Bisexuality is a type of sexual identity where the person is attracted to two or more gender identities within or outside of the gender binary. Unfortunately, bisexual people constantly face forms of backlash – including biphobia and bi-erasure, which contribute to worse mental health outcomes when compared to other members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
What is Biphobia and Bi-Erasure?
GLAAD defines bi-erasure as “a pervasive problem in which the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality (either in general or in regard to an individual) is questioned or denied outright.” For example, if a bisexual man is in a relationship with a man, bi-erasure would saying that he is gay, not bisexual. Conversely, if that same man were to be in a relationship with a woman, bi-erasure would be saying that he is simply straight. Just because a person is in a romantic relationship does not mean their current partner defines their complete sexuality.
Biphobia is a term that is used to describe the stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that bisexual people face. This idea is also referred to as monosexism wherein people believe it is only “correct” to be attracted to one gender. This can occur from a heterosexual perspective where people believe men should only be attracted to women. It can also occur within the LGBTQIA+ community where some believe that someone can be attracted to a person of the same gender, but they cannot also be attracted to any other gender at the same time.
How Does Bi-Erasure and Biphobia Impact Bisexual People?
Since bisexual individuals are neither gay nor straight, they are put in a unique position where they may feel they don’t belong in the straight community or the LGBT community. The constant negation many experience explains why bisexual people have the poorest health outcomes of any sexual minority. The bisexual community faces higher rates of anxiety, depression, suicide ideation, and other mood disorders compared to the gay, lesbian, and heterosexual communities.
There are also gender differences in how being bisexual affects individuals. Bisexual women are often sexualized within patriarchal cultures. One way their identity may be “erased” is by people telling them they just want to engage in a threesome – that they aren’t actually interested in other genders. That’s not to say that bisexual women can’t be interested in threesomes, but it is a form of bi-erasure to say they are only interested in threesomes.
Bisexual men also face unique challenges with biphobia within our patriarchal society. In a survey of over 1,000 women, 63% of them said they would not date a man who has had sex with another man.
Bisexual people may not experience as much discrimination from mainstream society while in what appears to be a heterosexual relationship. However, Robyn Ochs, a speaker, writer, and advocate for bisexuality eloquently explains that conditional acceptance is not acceptance.
Bisexuality may be accepted by society when the person is coupled in an opposite sex relationship, but as soon as the bisexual individual embraces other attractions, they face the same discrimination as gay and lesbian individuals. This explains why bisexual individuals may not feel accepted from either community – their acceptance is based on who they are with at the time instead of them being accepted based on who they are.
3 Ways to Combat Biphobia and Bi-Erasure
1) Believe people when they tell you who they are
No matter the relationship a person may or may not be in, you should never assume someone’s sexual or gender identity. If someone shares with you that they identify as bisexual, instead of questioning it, ask how you can best support them.
2) Explore your own implicit biases
Even if you are a bisexual person or anyone part of the LGBTQIA+ community, society as a whole is incredibly cis- and heteronormative. Because of the way we’re socialized, we all have implicit biases. Exploring those biases and understanding them in LGBTQ affirming therapy can help better avoid and combat biphobia and bi-erasure.
3) Visit the Bisexual Resource Center
The bisexual resource center provides information, resources, and community groups. Whether you’re bisexual and hoping to join a community, or if you’re just curious about learning more about bisexuality in general, this is a great place to start. Educating yourself helps combat the harmful effects that minority communities face.
Bisexual people experience significantly high rates of mental health conditions and feelings of not belonging. Keeping an open mind and being aware of their unique experiences can help to create a more inclusive community regardless of someone’s sexual orientation.