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Shedding light on bisexual mental health: Overcoming bi-erasure and building a stronger community


Image of the bisexual flag with the bisexual segment fading away to indicate bi-erasure

Case study by Rhiannon Read

Pride Month is an important time to raise awareness of issues that affect individual cultures that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Through a series of interviews with members of the community, Rhiannon Read explores the often overlooked topic of bisexual mental health.


In today’s culture, perceptions of our identities and personal relationships made by the outside world still carry significant weight, especially when it comes to sharing our sexual orientation and its impact on our mental well-being.


In 2022, a UK study revealed that bisexual adults, particularly young bisexual females, reported the highest rates of chronic mental health issues. While this study is not the first to showcase the disparities in mental health challenges facing bisexual individuals compared with their lesbian and gay counterparts, the exact reasons for this discrepancy remain speculative.


The study suggests that the increased chance of chronic mental health issues among bisexual adults may stem from their simultaneous isolation from both the LGBTQ+ and heterosexual communities. A contributing factor to this isolation is the unique reality of "being out" for bisexuals compared with gay and lesbian individuals. For instance, a 2019 study published by the Pew Research Center found that only 19% of bisexual individuals reported being open about their sexual orientation with important people in their lives, in contrast to 75% of gay and lesbian adults.


Although the experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals share commonalities, we must address the distinct challenges that bisexual individuals encounter on a daily basis, including bi-privilege, biphobia, and bisexual erasure.


Bi-privilege


Bisexual individuals experience a certain level of invisibility that is generally reinforced when they commit to a partner of the opposite sex. People tend to assume that those in a perceived heterosexual relationship or those who are not vocally out about their orientation must be straight. This assumption can offer a sense of relief from the discrimination and stigma those in same-sex relationships constantly face. For some, because these assumptions allow bisexual individuals to “pass as straight” it can be perceived that they possess an advantage or form of privilege compared with their lesbian or gay counterparts.


However, falsely “passing” as a heterosexual carries the heavy weight of hiding one’s true identity, leading to a sense of living a lie. It becomes a double-edged sword; erasing one’s own truth in exchange for societal acceptance. These assumptions are what sustain bi-sexual invisibility and perpetuate the need for bisexuals to compartmentalise and diminish a significant part of their identity, resulting in bisexuals becoming invisible to themselves and unknowingly complicit in their own disappearance.


ALY: “People will always assume your sexual identity from like, the way you dress, the way you talk, the way you act. It’s the same with your cultural identity, your racial identity, all these identities, people will always assume they know and when you don’t fit their assumption, I think that there is such a bad feeling of being wrong that people will turn it around and point [to] you as the problem.”


Biphobia


From within both the heterosexual and LGBTQ+ communities, bisexuality faces stigma. This stigma manifests in negative stereotypes, such as portraying bisexual individuals as hypersexual and dismissing their true orientation as a desire for promiscuity. This further leads people to assume they are less likely to be loyal in relationships because they are attracted towards multiple genders.


Additionally, bisexual individuals may struggle with internalised biphobia, shame, and identity uncertainty influenced by societal attitudes:


ALY: “Well I actually had internalised homophobia, I couldn’t even hang out with gay people in general because it made me so uncomfortable. Basically what I did was stay with straight people who completely sexualised bi-women and who degraded other members of the LGBTQIA+ community; who saw people who did not fit into their straight ideals as basically people who have issues. [...] I denied part of me and what I believe in to be accepted in a group, not because of my sexuality but to have friends.”


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Bi-erasure


Bi-erasure is a pervasive problem that undermines the visibility or validity of bisexuality, either in regard to an individual or as an identity. It appears when individuals, communities, the media, academia and history question, ignore, outright dismiss or falsely explain bisexuality.


Bisexual individuals often feel caught in limbo, perceived as ‘too straight’ for queer spaces and ‘not queer enough’ for gay spaces. This experience may differ for men and women, as men can face stigmatisation and accusations of being in denial about their homosexuality, while women often feel pressured to prove their bisexuality in most likely a performative manner, leading to a sense of fetishisation.


ALY: “Growing up in international communities in Africa, I was 14 years old when I realised.

For women [being bi] was completely sexualised. You could be sexualised for liking women, but also it’s [seen as] ‘just a thing to get more male approval’ and so in that way, you are misunderstood. [...] I felt misunderstood because I was not looking for male attention in that way, I did understand that there was this perspective to it but I did not want it.”


The most extreme case of bi-erasure is the denial that bisexuality itself exists, which is perpetuated by the belief that it is merely a phase and individuals will eventually ‘choose a side’.


CAM: “The problem first started when I was dating this guy. Friends of mine in high school were commenting things like “We knew you liked guys better anyways.” They completely invalidated my identity as a bisexual. It was like they thought that being with my previous girlfriend was a phase or something. Like no, I am not straight or gay, I am bi ­– I picked a partner, not a side!”


Erasure repeats the same harmful messages to bisexuals that they are only confused, indecisive, going through a phase or that they simply want attention. It strips away their agency and enables both the heterosexual and LGBTQ+ communities to define their orientation solely based on the sex or gender of their current partner. Consequently, bisexual individuals are burdened with the constant task of coming out, over and over again, which takes a significant toll on their mental well-being.


CAM: “If you are bi or lesbian it doesn’t change for anyone, but it changes a lot for you because it is your identity that you are defending.”


Creating a safer and inclusive environment


It’s really important that we start fostering environments where bisexual individuals can feel accepted, validated and supported so that we can begin mitigating the negative effects of stigma, biphobia and invisibility that impact their mental health. These spaces will allow bisexual individuals to express their identities, share their stories, and find community, which can be empowering and contribute to their overall mental well-being.


ALY: “I think it’s pretty simple in words but not in actions; one, stop sexualising women for being bi and two, stop shaming men for being bi.”


For instance, there is available access to bi-support through mental health professionals or online communities, like The Bisexual Index and Bi Community News, which provide valuable information and support for bisexual individuals in the UK.


This Pride month, it is important that we celebrate and uplift bisexual individuals as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. By doing this, we are refusing to marginalise them any longer from conversations and representation within the community.


Let’s remember that queer people are diverse and multifaceted, they exist beyond caricatures and stereotypes. By forcing bisexual individuals to subscribe to false binaries and stereotypes denies them their true identity – essentially forcing them into just another closet.


For bisexual individuals, there is no rush or pressure in embracing your truth. In the end, visibility starts from within, acknowledging and embracing your own identity. It’s up to the rest of us in both the LGBTQ+ and straight communities to create a world where bisexual individuals are supported and proud of their whole selves.


For more insights and articles related to LGBTQ+ mental health, visit our Spotlight here


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