The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, also known as the NLGJA, defines biphobia as “fear, hatred or dislike of bisexuality or bisexuals. May be harbored by lesbians, gays and transgender people as well as heterosexuals.” The GLAAD Media Reference Guide defines it similarly: “Fear of bisexuals, often based on stereotypes, including inaccurate associations with infidelity, promiscuity, and transmission of sexually transmitted infections.”
Aren’t those similar stereotypes to homosexuality?
Those are often some of the same stereotypes applied to gay people, but As bi activist and author Kate Harrad told VICE in 2016:
Biphobia is not homophobia. We share a lot of the same issues, but we can get rejected by lesbian and gay communities. I’ve heard so many bisexual people talking about how they come out to gay and lesbian friends, and the response has been that they can’t hang out anymore. I’ve also heard stories of bisexual people calling up gay switchboards, and they’ve been told “you’re going through a phase.” To get rejected from somewhere you were hoping to find acceptance is particularly worse in some ways. You’ll get rejected from a lot of the straight communities, but at least you’re prepared for it.
I’m surprised that lesbian and gay people would say that to other people who aren’t straight.
That’s part of what separates “biphobia” from “homophobia.” There’s a prevailing idea among some gay and lesbian circles that bisexuality doesn’t exist, and that people who are bisexual are actually just confused or in denial. These were echoed in a 2014 New York Times Magazine piece called, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists.” A lawyer named Brad Kane was quoted, saying, “There’s this idea, especially among gay men, that guys who say they’re bisexual are lying, on their way to being gay, or just kind of unserious and unfocused.” Ellyn Ruthstrom, who was the president of the Bisexual Resource Center in Boston, said that the stereotypes include the idea “that bisexual people are lying to ourselves or to others, that we’re confused, that we can’t be trusted.”
Can’t be trusted?
As the aforementioned Harrad told VICE in 2016, “there is this idea that bisexual people are never satisfied or that we are promiscuous. The presumption is that we need a lot of partners and will cheat. It’s misunderstanding bisexuality and treating it as a personality type.”
Bisexual activist Robyn Ochs, interviewed for Huffington Post, expanded upon this idea when discussing the idea that bisexual people are overlooked because they’re assumed to be straight or gay:
If we see a bisexual person alone, they will most likely be read as heterosexual because that’s the default assumption in this culture. If we see a bisexual woman with a woman, we see a lesbian couple – or two straight friends. If she’s with a man, we read [them as] a straight couple. So the only time bisexual people are visible is when we are loudly and openly promiscuous or polyamorous. As a result, people are left with two misassumptions: that there aren’t that many bisexual people, and that all bisexual people, are, by definition, polyamorous. Now, or course some are, but so, too, are some straight people, some lesbians, and some gay men. I simply challenge the idea that that polyamory is a definitional characteristic of bisexuality. But because of this, bisexual people who are single or monogamous are erased.
Erased, because they are assumed to be gay or straight?
Right, and as Harrad said in her interview, some bisexual people have been pressured to “make your mind up” and “pick a team.”
As in, they are allowed to be gay or straight, but not be bisexual?
Right. This is a common attitude. A 2013 Los Angeles Times story explained that is why some bisexual people decide to not come out, because people who are out might have to deal with harassment.
For example, in that Los Angeles Times story, a bisexual man named Jeremy Stacy said he was at a Pride parade in West Hollywood when someone challenged him on his bisexuality:
“One guy came up to me and said, ‘You’re really gay,’ ” said Stacy, who was standing under a sign reading “Ask a Bisexual.” “I told him I had a long line of ex-girlfriends who would vehemently disagree. And he said, ‘That doesn’t matter, because I know you’re gay.'”
Stacy had gotten the question before. From a friend who said anyone who had slept with men must be gay — even if he had also slept with women. From women who assumed he would cheat on them. From a boyfriend who insisted Stacy was really “bi now, gay later” — and dumped him when he countered he was “bi now, bi always.”
Wow. This sounds like it can be a lot to deal with.
It is. In 2017, Ethan Mereish, a psychologist and associate professor at American University, talked to The Washington Post about how these types of experiences can negatively affect bisexual people’s health:
We know that bisexual people are often invisible, invalidated and stigmatized — experiencing multiple forms of discrimination from the heterosexual community and lesbian and gay community… This creates pressure to conceal their identity as well as internalize these stigma[s]. … These types of stressors and double discrimination are related to increased feelings of loneliness, and it’s these feelings of loneliness that heavily contributed to experiencing depression, anxiety and suicidality.
This same article reported that “bisexual individuals have higher rates of depression and anxiety and are at a higher risk for suicide than gay and lesbian folks. They also report more experiences of physical pain than their gay and lesbian peers.”
Wow. I didn’t realize biphobia could have such an effect on one’s mental health.
It can. And it’s because of mental health that some groups, including the LGBTQIA+ Resource Center at UC Davis, are changing the way they discuss it. In the resource center’s robust glossary on LGBTQ+ issues, there’s a note explaining that…
…as a staff, we’ve been intentionally moving away from using words like ‘transphobic,’ ‘homophobic,’ and ‘biphobic’ because (1) they inaccurately describe systems of oppression as irrational fears, and (2) for some people, phobias are a very distressing part of their lived experience and co-opting this language is disrespectful to their experiences and perpetuates ableism.
The GLAAD Media Reference Guide‘s description of biphobia explained that “intolerance, bias, or prejudice is usually a more accurate description of antipathy toward bisexual people.”
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