By Aman Sharma
Bisexuality as a term first came into use way back in 1859 by anatomist Robert Bentley Todd, in the same year that Charles Darwin published his The Origin of Species. While the terminology has been around for almost 2 centuries, what is surprising to see is that how little we have progressed if we look at history in terms of the prejudices, discrimination and phobia that revolves around the gender and sexual orientation of people. The book I was reading the other day had a reference to ancient Greeks in comparing certain modern elements with that of ancient time. It was interesting to find how Greeks back then were much more tolerant towards different natures of sexuality while the same situation is very different in the present world where we see 69 countries having criminalizing laws towards the non-hetero communities.
From a broader perspective, we see each part of the wider spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community is being affected in different degrees by the forces of hate and discrimination which are a direct result of fear, phobia and prejudices existing and thriving through the practices stemmed from traditional patriarchal mindsets. But most times, when perceived from the narrow lens, we fail to see that such discriminatory elements also exist within the spectrum itself. It can be shocking for people who are new to the community but there is a factionist idea existing amongst the LGBTQIA+ community.
The LGBTQIA Resource Center states that "Bisexuality is an attraction to more than one gender. Those who identify as bisexual feel a sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of a different gender as well as their own." While this offers a basic understanding, bisexual people are a diverse group. Each individual perceives their sexual orientation differently. Some individuals can be equally attracted to both men and women, while others can have a stronger attraction toward one gender over another. Though within the spectrum, for each part of the queer community, these definitions try to provide some meaning to the identities of the people; they are also at the same time, a helping hand to comprehend a much wider and diverse set of things that are laid out for the people who exist without looking for any such concrete meanings. But sadly, while the same set of meanings help the people, these meanings are also used by some to feed their hatred and discrimination.
It is unfortunate but true that while bisexual people face phobia from outside the community, there are myths and misconceptions within the community that act as a driving force for biphobia within the LGBTQIA+ community. I remember an instance wherein my friend denied dating someone because the other person was bisexual and this was not too shocking for me. I have seen such misconceptions been fed by people within or outside the community that creates an environment that sustains biphobia. Some of the examples of misconceptions that I am aware of are that bisexual people are confused or in denial which is a pervasive misunderstanding about bisexuality is that it’s a phase and that bisexual people will eventually come out as lesbian or gay. But what people forget about it is that bisexuality is not transitional or experimental. It is a valid identity of millions of people.
To provide more validity to this, I present you one study, which found that only 18% of LGBTQIA+ youth who initially came out as bisexual later came out as gay or lesbian. So, while some may come out as bisexual first before identifying as something else, this doesn’t mean that bisexual identities are invalid. Another misconception is that bisexual people are more prone to cheating in relationships. We need to understand that sexual preferences are not linked to promiscuity. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the entire queer community and there’s no evidence that bisexual people are more likely to cheat on their partners than people of any other sexual orientation. I was reading one article on Quora which mentioned that only women can be bisexual. This is astonishingly ridiculous because men can be bisexual, too. But they may be less likely to be open about it and it is quite clear why. In one study by Pew Research in 2013, only 12% of bisexual men said they were openly bisexual, compared to 28% of all bisexuals and 77% of gay men. The survey found that this disparity may stem from the fact that 33% of respondents perceived social acceptance of bisexual women, while only 8% said the same for bisexual men. While there may appear to be fewer bisexual men than women, this may be due to the social stigma around coming out as a bisexual man.
The misconceptions and myths give rise to Monosexism that is the belief that monosexuality is superior. Monosexuality refers to the sexual and romantic attraction to only one gender The prevalence of this belief can have an impact on the mental, physical and sexual health of people who are bisexual. People can also experience monosexist attitudes from within the LGBTQIA+ communities. Some people within the community believe that people can only have romantic or sexual relationships with one gender. They may also believe that a person cannot be attracted to two or more genders. All of this has a very negative impact on bisexual people as it can lead to an internalized monosexism wherein a person who is bisexual has internalized these negative ideas about their sexual identity that impacts their mental and physical well-being.
As a community, whether we are on the inside or outside, have a very important role to play here. While there is so much that needs to be done for the gender and equality rights of all individuals especially those who have been affected the most, we need to create an environment that is accepting, just and fair and treats everyone equally with love, respect and care. Bisexual people are not different from us, they are a part of us. We can start inhibiting some small changes when the next time we meet somebody who identifies as bisexual by treating them with the respect and love that they deserve.
For all the bisexual folks out there, I would like to say that while it can be challenging to deal with biphobia, there is always help that is available for you in various forms such as online communities, your friends and connections, and support pages or forums. You can find support and resources for education and advocacy from a range of organizations, some of which are specifically dedicated to supporting bisexual individuals. Lastly, it is important to remember that your identity is valid and real. Sexual identity can shift, and this never makes a previous sexual identity any less valid.