to be sexually attracted to two different genders. traditionally seen as ‘both male and female attraction’, however, bisexuality also includes those who are attracted to two other genders, whom may not fit within the male/female binary.
what is biphobia?
- the aversion towards bisexual people and bisexuality as a social group or as individuals
- people of any sexual orientation can experience such feelings of aversion
- may be based on irrational fear or negative stereotypes
bisexual erasure (or bisexual invisibility) is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media and other primary sources. in its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists.
As a feminist bisexual woman whom is active within in the LGBTQIA+ community, I was instantly very passionate about this topic. Sexuality, gender and sex are three things that I find that I could talk for days about. When it came to deciding what I wanted to do, on the same day we were set the task I received two biphobic comments and one the following day… so that has spurred me to focus on biphobia and to also touch upon bisexuality erasure within the media.
I came out as bisexual in 2012 after developing feelings for an other girl. For years before this, I was confused about who I was. I mentally labelled myself as bicurious at school because I knew people would instantly say “you’re 15, you’re too young to know” and because no one ever told me that sexuality can be fluid. If you come out as one sexuality yet later find you were wrong and you now identify as something else, that’s fine. I worried that I would be setting myself and my identity in stone. It felt very definining, as if I was putting myself in a box with a label for people to stare at and question if whether or not this is who I really am.
Over the span of these 2 years, I have been confronted by biphobia on many regular occasions – from strangers and people on the internet to my family and my best friends. And even from the girl whom I was in a relationship with.
Friend: So, are you still bisexual? Is that still a thing now you and her have broken up? Or are you properly gay or straight or what?
Ex-girlfriend: I don’t like that you’re interested in a guy because it makes me feel like I was a shit girlfriend. All of my ex-girlfriends have dated guys after me.
Me: Well, I’m bisexual, isn’t that the point of bisexuality? I can date a guy if I want or I can date a girl. I don’t get why it matters?
Ex-girlfriend: Idk, it just makes me feel like crap.
Best friend: Why do you insist on being bisexual? Why can’t you just say you’re both gay and straight?
Best friend’s (straight) friend: So, you’ve never had sex with a guy? You don’t have the right to identify as bisexual. You’re a lesbian. Who is bicurious. You’re not bisexual.
Friend who sees me with my girlfriend for the first time: Whoa, wait? Are you a lesbian? Bisexual? You seriously just got a lot hotter. If you ever want a threesome, you know where I am.
These comments are literally only the tip of the iceberg. Although I have faced a plethora of biphobia, I wanted to hear from other members of the bisexual community who have faced it also and I wanted to hear their stories, so I sent out a survey on Tumblr and Twitter. Right now, I have 300 responses from people detailing their experiences with biphobia and the effects it has caused them. At the moment, I can only view the first 100 results due to SurveyMonkey’s limitation, I’ve analysed the information from these first 100 and hoping to access the rest of the data in the future, as I would like to carry on with this research in my spare time.
Out of the first 100 people, 0 people said that they hadn’t experienced or witnessed biphobia, with 3% saying they were unsure. 97% of people answered otherwise, with 66% answering that they had experienced biphobia, whilst 31% said that they had witnessed biphobia. For those who had answered that they had experienced or witnessed biphobia, I asked them to elaborate further in the next question as to what biphobia they had encountered.
Participant #74: I was told it wasn’t real. Called a slut, greedy, confused etc. My ex-boyfriend was convinced I was going to leave him for a girl because of it. Told that the gender of whoever I eventually settle down with will determine whether I am straight or a lesbian. The term ‘we all start off bi’ from a gay friend. A friend on Facebook shared a video (to raise awareness of biphobia) of a straight white male furiously ranting about why he hates bisexuals. He said things like bisexuals are just the ugly fat ones that nobody else wants. And other things. It was pretty horrific to watch as he was so hateful. When I was in university, the first week, I went on a date with a girl. I was really excited and told my flatmate about it who was a lesbian. Her response was, ‘but you’re straight…’ to which I told her bisexual (I had already told her I was) and she replied with, ‘yeah whatever, same thing’. The LGBT+ community at university was predominantly gay men, I never felt welcomed, taken seriously or a part of that community.
Participant #24: …The last example I have was when I attended a panel at a gaming convention about LGBT representation in video games. During the Q&A portion, I asked why there wasn’t more bisexual representation, and rather than answer herself, a panelist thought to ask the audience. What followed was the most humiliating moment of my life as I continued to stand awkwardly at the front of the room full of people as a lesbian in the audience proceeded to rant about how “Everyone has a preference, bisexuality isn’t realistic and it’s kind of gross” and many other harsh, cruel words that got her APPLAUSE from the audience. I cried for nearly an entire hour once I was in the only REAL safe space for the B in LGBTQIA that I have ever known – my own bedroom.
Participant #45: …The most hurtful things have been said by other people in the LGBTQIA+ community. It seems that because we have this infamous “straight-passing privilege” (which is no privilege at all), we do not share or understand their struggle. We can “choose” to be straight, or in straight relationships, according to these people. It’s quite striking, really, that we’re the only ones in the lgBtqia+ community which constantly has to reaffirm and prove the authencity of our orientation.
Participant #41: I was outed uncomfortably at work which led to my boss who is at least 10 years older than me ‘offering’ a threesome with him and his friend, despite him being in a relationship at the time. Members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community have repeatedly told me I’m ‘actually pansexual’ due to experiencing attraction to more than two genders. I have also been told I am transphobic for being bisexual, despite being a non-binary person myself who is attracted to more than two genders.
As mentioned, a lot of people found that biphobia not only existed from outside of the LGBTQIA+ community, but within it too. A common misconception within the LGBTQIA+ community is that bisexuals have something known as “bisexual privilege”, which is a privilege where we can apparently pass as straight, therefore we do not face the same struggles as our gay and lesbian peers. This is all false stereotyping and very much classes as bisexuality erasure, where one part of our sexuality is being disregarded for another, which makes our identity as a bisexual crumble. I have found, and many others too, that this really is NOT a privilege. Having to hide one part or have one part of our sexuality disregarded is not a privilege.
In my survey, I specifically asked if people had encountered biphobia from those within the LGBTQIA+ community. 60% of the first 100 people answered that they had received biphobia from within the community. 88% of people also said that they had encountered biphobia from outside the community (from heterosexual people).
After experiencing biphobia this week from a girl who tried to invalidate my identity by telling me my sexuality was incorrect, I have felt very, very low about the fact that I am bisexual and the fact that I came out about being so. I have felt that it would be a lot easier to hide who I am as it would end the multitude of comments, questions, insults and creepy ‘compliments’. I asked within the survey as to whether biphobia has made someone doubt their sexuality or wished their sexuality were different, etc. 88% of people altogether said that they have personally struggled with their identity after experiencing biphobia. These are some of the responses I received.
Participant #98: I didn’t want to be part of a community that was so hated, even by the lgbt community. It’s constantly made fun of in the media, there are straight girls who make out with each other to get guys’ attention and then are somehow counted as bisexual. We’re labeled as whores, if you get raped you were asking for it just because of your sexuality. I think it’s one of the reasons I had depression in high school, because I didn’t know how to identify my sexuality, bisexual was discounted in my mind because of all of this internalised biphobia.
Participant #11: It took me 4-5 years to come to terms with my sexuality. The whole time it was like “am I actually or is this just a thing I’ve made up in my head?” Even now it’s like that sometimes. Sometimes I just wish I knew 100% what I was so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Participant #83: For a while I felt like it was a phase, but I’ve been the way I am for as long as I remember. I didn’t want to come out in high school because I didn’t want people to think I wanted attention, and I’m not really out in college because I don’t want to be told it’s a “college” phase. I also don’t feel comfortable going to LGBT meetings because I don’t feel like a part of it. Like I’m not queer enough. I’ve come out to a few male partners and friends and the response is always if I would want a threesome with them. Being bisexual doesn’t mean that I’m more promiscuous. It’s so hard to explain that to people, but I usually just don’t because I have the ability to “pass” as straight.
Participant #82: I came out to a few people and one of them was really supportive, the other not so much so I shoved myself back into the closet because it felt easier because I had so many crushes on boys and I wasn’t ready for the judgement and because I bought into that “we’re all a little bi/it’s just a phase/ it’s only for attention” rhetoric. But I eventually developed a panic disorder and one of the reasons is because I kept pushing down feelings I had for other girls and thought, “well I have 4 other crushes who are all boys. This one girl can’t really be that significant, I’m still straight.” …Sometimes I wish I were just straight or gay so I wouldn’t have to deal with all of this, I wasn’t confused about my sexuality/romantic identity until people kept insisting I was.
Participant #59: I suffered severe mental health issues as a result of internalised biphobia (suicidal thoughts, self harm, etc.) and it took four years from me realising to accept myself and start coming out (realised at age 12, didn’t come out until age 16)
Participant #28: I actively suppressed my desire for any same-sex partners for several years, stopped using the term and accepted descriptions of myself as “half gay” or “straight for now.” I internalized all biphobia and thought of myself as greedy and slutty for wanting different partners. I simply hid that part of myself from everyone, until I reclaimed it a few years ago.
Many responses to this question included that people had then suffered from internalised biphobia due to the biphobic comments they had received.
Aside from learning about people’s personal experiences on biphobia, I also researched bi-erasure within the media. Personally, I struggled to find anything that represented this sexuality well within television or film. Many times, when a character may be seen as bisexual, they tend to allude to the fact that they are, never wishing to state that they are bisexual and often throw it in as a passing comment.
In my primary research, the show ‘Orange is the New Black’ was mentioned often. Upon watching the show, not once during the show is the term ‘bisexual’ used, which I found to be very disconcerting for a show that prides itself upon being LGBT-friendly. Throughout the show, Piper Chapman (the lead protagonist whom happens to be bisexual) never once describes herself as bisexual. There are times she tries to explain that she falls somewhere on the Kinsey Scale or says ‘I love hot guys. I love hot girls. What can I say? I’m shallow.”, but many members of the bisexual community find that this is a way to avoid using the term bisexual. Not only this but many terms such as ‘former lesbian’, ‘straight girl’ and ‘dyke’ have been used to describe Piper. Many comments directed towards Piper are used by other LGBTQIA+ characters, which touches upon my point earlier of biphobia within the LGBT community.
Just like in real life, bi erasure on Orange Is the New Black comes from the queer characters as much as from the straight ones. Alex, Piper’s ex-girlfriend, refers to Piper as a “straight girl” and asks about when she “went back to boys,” as though Piper’s relationship with Alex was merely a phase in a lifetime of heterosexuality. This particular biphobic trope is something bi people get a lot from the lesbian/gay community, as though having opposite-sex desires negates or trumps a history of same-sex ones. […] Indeed, it would be awfully unrealistic to tell a story about a bi character without portraying at least an occasional run-in with biphobia. But the bi erasure in Orange Is the New Black doesn’t seem to come from individual characters so much as it emerges from the fabric of the show itself, particularly since the characters on the show who erase or disrespect Piper’s orientation are never portrayed as wrong or flawed for doing so. - (King-Miller, 2014)
Another show that was mentioned many times within my survey was Glee. Glee has been criticised many times in the past, due to offensiveness and insensitivity, however their use of biphobia and bi erasure is probably their most widely known problem. Within season 2 during, a gay character called Blaine was suffering from confusion with his sexuality after developing feelings for a girl, in which another gay character told him that bisexuality was ‘a term that gay guys in high school use when they want to hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change’. This was then followed up in a later season, a lesbian character said that her last girlfriend ‘didn’t count’ as she was bisexual and that she needed ‘a real lesbian’ for a change, whom she wouldn’t ‘have to worry about straying for penis’.
For one thing, Brittany’s bisexuality was one of the only things Glee always got right. It wasn’t about gender or genitals with her. It was about the person. It was about loving who she loved… She didn’t cheat on Santana, full-stop. She didn’t even break up with Santana! Santana broke up with her… [Sabotaging Brittany’s character] devalues the honesty and depth and white-hot loyalty of Santana and Brittany’s relationship, and it perpetuates all the bullshit stereotypes bisexual people face every damn day. – (Hogan, 2013)
Biphobia and bi erasure doesn’t just happen in every day lives. It happens within the media we consume, too. And it’s a shame that too many media products are making its bisexual consumers feel marginalised and discriminated against.
Kinseyinstitute.org, (2014). The Kinsey Institute – Kinsey Sexuality Rating Scale. [online] Available at: http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/ak-hhscale.html
King-Miller, L. (2014). Will ‘Orange is the New Black’ Finally Acknowledge Bisexuality?. [Blog] Cosmopolitan. Available at: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/entertainment/celebs/news/a6964/orange-is-the-new-black-bisexuality/
Hogan, H. (2013). “Glee” recap 5.02: Here Comes the Biphobia. [Website] AfterEllen.com. Available at: http://www.afterellen.com/glee-recap-5-02-tina-in-the-sky-with-diamonds/10/2013/4/