What does being bisexual mean?
Bisexuality is an emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to people whose biological sex may be different than or the same as their own. Even within the bi community it is important to recognise that sexuality varies from person to person. The use and accuracy of “bisexuality” is itself often debated, yet one common theme is that some people are attracted to a person regardless of gender. A bi person does not need to be equally attracted to men and women (but can be), and bisexuality expresses itself in varying levels of fluidity.
What sort of problems do bisexual people and professionals have to deal with?
(1) Disbelief in bisexuality, and bi-erasure
One of the biggest issues that the bi community faces is a disbelief in its existence. This makes it especially difficult to promote understanding and provide support to those with associated problems (discussed below). Bisexuals are often regarded as indecisive, going through a phase, secretly gay, or doing it for someone else.
Kenji Yoshino, professor at the New York University School of Law
the lesbian and gay community abounds with negative images of bisexuals as fence-sitters, traitors, cop-outs, closet cases, people whose primary goal in life is to retain 'heterosexual privilege'", and that they are regarded as having less to lose than lesbians or gay men. This creates a greater risk of marginalisation because they can be rejected by both straight and gay communities.
(2) Lack of visibility of bi people/role models
In the most recent Stonewall Workplace Equality Index, just 11% of LGB respondents felt there were open bi role models in their workplace. This is compared to over 50% for gay men, over 40% for lesbians, and the 19% of trans respondents who felt there were open trans role models at work. Only 12% of bi professionals felt comfortable being out, compared to 33% of gay men.
(3) Perception of promiscuity and prejudice
Although we know this isn't accurate (for example, Dr Diamond’s ten-year study showed 89% of bisexual women were in monogamous, long-term relationships), being aware such associations may be made about you in personal or professional life can be a hindrance to coming out and/or feeling accepted. Studies have shown that people who hide their identities do not advance as far in their careers and are more likely to encounter mental health issues, while those who are free to come out are happier, have fewer mental health problems, and improve not only their own career potential but their coworkers’ productivity as well.
Dr MJ Barker, senior lecturer in psychology who led
The Bisexuality Report
, said "Government policy and equalities agendas generally consider lesbian, gay and bisexual issues together. However bisexual people often face prejudice from within lesbian and gay groups as well as heterosexual communities."
(4) The different perceptions of bisexual women and men
Bi men are more likely to remain closeted than bi women, particularly in the workplace and in elite professions and roles. This is for many reasons – partly because there is an assumption that men’s sexuality is fixed, so they can only be straight or gay, while women’s sexuality is more ‘fluid’.
study of LGBT Americans
, when asked whether there is “a lot” of acceptance of bisexual women, only 33% of LGBT respondents said yes, however a mere 8% of LGBT respondents agreed with the statement when applied to men.
(5) Mental health
‘The Bisexuality Report
found that bisexual people are prone to higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide, all of which are embedded in biphobia, suffering the worst mental health problems of anyone based on their sexuality. In addition the
CDC in 2010
found that bisexual women are more likely to be abused than women identifying as lesbian or straight.
Stonewall's ground-breaking research into workplace productivity has shown that lesbian, gay, and bisexual staff are more efficient, confident, creative, and motivated when they feel able to be open about their sexual orientation. On the other hand, those not able to be open about their sexual oritentation tend to report that they feel both unhappy and disconnected from their work. Although coming out in the office can be a difficult issue for anyone, as a result of these narrow understandings of bisexuality, coming out as bi is uniquely challenging. To avoid doubts about the validity of their identity, they may feel that they are hiding their orientation due to the gender of their partner. The tendency for a bisexual person to be perceived as either straight or gay based on their current partner can exacerbate the mental health issues of being closeted - in a sense, a bi person often comes out of one closet only to enter another.
How can bi professionals help the wider LGTQ community?
The Bisexuality Report
highlighted several positive aspects related to bisexual peoples’ experiences, such as the ability to develop identities and relationships without restrictions. Having a strong sense of independence, self-awareness and authenticity were also mentioned in the report.
Bisexual people also speak of their acceptance and appreciation of others’ differences, and feel well-placed to notice and challenge social biases and assumptions beyond sexuality.
I'm not bisexual, can I still be involved?
We welcome individuals from the greater LGTQ and pan community, as well as straight allies.
Is bisexuality transphobic?
It is sometimes said that bisexuality discriminates against trans people and people of non-binary genders. This is often because people think bisexuality can refer only to attraction by men or women to (cis, or non-trans) men or women.
Some people view bisexuality in this way, and prefer the term ‘pansexual’ to cover attraction to non- binary or trans people. Yet many others view bisexuality “as an attraction to more than one gender” – including all bi advocacy organisations, institutions like the Open University, and charities such as Mind – and this is now the generally accepted meaning. So bisexuality includes awareness of, and attraction to, trans and non-binary people.
I am reading your page on behalf of my company/firm, how can we help as an organisation?
We welcome support from companies, firms and other organisations. You can help us in a variety of ways such as offering sponsorship or hosting events - to discuss this in more detail please contact our commitee (below) at email@example.com.
Stonewall's recent Workplace Equality Index stressed the importance of bi-specific events, so this is also a great way for your company to fulfil its diversity objectives.