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Bisexual reality check for everyone

We’ve all heard the wisecracks. We’ve all seen the smirks and rolling eyes, even from some lesbian, gay and transgender people. And we’d probably object if those jokes and jibes were directed at some other group of people. But, in fact, we are hurting members of our own community — people who are bisexual.

This week is Bisexuality Awareness Week: An opportunity to have a reality check about some of the most misunderstood members of the LGBTQ community.

{mosads}You’ve heard the myths and stereotypes; here are the facts:

First, bisexuals represent more than half of the LGBTQ community, and they are three times less likely to come out as bisexual to their friends and family because of stigma.

Fiction: Bisexuals “don’t exist.”

Second, bisexuals are no different from any other sexual orientation when it comes to sex and commitment. Fiction: Bisexuals are “promiscuous,” people who want to have sex with multiple partners of every gender all the time, and are unable to commit.

Third, when a bisexual person is partnered with people of the same gender or another gender, they are still bisexual. Fiction: Bisexuals can “turn” gay or straight when they are in a relationship with someone of a different gender or that they are “pretending” to be bisexual when they are “really” gay or lesbian.

Four, according to the most comprehensive study to date, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, conducted jointly by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 25 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people identify as bisexual. Fiction: There are no bisexual transgender people.

Finally, bisexual people are clear about the fact that they have the potential to be attracted to more than one gender. Fiction: Bisexual people are “confused.”

When we cut through the myriad of misconceptions, we can actually get to the realities of bisexual people’s lives. And we also see how the impact and stress of the jokes, jibes, stereotypes and misconceptions are no laughing matter.

Let’s take health. The bisexual community faces extreme health disparities as compared to lesbian and gay people and the general public. For example, bisexual people face a higher rate of tobacco use and a higher rate of anxiety or mood disorder compared to heterosexuals, lesbians and gays. Bisexual women are the most likely to have never had a cancer screening (mammogram or pap test) compared to heterosexuals or lesbians — and they have more risk factors for heart disease compared to heterosexuals or lesbians.

This picture is no better in the area of mental health. Studies indicate that bisexuals suffer higher rates of every mood and anxiety disorder — with bisexual women experiencing more anger, self-injury and suicidal thoughts than heterosexual women. And among women, bisexuals reported the highest prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder according the American Journal of Public Health. Therefore it will be of little surprise that the rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts are the highest for bisexual women and men respectively, while bisexual non-binary people, a rising number of individuals who do not identify with male or female gender, often go unstudied despite frequent discussion surrounding bisexuality and binaries. The prevalence of rape is also much higher for bisexual women than lesbians and heterosexual women — 46 percent of bisexual women have experienced rape, and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced some form of sexual violence. Indeed, studies of adult bisexual women reported the highest levels of physical violence, rape, stalking and psychological aggression.

Then there’s poverty and unemployment — with access to a good job with a good employer being key to accessing the promise of America. Bisexual people face some of the highest rates of workplace discrimination. And they face some of the highest rates of poverty in the general population. Remember those jokes about bisexual people? Nearly 60 percent of bisexual employees have had to put up with them at work.

Regardless of what way you look at it, bisexual people face a cacophony of challenges and very high levels of stigma. Is it any wonder that bisexual people are less likely to be out? Is it any wonder that the stresses of discrimination can take such a toll?

So what can we do to change this picture? Here are a few important steps you can take:

Educate yourself. There are plenty of resources available at

Be more aware of bisexual people. Show bisexual people that you value, respect, understand and appreciate them. For example, create an openly bisexual-affirming environment at your place of work, school or church. You can start now by celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week (#biweek).

Be more aware of the language you use. Use bi-inclusive language, for example, use the terms different-sex and same-sex to refer to relationship type instead of “gay” or “straight” couples.

Be aware of diversity. There are many identities that fall under the bisexual umbrella:  “Pansexual,” “fluid,” “queer” and “omnisexual” are just four of dozens. Remember when we said there are a lot of bisexuals? There are also a lot of ways to identify your bisexuality. As an ally you can use these terms to show that you support bisexual diversity. And, most importantly, pay attention to how someone else self-identifies.  Don’t make assumptions and, when in doubt, ask.

Now that you are perhaps more aware, please join us in making a difference for our nation’s bisexual community — and in delivering freedom, justice and equality for our entire LGBTQ community.

Carey is executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force and Cheltenham is president of BiNet USA.


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