It’s Bisexuality Awareness Week. This is a week that is sorely needed, as there is still quite a bit of biphobia and bi-erasure out there. According to a 2010 study by the Williams Institute, approximately 20 per cent of bisexuals report experiencing a negative employment decision based on their sexuality, while 60 per cent report having heard anti-bisexual comments and jokes while on the job.
A 2013 study released by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control indicates that 60 per cent of bisexual women report having experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner (compared to the still depressingly high rates of 35 per cent of straight women and 43.8 per cent of lesbian women). Bisexual women are also at horrifying risk of being raped by anyone, partner or not – 46.1 per cent of the bisexual women surveyed had been raped at some point, compared with 14.7 per cent of straight women, and 13.1 per cent of lesbian women.
It should come as no surprise that these stats feed into increased rates of poverty. Approximately 25 per cent of bisexual men and 30 per cent of bisexual women live in poverty, compared to 20 per cent of gay men and 23 per cent of gay women, and 15 per cent and 21 per cent of straight men and women, respectively.
In spite of these horrifying statistics, I think a lot of people assume that life is quite easy for bisexuals. I suspect that certain stereotypes play a major role in perpetuating violence and discrimination against bisexuals. I’ve always found that one of the best ways to combat stereotypes is to have members of the stereotyped group share their stories—to help people understand that within a seemingly coherent group there are as many unique identities as there are members.
For as long as I can remember having romantic feelings, I’ve found girls just as appealing as guys. While I’m very happy to identify as bisexual now, when I was a kid, it weirded me out.
First off, I thought there was something strange about me for liking girls at all, but I was even more confused that I found both genders appealing. Wasn’t I supposed to like just one? What was wrong with me? Was I a pervert? I knew there were straight people and gay people, but I didn’t know you could be in the middle. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I found out that bisexuality existed; suddenly this thing I was terrified of had a name, and while I was still freaked out about it, at least I wasn’t alone.
Contemplating this truth about myself as a teenager was frightening. I was taught that being gay was okay by my mother, and so a part of me knew that if I told her she would be fine with it—but what about my friends? Would my best friend be okay if we still had sleepovers, or would our friendship change now because she knew I liked girls? (It didn’t; she had me figured out well before I told her.)
Eventually, when I was 16, I began to tell my friends. For the most part everyone was cool, but the more I became open, the more I began to experience the incredibly annoying, offensive and at times frightening parts of being bisexual and dealing with its stereotypes.
The main stereotype I’ve had to deal with is that bisexuals are down to go to the “bone zone” at any time, any place, and with anybody. That nothing makes us happier than a threesome, and it doesn’t matter with whom. I experienced treatment that I wouldn’t recognize until later was sexual harassment. More than one of the guys in high school dating my friends began to follow me around, asking me all kinds of personal questions about my sex life and whether I was interested in their girlfriends. These guys were angling for a threesome, titillated by it, and then shocked when I said no and got the hell away from them.
It got so bad that one of them stopped by the workplace of my best friend, whom he only vaguely knew and asked her questions about whether she and I ever hooked up. She’s straight and he had no reason to believe otherwise.
It was like my bisexuality was a gift to them. Suddenly their small minds were inflamed with the possibility that they would experience what they only saw in porno flicks. It made them invade my privacy, harass my friends and myself, and generally act like fools. They couldn’t understand why I would possibly not be interested in a threesome.
I’m a monogamous person. I don’t judge people who enjoy threesomes, but personally, they don’t interest me. If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have laughed uncomfortably and tried to avoid these persistent individuals, I would have told them off for harassing me. When you look at the rape and harassment statistics, you can see how this gross stereotype manifests itself in terrifying ways on a society-wide level.
It eventually got to the point that when I met a new guy, I would tell him I was bisexual and would decide whether to keep seeing him based on his reaction. Fortunately, the man who is now my fiancé had the perfect reaction: he was accepting, but didn’t immediately assume he knew everything about me and my interests based off that one revelation.
While I’ve been coming down pretty hard on certain segments of the straight male population, it’s definitely worth pointing out that bisexuals face discrimination from many sides. For example, I once had to turn down a straight girl who wanted to make out with me just to turn on a guy she had a crush on. I’m a human being, not a prop like lingerie or fake erect nipples, meant to entice your chosen partner. This sort of treatment only reinforces the stereotypes that contribute to increased levels of rape and harassment.
Sadly, I’ve also dealt with biphobia from certain people in the gay community. I’ve been rebuffed for not being “gay enough,” rejected by a lesbian when she found out I was bisexual because I wasn’t “serious” enough and that I was “confused,” and I’ve been dropped as a friend once I got into a committed relationship with a man. Such rejection hurt because I am a proud member of the LGBTQ community—the ‘B’ is right there in the middle! To be told you aren’t enough, that you aren’t worthy because of who you love, sucks no matter what situation you are in. Such attitudes can deprive bisexuals of already scarce support networks.
I’m writing all of this to say that being bisexual isn’t the amazing free-for-all that people seem to think it is. It is still a highly misunderstood identity, and it is important to reflect on how entrenched stereotypes contribute to the frightening statistics I addressed above.
In the end, while I’ve suffered, been rejected, and hurt, I wouldn’t change my decision to be open about who I am. The more people share their individual stories, the easier it becomes to convince people that bisexuals are all unique individuals. Sure, the gender of a potential partner makes no difference to me, but I still have standards – they have to be kind, intelligent and willing to treat my cat with the reverence and adulation he deserves.
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