Bisexual Invisibility: The LGBT Community’s Dirty Little Secret

A few weeks ago, Alex Anders of the YouTube channel Bisexual Real Talk uploaded a video saying it was time for his fellow bisexuals to leave the LGBT community. He cites two studies recently published in the Journal of Bisexuality that link the lack of support for bisexuals in the community to bisexuals having worse mental health than any other LGBT group. As Anders puts it:

“Every time we tell young people who are bisexual to go and search the LGBT community, we are creating certain expectations in their mind. And what do you think does more damage: when a person who knows they are going to be discriminated in a certain group and then gets discriminated in that group, or when a person is told that they will be able to find solace in a group and they lower their guard and then they’re discriminated against?”

Indeed, bisexual invisibility and biphobia are the LGBT community’s dirty little secrets. According to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s 2011 report Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations, “self-identified bisexuals make up the largest single population within the LGBT community in the United States,” yet the bisexual community is one of the least represented groups within LGBT organizations:

“For many years, Funders for LGBTQ Issues has tracked data on grants made by U.S. foundations to LGBT organizations. Although LGBT funding has risen in terms of dollars, it still represents a tiny fraction of the total grantmaking, with bi issues among the least supported every year. In 2008, while total foundation giving to LGBT issues increased compared to the previous year (from $77 million in 2007 to $107 million in 2008) and the percentage of dollars increased (from 0.18% to 0.24%), funding for bi organizations or programs went down; it was the lowest of all two dozen demographic groups they tracked. In fact, during all of 2008, not a single grant in the entire country explicitly addressed bisexual issues.”

The two recent studies from the Journal of Bisexuality explore the correlation between this bisexual exclusion and poor mental health among bisexuals. The first study — conducted by Corey E. Flanders of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Cheryl Dobson of the Planned Parenthood Toronto, and Carmen Logie of the University of Toronto — surveyed 34 non-monosexual women (both cisgender and transgender) of different ethnic backgrounds between the ages of 16 and 29 to discuss ways biphobia and monosexism affected their mental health. Many of the participants reported not only encountering professionals who were clueless about bisexuality, but also feeling unwanted at Pride events just for being bisexual. The results indicated “young bisexual women perceive monosexism and biphobia as significant challenges to their mental health at the institutional, community, interpersonal, and intrapersonal level.”

The second study — conducted by Tangela S. Roberts and Sharon G. Horne of the University of Massachusetts, and William T. Hoyt of the University of Madison-Wisconsin — surveyed 745 bisexuals of a various ages, genders, and ethnicities (although 80% of the participants were white) to share their stories of experiencing biphobia. Although the bisexuals surveyed experienced more biphobia from straight people, they also experienced an alarming amount of biphobia from lesbians and gays.

As Roberts explained to the Daily Beast: “Essentially it’s like saying that two people are yelling at you, but one voice is a decibel higher. Yes, statistically one voice is more significant, but the difference between the two voices is small.”

Lack Of Community Support Can Prove Deadly

A 2011 study conducted by Joseph Robinson and Dorothy Espelage of the Illinois College of Education revealed that 33% of LGBTQ students surveyed reported thinking about suicide during the past month, compared to 44% of bisexual youth, placing bisexuals at a higher risk. The report also noted that bisexual youths “were at elevated risk of suicide attempts, with more than 21% reporting that they had made at least one attempt during the prior year.” Indeed, while plenty has been written about Leelah Alcorn, Blake Brockington, Kyler Prescott, and other transgender teens who have committed suicide, only a few media outlets reported the suicides of Adam Kizer, Anthony Stubb, Alyssa Morgan, and other bisexual teens. The silence surrounding these deaths led to many bisexual activists using the hashtag #BiphobiaKills to raise awareness.

Another factor that contributes to bisexuals having poorer mental health is the lack of understanding from the very services designed to help them. Recently on Reddit’s bisexuality subreddit, a 15-year-old posted a story about how their psychiatrist told them they were too young to understand their sexuality because they “haven’t been able to explore” yet.

“If I was straight,” the anonymous teenager wrote, “people wouldn’t ask me, ‘How do you know?’ They would just assume I know I’m straight, so why is it different because I’m attracted to both genders [sic]?”

A Broken System

Mental health therapist and bisexual activist Patrick Richards Fink echoes this conundrum. His private practice — Prism Mental Health — is the only one in St. Cloud, Minnesota that specializes in LGBT mental health services; he says there’s very little mental health training specifically designed for bisexuals, and therapists often have to rely on themselves to bolster their knowledge or expertise:

“Even though we’re half of the queer population, we’re not recognized. In my Master’s program — if I hadn’t been there bringing information — there would have been basically little or no mention of bisexuality and bisexual specific issues. Any therapist out there, any mental health professional that is informed about bisexuality issues, they have reached out and taught themselves.”

Despite the overwhelmingly negative statistics, there are ways that both mental health professionals and the LGBT community can be more inclusive to the bisexual community. The Bisexual Invisibility report lists several recommendations to improve bisexual inclusion, such as educating others about using “inclusive language” and including bisexual voices in conversations about LGBT rights. But the most important factor, the report concludes, is to debunk many of the myths surrounding bisexuality that fuel its erasure:

“ . . . assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation based on her/his partner’s gender; about bisexual people’s reliability, honesty, or commitment to the LGBT movement; about bisexuals’ health concerns and needs; and about the world as an “either/or” place rather than one of infinite variety. Any long-term solutions must dispel these assumptions to make room for those whose lives exist beyond binaries.”

“As far as mental health goes,” RichardsFink says, “part of the requirements for ongoing licensure is ongoing training. People in the profession need to recognize that not only are there going to be a higher portion of gay and lesbian people who are seeking therapy than people from the general population, but also there’s going to be an entire proportion of bisexuals seeking mental health treatment as well.

“As therapists, as practitioners, it’s our responsibility to know what we’re talking about, to know what we’re doing to understand that bisexuality is not [always] a phase. What we need is to live a life of integrity in a community of mutual support. That’s the most important thing for our mental health.”

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