I’ve been reading a number of fairly recent studies on bisexuality from around the world (links below). They all have similar, disconcerting findings and draw similar conclusions about the mental and physical well-being of bisexuals:
- we have substantially higher rates of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidality than all the other common sexual orientations
- we have the lowest rate of satisfactory encounters with counsellors and healthcare providers
- there are very few service providers who understand the specific needs of bisexuals – even among LGBT-specific providers
- we have higher rates of smoking, excessive drinking/drug taking, and even cancer
- bisexual minorities have substantially lower rates of education, income, job stability and opportunity
- bisexual women in relationships with monosexual partners have an increased rate of domestic violence compared to women in other demographic categories.
- we face discrimination and invisibility when searching for support, in the workplace, in relationships, from social groups – even if they are among our LGBT cohorts, and sometimes especially from them.
As I read through these studies I thought about the many bisexuals I knew through my groups, the email I receive, the counselling I do, the encounters I have. But it never occurred to me that I too was affected by these circumstances: I’m fine. None of these issues are my issues. Or are they?
I had to acknowledge that my sexuality has been a major source of personal stress since I began experimenting with same-sex relations at the age of 13: What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way? Why am I acting in this way?
I’ve never felt as if I fit in – and still don’t. I can go to a gay bar. I like gay guys, but I don’t fit in. I’m not gay. I can go to straight bars. I like girls – and guys too, lol. Not cool in a straight bar.
Will my sexuality affect my ability to find a job at the moment? Will gay organizations be willing to hire me, since I’m not gay? Will straight organizations want to hire me, knowing I’m not straight? Will I encounter the usual reaction to my bisexual orientation: both groups telling me to go to the other to find my place? Unfortunately I’m way too out there to fake it, and so far no one’s stepped up to offer me a job.
Discovering and then acknowledging the set of circumstances which are common to many of my fellow bisexuals has helped me to take some of the pressure off of myself – from myself: the challenges and difficulties I’ve felt throughout my life are not isolated or specific to me: being bisexual has affected me and contributed to some of the psychological stresses I’ve encountered, although I was unaware of it.
Not having a group in which to seek solace and support is a large factor in creating these augmented levels of mental and physical stress. Isolation is a big issue for bisexuals, as we all know. One of the reasons for this feeling of isolation is that there few overtly bisexual groups, bars, service providers or counsellors of any kind. Our high levels of mental stress are partly due to the fact that we do not have a community in which to seek refuge.
There are all kinds of agencies, groups, departments, support systems set-up for gay men and women in need of help about their sexuality issues, as well as bars, clubs, dating sites, vacation spots, bookstores to go to socialize and find acknowledgement and camaraderie. Not so for bisexuals.
Bisexuals end up being directed to these gay-specific outlets, the assumption being, “Well, you’re all a bunch of queers right? Gay, trans, bi – whatever. Go get help from the gays.”
Contrary to popular belief, bisexuals are not part gay and part straight; we are not either/or; we are not between two worlds. We are, in fact, 100% bisexual, with our own needs, wants, requirements.
Being shunted off to gay services aides and abets bisexual invisibility: firstly, I’m not gay, so why am I told to seek help from gay services? Secondly, these service providers are inadequately trained to deal with bi-specific issues; Thirdly, these service providers often maintain the same kinds of biphobic doubt and assumptions about our orientation as anyone else.
Bisexuals are more likely to be in the closet than our gay compatriots. We tend to carry the burden of our identity secretly, for fear of retribution, which is real. Do we tell our potential partners about our unique sexuality right away and risk being rejected? Or should we wait until it becomes clear we like the person? By that point we may not want to risk losing them, so we say nothing, which is even more stressful.
According the Open University’s “Bisexuality Report”, bisexuals tend to seek counselling more than any other group, and when we do, here’s what we encounter:
“… over a quarter of therapists seen by bisexual clients erroneously assumed that sexual identity was relevant to the goal of therapy when the client didn’t agree, and around a sixth saw bisexuality as being part of an illness. 7% attempted conversion to heterosexuality and 4% to being lesbian or gay. Many therapists were openly uncomfortable about bisexuality.”
The one point I do my best to impress upon the bisexuals in need of support and lucid advice is this: there is nothing wrong with you. You are bisexual, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
This one tiny voice of reassurance is often enough to assuage much of the internal strife we all feel at some point about our bisexual orientation. It’s tiny, and yet it’s massive at the same time, because it is so rare that we hear this.
Okay, so now for the good news.
Bisexuals ourselves often feel very good about our orientation – aside from the biphobia we encounter. We see ourselves as tolerant, open people with a strong understanding of and appreciation for diversity.
I personally love being bisexual. I have found a partner who accepts this aspect of me, and who is able to rejoice in it as well. There are many such people out there, and the numbers are growing.
In one of the most ironic twists ever, these studies – and many others – have concluded this one startling fact: bisexuals comprise the LARGEST group among the LGBTQs! More people identify as bisexual than gay, lesbian, trans or anything else. Bisexual-identified women usually outnumber gay-identified women by (bi?) 2:1. Bisexual-identified men usually hover just below the percentages of gay-identified men. But together, bisexuals outnumber all other groups.
I’ve deemed 2014 to be the year of bisexual visibility. So far it’s been stellar. Please check back for my next blog post on this, and other juicy bisexual topics.
If you’re looking for an informed voice, resource, help on bisexuality, either personally or for your organization, please be sure to contact me.
And remember: there is nothing wrong with being able to acknowledge your ability to have intimacy with both sexes. This is the most natural state there is, one which “monosexuals” have yet to understand or accept. Being able to love all is indicative of an expanded consciousness which is unwilling to see the artificial, non-existent lines others insist are real.
Trust yourself. Know that you are not alone.
The Open University, UK: The Bisexuality Report:Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity
Rainbow Health Ontario: Bisexual Health Fact Sheet
San Francisco Human Rights Commission: Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations