Friday, October 14, 2016

Biphobia – The reality and the price

previously published here 

What is Biphobia? Most people have heard of the term homophobia by now, even in larger society. Biphobia, like homophobia, is an irrational aversion toward bisexual people as individuals and bisexuality as a social group or identification. And, like hompophobia, biphobia causes a lot of pain, and is a source of much discrimination against bisexual people, based simply on negative stereotypes and irrational fear.

Given that the funding for research on issues that affect bisexual people is rare and inadequate, bisexuality is still a seriously misunderstood and highly marginalized sexual identity. This means that even in countries with legal and social support for LGBT people, coming out as bisexual not only opens you up to attack from society at large as well as the gay and lesbian community – but you have to deal with it with less legal and healthcare support.

On the other hand, what disturbingly limited research does exist shows a dismal picture. Research suggests that there is a higher risk of poor mental health among bisexual people when compared to heterosexual, and even gay, and lesbian people.

The one thing people seem to be unable to understand is that identity has nothing to do with a person’s sexual behavior. Just like being gay does not automatically mean being promiscuous and shallow, bisexuals, unlike the sexually insatiable image, vary vastly in their behavior. Being bisexual merely means that the person has the potential to be attracted to more than one gender/sex. It has nothing to do with their desire or capability to be monogamous in a relationship. Some bisexuals are monogamous, and some are not, just like the rest of humanity. And no, they do not lose their bisexuality and become either “gay” or “straight” depending on the gender of their current partner.

However, since bisexual people cannot be easily defined by their partners, they can become invisible within both the heterosexual and the homosexual frameworks. Very often bisexuals are dismissed, even within LGBT spaces, and told they are "confused" and must “choose." At best, many LGBT people claim to support and understand bisexuality only because they also identified "that way" in the past, before they arrived at their "real" lesbian/gay identity.

Some creepy people, both gay and straight, assume that bisexual people are eager to fulfill their sexual fantasies or curiosities, always ready for a threesome, for example. Most people just accuse bisexuals of being greedy, wanting to have endless sex with everyone. And almost everyone is suspicious of their ethics, assuming that bisexuals, given half a chance, will always choose an "opposite" gender/sex coupling for long term relationships to get the social benefits of a straight passing relationship.

With a little more awareness on the issues facing bisexuals as a sub-group within the LGBT community, biphobia is being recognised as a specific mental health and rights issue requiring targeted action. The 2014 Movement Advancement Project report and Rainbow Health Ontario have thrown up the following:

•    The percentage of bisexual women struggling with PTSD is 26.6% compared with 6.6% of straight women.
•    Bisexual men are 6.3 times more likely than straight men to consider suicide, while gay men are 4.1 times more likely.
•    Bisexual people are less likely to come out to healthcare providers, employers, family, and friends than both gay and lesbian people.
•    Bisexual people may experience higher rates of childhood sexual and physical abuse.
•    Bisexual people have reported higher rates of substance abuse than gay and lesbian people.
•    Bisexual people report higher rates of anxiety, depression, and mental illness than gay and lesbian people.
•    Programs created to help bisexual people receive only 0.3% of funds given to gay and lesbian support programs.

The power of bisexual invisibility works to make bisexual people unseen, erased, and misunderstood. Popular representations are conspicuous by their absence even in a world of information technology where lesbian, gay, and even trans people are beginning to have some visibility. Media depictions of bisexual characters, where they exist usually paint the character as indecisive, promiscuous, and untrustworthy.

In most cases, a potentially bisexual character gets depicted as a gay or lesbian but confused or yet to come out. Celebrities who are self identified bisexuals or could be bisexual get slated as gay or straight depending on their current partners with headlines like “10 gay celebrities who once dated women”.

It is conditioned into straight as well as non straight people that being bisexual means that you are a slut, just trying to get all the attention, or just confused and going through a phase, if not an unethical moocher who is keeping their options open to fit in with society. To make matters worse, bisexual people absorb these stereotypes and become ashamed of their own identity, and suffer from guilt and mistrust towards themselves and others like them.

This rampant discrimination, demonization, and internalized biphobia prevents bisexual people from becoming a community, creating safe spaces, and constructing support systems to help them deal with their – often very lonely and misunderstood – lives.  

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