Stigma is one of the major issues facing the bisexual community, creating mental and physical health issues, while keeping people closeted in fear of rejection. Andrew Macdougall takes a look.
Self-labelling within the LGBTQ+ community provides a connection through people and creates safe spaces for every member of each sub-group, claiming your place in the community is vital for mental and physical health.
Stigma is the major cause for bisexuals not wanting to come out to family, friends and work colleagues. With bi-erasure and biphobia keeping bi people closeted, it sees high mental health rates across the community.
An Australian study showed 50.6% of bisexual women aged 16 and over were diagnosed or treated for any mental disorder, for men in the same age bracket it was 34.1%. Attributing to these statistics is social stigma keeping bisexuals closeted or lying about their sexuality.
People who are attracted to same-sex individuals or people of another gender, struggle to fully come out as a bisexual person, with some surveys showing only 28% are out of the closet.
So why is bisexuality an identity people aren’t willing to claim?
Bisexuality has battled years of stigmatisation, its’ biphobia is deep rooted, and this is why the label isn’t publicly claimed compared to lesbian and gay people.
An Australian study showed 50.6% of bisexual women aged 16 and over were diagnosed or treated for any mental disorder, for men in the same age bracket it was 34.1%.
Labelled as greedy, cheaters, confused, HIV transmitters and seeking attention bisexuals often feel as though they don’t have a community, being isolated from LGBTQ+ and straight social circles, which correlates in the health disparities we see for bisexual people.
Bisexuals also face criticism of transphobia, some believe that those who are bisexual are not non-binary accepting, when in fact both are sometimes intersectional, thus creating more invisibility in the bi community. Bisexuality is often centred on attraction to two genders, men and women, and anyone whose attraction falls out of the gender binary cannot possibly be bisexual. Sexually fluid or heteroflexible have now emerged as terms people are using to describe their sexuality, it offers a positive connotation removed from the bisexual biphobia.
Dictionary.com has a definition of bisexual which is also non-binary inclusive: “a person who is romantically or sexually attracted to both men and women, or to people of various gender identities; ambisexual.”
All these incorrect assumptions continue the wave of stigma, while keeping bisexual people either in the closet, or unwilling to embrace the bisexual identity.
In media the same stigma stifles bisexual progress, stereotypes are pushed, even in magazines and online print that is supposed to be LGBTQ+ friendly. Compared to bisexual, lesbian or gay identities are actively embraced, when someone moves from heterosexual relationships to same-sex or other gendered interaction, bisexual is ignored. Matilda star, Mara Wilson, explained that stigma surrounding the term bisexual was a major reason why she struggled to identify as bisexual.
More recently, upcoming Wonder Woman film has been described as potentially “Lesbian Film of the Year” when the characters are not and fall into the bi+ spectrum. It’s this erasure that continues to push the phobia that being bisexual isn’t real.
How can we shift the negativity and make bisexuals feel comfortable with the label?
In media the same stigma stifles bisexual progress, stereotypes are pushed, even in magazines and online print that is supposed to be LGBTQ+ friendly.
We need to hold media outlets accountable and challenge communities that attribute to bi-erasure and biphobia. Closeted people use these platforms to gauge acceptance and can make it easier for bisexuals to feel welcomed. We should join in with bisexual activism, whether that is marching, online, or displaying the Bi pride flag colours, all of this gives the bi+ community a visible presence which everyone can play a role.
The Queerness writer Lois Shearing also gives some great tips about being a bisexual ally and supporting someone who is, or might be worried about coming out as bisexual. Make spaces comfortable for people to come out, it will relieve mental health strain and see a rise in the 28% of ‘out’ bisexual people to a healthier number.
A higher number is important not only for the bisexual community, but the entire LGBTQ+ movement where strength in numbers is vital.
We are that much stronger with the Bi community marching right beside us.
Follow Andrew on Twitter (@AndrewMacWrites)