Since she was a teenager, Nicole Holmes has enthusiastically attended Pride events for the excitement of being in a crowd of people who look like her.
But when she brings a male partner, she says she’s followed by disturbing looks from other LGBTQ people who assume she’s “straight” based on the couple they see.
“As someone who is a bi woman and who has had mostly dating experiences with men, it gets really bad, like the looks, the ‘why are you here?'” said Holmes, 29.
Holmes is not alone. Bisexual people, who make up 57% of the adult LGBTQ population in the US, face a unique form of bias — even within their own communities — that can have far-reaching implications, particularly on health issues, advocates say.
Lauren Beach, a research assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said bisexuals are stigmatized by heterosexual, gay, and lesbian people and don’t have access to a wider “Bi+” community made up of bisexuals and those seeking attraction. experience, regardless of their gender, also known as pansexual.
“Biphobia is ubiquitous,” Beach said. “A lot of people in society of different sexual orientations who are not bisexual report having a biphobic attitude.”
LGBTQ resources, such as support groups, are less likely to target bisexual needs, Beach said, and that can further isolate bisexual people. Compared to gays and lesbians, bisexuals are also much less likely to seek out people in their lives, according to a 2019 report from the Pew Research Center.
Bisexual men and women face a widespread stigma
Beach said that one of the most damaging, false stereotypes about bisexual people is that they “will never be fulfilled with one person,” leading their partners to think, “Am I enough, can this person be trusted?”
“People think of bisexuality in terms of, ‘You can’t trust bisexual people because they’re cheaters — you don’t want a bisexual person as a partner because they’re promiscuous,’ Beach said.
In a 2016 survey published by the National Institutes for Health with more than 3,000 respondents, more than 1 in 5 said bisexual people are “incapable of being faithful in a relationship.” Nearly 40% of respondents said they weren’t sure whether bisexual people could be faithful.
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Public attitudes haven’t changed much in the years since the study, lead author and public health professor at Indiana University Brian Dodge told USA TODAY.
Compared to bisexuals, Dodge said attitudes toward gays and lesbians have shifted to “extremely positive” after the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage. That’s because Americans have begun to recognize that gays and lesbians can have a “monogamous, heteronormative kind of relationship,” he said.
“But with bisexuality — of course, even though people can and are in those relationships — that’s just not understood in the general population,” Dodge said.
Widespread Health Disparities
Bisexual health experts have been sounding alarms for decades that the combination of biphobia and lack of bisexual-specific LGBTQ resources is negatively impacting the health of millions of Americans who identify with the “Bi+” community.
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Research found that bisexual people are more likely to have poor mental health than heterosexual, gay and lesbian people. And a 2019 report from the Williams Institute at UCLA found that bisexual people also experience more poverty.
“People do say explicitly, ‘I don’t feel like I fit anywhere, I feel like I’m the only one, it makes me depressed,'” Dodge said.
Specifically for bisexual men, it can also feel like there are no opportunities to collectively process the effects of “biphobia,” Reznik said.
“There’s a gaping limitation in the need for bimans to have spaces where they can express themselves, have intercourse, just be around each other,” he said.
Dodge said bisexual men are less likely to be open about their sexuality for fear it will pose a “real threat” to their masculinity, while bisexual women have more opportunities “to reveal and open up to each other and just to get to know other bisexuals.” Ladies.”
David Reznik, a lecturer at American University, said he has received surprisingly vile, disparaging comments about his sexuality from friends, both straight and gay. Over the years, people have demanded of him to “pick a side,” as if being bisexual isn’t valid, he said.
He said he remembers how a friend kept telling him, “Stop this madness to be in the middle, you just have to pick a side.”
“I remember being very overwhelmed, very hurt by that kind of language,” said Reznik, 43.
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In 2020, Reznik and his girlfriend moved to Washington for the city’s bisexual support groups at the DC Center, an LGBTQ resource center.
As more Americans identify with the “B” in LGBTQ, the existing “Bi+” community will only diversify and grow, said Belle Haggett Silverman, president of the Bisexual Resource Center, a national “Bi+” advocacy group.
“It’s such a beautiful way to see the world and to be let loose in your love, your care and your attraction,” she said. “And it shows up in so many different ways in so many different cultures. Our community is really vibrant because of it because there are so many different ways to be Bi+.”
Haggett Silverman said people who want to lend more support to “Bi+” or question people in their lives can start by not assuming that two people in an opposite-sex relationship are straight and not assuming that two people in a relationship are straight. same-sex relationship being gay or lesbian.
“If you’re setting up a support space that’s meant for all LGBTQ+ people and you’re uncomfortable with someone who has a partner of a different gender than them, that excludes Bi+ people,” Haggett Silverman said.
Being outdoors and being proud can create safe spaces, Holmes said.
“I’ve had friends who have also come out as bi and let me know that it was because of my experiences, just being open, even posting statuses on Facebook or just sharing resources because that’s something I really love, said Holmes, who said she displays six different bisexual flags at home every year during Pride.
In recent years, Holmes said she always had to order the flags online because she couldn’t find any for sale at Pride events. That is changing quickly, she says.
“It’s funny that this is a source of euphoria for me, but every year, without fail, Target runs out of bisexual stuff. Every year,” Holmes said. “And I’m like, ‘I love this,’ but it’s also like, ‘Damn, bisexuals, buy all the stuff.'”