Invisibility Series: Bisexuality

December 3, 2014 in inQueery

bisexual-invisibilityredI squinted my eyes against the bright sun as I told my godfather about how I’d started volunteering at the Billy DeFrank, an LGBT community center, in downtown San Jose.

“Oh okay,” he said. Then he stuttered a little over his next sentence. “Is that weird for them, I mean, do they get a lot of, you know, straight people volunteering?”

My godfather and I are very close, so he knew about my long-term ex-girlfriend. I paused, at a loss for words. While it’s true that I’ve been with my current (male) fiancé for seven years now, that doesn’t make me straight. I am very much attracted to both sexes equally and tell people, my fiancé included, that I fell in love and it just happened to be with a man. Finally, I stuttered over my own sentence: “Well, I don’t identify as straight.”

Cue the awkward silence smoothed by the follow-up, “So what do you do at the Billy DeFrank?”

Compared to what a lot of people go through regarding their sexual orientation, gender identity, etc., that interaction was painless and quickly forgotten. However, a few weeks later, I got a similar question at an LGBT event.

A very nice man I met at a volunteer Halloween party, who was dressed femme but not as a costume, was chatting with my fiancé and me. He asked, “So do you both volunteer here? And I would assume you’re a straight couple, or…?”

As a member of the LGBT community himself, this man actually did ask about sexual orientation before just classifying my fiancé and me (though my fiancé is in fact straight). But he prefaced his question with “I assume you’re a straight couple”.

This brings me to another invisible component of the LGBT community – bisexuals. Despite being one of the main letters in the common gay community acronym, bisexuals are invisible not only to heterosexuals but also to fellow LGBT folk; perhaps even more invisible than the other subsets. Bisexuals are so invisible there’s a specific term just for the tendency to “ignore, remove, falsify, or re-explain [sic]… bisexuality”. It’s called bisexual erasure.

There are many potential reasons why either side of the sexual spectrum would want bisexuals to disappear. Heterosexuals can think bisexuals are simply heteros who are “experimenting” and will eventually come back to straight life. Homosexuals can complain that bisexuals are really closeted gay or lesbian people who wish to appear heterosexual, thus weakening “mature” homosexuality and everything that community is fighting for while also reaping the benefits of heterosexual life. While acceptance for bisexuals has been increasing lately, most people still either outright refuse to see them, or make them invisible another way – by classifying their sexuality based on the gender of their partner at the time.

Like I said, I’ve got a male fiancé, and I am female, both in gender identity and expression. This means all who see me with my fiancé immediately and irrevocably classify me as a straight girl. The same goes for two girls in a relationship; even if one or both of them is bisexual, they are assumed lesbian. Ditto for two men together. This is not only frustrating but is also possibly hurtful, even if done unintentionally.

In his article “The Problem of Bisexual Invisibility”, John M. Decker discusses a study done last year of LGBT Americans which discovered that bisexuals make up 40% of the LGBT population (almost half!), but only 28% of bisexuals are out to the most important people in their lives. That’s compared to the 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians who are out to their loved ones. The numbers get even more depressing when we look at gender within the bisexual community – “when asked whether there is ‘a lot’ of acceptance of bisexual women, 33% of LGBT respondents said yes, compared with just 8% who agreed with that statement when applied to men” the study tells us.

It doesn’t stop there. Emily Dievendorf, author of the article “Bisexual Invisibility Has Dangerous Consequences”, found studies showing that bisexuals have higher incidences of depression, suicidal thoughts, and drug use. Bisexuals also get paid 11% less than straight men in the workforce! (That’s compared to the 2.7% less that lesbians earn.)

And we haven’t even started talking about all the stereotypes that plague bisexuals (when they’re not being made to disappear). Descriptions like promiscuous, going through a phase, oversexed, indecisive, greedy, confused, and untrustworthy get thrown around a great deal by both the heterosexual community and the homosexual one. Bisexuals are assumed to be non-monogamous and more likely to leave their partners for a member of whichever gender they’re not currently dating than heterosexuals or homosexuals. (Because clearly if you have twice the playing field, you’re twice the player, right?)

These stereotypes go even further for bisexual women, who are immediately and constantly propositioned for threesomes by heterosexual couples. Because obviously if you’re attracted to both genders, having sex with both genders at the same time is, like, the dream? No? (To be fair, for some bisexual ladies it is, but immediately assuming so is a little rude.) Either that or they’re seen as “bi-curious” or simply trying to titillate heterosexual men.

And bisexual men rarely even get a mention. In fact, I only found one article written by a bisexual man, which is a shame for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that he had some great points. Stevie St. John speaks to the possible reason the LGBT community disregards bisexuals:

It’s like we’ve had to define ourselves in opposition to the wacko fundamentalist idea that it’s a ‘lifestyle choice,’ so we feel like we can’t tolerate any ambiguity, or else our enemies will get us.

Fascinating.

More recent studies have been done showing that – gasp! – bisexuality really does exist. One study showed sexy images of men and women to bisexuals and measured their arousal. No surprise, those who claimed to be bisexual responded to both sexes. Another study disproved that bisexuality is simply a stop on the way to your “real” sexuality. Researchers asked those who identified as bisexual or “without label” at the start of the study about their sexual attractions ten years after the study, and found that 92% had kept their original bisexual label (or lack thereof). [1]

As for us, the 40% of the LGBT community who identify as that capital and invisible B, we can help. We can come out to and educate our friends and loved ones, we can debunk myths when we hear them, and perhaps most important of all, we can communicate with and support each other. Because the beautiful thing about being attracted to two (or more) genders is that we are unlimited.

Aurora Smith is a Guest Contributor at InQueery.