Blasting Common Myths About Bisexuality

Bisexuality is defined as the romantic or sexual attraction to more than one gender.

Bisexuals form the largest group in the LGBT community. There are more bisexuals than there are lesbians and gay men combined.

In one US study, 13% of women and 6% of men reported having experienced attraction to more than one gender, yet only 2.8% of women and 1.8% of men actually identified as bisexual.

A less common definition of bisexuality is sexual attraction regardless of gender, and includes attraction to trans individuals. This definition is typically more in line with pansexuality.

Recent research adds to our growing awareness that bisexual individuals experience unique forms of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination, ultimately resulting in higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders compared to their heterosexual and homosexual counterparts.

Biphobia
Humans of Earth on SoundCloud.


The underlying factors fuelling this discrimination include negative myths and beliefs that are commonly held about bisexuality, as well as bisexual invisibility.

Bisexual invisibility refers to the ways in which bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation has been silenced or swept under the rug by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. It can also refer to the invisible nature that a bisexual's orientation often takes in their lives, since a bisexual in our society commonly "passes" as either straight or gay. Others assume that the bisexual is straight if they are in a relationship with a person of the opposite sex, and homosexual if they are in a relationship with a person of the same sex.

Negative, biphobic stereotypes about bisexuality include:

  1. Bisexuality is a transitory state or "phase". 
  2. Bisexuals are intrinsically non-monogamous. 
  3. Bisexuals are sexually irresponsible, promiscuous, and hypersexual. 
  4. Bisexuals are immoral. 

Let's examine some of the reasons for these stereotypes. 

The Pressure to Choose Sides and the Problem of the Spectrum View of Sexuality 


A bisexual person typically feels tremendous pressure to claim an identity as either gay or straight. This pressure comes from both the straight community and the LGBT community, yet some actually feel it most from their fellow non-heterosexual peers. This lack of acceptance from those who should be the most supportive may be responsible for bisexuals reporting low levels of participation in the LGBT community. 

Some partners of bisexuals believe that "a bisexual person continuing to identify as bisexual is not committing fully to the relationship," according to bisexual activist, Robyn Ochs. This only amplifies the bisexual individual's need to avoid identifying as bi. It may be an aspect of their identity that they never come out about to anyone. 

The view of sexuality as a spectrum or continuum between heterosexuality and homosexuality has gained a lot of ground in recent decades. This means that bisexuality is frequently conceptualized as a fuzzy, grey area making up the space between fully gay and fully straight, and leads many to think of bisexuality as tenuous, unstable, and even volatile. This thinking extends to negative assumptions commonly held about the personalities of bisexuals. 

Bisexuality may be best conceptualized as a separate sexuality in its own right. 

Ultimately, Ochs says, our culture loves to think in binaries -- such as black and white, good and bad, male and female, straight and gay. Those who defy these categories create profound discomfort simply by making their existence known. 

"Anyone outside of the confines of [straight and gay] is assumed to be temporarily lost, in transit or confused," Ochs says in a paper published in the Journal of Bisexuality


Media Portrayals of Bisexuals Fall Short


Unfortunately for society, bisexuals who lead quiet, non-controversial lives -- in other words, most bisexuals -- are the least visible. 

When we see bisexual characters in movies and TV shows, they often fill the role of the evil or depraved bisexual. One recent epitome of the evil bisexual is Frank Underwood in the hit Netflix show, House of Cards

According to GLAAD's 2015 annual report on the state of minorities on television, bisexual men are depicted as particularly corrupt. They are portrayed as being untrustworthy, antisocial, and devoid of morals. Bisexual women, however, have it a bit better on the moral front, yet are typically portrayed as sexually loose and manipulative, mentally unstable, flakey, and as simple objects of desire for male characters. 

And then in our day to day lives when we encounter bisexuals, their bisexuality is given attention within transitional or morally questionable contexts, Ochs says. For example, we hear about a person's bisexuality only when they leave their opposite sex partner for someone of their same sex. Or we find out that the neighbour couple is engaging in a ménage à trois with a bisexual individual, only then to have their marriage fall apart.  

In these ways, so many of us have come to associate bisexuality with conflict, impermanence, promiscuity, and bad news. 


It's Getting Better


"I am seeing increasing bivisibility," Robyn Ochs told me in an interview last year. "I'm seeing more and more people willing to step up and claim a bisexual identity. ... Every decade, more and more people are identifying in some sort of nonbinary way." 

Since most of us underestimate the number of bisexual people out there, it's very easy for bisexuals to feel isolated. But with larger numbers of bisexuals coming out to their friends, family, and partners, this problem is gradually getting better. 

"You need to be whole," Ochs says. "You need to be able to own your whole self, for your own mental health, for your own sense of wholeness." 

Amen. 

Resources




(image by Joshua Earle via Unsplash)

Humans of Earth on SoundCloud.