In honor of Bisexual Awareness Week (September 21-27) and our ongoing efforts to raise bisexual visibility, ELIXHER will be drawing attention to important issues that affect the bisexual communities. Join us for our weekly #ELIXHERTalk on Twitter, Tuesday, September 23 at 9 p.m. EST, where we will discuss biphobia in the Black LGBT community. Follow us @ELIXHERMagazine and chime in with the hashtag!
By Christen Smiley
Over the past few years, there has been a rise in media conversations about the LGBT community. As exciting as these advances are, there remains a lack of recognition, validation, and acceptance of an important group—the “B” in LGBT. Despite comprising more than half of the LGBT community, bisexual men and women continue to be plagued by stigma.
During my college years, when I was first coming into my own regarding my sexuality, the lesbians I encountered frowned upon and were downright disgusted by women who identified as bisexual. “Greedy,” “promiscuous,” “confused,” and “in flux” were common themes in conversations about bisexuality. I struggled to understand my experience of alienation within an actively persecuted minority group.
“It’s so interesting because that’s what I was until I wasn’t,” says Whitney Bowen, a 28-year-old Black lesbian based in Arlington, Virginia. “I don’t know if I believe there are bisexuals. I almost want people to choose. And they will inevitably choose, and in my mind I classify bisexuals as either straight or lesbian depending on who they choose.”
One assumption is that bisexuality is a “transitional” stage in the coming-out process. Certainly an individual’s journey to self-realization may involve a period of time in which they identify as bisexual, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a person speaking their truth at a specific time; however, this does not reflect the reality of individuals who truly are bisexual. In fact, the assumption that bisexuality is simply a transitional stage completely invalidates bisexuals and their lived experiences.
“The prevailing logic has remained that if I am out as a bisexual woman, I must be asking for something: discrimination, harassment, or even sexual assault,” shares Faith Cheltenham, vice president of bisexual advocacy group BiNet USA. In a video testimonial with a mere 323 views, the Los Angeles resident recounts her experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace when disclosing her bisexuality to her colleagues.
Not only do ignorance and the misrepresentation of bisexuals fuel discrimination, there are serious health risks. According to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission report “Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations,” bisexual people experience greater health disparities than the broader population, including a greater chance of suffering from depression, mood anxiety disorders, hypertension, and more.
Ever since I came to the realization that I was not heterosexual, I have personally identified as “sexually fluid.” At first, it was my resistance to putting a definitive label on myself before I fully understood what was happening. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the negative stigmas surrounding bisexuality as a reason why I didn’t claim it for myself.
By definition, it described me to a tee. As I further explored my sexuality, I had my aha moment when I discovered the Kinsey Scale—developed by Alfred Kinsey to illustrate a broader spectrum of sexuality. Instead of describing people as gay, heterosexual, or bisexual, Kinsey claimed that sexuality occupied a more fluid scale from heterosexuality to being gay.
On the Kinsey Scale, I am a 4—while I have a preference for women, I am also capable of being romantically and sexually attracted to men. Despite the ongoing joke that I’m a lesbian in denial, it is important for me to proudly acknowledge my sexual fluidity within both the straight and LGBT communities.
The most prominent assumption regarding my sexual fluidity is that somehow it is tied to my morals; it is often presumed that I do not practice monogamy, as if somehow my acceptance of my attraction to both men and women means I’m unable or unwilling to commit to one person. Or it is presumed that I will cheat on my partner (whether male or female) with a person of a different gender.
Let’s be clear—bisexuality and sexual fluidity are not tied to monogamy. If a person does not want to be monogamous in a relationship, that is a personal decision that is tied to their value system and the boundaries they create with their partner(s)—not to their sexual identity.
I had a conversation about this myth prior to getting into a relationship with my current partner of almost 2 years. I needed to know if she was bringing preconceived notions about bisexuality into our relationship. Fortunately, she had worked through her personal stigmas about sexually fluid women years prior to our conversation. Had she not, my sexual identity would have made me “undateable” and we would not have the healthy relationship we have today.
We as a society have a desire to place labels on individuals in an attempt to gain understanding. The concept of sexual fluidity or bisexuality makes people uncomfortable because we do not neatly fit in the standard “straight” or “gay” boxes. But the complexities of sexuality should not be limited. Labels and assumptions don’t make being bisexual or sexually fluid clearer; they just make us more invisible.
Christen Smiley is an avid daydreamer who is constantly striving to learn more about herself and the world around her. She is passionate about multiculturalism and the importance of exploring cultural differences as a means to bridge gaps and create understanding and respect. She works as a public relations executive during the day, and after hours spends her time plotting on her world takeover with her partner. In addition to seeking a deeper understanding of God, she spends her time pursuing good food, good energy, and good experiences.