This week, September 19th through the 26th marks bisexual awareness week; which is a week that aims to educate, inform, and inspire people about the bisexual community. Today, September 23rd, we celebrate Bisexuality Day, a holiday that was created eighteen years ago to promote bi-visibility.
Bisexuality has become more common and according to a 2015 study by YouGov estimates that around 29% of 18 to 29-year-olds identify as not being 100% heterosexual. However, despite 1 in 3 people identifying as somewhat bisexual, bisexuals still face heaps of discrimination, both within heterosexual society and the queer community.
According to a 2013, study performed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Health, “men who identify themselves as heterosexual are three times more likely to categorize bisexuality as ‘not a legitimate sexual orientation,’ an attitude that can encourage negative health outcomes in people who identify as bisexual”. Although bisexual individuals make up a large percentage of the LGBTQ community, there are still huge stigmas surrounding those who identify as bi When asked what words that they would associate with bisexuality, college students within the study replied with “confused”, “different”, and “experimental”. While both male and female bisexuals experience criticism over their sexual identities, it is important to recognize the different cultural stigmas that each gender experiences.
Let’s first start off easy, examining the ways in which bisexual women both receive benefit and harm from their sexual identity. Now I’m sure that everyone has a pretty clear idea in his or her head about how society feels about bisexual self-identified women, but you may not have considered how this stereotype affects true bisexuals. In western culture, bisexual women are highly fetishized and their identities are often perceived as being a passing phase or a means to gain attention from men. It is believed that every attractive woman is a bisexual but that they only act upon their bisexual-ness during their early adulthood. This set of beliefs is completely ridiculous and many people don’t realize that these set standards bring actual harm to bisexual and queer women.
In a 2013 and 2014 study conducted by the University of Vanderbilt, “bisexual women were 2 times more likely to report ‘moderate psychological distress’ and nearly 3.5 times more like to report 'severe psychological distress' than their heterosexual counterparts”. Many may assume that women benefit from their bisexuality because it’s considered to be sexy and cute, yet unlike other sexual identities, people can’t seem to take it seriously and many female bisexuals hide their real identities because of the judgment they have received in the past.
Male bisexuals on the other hand experience something very different. While female bisexuality is encouraged by heteronormative culture, men who identify as bisexual are not as celebrated within the straight and queer communities. People tend to believe that bisexual men do not exist and that many men identify as bisexual as a way to disguise their true identity as a gay man. And with the way that masculinity plays a role in our society, coming out as bisexual can not only be frightening but dangerous for many men. It’s fair to say that because of the way male sexuality is handled and the rigidity of masculine culture, bisexual men tend on average to have a more difficult time than bisexual women navigating the world as someone in the queer community.
The same study by the University of Vanderbilt also reported on the behaviors of male bisexuals, finding that “bisexual men were 2.5 times more likely to report ‘moderate psychological distress’ and nearly 5 times more like to report ‘severe psychological distress’ than their heterosexual counterparts”. And this study only calculates those who admit to being bisexual, and in a 2016 conducted by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, men hide their bisexuality from female partners “as a strategy to avoid anticipated stigmatizing responses from their social networks such as ridicule, rejection, and victimization”. Many bisexual men not only fear being typecast as gay but worry that their female partners will think that they have a higher chance of carrying a sexually transmitted disease or will be non-monogamous during a relationship. On the flip side, bisexual men may also experience criticism and prejudice from gay men who believe that someone cannot be romantically and sexually attracted to both genders.
In addition, there isn’t nearly as much bi-visibility for men as there is for women. Within the media, there are countless bisexual women featured on television and in film. Openly identifying bisexual men, however, are a lot more difficult to come by and they are hardly ever featured in leading roles. Some notable bisexual characters are Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones, and Francis Underwood from House of Cards. It’s become very common for gay men (and obviously straight men), both on screen and in real life, to be recognized and represented however for some reason if a guy likes both genders people can’t seem to understand it.
But with both bisexual men and women, What society doesn’t seem to get is that there is a huge difference between straight women who experiment with women and people who actually identify as not 100% straight, although it’s important to recognize that college dating culture may not be sophisticated enough to understand the spectrum of bisexuality. Same goes for the fact that general society has a hard time understanding that it is, in fact, possible for a man to be attracted to men without identifying as homosexual. And the problem lies within a lack of education about the bisexual community as well as a flawed system of categorizing gender identity.
Many people are taught that sexual orientation can be broken up categorically and read on a spectrum. I like to think, however, of sexual identity as a scatter plot that can change over time. Realistically, everyone has their own unique sexual identity that is created over the course of time due to someone’s individual experiences and ideas. Not every bisexual person is 50/50 male or female and you shouldn’t judge the way someone identifies simply by his or her relationship history. There are plenty of people who identify as bisexual yet have never or may never act on their bisexuality because they are in a monogamous relationship. And that doesn’t make them any less bisexual because the attraction is still there even if it isn’t being acted upon. Not to mention people can change their identities as time goes on, for instance, they may at one point in their lives identify as straight but then come to realize that they’re actually gay but then eventually settle on being bisexual or queer. And some people don’t fit on the traditional spectrum in any shape or form, such as asexual, demisexual, and gray-sexual. It’s time to end the hate on bisexuals by realizing that their identities are actually a lot more individualized than we may think but in addition understand how sexual labels can be limiting in general.
Photo Courtesy of FCKH8.com, YouGov.com, Capitol Records, Netflix
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