[image source here]
Compared to straight folks, the health of queer people is overall worse, including mental health.
In the past, being queer was conflated with being mentally ill, a history which complicates discussion of mental health in our communities. We know that being queer is not a mental illness. There is nothing wrong with us. We don’t need to be fixed.
The problems we face are often caused by people’s reactions to us and societal discrimination. Oppression based on sexuality, restrictive gender norms, and lack of supportive families all affect wellness.
Somewhat surprisingly to some, bisexual people face poorer mental health than lesbians and gay people. Let’s explore this.
- Bi-invisibility and bi-erasure
Most people assume my partner is a man (their gender identity is none of your business, thank you), and most people assume I’m a woman. So their next assumption is the we are both straight.
Even some of my queer friends have assumed I’m straight and referred to me as straight without asking me about my identity.
This makes it pretty lonely to be bisexual sometimes. You can feel like no one really sees you for you. Researchers suggest that feeling “unseen” is part of the reason for some bi folks’ mental illness.
Save wearing a “BI AND PROUD” sweatshirt everyday (I would buy that) – what can we do?
Don’t assume anyone’s sexual identity. This needs to be said again and again! There are stereotypes about what someone looks like if they are bisexual, queer, gay, straight, asexual, lesbian, etc. We need to check ourselves when we realize we’re assuming we know something we don’t. People’s gender identity and expression does not imply their sexuality.
Come out to people if you are bi and feel comfortable. I don’t think it’s our responsibility to make everyone respect us – we deserve respect inherently, without doing anything to “win” it. But – people won’t know unless you tell them. If you are in a safe situation and feel comfortable telling someone, I say go for it. Even just to say, “Hi, bi people exist.”
2. Lack of community within the wider LGBTQ2IA* movement
Biphobia is prevalent even in queer communities. It’s isolating when mainstream culture doesn’t accept you, and then you find that the queer community is also an icy place to be sometimes.
Some people in the queer community are upset that bisexual people seem to benefit from heterosexual privilege in some cases, when their relationships are assumed to be straight relationships. This is a privilege some bisexual people seem to have, and not others. And even though it appears like some are receiving straight privilege, it comes at the expense of having their true identity erased. It actually feels awful.
And you can’t actually have straight privilege when you are not straight. Bi people are not straight. Who you are dating at any time does not define your sexuality – you do.
Find supportive friends. You deserve friends who accept you and don’t try to work out their own issues through you. Go to meetups for bi folks in and your area join a group online. If you have supportive friends, let them know what it means to you and nurture those friendships. I love my queer friends who support me for everything I am, including bisexual.
Don’t accept biphobia in your social circles. This is mostly for the allies in the group. We need more discussion about biphobia to help unravel the grip it has on us. Don’t let casual comments like “it’s just a phase”, or “he’s just experimenting” slide. Open the conversation up to exploring why you believe some of these myths.
3. The “confused” myth
This leads me to the widely-accepted myths of bisexuality. We’ve heard it all. Many are along the lines of they’re actually gay/just drunk/slutty/being rebellious/lying. What it comes down to is that people just don’t believe us.
You are the master of your own experience. You are the expert on you. No one can tell you differently. And I mean, no one – not parents, celebrities, friends, partners, doctors, professors, therapists. You know you. Trust yourself.
Believe us when we say we are bisexual. When other people tell you their sexuality (or any identity for that matter), believe them. You have no reason not to. I’m telling you right now – bi is a real thing, okay? Just get over it!
Deal with your internalised biphobia. Many people harbour biphobic beliefs, some of whom are bi themselves. This tip is for us – it’s tough, sometimes heartbreaking work, but we need to accept who we are and let go of any biphobia we hold. Work on this may take a lifetime, and that’s okay. You deserve to be happy.
Research like the one referenced at the beginning help us understand the experience of bisexual folks. There is a lot we still don’t know – support research on the specific issues the bi community faces.
We also don’t need this research, really. If you listen, people are already telling you what you need to know. Bi people are explaining their experiences, telling it like it is, and asking for your support. You don’t need to wait until the academic institutions of the the world “confirm” this information. Just choose to believe us now.
We are stronger together. Let’s all support each other in the queer community.