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Isn’t There a “B” in LGBT? A Look at Biphobia.

May 17, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Commentary, Thought of the Gay

biphobiaThere are many issues involving the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.  As a gay man, it is easy for me to see the issues that affect me in my day to day life. It also isn’t difficult to make the jump from gay man to lesbian as far as social and legal ramifications. However, when asked to discuss the issue of biphobia within the “gay” community, I found myself at a loss.  I tried to think of examples of biphobia and found myself walking down dangerous terrain of stereotypes and generalizations.

If you prescribe to the Kensian view of sexuality, that sexuality is fluid and we all fall somewhere on the scale between 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), then we could, for the sake of simplicity, place bisexuals as anything other than zero or six on the scale.  However, many sexologists have argued that Kinsey’s scale does not accurately show all the variances of sexual orientation.

With that in mind, Dr. Fritz Klein attempted to further measure sexual orientation by expanding upon the earlier Kinsey Scale to include the variables of sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle preference and self identification.  The scale also considered three time periods for sexual orientation identification.

But what does all this mean as it relates to the issue of biphobia?  I find myself back to the basic question, what is biphobia?

From the article: What is Biphobia? Adapted from the Bisexual Resource Center (1998).

Examples of Biphobia:

  • Assuming that everyone you meet is either heterosexual or lesbian/gay .
  • Assuming that bisexuals are confused or indecisive about their sexuality.
  • Assuming that bisexuals are promiscuous or cannot live monogamously.
  • Assuming that bisexuals are attracted to everyone.
  • Assuming that people who identify as bisexual are “really” lesbian or gay, but are in denial.
  • Assuming that bisexuals, if given the choice, would prefer to be with someone of a different gender than themselves to gain some of the privileges of being perceived as heterosexual.
  • Believing that people who are bisexual spread HIV/AIDS.
  • Automatically assuming that two women together are lesbians, that two men together are gay, or that a man and a woman together are heterosexual.
  • Not wanting to date someone who is bisexual because you assume that the person will eventually leave you for someone of another gender.
  • Thinking of people who are bisexual only in terms of their sexuality, rather than as whole, complex persons.

Let’s take each of the above examples of biphobia and examine them in greater detail:

  1. Assuming that everyone you meet is either heterosexual or lesbian/gay.  I’ve often, and sometimes jokingly, prescribed to the theory that everyone I meet is gay, until they tell me otherwise.  This is a result of the many times it’s been assumed that I’m a heterosexual until I tell them otherwise.  I’ve never considered this to be a “biphobic” way of thinking, but rather a reaction to societal assumptions of sexual orientation.  However, this assumption forces a binary view of sexuality, you are either straight or gay.
  2. Assuming that bisexuals are confused or indecisive about their sexuality.  For this, we must look back at the Kinsey Scale discussed above.  To assume that those that fall somewhere between one and five on the scale are confused about their sexual orientation is grossly inaccurate and encompasses a large segment of the population.  In fact, the Kinsey Report (although controversial in its findings) indicated that 46% of his male subjects had reacted sexually to persons of both sexes and that 37% had at least one homosexual experience.
  3. Assuming that bisexuals are promiscuous or cannot live monogamously.  This biphobic belief looks at bisexuals as nothing more than sexual beings and excludes emotional attatchments and attractions altogether.  Like any person, bisexuals are capable of loving an individual monogamously in spite of having sexual desires for both sexes.  To assume that monogamy cannot exist in a bisexual would be similar to assuming that monogamy cannot exist with a heterosexual or homosexual.  For example, when a heterosexual man falls in love with a woman he continues to find other women attractive.  This attraction does not mean he cannot remain faithful to the woman he loves.  The same applies in bisexual relationships.
  4. Assuming that bisexuals are attracted to everyone. I’ve pondered this one a lot looking for a way to relate how asinine this assumption is.  It seems to me this assumption would be similar to assuming that because I’m a homosexual, I’m attracted to every man I see.  I’m certain that is not the case as I have no sexual attraction toward numerous men and do have a “type” of man I generally find myself to be attracted.  My attraction to other men is very rigid and I rarely find myself attracted to men who fit the stereotypical macho persona.  If I’m not attracted to ALL men, how could I assume that bisexuals are attracted to all people.
  5. Assuming that people who identify as bisexual are “really” lesbian or gay, but are in denial.  There’s a saying that comes to mind upon reading that assumption, “To thine own self be true.”  I’ve known and been friends with many bisexuals.  One of them is currently in a long-term monogamous lesbian relationship, but still identifies as a bisexual, the other is a woman in a relationship with a man.  At no point have I ever considered either of these people to be “in denial.”   In fact, I’ve generally felt that they are more in touch with their own sexual identity than I am as they have had to overcome prejudices from the heterosexual and homosexual communities in order to stay true to their own selves.  This “denial” theory was even propagated more in an op-ed piece posted on the premiere social networking site for gay men, gay.com, titled, “Can Guys Actually be BiSexual?”  The author determined that “no,” men must be either gay or straight.
  6. Assuming that bisexuals, if given the choice, would prefer to be with someone of a different gender than themselves to gain some of the privileges of being perceived as heterosexual.  This “assumption” gets to the heart of the matter. When one is exclusively homosexual and in a long-term homosexual relationship, we are often told or even vocalize ourselves that we wish we could be in heterosexual relationships so that we wouldn’t have to face the level of discrimination and injustices placed on gay people.  We then likely make the jump and tell ourselves, “Well, if I were bisexual, I would certainly make an exclusive relationship with someone of the opposite sex in order to avoid this harassment and judgment. Life would be so much easier.”  However, we do not control our emotions.  They come and go as they please.  Sure we may be able to hide the emotions we are feeling, but they are there and forever present.
  7. Believing that people who are bisexual spread HIV/AIDS.  This assumption is based on the very archaic belief that HIV/AIDS is a “gay” disease.  Many heterosexuals argued that bisexuals were the ones that brought HIV/AIDS from the gay community into the heterosexual community.  This assumption disregards the facts about HIV/AIDS and the way the disease spreads.  Although HIV does spread through sexual contact, it also has spread through intravenous drug use and blood transfusions.  The assumption also ignores behavior as a factor.  It is not sex alone that spreads HIV/AIDS, but the sexual behaviors of individuals.  Believing that bisexuals are the cause of HIV/AIDS spreading assumes that all bisexuals are engaging in high risk sexual activity and disregards individual identities within the bisexual community.
  8. Automatically assuming that two women together are lesbians, that two men together are gay, or that a man and a woman together are heterosexual.  This is an easy assumption to make and I’m fairly certain I would make the same assumptions if I saw a couple – two men, gay; two women, lesbian; opposite sex couple, heterosexual.  It stands to reason that we would make these assumptions unless told otherwise by the couple, but these assumptions are about labeling people, something most of us do in order to define things within the scope of our own perceptions. Really, the identification here should be left to the parties in the relationship.  I’ve had some bisexual friends explain that once they were in a long-term, monogamous relationship with someone, they have defined themselves based upon that relationship.  Other friends have relayed that they remain bisexual in spite of the monogamous heterosexual or homosexual relationship as they still have attraction toward others, they just no longer act on those attractions due to their love of their partner.
  9. Not wanting to date someone who is bisexual because you assume that the person will eventually leave you for someone of another gender.  This is a fear that I’ve even vocalized.  Competing with one gender is difficult enough – until you are confident in your relationship, you may have this constant fear that the person you are with will find someone else and leave you.  Add the idea of having to compete with someone of a different gender than yourself and it’s enough to make you say, “I’d never date a bisexual.”  However, again this assumption takes out the factor of exclusive love and is based entirely around the idea of sexual attraction and desire.
  10. Thinking of people who are bisexual only in terms of their sexuality, rather than as whole, complex persons.  We are all a culture of labels and often group people into categories in order to decide whether that person falls into an interest category [being a group we want to associate with] or a non-interest category [groups we wouldn’t ordinarily associate with].  This is human nature.  However, if we clump bisexuals into a category based solely on their sexual orientation or identity, we are doing to them exactly what the heterosexual community has been doing to gay people – focusing on one factor their sexuality over all aspects of their being.  At some point, we must decide to no longer use sexual orientation as a basis for categorizing our “interest” or “non-interest” groups.  We may surprise ourselves.

As a gay man, writing about biphobia is not something I’ve found easy.  In fact, while reviewing various articles about the topic, I found myself unknowingly guilty of many of the stereotypes and assumptions listed above thinking them to be harmless perceptions about bisexuals and their relationships.  After careful review of many web resources and information, I’ve concluded that even I have a lot to learn about biphobia and bisexuality.  I encourage you to do the same and walk the path with me to understanding so that we may first eliminate these forms of discrimination within the LGBT community and ultimately eliminate them in all communities.

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17 Comments to “Isn’t There a “B” in LGBT? A Look at Biphobia.”


  1. Thank you for a very reflective, honest and insightful look at these issues. I think a lot of bisexuals are hesitant to self identify, even in supposedly safe groups, because of these assumptions. Both straights and lesbians/gays especially seem to assume that if a person is truly bisexual they’re inherently going to be non-monogomaous, and that if they are monogamous then they’re not truly bisexual.

    One of my favorite books on this is “Getting Bi” by Linda Ochs, with short personal stories from all over the world and several thoughtful essays.

    Adriana Kraft

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  2. If only the Gay community would stop judging ourselves. We need to accept each other and move forward. Doing this would allow the community to gather strength in numbers and purpose. As a lesbian hoping for change in the way that my country and its citizens view me and my relationship, I would hope that one day I will be afforded the rights granted under the constitution of the US. The laws of discrimination have got to be revoked and stopped when up for vote. To do this, the Gay community needs to evolve! Discrimination against bisexuals, or even transexuals, needs to stop.

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  3. One of your best posts Jay. So heartfelt, honest and logical. Leave it up for a while. It took me a while to realize that if I’m not attracted to every man (and I’m straight), then the same applies to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

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  4. PixieDrea says:

    Jay,

    Wow! Talk about hitting close to home! It’s amazing how many people assume that I’m hetero, since I’m dating a man. While I do love him to no end, and can’t imagine being with anyone else, EVER, I still am a bisexual. He and I have been in a monogamous relationship for 5 yrs strong, so that dispels the myth of ‘promiscuity’. I didn’t choose him so that I could ‘blend’, it’s just that I really love him, and he loves me. And yes, I’m still very much attracted to women.

    Funny thing is, he identifies me as gay. It’s something that he and I have talked about before. For him, the ability to fall in love with a person of the same sex would identify that person as gay. Since I can, and have fallen in love with a woman, to him that is what makes me gay. Since he doesn’t feel he would ever be able to fall in love with a man, that makes him hetero. What’s interesting in his point of view is that it has nothing to do with sexuality at all, and everything to do with emotions.

    Was it a coincidence that you used my tattoo for #5? As a bisexual, and as a friend of yous, I don’t ever feel that you (or your sweet boy) has ever held any biphobia against me. That isn’t to say I’ve never felt it in the community, because I have. I haven’t been a part of the LGBT community in almost 5 years because of the almost hatred I feel from most members of the community in regards to my sexuality. How can the same community that embraced me when I dated a woman disregard me like yesterday’s garbage now that I’m dating a man? I had to come out to my family like everyone else. I’ve been ostracized at work like everyone else. I marched on the capital, and in many parades, like everyone else. Don’t I deserve to be part of the community I’ve spent so much time trying to help?

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  5. Yes yes yes! This is absolutely the truth of it.

    Also, have you seen the Klein Grid of Sexual Orientation? It’s better, I think, than Kinsey, even though it does wind up with a single number: http://kleingridonline.com/index.php

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  6. @PixieDrea

    While I do…and believe, I have always identified as Gay I would like to think I could fall in love with anyone for the same reasons I fell on love with Jay. Aside from the obvious physical aspects of what it is to be Gay, of the things I have always found attractive…there is empathy, honesty and the ability to offer and accept support; unconditionally.

    Drea, in so many ways you have offered all of those things to me. And I’m sure Jay feels the same. You accepted me when I was so unsure of myself. You allowed me to simply be without judgment, while I had to make the decisions I made; for better or for worse.

    Upon reading Jay’s post, I recognize the misconceptions that perhaps I even have – I mean had – about those identifying as bisexual. Oddly enough, I thought “I’ve never known anyone who is bisexual!”

    I never thought of you as bisexual. I guess I never have. I guess it never mattered.

    I fell in love with you for all of those reasons one falls in love with another. You possess empathy, honesty and the ability to offer and accept support; unconditionally. Nothing could ever remove you from this family; not even being bisexual.

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  7. thank you so much for the article! sometimes i don’t even realize how marginalized i feel! thank you for talking about it!

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  8. Wow, Jay! I just followed your link from the Join the Impact site, and I’m going to send the link to my daughter, who is bisexual. She’s been feeling marginalized at gay-rights events we’ve gone to. For example, at the Join the Impact march we went to in November, the speaker talked about all the people who had gathered there: “Gay, lesbian, transgender and allies.” And at last year’s Pride march, she sighed and said, “I feel like I don’t have the right to wear these rainbow colors.” She said she’d been told by her lesbian friends that “there’s no such thing as bisexual; you’re just too chicken to come out. Or maybe you’re just pretending to like girls to try to make yourself look cool.”

    We went to a wonderful talk by Robyn Ochs, who made many of the same points you did. One of them was the obvious source of the myth of promiscuity: monogamous bisexuals are invisible. Only the players are easy to identify, so that becomes the stereotype.

    I may be a case in point. I’ve always had some attraction to women, but I’ve never had sex with anyone but my husband of 30 years, and don’t intend to, so I identify as straight (though lately I’ve modified it to “mostly straight”.)

    Robyn Ochs also talked about shades of attraction. A person may have very specific types they’re attracted to, even a bisexual person. She herself (if I remember correctly) likes boyish women and girly men, but she has a friend who prefers girly women and manly men. Yet both of them use the label bisexual, even though they’re not attracted to the same people at all.

    Anyway, I told my daughter if she’d come on the Pride march with me this year, we could fly the bi colors, though I like the rainbow better. After all, those rainbow colors signify total inclusiveness. Or they should.

    Thanks again, Jay, for a great article!

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  9. Ryan Purdom says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have been fighting biphobia since I first came out. I will admit that I was pretty confused at one point in life where I flip-flopped from gay to straight. However, as I grew, I realized more and more that I am both. I can’t change that and it hasn’t changed. I am very glad that you are a gay man that is taking it upon yourself to educate yourself. One of the things that hurts the most is that lesbians and gays look at us in these biphobic manners. I’m even hesitant to pronounce my sexuality inside my gay-straight alliance group because of these notions that people hold about us. Once again, thank you.

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  10. This is a great article. My most recently experience with biphobia was when I came out to a doctor and he asked me some questions I doubt he’d have asked a gay or straight person, such as “But if you’ve only been in one relationship, how can you know?” and “Are you in an open relationship?” This wasn’t a doctor who needed to know a damn thing about STIs or anything, either– it was a psychiatrist.

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  11. Sally Goldner says:

    Hi Jay

    A great article, particularly that you can admit to having to check your own assumptions and learn/re-think. That’s the sort of qualities we need to overcome biphobia…come to think of it, in overcoming prejudice of virtually any type. Awesome.

    Sally Goldner
    Treasurer
    Bisexual Alliance Victoria
    Melbourne, Australia

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  12. Thank you so much for doing the personal journey to be able to write this article. As a bisexual woman I think I find biphobia in the homosexual community even more painful than biphobia in straight society. I really appreciate hearing this analysis from a gay man.

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  13. Thanks for writing this! I’m bi and secure in that identity, but in the past have felt pushed-at, even bullied to identify as lesbian or at the least to repeatedly acknowledge them as better, more real queers who suffer more.

    This isn’t going to happen.

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  14. I’ve been trying to leave a comment for that last couple of hours but they’ve been judged to be spam 🙁

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  15. thank you for putting into concise and understandable words, things I have been thinking and feeling for a number of years. I have been the subject of both ridicule and confusion from both heterosexual and homosexual family, friends and strangers. This ranges from “pick a side already”, “you can’t just pick and choose when you feel like it”,”you’re straight, you’re just bored” ” you’re just trying to turn guys on” and so on and so forth. any group who isn’t the dominate in society and have been marginalised both by the legal system and society as a whole should not rally against themselves. but if asking for acceptance, accept in return. <3 your article

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  16. Simply wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the observations, self reflection, and awareness you just brought. I’ve battled with my own self identity for years because I felt I had to fit into some clear cut category.

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  17. Believing that a womanising man can’t be attracted to males as well.

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