Just last week, two stories hit the news showing how unwelcoming the world is for bisexual people. One showed that bi women are more affected by the opioid crisis because of double discrimination and stress. The other reported that a young bisexual boy was physically assaulted just for being who he is.
Our community is incredibly marginalized, facing systematic violence and exclusion from society.
But within LGBT+ circles, bisexual people are assumed to have ‘privilege’ over other member of the LGBT+ community because we can ‘choose to be straight’ by dating or marrying people of different genders to us.
It is often wrongly assumed that because of this, bi people don’t face any really marginalisation and need fewer support resources.
But the oppression we face is very real. Bi women face higher rates of sexual violence than gay and straight women, with bi trans women facing the highest rates of sexual violence.
Sixty-one percent of bi women have experienced sexual violence, according to the same study by the Movement Advanced Project. Sexual violence against bi women is so common that the UN describe it as ‘terrifying.’
Bisexuals feel isolated
The same study found that bi women are more likely to report having a negative experience when seeking help or reporting their experience as well as ‘feeling isolated from LGBTQ people and from the broader community.’
Feelings of isolation may also go some of the way to explain why the bi community faces higher rates of anxiety and depression than our gay or straight counterparts, as shown in a HRC study from 2010 and again by Stonewall in a study conducted this year. Worryingly, this later study found that 50% of bi women have considered life not worth living in the last year, and 28% have self-harmed in the last year.
The LG(b)T+ community also has a history of prejudice against bisexual people. For example, the now-closed London Lesbian and Gay Centre in London banned bisexual groups for using the centre for five years, before allowing bicon to held there in 1985.
Bisexuals and Pride
Despite the first Pride march being organised by a bisexual activist Brenda Howard, bisexuality is often overlooked at these events. Until 2015, New York Pride had never had a bisexual grand marshal, and London only had its first Bi Pride float feature in its parade this year.
Biphobic articles still appear in LGBT+ media, especially articles about gay men/lesbians dating bisexuals.
Researcher Meg-Jon Barker wrote about one such article from Diva in 2012, which ran with the strapline, ‘How to overcome your fears and date a bisexal.’ The reaction prompted DIVA to change their policy and practices around bisexual inclusion and representation. Even this year, Queerty put out an article entitled, ‘Why does bisexuality still make us uncomfortable’, in which a gay man discussed his hesitation to date bisexual men.
Spend any time in online LGBT+ spaces and you’ll find plenty of anger both from, and directed towards, bisexuals. ‘Bi discourse,’ as it’s colloquially known, is rife on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and generally anywhere else LGBT+ people communicate online.
Common threads of discussion include; whether bisexual people in cross-gender relationships should be welcome at Pride, whether bisexuals can use ‘gay’ as an umbrella term, and of course ‘passing-privilege.’ (A non-scientific, but very interesting overview of tumblr ‘bi discourse’ can be found here.)
On many occasions, bisexuals calling out our treatment from within the LGBT+ community is met with accusations of homophobia or lesbophobia. The online magazine Them was recently accused of ‘demonising lesbians’ by twitter users for publishing a study showing that gay men and lesbians are prejudice towards bisexual women.
— Them. (@them) July 18, 2018
Even Heather Hogan, the Editor in Chief of Autostraddle, has written about how claims of lesbo/homophobia are often used to shut down legitimate discussion of bi/transphobia within LGBT+ communities.
In 2017, a bi activist wrote a think piece about her time working with advocacy organization HRC entitled ‘Dear Lesbians And Gays — I’m Bisexual And You Treated Me Like Crap.’ The piece was met with a lot of backlash from within the LGBT+ community, but for many of us in the bisexual community, her experiences are our own.
‘Bisexual people are tired of being told that our voices, our needs, our lives are a distraction from the “real” issues, when we constitute half of what you claim as your LGBT community,’ she wrote.
We have been questioned and invalidated while trying to work to further LGBT+ causes. We have been excluded from communities and cultures we helped build. But our anger at this treatment has been an important driver in some of the strides made by our community.
Progress and challenges for bi people
Despite her treatment at HRC, Beth Sherouse, still uses her anger to campaign for bi issues. Anger over Pride in London’s treatment of the bi community in 2017 lead to a group of activists to organize the parades first ever bi float in 2018.
Similar stories of anger over the dismissal of the systematic and material oppression we face exist for several other bisexual organisations and campaigns.
Anger at the lack of resources for bi survivors and biphobia in the media are why I launched the Bisexual Survivors Network and DoBetterBiUs. Anger won’t solve the myriad of issues our community is facing, but many times it has blossomed into organization and progress. So rage more, bisexuals.
Lois Shearing is the founder of #DoBetterBiUs & @NetworkBi. Follow Lois on Twitter at @LoisShearing