Bisexuality: a modern crisis of erasure, under-resourcing and invisibility

Guest writer Lois Shearing spells out clearly the challenges faced by the increasing number of bi people in the UK today.


More people than ever before are identifying as bisexual in the UK. In fact, for the first time, more young people aged between 16 and 24 are identifying as bisexual rather than gay or lesbian. But as the number of people identifying as bisexual rises, along with the number of openly bi celebrities, the disparity between the number of bisexuals and the resources available to us is becoming ever more apparent.

Shockingly, in a country where an estimated 334,000 people call themselves bisexual, there are no funded organisations for bisexual identified people, and only a handful of grassroots groups and meet-ups. Some of this is down to the invisibility of bisexuality, and some of it may be to do with the myth that bisexuals are ‘half gay, half straight’ as opposed to being one whole other identity. This kind of thinking leads to the idea that bi people are welcome to resources/groups for straight people or for gay people, which any bisexual person will tell you, just isn’t the case.

The disparity between the number of bisexuals and the resources available to us is becoming ever more apparent.

So, not only are a growing number of people left without resources and support that directly cater to their needs, but they are also one of the most high-risk minority groups for mental and physical health issues. Bisexual people are more likely to have mental health issues than any other sexual orientation, both globally and in the UK. In the US, bisexual men are more likely to have alcohol-reated problems or be smokers and have worse health due to the proliferation of poverty among the group.

This is a trend that may also have roots this side of the pond, as a new study conducted by UCL’s Institute of Education suggests that bisexual men earn 30% less on average than their straight or gay counterparts. The research was unable to identify certain causes for this, as the partner was the same across all types of employment in both urban and rural areas. Alarmingly, Professor Bryson also found that lesbians were paid significantly less if their employer’s equal opportunities policy did not explicitly cover sexuality. The study found no pay gap between bisexual women and other sexualities.

However, bisexual women are most likely to fall victim to intimate partner violence or sexual assault. In a study conducted in 2010, but released this year, 61.1% of bisexual woman reported having experienced rape, intimate partner violence, or stalking in their lifetime. This was in comparison to 35% of straight women, and 43.8% of lesbians. On top of this, one third of bisexual women reported that they did not receive a positive reaction when disclosing their sexuality to a mental health worker.

A new study conducted by UCL’s Institute of Education suggests that bisexual men earn 30% less on average than their straight or gay counterparts.

These figures are harder to get hold of in the UK, specifically because of the tendency among researchers to class gay and bisexual people as one group. This is damaging for both parties. Doing so gives an inaccurate and inflated impression of both sets of groups, and classifying bisexual men and gay men together, as well as bisexual women and lesbians, as ‘pretty much the same’ can feed into damaging stereotypes.

Including bisexuals in date on the number of gay characters in the media falsely inflates the results, in suggesting that gay representation is better than it is, while also ignoring the importance of acknowledging bisexual representation. Painting bisexual celebrities as gay or lesbian when they come out can also play into negative stereotypes if said celebrities go on to to have a cross-gender relationship. Not only has this contributed to bi-erasure, but it suggests that gay people may eventually settle down with someone of a different gender.

But it isn’t all negative. The very fact that more people – particularly young people – are coming out suggests a turning tide and a decrease in stigma. This is obviously due to all the fantastic work gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, and other organisations have done to enhance LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance in society at large. These numbers don’t mean that suddenly more people are bisexual, but that more bisexual people feel confident with being who they are.

Including bisexuals in date on the number of gay characters in the media falsely inflates the results, in suggesting that gay representation is better than it is.

If these numbers continue to increase – and hopefully they will – the disconnect between bi lives and the recourses, visibility, and community available to those lives will too.

Follow Lois on Twitter (@loisshearing)

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