Gina Battye is a world-renowned Authentic Self & Inclusion Consultant, Trainer & LGBT+ Coach for Fortune 500 companies & leading global organisations. Below, Gina discusses recent research which shows a disparity between being open about sexuality in bisexual people and gay or lesbian people. Gina also provides information on what can be done to better support bisexual people.
Recent research by Stanford University, analysed by Pew Research Center, found that only 19 per cent of bisexuals surveyed were out to all or most of people in their lives, compared to 75 per cent of gay or lesbian people. So, why is this?
I did my own research last week, using my LinkedIn network and every single respondent stated:
- Not many people know they are bisexual – usually only their partner or close friends
- They don’t feel accepted and supported in society
- They don’t feel accepted and supported in the LGBT+ community
Can you imagine not feeling like you fit in anywhere? That blows my mind. And it upsets me that people feel this way; that they are hiding who they really are and don’t have a place that they feel safe and welcome. Imagine if that was your sister, brother, best friend or child.
There are MANY misconceptions about being bisexual. I want to address a few of those, in the hope that this increases your awareness and understanding.
The Key Issues Faced By Bisexual People
The Masks We Wear
You know what it feels like to wear a mask to protect the real version of yourself from being on show. You wear different masks for different environments and situations that you find yourself in.
At work, in your relationships, socially, with family – you name it, you have a mask for it. Because, let’s face it, the last thing you want is to look stupid, wrong, like a failure, an imposter or be vulnerable in any way.
You create a mask to protect you. And to hide certain elements of the real you. This is a version of yourself that you have honed over the years. You don’t want to be vulnerable. You don’t want your true feelings or personality to be exposed and you don’t want to be hurt. All you really want is to fit in and to be accepted.
You read the statistics in the survey above. Only 19% of bisexuals are out to all/most of the important people in their lives.
Growing up in a heterosexual world and experiencing social conditioning from a young age, LGB people have a few more layers to their masks than straight people. A few more things to hide and overcome, under certain situations and with specific people.
Bisexual people report not feeling like they fit in to society in general AND in the LGBT+ community. I would argue that bisexual people have more complex masks and layers than lesbians and gay men – since they are less accepted in society.
We are conditioned from an early age about what is acceptable and ‘normal’ behaviour in society.
Bisexuality is looked upon with confusion by gay people, lesbians and straight people alike. I have overheard on many occasions bi friends being asked if they ‘are a full-blown gay yet.’
Here are a few of the things my bi clients have heard from others that have significantly impacted on their mental health, self-worth and self-esteem:
- Bisexuals are just going through a phase.
- Being bisexual is a student thing. You’ll grow out of it.
- People come out as bisexual to soften the blow of coming out as gay or lesbian.
- You’re not bisexual. You are just confused.
- You have to pick a side.
- Are you going to be gay or straight this weekend?
- Bisexual? You are greedy.
All of these are perceptions formed from societal conditioning – not based on any truth or fact. Social conditioning is the source of most of our judgements, criticisms, fears and unkindness towards others.
There is a common misconception in society that you can’t possibly be bisexual. There isn’t such a thing. When I hear that I instantly think of the gender binary and how society struggles with anything outside of that.
When I go to parties, within minutes of me entering the room I will be approached by someone saying “I don’t get this whole non-binary and gender-fluid thing. Explain it to me.” As with non-binary and gender fluidity, there is a distinct lack of conversations happening around bisexuality, which results in confusion and misunderstandings.
It is reported that the reason there are fewer same-sex couples and marriages (with bisexual people) is because there is a smaller pool of people. I don’t necessarily agree with that.
My thoughts and observations:
- In a relationship, when one person is bisexual and the other is a lesbian, often the lesbian feels threatened. I have worked with a number of lesbians that are in relationships with bisexual women and they all had real issues around feeling insecure, anxious and an underlying uncertainty in the relationship. They often reported they were ‘waiting for them to go off with a man’ and worried that they were checking ‘everyone out.’
- When bisexual women marry men, they are labelled by society as straight. And vice versa. They ‘fit in’ to socially accepted norms and are perceived to be heterosexual. Many people choose to stay silent about their bisexuality when they are in what could be perceived as a heterosexual relationship and marriage.
Just because a bisexual person is marrying someone from the opposite sex, doesn’t mean they have finally ‘chosen a side’ or are no longer bisexual.
In this article, Stephanie states: “Bisexuals often need to clarify their sexual orientation constantly to others in a continual series of coming-out moments.”
I hear this time and time again from my clients. Which leads me into the next point.
Invisibility and Bi Erasure
- When in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender, bisexuals often report feeling excluded from the queer community. When socialising at LGBT+ events, they often face questioning to clarify their sexual orientation, judgement, criticism, biphobia and exclusion. They are viewed as a straight couple and report feeling awkward, uncomfortable and like an outsider in the LGBT+ community.
- Bisexual men typically experience less social acceptance than bisexual women, gay men and lesbians.
- In the media, there is a distinct lack of bi visibility.
- In the workplace, I hear from people that work in the public sector, LGBT focused charities and organisations and customer facing roles. They tell me how they have been labelled an outsider because they are bisexual (even in LGBT+ companies), how they have been pushed out of the business because they weren’t truly embodying being LGBT+ (when in a relationship with someone from the opposite gender) and warned not to tell any of the clients, suppliers or associates about their sexual orientation.
Hate Crime Is On The Rise
In a report published by the Home Office, it is stated that between 2017 and 2018, there has been a:
- 27% increase in sexual orientation related hate crimes
- 32% increase in transgender identity hate crimes
That is in one year.
How You Can Support Your Bisexual Friends And Colleagues
- Educate yourself about bisexuality. Talk to people about it. Start having conversations about sexual orientation. Let’s break the silence!
- Have a conversation with your bi friends and colleagues. Let them know you are there to support them. Ask them what is the best way you can do that.
- Remember they may not be ‘out’ to anyone else. Respect that and be sure not to ‘out’ them.
- Don’t assume anyone’s identity based on who they are dating.
- Be curious and ask questions. If you don’t know something, ask. Remember to be respectful.
- If you have any personal misconceptions about bisexuality, challenge those. Find out where they have come from and educate yourself on the truth.
- Check your language. Are you using any bi excluding language?
- Challenge biphobia. If you hear it, speak it. Let the person know what they are saying isn’t acceptable. And become aware of any internal biphobia you may have. Notice what you think when you see a same-sex couple walking down the street. What assumptions do you make about them? Begin to challenge this when you notice it rising in you. It isn’t part of who you are – it is part of the social conditioning you have experienced throughout your life.
- Celebrate with your bi friends and colleagues on Bisexual Visibility Day.
Gina Battye is a world-renowned LGBT+ & Authenticity Advisor for TV, Film, Theatre, Radio, The Global Press, Fortune 500s + Leading Global Organisations.