You're a fencesitter."
"You're just confused."
"You're just halfway to gay."
"You spread disease.
"You're just being trendy."
"Make up your mind."
When I take a look at a website such as Bisexual.com, I am filled with
joy at seeing so many bi folks coming together. We're a community, we're
strong people. But that doesn't mean the road for us is paved in pink,
purple and blue! Among the many struggles we still have to deal with is
the undeniable influence that biphobia has on our lives.
I've been a freelance writer/activist in the greater queer and the
smaller bi community for a number of years. And when I write articles, I
often ask for input, putting out emails for people to comment. Never
have I ever received such response than from my simple call out for
experiences with biphobia. This is a topic that many people have,
unfortunately, had experience with and is a definite touchstone for our
What is Biphobia?
Wherever there exists differences in our world, there exist phobias. Be
they an individual thing or a group mentality, humans seem to have a
natural predilection toward fear. Perhaps the most widely recognized
societal phobia is homophobia—the fear of people who love those of the
same sex. Be it the result of religious beliefs, societal conditioning
or just personal misunderstanding, homophobia is still rampant
throughout the world. And for the longest time, bisexual people would
have been lumped in under homophobia, given that we do have the ability
to love those of the same sex. However, it just doesn't cut it. Bisexual
people have a different set of experiences, that are, ahem, more
complex than those covered by homophobia. And many of these experiences
are based on where biphobia comes from.
Stereotypes and Biphobia
Maybe you could relate to some of the quotes at the beginning of this
article. They are just some of the many, many stereotypes that are
affixed to bisexual people. Basically, bi people are considered
sex-crazed, indiscriminate, confused, disease-carrying fools who are
deluding themselves with the idea that they can't or don't have to chose
between the two genders. Perhaps the most powerful idea of bisexuality
is that it simply doesn't exist. Robyn Ochs, longtime bi activist,
educator and author tells of doing workshops across the United States:
"Almost every place I visit, one or more person says, "I don't believe
Of course, any of these characteristics are unfair to place on a
community as a whole or individuals. Unfortunately, it isn't even
necessary for you to be directly assaulted with any of these stereotypes
for you to be affected by them. Your very existence as a bi person can
render you helpless in the face of outright discrimination. Cheryl
Dobinson, an activist and creator of the bi women's 'zine The Fence, suggests that those who are confronted with these stereotypes may choose to "identify as another label, or no label at all."
Biphobia in the Straight Community
Given the prevalence of homophobia in the world, it is easy to see how
the straight community is a major influence of biphobia. Robyn Ochs, in Bisexuality: The Psychological and Politics of an Invisible Minority (Ed. Beth A. Firestein, Sage, 1996, pp 217–239), makes a blunt statement:
“It is obvious that bisexual
individuals who are being approached by someone intent upon perpetrating
violence against them as they leave a gay bar are unlikely to have the
opportunity to say to the gay basher, "Oh actually, you see, we're
bisexual, not gay, so please, only beat us up on one side." Nor would
such a plea be likely to dissuade the person from assaulting them.”
Of course, biphobia is not just about physical violence. Biphobia from
the heterosexual community can take many forms. People who come out to
family can be ostracized and disowned, in much the same way gay men and
lesbians are. Many people will not come out to their families fearing
losing them. Bi people, particularly men, are also condemned as
transmitters of disease to the straight community. They are perceived as
recklessly engaging in gay sex and then coming home and infecting their
unsuspecting wives and girlfriends (of course the same does apply to
women), with STI's such as AIDS. In the same vein, bisexuals are often
blamed for the breakdown of families, if after time, they come out to
their spouses. The courts can then treat them unsympathetically when
issues of custody of children arise.
All of these instances come from the societal belief of the superiority
of heterosexuality over homosexuality—any form of homosexuality. But
even this comes in degrees. In recent years, the concept of "bisexual
chic" has come up. Movies and television have portrayed women as "hot"
when they exhibit bisexual tendencies and actions. Of course, it is
assumed that those same women will still be coming home to their men in
the end. This is a clear double standard. Men have never achieved this
same level of cultural "hotness for being bisexual," more often than not
male homosexual activity is still vilified.
Biphobia in the Queer Community
Almost seems like a contradiction, doesn't it? How can people who have
been similarly oppressed also feed into biphobia? Aren't we "kin"? It
may seem so these days, what with most queer organizations carrying the
acronym "LGBT" (in the least). However, it must be remembered that that
'B' (and 'T' for that matter) are relatively new additions, and there is
still much derision sent our way from the homosexual community.
There are certain gay and lesbian people who, much like straight people,
also believe in the invisibility of bisexual people. However, instead
of not wanting accept that a bi person's attraction to the opposite
gender exists; they instead consider bi people to be too afraid to come
all the way out as gay or lesbian. As a result, bi people are sometimes
not accepted, particularly at the queer high holiday, Pride. If you
haven't already, I invite you to go back and read "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" Sometimes gay men and lesbians can be downright catty to bisexual people!
On the other end of the spectrum of biphobia from the queer community is
the belief in "heterosexual privilege." This is the notion that
bisexuals can, when it is convenient for them, jump back and hide behind
their "hetero" side when it comes to difficult situations. This leads
to a sense of resentment. They feel that bi people have just jumped on
the bandwagon of the rights and achievements they have accomplished.
However, it should be noted that bi activists, such as Lani Ka'ahumanu,
Robyn Ochs, Steven Harvey, Dana Shaw, Rob Yaeger and many others have
working hand-in-hand with the wider queer community for understanding
for many years.
Where do we go from here?
Whenever there is a social condition that is based on fear, much
changing of attitudes needs to be accomplished before we can truly make
change. Lani Ka'ahumanu notes "biphobia looks very different today than
it did in the closing decades of the 20th century." Because bisexual
people are more known, recognized and socially aware themselves, "there
is less face to face hostility." However, she does note that biphobia is
not a thing of the past yet; instead, "biphobia has gone underground.
It's more subtle. Like sexist or racist comments or jokes people hold
back now or use euphemisms and/or wait for the woman/person of
colour/the bisexual to leave the room before they comment."
So what can we do, to dispel stereotypes and combat biphobia? Well, the
best thing is to just be ourselves. Live your life the way you want.
Take as a spouse whomever loves you and you love. If it works for you,
have a lover of each gender, and carry a picture of each in your wallet.
And while it may not be possible for everyone, wear your sexuality on
your sleeve to establish you—and bisexuality in general—as someone and
something that needs to be taken seriously and be respected.