The first time I ever heard the word bisexual I was 15. My friend’s mother, who I adored, said: ‘I can understand people being gay, but these bisexuals who are into just everyone are disgusting.’
I was so excited and afraid at the same time. It was so amazing to discover a word that described me – there were others like me out there somewhere. But I was terrified to lose this woman’s respect.
I went right to the back of the closet until I was 21, when I met a young lady who would simply not take no for an answer.
The first person I told I was going to come out as bisexual, one of my best friends, said: ‘Oh no, you should identify as lesbian. It’s a political choice. I am also sometimes attracted to men but you must stand up against the patriarchy and decide not to date men anymore.’
So the first thing I learned about being bisexual was that negative comments were going to come my way from both straight and gay people – even those I was close to, even those who have experienced attraction to more than one gender.
This has remained true for me, only reinforced by each new biphobic comment I hear or read.
Earlier this year I published a report on bisexuality. My office sent out a press release. Over the following two days, I monitored and responded to the public comments made online.
It was quite an experience. There were virtually no comments on mainstream press articles and heaps of biphobic comments on those in the LGBTI press. It seems the mainstream generally does not care about bisexuality, and LGBTI people tend to not believe it exists or consider it a threat.
One part of me was glad to see the comments. It proved the point made in my report that bi people experience more prejudice and harassment when accessing LGBTI services than any other type of service.
But most of me just cried. LGBTI spaces are funded to provide safe spaces for all LGBTI people. But for bisexual people, most LGBTI spaces and communities are not safe. And neither are on-line spaces, whether they are LGBTI or mainstream.
This week we saw the results of a YouGov survey asking people to plot themselves on a ‘sexuality scale’. It showed 43% of young people no longer see themselves as entirely straight or totally gay.
In response, biphobia is filling my computer screen once again. Whether it is on the YouGov site itself or under articles about it, the comments fall primarily into the same old biphobic themes.
The range and frequency of these biphobic views is breathtaking – you can read the worst here.
Some argue bisexuality does not exist and people have either been swayed by ‘gay propaganda’, are too young to know what their sexual orientation is, or are ‘deluded’. They claim these young bisexuals are trying to be ‘trendy’ and are even scared of being considered bigoted if they say they are straight.
Others insist any kind of same-sex attraction is unnatural, immoral or a mental illness.
There are comments claiming bisexuality should not be included and only people who are attracted exclusively to the same gender should be counted.
Then there are those who claim same-sex marriage has corrupted the youth or that people become bisexual because they are prisoners or not good enough to be in a mixed-sex relationship.
To top it off, a number of people have written transphobic, racist, Islamophobic and ablist slurs as well as the homophobic and biphobic ones.
While some people have commented to support same-sex attraction in a general sense, few are defending bisexuality specifically.
I don’t know if we are just too overwhelmed by the negative comments coming from all sides or just too tired of fighting multiple other battles to prioritize replying. Maybe because there are fewer people who openly identify as bisexual or non-monosexual, most of us feel getting involved is just not worth the effort. We are doomed to be drowned out.
Perhaps our allies have not read the comments or don’t know what to say to back us up.
The result is the very dominant narrative that accompanies bisexual articles on-line is particularly negative and contains much hateful language.
Debate is good but it’s time for people who believe in equality to stand up.
Next time you see a damaging comment or a hateful slur, consider flagging it and/or posting a supportive message.
Every slur removed saves people from being hurt further. Every supportive comment validates our identities and diversity.
Sam Rankin is the Intersectional Equalities Coordinator for the Equality Network, an LGBTI equalities and human rights charity in Scotland. She is the lead author of the ‘Complicated?’ Report and is currently running The Bisexual Visibility Experiment.