary and gender fluid thing. Explain it to me." As with non-binary and gender fluidity, there is a distinct lack of conversations happening around bisexuality, which results in confusion and misunderstandings.
The Masks We Wear
You know what it feels like to wear a mask to protect the real version of yourself from being on show. You wear different masks for different environments and situations that you find yourself in. At work, in your relationships, socially, with family – you name it, you have a mask for it. Because, let's face it, the last thing you want is to look stupid, wrong, like a failure, an imposter or be vulnerable in any way.
You create a mask to protect you. And to hide certain elements of the real you. This is a version of yourself that you have honed over the years. You don't want to be vulnerable. You don't want your true feelings or personality to be exposed and you don't want to be hurt. All you really want is to fit in and to be accepted.
You read the statistics in the survey above. Only 19% of bisexuals are out to all/most of the important people in their lives.
Growing up in a heterosexual world and experiencing social conditioning from a young age, LGB people have a few more layers to their masks than straight people. A few more things to hide and overcome, under certain situations and with specific people. Bisexual people report not feeling like they fit in to society in general AND in the LGBT+ community. I would argue that bisexual people have more complex masks and layers than lesbians and gay men – since they are less accepted in society.
It is reported that the reason there are fewer same-sex couples and marriages (with bisexual people) is because there is a smaller pool of people. I don't necessarily agree with that. My thoughts and observations.
- In a relationship, when one person is bisexual and the other is a lesbian, often the lesbian feels threatened. I have worked with a number of lesbians that are in relationships with bisexual women and they all had real issues around feeling insecure, anxious and an underlying uncertainty in the relationship. They often reported they were 'waiting for them to go off with a man' and worried that they were checking 'everyone out.'
- When bisexual women marry men, they are labelled by society as straight. And vice versa. They 'fit in' to socially accepted norms and are perceived to be heterosexual. Many people choose to stay silent about their bisexuality when they are in what could be perceived as a heterosexual relationship and marriage.
Gay Star News ran an article about Stephanie Beatriz, the Brooklyn 99 actress, "I'm marrying a guy, but that doesn't make me any less bisexual".
Just because a bisexual person is marrying someone from the opposite sex, doesn't mean they have finally 'chosen a side' or are no longer bisexual.
In this article Stephanie states: "Bisexuals often need to clarify their sexual orientation constantly to others in a continual series of coming-out moments."
I hear this time and time again from my clients. Which leads me into the next point.
Invisibility and Bi Erasure
- When in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender, bisexuals often report feeling excluded from the queer community. When socialising at LGBT+ events, they often face questioning to clarify their sexual orientation, judgement, criticism, biphobia and exclusion. They are viewed as a straight couple and report feeling awkward, uncomfortable and like an outsider in the LGBT+ community.
- Bisexual men typically experience less social acceptance than bisexual women, gay men and lesbians.
- In the media, there is a distinct lack of bi visibility.
- In the workplace, I hear from people that work in the public sector, LGBT focused charities and organisations and customer facing roles. They tell me how they have been labelled an outsider because they are bisexual (even in LGBT+ companies), how they have been pushed out of the business because they weren't truly embodying being LGBT+ (when in a relationship with someone from the opposite gender) and warned not to tell any of the clients, suppliers or associates about their sexual orientation.
Hate Crime Is On The Rise
In a report published by the Home Office, it is stated that between 2017 and 2018, there has been a:
- 27% increase in sexual orientation related hate crimes
- 32% increase in transgender identity hate crimes
That is in one year.
How You Can Support Your Bisexual Friends And Colleagues
- Educate yourself about bisexuality. Talk to people about it. Start having conversations about sexual orientation. Let's break the silence!
- Have a conversation with your bi friends and colleagues. Let them know you are there to support them. Ask them what is the best way you can do that.
- Remember they may not be 'out' to anyone else. Respect that and be sure not to 'out' them.
- Don't assume anyone's identity based on who they are dating.
- Be curious and ask questions. If you don't know something, ask. Remember to be respectful.
- If you have any personal misconceptions about bisexuality, challenge those. Find out where they have come from and educate yourself on the truth.
- Check your language. Are you using any bi excluding language?
- Challenge biphobia. If you hear it, speak it. Let the person know what they are saying isn't acceptable. And become aware of any internal biphobia you may have. Notice what you think when you see a same-sex couple walking down the street. What assumptions do you make about them? Begin to challenge this when you notice it rising in you. It isn't part of who you are – it is part of the social conditioning you have experienced throughout your life.
- Celebrate with your bi friends and colleagues on Bisexual Visibility Day.
Key Things To Remember
The B in LGB is real. It isn't a choice. Just like being straight isn't a choice. Or gay. Or lesbian. It isn't about being indecisive or greedy. You can't control or change it. It is what it is.
Think of gender and sexuality as being on a spectrum.
You are not your sexuality. You are so much more than that. Don't become defined by your sexuality.
We all want the same thing. To be loved and to love. Who you choose to direct and receive that love from is of no concern to anyone other than you.
I embrace everyone in my community; whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, questioning, queer, intersex, straight. It doesn't matter to me.
And it shouldn't matter to you.