Jennifer Wilber is a writer, teacher, and bisexual rights activist from Ohio.
Bi Erasure Damages the LGBT+ Community
Pride Month brings celebrations and events in cities all over the world where members of the LGBT+ community and their allies can come together to celebrate diversity and acceptance. Pride celebrations are important for a sense of community and self-worth for millions of people in the LGBT+ community who have been persecuted for their identities throughout history.
It is critical that we don’t lose sight of the importance of accepting all parts of the LGBT+ community. Even with greater acceptance of the LGBT+ community by society as a whole, there are still issues of people within this community treating certain parts of the LGBT+ family poorly.
Though over half of people in the LGBT+ community identify themselves as bi, bi individuals still frequently experience discrimination and erasure from LG people.
Bi Erasure and Biphobia
Bi erasure and biphobia are often overlooked issues within the LGBT+ community. Negative stereotypes about bisexual people persist, which causes gay and lesbian individuals to distrust bi-identified individuals or to assume bisexuality doesn’t actually exist.
Though LGBT+ representation in the media has been improving in recent years, it is still rare to see positive portrayals of bi characters on television. Characters are usually assumed to be either gay or straight, depending on which characters they are interested in romantically. Even if a character is portrayed as being attracted to both male and female characters, they rarely identify as bi, instead claiming to "not need labels."
One popular example of this is Piper on Orange Is the New Black, who has been involved with both men and women but has never identified as bi. Other characters wonder if she is really straight or if she is now a lesbian. Other times, characters are implied to be bi as a character flaw. Bi characters are typically villains, promiscuous characters, or untrustworthy.
Even when the LGBT+ acronym is used, bisexuals are often left out of discussions of LGBT+ issues. Within LGBT discourse, the "B" is often glossed over or overlooked completely (Voss, 2014). Bi speakers are often excluded from LGBT+ events and conferences. Bi individuals tend to be less active in LGBT+ organizations because of the stigmatization of their identity (Obradors-Campos, 2011).
Many gay- and lesbian-identified individuals are distrustful of those who identify as bi because of the stereotypes that are still prevalent about the bi community. Bi women are seen as more "promiscuous" than their monosexual counterparts and are often accused of being unable to make up their minds or of eventually leaving lesbian partners for straight men. There may be political pressure to conform to an either/or sexual orientation. For example, some women identify as lesbians for political reasons and refuse to accept women who identify as bisexual (Baxter-Williams, 2017). Bi men are often thought to be gay but in denial.
Despite stereotypes of bi men and women being more "promiscuous" than their gay or straight peers, bi people often report having more difficulty in meeting new romantic partners due to social isolation. This complaint is especially common amongst bi women, though bi men are also affected (Weinberg, 1994).
Bi women who are or have been in long-term relationships with straight men are often shunned when seeking support from the LGBT+ community, as they are assumed to be straight or attempting to pass as straight. Many people within the LGBT+ community assume that a bi person in a straight-appearing relationship is no longer "queer" enough.
Definition of Bi Erasure
The tendency to ignore bisexuality or to pretend that it doesn't exist
Definition of Biphobia
An aversion to bisexuality and bisexual people
How Bi Erasure and Biphobia Negatively Affect Bi Individuals
Bi erasure and biphobia have many negative effects on the wellbeing of bi individuals. Bi men and women statistically have poorer mental health, as well as physical health. Bi people tend to feel more socially isolated than other members of the LGBT+ community and straight people.
With the rise of LGBT+ social movements, people with minority sexual identities have developed their own "culture." Bi people, however, often feel "trapped between two cultures," somewhere between straight and gay (Weinberg, 1994). The need for a cultural community is important for feelings of belonging, but bisexuals often lack this sense of community within the LGBT+ community. This sense of isolation, lack of social support, and discrimination from both the LGBT+ and straight communities can lead to poorer health outcomes for bi men and women.
Studies have shown that bisexuals suffer from poorer mental health than gay, lesbian, and straight individuals (Voss, 2014). Bi individuals are at a higher risk for alcohol and substance abuse. Bi women are at the highest risk for alcohol abuse compared to heterosexual and homosexual women (New Hope Recovery Center, 2014). Bisexuals are also at a higher risk for developing anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues than are heterosexuals and homosexuals (New Hope Recovery Center, 2014).
What Can Be Done to End Bi Erasure and Biphobia?
LGBT+ organizations need to promote the acceptance of bisexuality through education to change biphobic attitudes within the LGBT+ community. The media also needs to become more representative of bisexual individuals. LGBT+ organizations should work to become more inclusive to bi individuals and offer the same support services to people who identify as bi. Bi men and women should also work to create their own spaces and support networks to bridge the gap while the overall LGBT+ community catches up.
Bi people need to be more active in the LGBT+ community and create their own organizations within the community. Some organizations already exist, but they tend to be less prolific and lack permanent venues (Voss, 2014). Demanding visibility is the first step in creating more dialogue between the different groups that make up the LGBT+ community.
In addition to creating more bi+ activist organizations, more scientific research into sexual orientation should be funded to help legitimize the bi identity. Kinsey’s research helped to show that sexuality is more fluid than once thought (Katz, 2009), but more modern research is needed as well.
Creating visibility through activist organizations, as well as funding additional scientific research, would go a long way to remove the stigma against bi men and women within the LGBT+ community.
Baxter-Williams, L. (2017, January 17). Giving Up Men is a Slippery Slope. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from http://www.thisisbiscuit.co.uk/5502-2/
Katz, Jonathan N. (2009). The Invention of Heterosexuality. In Ferber, A. L. The Matrix Reader: examining the dynamics of oppression and privilege (pp. 36-43). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
New Hope Recovery Center. (2014, January 30). Addiction, Mental Health, and Bisexuality. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from http://www.new-hope-recovery.com/center/2013/05/31/addiction-mental-health-and-bisexuality/
Obradors-Campos, M. (2011). Deconstructing Biphobia. Journal Of Bisexuality, 11(2/3), 207-226. doi:10.1080/15299716.2011.571986
Voss, G., Browne, K., & Gupta, C. (2014). Embracing the "And": Between Queer and Bisexual Theory at Brighton BiFest. Journal Of Homosexuality, 61(11), 1605-1625. doi:10.1080/00918369.2014.944055
Weinberg, M. S., Williams, C. J., & Pryor, D. W. (1994). Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.
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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber