Today, September 23, is Celebrate Bisexuality Day, part of Bisexual Awareness Week. There are many myths out there regarding bisexuality, but there's one in particular that I've noticed gaining increasing traction lately.

In the context of "homosexual" and "heterosexual," (“homo” meaning same and “hetero” meaning different), "bisexual" means being attracted to both similar and dissimilar genders. Some people also use the term to mean being attracted to two or more genders, not necessarily binary genders. Very rarely have I encountered anyone who self-identifies as bi who is attracted only to binary men and women. This is still a widespread belief about the term, though.

Many people use a different term, such as “pansexual,” “polysexual,” or “omnisexual,” to indicate that they are attracted to more than just men and women, or that gender is not a factor in whom they find attractive. We should, of course, respect whatever terms people use to self-identify, but we need to be careful not to erase others' identities when we define our own. If you're more comfortable with a term such as pansexual, that's great, but please do not assume that bisexuality is binary. These days, it seems that the most common negative reaction to me mentioning that I'm bisexual is the repetition of the bi = binary myth. This myth and its frequent repetition distracts from the issues facing the bi+ community (an umbrella term for bisexuals and other non-monosexual people) and uses nonbinary people as political footballs.

I have sometimes used bisexual and pansexual interchangeably to describe my sexual orientation, but I usually use bi because more people are familiar with the term, among other reasons that are harder to articulate. Occasionally, I wonder if I should switch to pan, to avoid the appearance that I'm attracted only to binary genders, but it feels as though switching would be conceding that that's what bisexual really means, and I don't want to give that impression.

It also feels as though I'd be erasing my nonbinary bisexual partner, and the many other nonbinary people who identify as bisexual. Nonbinary bi people who encounter the bi = binary myth from others are essentially being accused of erasing themselves. To be fair, though, that could explain how my partner is able to sneak up on me sometimes: double invisibility superpowers!BiPride2

Bi invisibility is a large part of why we need a Bisexual Awareness Week. It is easy to assume that someone is gay or straight based on the perceived gender of their current partner. In addition, bi people are more likely than gay men or lesbians to remain closeted. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, while about 40% of LGBT people identify as bisexual, only 28% of bisexuals are out to all or most of the important people in their lives, contrasted with 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians.

Bi invisibility, erasure, and biphobia contribute to the health disparities between the B and LG portions of the LGBTQIA+ community. In addition to disparities in physical health, bisexuals have poorer mental health outcomes, such as higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders; higher rates of self-harm, thoughts of ending their lives, and attempts to do so; and lower levels of social support than gay men, lesbians, and heterosexuals. According to a joint report from the Human Rights Campaign and three national bi organizations, “Several studies have found that heterosexual, gay and lesbian individuals may all have negative attitudes toward bisexuality, indicating that bisexual individuals face double discrimination.”

Further discrimination occurs at the intersections of bisexuality and other oppressed identities. According to surveys, 41% of LGBT people of color identify as bisexual, and about half of transgender people identify as bisexual or queer. People who live life at these intersections often encounter prejudice and discrimination from more than one community. For example, Black bisexual cisgender men experience racism, homophobia, biphobia, and a unique intersection between racism and biphobia in the form of an exaggerated fear of HIV, due to the media narrative of the “down low” bisexual Black man. This narrative, according to Black polysexual scholar Dr. Herukhuti, “disempowers Black women sexually, intellectually, and morally as well as demonizes Black men, while ignoring the systemic and structural forces at work in a racist, sexist, heterosexist, erotophobic, and classist society that places Black women and Black men at greater risk of poverty, death, and disease.”

According to a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 41% of transgender and gender nonconforming people have attempted to end their own lives. They are nearly four times more likely than the general population to live in extreme poverty, with a household income of less than $10,000 a year. Trans and gender nonconforming people as a whole are unemployed at twice the rate of the general population, often losing jobs due to transphobia, and trans people of color are unemployed at rates up to four times the national unemployment rate. As if all of that weren't enough, trans people, especially trans women of color, are murdered with alarming frequency. Trans people who are bi face all of these disparities and more in addition to dealing with biphobia and the disparities resulting from it.

In light of the prejudice and discrimination faced by so many in the bi+ community, we cannot afford to keep further dividing our community with a never-ending semantic debate. Instead, let us lift each other up and celebrate our various non-monosexual identities, without disparaging others within the community who choose a different label for themselves. Archaic definitions aside, bisexuality goes way beyond the binary.


For local resources, support and further information on the St. Louis area bisexual community please check out the Bisexual Alliance of St. Louis.




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