Today’s guest post is from Charshy Nash who works for IBM. If you would like to submit your own guest blog email us at email@example.com
I work for IBM, and I happen to be bisexual. I am part of the LGBT community. I want to raise awareness of what challenges bisexual people face, and to explain what bisexuality means, to help eradicate prejudices.
There have been many moves forward for the LGBT community in the last couple of years here in the United Kingdom, Ireland and in the U.S. as gay and lesbian marriages are now legal and recognised.
The LGBT community celebrated – I celebrated. The papers were alight with how gay marriage was now legal!
But to me, it’s same-sex marriage.
It sounds like I’m just quibbling over words, right? It didn’t really bother me until I realised almost every single poster and news article and debate was around “gay marriage”.
So I want to impart a bit about what bisexuality is, and what this means to me at work.
Gay and Lesbian people have a word each that describes who they are. Everything about the word “bisexual” implies that it is something that I do – not who I am.
To better explain this: think of most of the heterosexual people you know. They might have children, they might not. They might enjoy going down the pub for a pint, or sitting at home with a good book. They went to school somewhere, got a job somewhere, have a favourite colour. The “sexual” in “heterosexual” doesn’t define who they are in their day-to-day lives.
Yet the hetero- part is clearly defined, visible, and a big part of life. No one questions heterosexuality: you just have it. Adverts on TV show happy heterosexual couples. TV programmes contain heterosexual people, living heterosexual lives.
Bisexuals are shown in the media as almost exclusively women, often as titillation material. Bisexual men are rarely, if ever mentioned. The soap opera guy who just moved from girlfriend to boyfriend is, according to all the TV guidebooks, now gay, not bi.
People still assume a great deal about my history, experiences and personality, just for saying that I am bisexual.
I want to summarise the two major issues facing bisexual people: bi-phobia, and bi-erasure.
Bi-phobia is easier to explain. It is a separate phenomenon from homophobia, though bisexuals are often subject to homophobia as well (joy!).
Bi-phobia usually falls under two broad categories:
1. Denial of identity.
People are growing to accept “gay” and “straight” as legitimate identities – but nothing in-between. Bisexuals often have their identity questioned, or assumed to be either “gay” or “straight” until otherwise proven.
This sounds like a simple mistake anyone could make. The problem is that even if the bisexual person confirms they are bisexual – they are often told they are not. They are denied.
Here are some of the reasons I have been told I cannot be bisexual:
- I haven’t had enough girlfriends
- I haven’t had enough boyfriends
- I’ve talked about men more than women
- I’ve talked about women more than men
- I have female friends
- I am just confused
- I have a boyfriend, so I’ve ceased to be bisexual
- I haven’t “made up my mind”
- I’m “not bisexual enough” to be bisexual
- I turned a person down for a date, because a real bisexual would have said yes
- I am just a slut
- I’m lying
- I am a lesbian, but still in the closet
- I like <feature or quality that is considered feminine/masculine>, thus I must be straight/gay.
The unsaid meaning behind all of these is insulting – “You don’t know your own thoughts or feelings. You’re probably too incompetent to figure out what you really want.”
Now imagine getting that message all the time. Would you still feel confident in your own thoughts, your own feelings? What if you were threatened with violence to conform? Would you feel comfortable talking about yourself to your co-workers? Standing up to talk about work in a meeting? What if anytime you expressed something positive about another person – “I like Mary’s suit today”, “I think James was very articulate in that meeting” – someone told you that was evidence of your sexual promiscuity?
Some of my family have decided, despite my statements to the contrary, that I am straight, because if I wanted a girlfriend I would have had ample opportunity to get one by now, as though the only way to be bisexual is to have a proven set of statistics that I have equally dated 50% of each category (“Sorry, I can’t go out with you, it would ruin my projected bisexuality for the financial year.”)
Statistically, since there are more straight people than gay/bisexual people, bisexual people are more likely to have an opposite-sex partner. I, as a sample of one, am approached by more men than women. This has led to accusations that I am secretly straight and fabricating my bisexuality for attention. This is bizarre, because it’s not something I usually draw attention to – with the exception of this article! No matter who I date, or don’t, I still am a bisexual person.
Notice too that some of these reasons are trying to pin me to either being Straight/Gay, as if I am not allowed to be anything else.
And some of these reasons make great assumptions about how I conduct my personal life: which brings us to the second aspect of biphobia:
The stereotype of the bisexual person is that of promiscuity. Bisexuals are flighty, and unable to settle. A bisexual person burns through relationships like wildfire. A bisexual person will never be satisfied with one partner, and thus they are guaranteed to cheat in relationships, or they are all in polygamous relationships. Bisexuals are thus unreliable, a stereotype which can follow you directly into the workplace.
These are cultural myths, but ones which could be damaging to a career.
Personally (and not speaking for all bisexuals), being capable of attraction to both genders does not mean I exist in a state of constant attraction to both genders. Bisexual people are not any more or less different than their straight or gay counterparts.
I often get the, “you have so much more choice. You’re so lucky!” line, as though my only dating criteria is “human being”. Which is quite rude, when you think about it. Personality, attraction, compatibility; these exist regardless of gender. Bisexuals have no more favourable luck in dating as anyone else does. … It’s almost as if we’re actually normal people!
And that’s with people I know well. People I know less well consider they can violate my boundaries without my permission. I’m bisexual, ergo I must be permissive.
Again, these seem like myths that are easy to dispel, with no real consequences. The consequences of these attitudes are, unfortunately, gravely real:
- Bisexual women in the USA are twice as likely to be raped compared to both straight and gay women. Source http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf
- Bisexual women are significantly more likely to be stalked, sexually assaulted or be injured by an intimate partner compared to straight and gay women. Source http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_SOfindings.pdf
- One in two bisexual women and one in three bisexual men have attempted or seriously considered suicide. This is significantly higher than the rates for heterosexuals, lesbians, and gay men.
- Bisexual men were 50% more likely to live in poverty than gay men, and bisexual women were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as lesbians.
- “a study published in the Journal of Sex Research reported that heterosexuals rate bisexuals as a group less favorably than any of a number of groups (including Catholics, lesbians, people with AIDS, and people who are pro-life), except for the category of people who inject illegal drugs.” Source http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/19907257/bi%20invisibility%20-%20FULL%20final%20for%20HRC.pdf
- Channel 4’s “documentary” (June 2013), “Bi-Curious Me”, trotted out all of the aforementioned stereotypes (and no bisexual men). Read this review from a bisexual woman. http://www.lesbilicious.co.uk/bi-furious-me-if-you-didnt-watch-channel-4s-latest-show-on-bisexuality-then-lucky-you/ Just adding to the vast plethora of straight-male titillation material that contains “bisexual” women, and the utter media silence on bisexual men.
Notice these injustices are specific to bisexuals, and not the gay community. To learn more, read the Bi Invisibility report from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/19907257/bi%20invisibility%20-%20FULL%20final%20for%20HRC.pdf There’s plenty more injustice out there.
Bisexuals get treated differently, by both the straight and gay communities – and both communities assume we belong to the other, when we’re often rejected in both: for support and friendship, as well as dating. Straight homophobia isolates bisexuals from being comfortable in the heteronormative world, and many in the gay community still consider bisexuals to be “sleeping with the enemy”, and that biphobia is not a real thing: it most assuredly is, and is perpetuated by both sides of the fence.
Bisexuals generally do not experience homophobia in the same way as their gay counterparts, but therein lies some of the resentment and bullying levied at the bisexual community: there’s a perception that bisexuals can “pass” for straight, thus they don’t belong in the “gay” (LGBT!) community.
Bisexuals also have to “come out” in dating to both genders… and face the consequences. Including experience some of the biphobic behaviours listed above. It’s difficult. At least if you’re gay, you can be pretty sure your same-sex date across the candlelit table already knows it!
Bisexual people have the same fears of being outed and hurt by the wrong people that gay people do, except they have less resources at my back to support them, and much more misinformation out there about who they are. I do my bit to explain to people, of course… but then I’m an attention-seeking bisexual again!
But at least my attention-seeking here today means my existence is acknowledged, bringing us to:
Part of the denial of sexuality, but more insidious: rather than even allow bisexuality as a concept to exist, some people are happier to simply erase it from existence.
How? Rewriting the history books, for instance. Ask a random sample of people on the street as to the sexuality of Freddie Mercury. I’ll bet you an iced Belgian bun less than half of them say “bisexual”. Most people don’t know that Eleanor Roosevelt was bisexual, either.
Both gay and straight camps commit this, and in some cases, release damaging statements into the wild. LGBT activist and advice columnist, Dan Savage, has done great things for the LGBT community at large – yet repeatedly makes biphobic comments to his impressionable audience (he’s an activist, after all!), such as the “fact” that bisexual men can never have romantic long-term same-sex relationships, or that a bisexual woman is just a heterosexual using a lesbian as an experiment. It’s incredibly damaging, just as much as similar homophobic speech is to gay people. http://blogs.bluebec.com/dan-savage-is-still-biphobic/
Some more examples:
- Until September 2012, Google removed search terms to websites that express “bisexual” in its concepts from any Safe Search. (http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/bisexual-no-longer-dirty-word-google120912) This is because Google believed that any search to do with Bisexuality must be to do with pornography. However, Gay and Lesbian searches using Safe Search were allowed.
- Google UK still represses bisexual searches. The fix only applied to Google.com. (http://bimedia.org/2489/googling-bisexuals-only-in-america/)
- Over one-half of the LGBT community identifies as bisexual, but bisexuals are erased or “merged” into the LG categories, and are given less resources and attention. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-suresha/bisexual-representation-report-card_b_2748342.html.
There’s actually a term for this systematic suppression: monosexism. Not being bisexual affords you an easier life. You can get access to better resources: healthcare, education, acceptance, all by the virtue of not being bisexual. (http://radicalbi.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/the-monosexual-privilege-checklist/) (And another link that better encapsulates the concept. http://radicalbi.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/the-difference-between-monosexism-and-biphobia/)
So why am I standing up and saying I am bisexual, here and now?
I’m fighting bi-erasure and biphobia. The more of us who can openly express who we are, the more we can eradicate prejudice. I work a normal working day, I do amazing things… and I just so happen to be bisexual as well. I am not two-dimensional: I’m a real person. I exist.
I’m raising awareness, because there is so little other media out there that validates my existence and right to be treated equally. You now know some of the violence that I risk in society, just for being myself.
I want to celebrate September 23rd – but I hope to see people – LGBT or straight – celebrate as well. Celebrations are loud, and celebrations are hard to erase.