Feature: Why do bisexuals get such a hard time?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Research has shown that bisexuals face greater domestic violence, mental health issues, and stigma from gay and straight people.

Statistics from an article recently published in the Journal of Bisexuality by Nicole Johnson revealed that 50% of bisexual women have experienced rape at one point of their lifetime while within the United States, approximately 75% report experiencing sexual violence.

Johnson’s research suggests that bi women face greater sexual violence, and greater negative consequences following this violence, than straight or lesbian women. They are also more likely to engage in substance abuse than straight or gay women, according to the research.

It is easy to understand why this may be when you look at the unique way biphobia can negatively affect bisexual people.

Promiscuous, unfaithful, disease spreaders: these are all terms often associated with bisexuality. The fact is that many people, whether heterosexual or not, cannot look past the “sex” in bisexual.

In fact, a quick Google search of the term “bisexuality” offers up the first picture as a woman and two men, nude, and apparently ready for a threesome.

Feature: Why do bisexuals get such a hard time?
Why are threesomes so often associated with being bisexual?

Straight discrimination

While heterosexual people across the Western world have become generally much more accepting and supportive of same-sex relationships over recent years, the stigmas straight people hold against bisexuals have appeared to stay the same.

Despite more people coming out every year than ever before, the idea of dating a bisexual person remains taboo for many straight people, particularly for heterosexual women, who are often very opposed to the idea of dating a bisexual man.

During a Facebook Q&A, Amber Rose, an actress who had previously mentioned being “very open” with her sexuality, even leading the LA SlutWalk in 2015, admitted that she wouldn’t want to date a bisexual man, saying; “I just wouldn’t be comfortable with it and I don’t know why”.

Feature: Why do bisexuals get such a hard time?
Amber Rose

Discrimination from the Gay Community

One possible reason why bisexuals seem to suffer worse mental health is due to a lack of community support.

Despite bisexuals making up the highest percentage of the LGBT community, they are often pushed to the side and forgotten. This year’s London Pride faced backlash for not dedicating enough time to bisexual awareness within the parade.

Lesbians and gays have fought extremely hard to be taken seriously from both a legal and social aspect. However, it is shocking just how much discrimination against bisexuals come from the mouths of those who supposedly should be their biggest allies.

Many gays and lesbians hold the same assumptions about bisexuals that straight people do, and this results in a lot of in-fighting within the LGBT community.

Lewis Oakley, one of the UK’s most prominent bisexual advocates, spoke to me about his personal experience with biphobia from the gay people, and the lack of community he feels he has as a bisexual man.

“For me, there are two parts to the discrimination: the first is what gay people say to me, stuff like, ‘oh, c’mon it’s just a phase, we all go through it, you’re gay just admit it’. They just believe I’m going through a phase because a lot of gay men do come out as bisexual before they come out as gay.

“But that’s fine, I feel like I can take the stuff that they say to me. What really annoys me is when people say stuff to my girlfriend […] people say the most shocking things to her, like ‘oh, why are you with a bisexual man, you know he’s gonna cheat on you right?’

“There was one time when my girlfriend was at a party, and some gay guys were talking to her and they found out that she was dating a bisexual man. Then they said ‘what’s wrong with you, there are so few men who are attracted to men out there, why can’t you just find a straight guy?!’.

“The thing is, a gay guy who is maybe just coming out can go to a gay bar and immediately find other men like him […] Bisexuals are not given the same tools to meet each other, I don’t really have anyone to speak to if something happens in my life that is bi-specific”.

Lewis Oakley
Lewis Oakley is one of few bisexual men who feel comfortable being themselves

Even prominent LGBT activist and founder of the famous “It Gets Better” campaign, Dan Savage, has written some rather unsavoury and downright ignorant columns in the past on bisexuality in men and women.

In one instance he said because women have been found to demonstrate sexual arousal at images of straight and gay sex, whereas men were more likely to only be aroused by one or the other, this meant that “female sexuality is a fluid and male sexuality is a solid.”

To say Savage was missing some of the nuances of sexuality would be an understatement.

Only ‘til Marriage Are You Bi

One very famous case of bisexual erasure came from the mouth of Larry King when he interviewed actress Anna Paquin in 2014.

Referring to her marriage to True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer, King appeared confused by her current identity, calling her a “non-practising bisexual”, and referring to her bisexuality in the past tense.

This “bi-until-married” idea, is by no-means limited to mind’s of straight men like King. In a 2016 Buzzfeed video titled: “Questions Gay People Have For Bisexual People”, a lesbian-identified woman appeared to imply that you could only be interested in both men and women “until you get married”.

This assumption is, of course, fairly ridiculous, and perpetuates the notion that bisexuality is somehow a temporary identity.

As Paquin rightly told King: “Are you still straight if you are with somebody — if you were to break up with them or if they were to die, it doesn’t prevent your sexuality from existing. It doesn’t really work like that.”

What Can Be Done?

Ultimately, more research, better media representation and more people coming out as bisexual will be needed to quash the stigma surrounding bisexuality.

Lewis Oakley says that he wants to see more closeted bisexuals on the screen, so that the public can see just how frustrating it really is.

“I want people to sympathise with closeted bisexual men, to understand the unique struggles they go through.

“I don’t want to see only happy bisexuals on the screen, because that’s not what’s happening in real life. The reality is that bisexuals do face a lot of discrimination from the gay community – even though I’m one of the most high profile bisexuals in the country, I still have not been in the same room with ten other bisexual men my age.”

Until changes are made, bisexual people will continue to feel out of place in the queer community as well as the wider world.

However, with TV shows like Orange is the New Black, Transparent, Jane the Virgin and others beginning to portray bisexuality in a more accurate and nuanced way, we can hope that more people let go of their assumptions and stigmas, and that bisexual men and women ultimately feel more comfortable being themselves.