John M. Becker

The Problem of Bisexual Invisibility

Filed By John M. Becker | July 23, 2013 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bisexual, bisexuality, closets, invisibility

Bisexual FlagA new survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans Americans released last month by the Pew Research Center contained many heartening findings. For example, 92% of respondents said society has become more accepting of LGBT people over the last ten years, and 92% also believe society will become even more accepting in the decade ahead.

But the survey also revealed a startlingly high degree of invisibility among bisexual Americans: while bisexuals make up 40% of the LGBT community -- a larger share than their L, G, and T siblings -- just 28% say that most or all of the important people in their lives know about their sexual orientation, as opposed to 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians. And while 33% of bisexual women report being out, that number drops to 12% among bisexual men.

This is likely due at least in part to perceptions in the LGBT community about social acceptance, particularly in the case of male bisexuality: when asked whether there is "a lot" of acceptance of bisexual women, 33% of LGBT respondents said yes, compared with just 8% who agreed with that statement when applied to men.

Social acceptance of bisexuals is a problem both inside and outside the LGBT community. In a report about bisexuality and the closet last week, the Los Angeles Times quoted Jeremy Stacy, a bisexual West Hollywood man, who said that his sexuality was even questioned during a pride parade:

"One guy came up to me and said, 'You're really gay,' " said Stacy, who was standing under a sign reading "Ask a Bisexual." "I told him I had a long line of ex-girlfriends who would vehemently disagree. And he said, 'That doesn't matter, because I know you're gay.' "

Many closeted bisexuals interviewed by the Times told the paper that they've chosen not to come out due to negative stereotypes about bisexuality -- that bisexuals are indecisive, greedy, confused, sex-crazed, or promiscuous, just to name a few. And those who do come out often face backlash not just from society at large, but from friends, family, and spouses.

John, a married man who realized that he was bisexual three years ago and has told his wife, said he worries about bringing her shame if he comes out more publicly. He suspects she would hear, "Surely you must have seen the signs," and, "How do you put up with that?"

His wife has told him he must suppress his feelings. "She believes sexuality is a choice and that I can and should just 'turn it off,' " he said.

Unfortunately, LGBT community resource centers often overlook bisexuals in their programming, compounding the isolation. Studies from Kent State University and George Mason University suggest that being misunderstood by and invisible in both society and the LGBT community puts bisexual people at an elevated risk for a host of problems including binge drinking, depression, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Clearly, combating bisexual invisibility needs to be a bigger priority for the LGBT movement. So I'll close by asking our bisexual readers: how well or poorly do you feel understood by your LGBT siblings and society at large? What are the greatest misconceptions about bisexuality that you encounter in your day-to-day lives, and have those stereotypes kept you from coming out of the closet? And how can the LGBT community better address your concerns, meet your needs, and make you feel welcome?

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