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“What percentage gay are you?” Why biphobia needs to be stamped out completely

“What percentage gay are you?”

It’s a question no gay person will ever hear, but most bisexual people will have answered many times. While it is often assumed that biphobia and homophobia go hand in hand, bisexual people face specific and additional forms of abuse. These can range from annoying comments like “Do you prefer men or women?” to serious health problems. We recently conducted anonymised interviews on social media to find real examples of biphobia and evidence of these wider issues.

Unless told, people rarely assume they’re talking to a bisexual person and will often make unintentionally biphobic comments. Hearing that women “don’t want a boyfriend who’s a sissy” or that your gay friend “would never sleep with a bisexual” soon takes a toll. In fact, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests the primary cause of high STI rates amongst bisexual men is the brutal combination of societal biphobia and biphobia from other members of the LGBT+ community. One interviewee even told us they felt “like a fraud” in many LGBT+ spaces. As a result of such stigma, fewer bisexual men come out of the closet and are less educated about the necessary precautions for safer sex with both men and women.

This ‘one foot in, one foot out’ or ‘half gay, half straight’ perception of bisexuality also creates general anxiety amongst bisexual people who can feel trapped and struggle to come to terms with their identity. Many people conform to a binary view of sexual orientation in which heterosexuality and homosexuality are seen as the only orientations, which erases bisexuality.  Bisexuals also face animosity from other members of the LGBT+ community – most notably gay men and lesbian women. According to sexual health journalist Liz Highleyman, bisexuals are seen as “the partakers of heterosexual privilege” and so are perceived as being somehow disingenuous or secretly closeted by their fellow LGBT+ brothers and sisters.

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Additionally, bisexual women have long been targeted and sexualised by heteronormative forces in the media, in pornography and by straight men everywhere. However, the reality is much grimmer – bisexual women face abnormally high rates of sexual violence. In fact, the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVIS) found that 61% of bisexual women have reportedly been a victim of intimate partner violence, stalking and/or rape, compared to 43% of lesbians and 35% of straight women.

The true extent of declining mental health amongst bisexuals is revealed when we look at their suicide statistics published in Am J Public Health in 2002. Bisexuals are four times more likely to report attempting suicide compared to straight people. When you realise this is still twice as likely as gay men or lesbian women, alarm bells should be ringing.

These issues have gone unnoticed for decades. Fortunately, the LGBT Foundation is now looking to address bi-specific issues and have recently launched The Bi Series Programme as part of LGBT History Month. Open to all bisexual/pansexual/queer people as well as friends, partners and family, it involves a wide range of workshops, talks and activities to improve the visibility and wellbeing of bisexual people. These include a Self Care for Bi People event in March, a Healthy Relationships event in June and one discussing health matters in October.

It is clear that the bisexual community still has many issues regarding discrimination, health and visibility. Hopefully, with the aid of the LGBT Foundation, our community can encourage bi inclusivity and work towards addressing biphobia head on.

Words Jordan Charles and Jacob Huggins, volunteers for LGBT Foundation for The Bi Series Programme

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