Bi themselves

Bisexual people earn less than their lesbian, gay and straight peers and are more likely to suffer isolation and depression. Yet their needs are often not taken seriously

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Afraid of imprisonment, homophobic violence and even death if he returned to his native Jamaica, Orashia Edwards found himself in a protracted legal battle with the Home Office when his sexuality was called into question.

Edwards’ refugee status was initially refused when the Home Office accused him of being dishonest about his orientation. Although he claimed past relationships with more than one gender – and was in a two-year long relationship with a man at the time of his tribunal – his previous marriage to a woman was used to imply that his bisexuality was fabricated and therefore he was not at risk.

“There are stereotypes that bisexuals are going through a phase, confused or greedy.”

Edwards was finally granted asylum in 2016. His case, however, demonstrates an intrinsic misunderstanding of bisexuality that activists say can be dangerous. They claim bisexual people in the UK face more social barriers than their lesbian, gay and straight friends and experience poorer mental health. They are also more at risk of domestic abuse, homelessness and suicide.

Coming out as bisexual can not only leave people open to homophobic behaviour but can bring added problems. Biphobia takes a number of forms, including the assumption that bisexual people are overly promiscuous, confused, in denial or – as in Edwards’ case – even lying about their sexuality.

Rose Cairns, a bisexual woman from Liverpool who founded the Liverpool Bi+ support group, feels that these biphobic tropes are all too prevalent and can be deeply damaging.

“There are stereotypes that bisexuals are going through a phase, that they are confused, greedy, sluts, only doing it for attention or unable to be monogamous,” she says. “I have been accused of most of the things on this list, directly or indirectly.”

This misrepresentation has a negative effect on people’s willingness to be open about their sexuality with friends, family or even healthcare professionals.

“The constant biphobia does often stop me from being up front to most people,” says Cairns. “I’ve had conversations with friends and they’ve made comments about bisexuals being greedy or needing to ‘pick a side’. That’s definitely made me uncomfortable about coming out to them.”

Social groups such as Cairns’s (as well as Manchester’s Biphoria and the Leeds Bi Group) provide a safe space for bisexual people to make friends and find information and support. They say they are sorely needed because bisexual people can often find themselves under-represented by organisations that cover the whole LGBT umbrella.

Jen Yockney, convenor of the Manchester-based support organisation Biphoria and editor of Bi Community News magazine, was recently awarded the first MBE for services to the bisexual community. She feels that although inclusion is getting better, there is still a way to go when it comes to the needs of bisexual people.

Recent studies, notably the Bisexuality Report, published in 2012, have started looking at bisexual people separately from their gay counterparts, rather than treating the communities as homologous – and the results are startling, says Yockney.

Jen Yockney, editor of Bi Community News
Above: Jen Yockney, editor of Bi Community News. Main Image: writer and comedian Sam Whyte

“For example bi people earn less than their lesbian and gay peers. We are more likely to experience domestic violence and stalking than our gay friends. And we are less likely to feel we can be out at work – bi men are about four times less likely to be out at work, and given the impact on your income you might argue they are sensible to be cautious.”

Research from the LGBT charity Stonewall suggests that while 33 per cent of gay men and 23 per cent of lesbians are comfortable with being open about their orientation in the workplace, only 12 per cent of bisexual people feel the same.

Despite the myth of bisexuality as a stepping stone towards coming out as gay or lesbian, Yockney says that at the Biphoria group as many attendees previously thought of themselves as gay as those who had considered themselves straight.

“When I was first coming out 25 years ago the received wisdom was that bisexuality was kind of half gay, with an implication of having half the struggle, half the problems,” says Yockney. “That never made sense to me. After all, you never got half queerbashed! If you’ve a strong, secure sense of yourself as bi you can get through that but it’s silencing for a lot of people. And because you can’t tell by looking, that silencing makes bi people much more isolated.”

This isolation may feed into statistics showing that bisexual people are more likely to suffer from depression than their straight, gay and lesbian peers. They can often find themselves unable to access the support they need.

“The worst and probably most frequent thing I’ve seen is bi people having their sexuality pathologised by the services that are supposed to help them,” says Sam Whyte, a Manchester writer and comedian, of her time working for a mental health charity. “I’ve seen people mention that they’re bisexual and have that jotted down as ‘sexually confused’ or ‘conflicted’ – or else been quizzed about promiscuity. It’s disgusting. I wouldn’t be out to a healthcare professional having seen what I’ve seen. It’s heartbreaking having people who need help tell you: ‘I want CBT or counselling but I can’t trust a doctor or therapist to be understanding.’”

Yockney adds: “LGBT services are mostly focused on gay needs, so much so that I’ve known bi people seek help and be turned away because they were in mixed sex relationships, even though the problem they were facing was because of their partner’s biphobia.

“Bi people have tended to be squeezed out, welcome only while we’re in same-sex relationships. I’ve known so many bi staffers quit gay organisations over the years because of attitudes among co-workers.”

Sam agrees that she saw a lot of negative behaviour within the gay community when she worked for an LGBT charity. “I saw rampant biphobia in the Gay Village – I guess the clue’s in the name there. Bisexual men were definitely derided as confused or marriage wreckers, and the women as promiscuous, sexually fair game and conflicted. But there were also some remarkable people doing a great deal to combat it.”

Yockney is cautiously positive about future support and inclusion. “Naturally in all statistics we are using a broad brush: experiences like isolation and sexuality-based prejudice aren’t exclusive to or universal among bis,” she says. “The Bisexuality Report helped throw how it is different for bis into sharp relief and there has been a change in the five years since it came out: even at the simple level like the LG Foundation becoming the LGBT Foundation.”

Her advice to people who might want to come out as bisexual is this: “It’s easier than ever, but that’s not necessarily the same as easy! Find a bi group or meet-up near you, because the single most powerful thing in dealing with biphobia, like many other challenges in life, is to talk to others who have had similar experiences and get to feel: ‘It’s not just me.’”

Interact: Responses to Bi themselves

  • Bo
    12 Apr 2017 17:34
    Great article :) Thanks for talking about Bi issues, we need more Bi Visibility!
  • Lib Dem MBE Jen Yockney talks about discrimination faced by bisexual people
    08 Apr 2017 12:03
    […] won the first MBE for services to the bisexual community. In the current issue of Big Issue North, she features in an article about bisexual people, highlighting the discrimination that they face, even within the LGBT community […]
  • Jen Yockney
    04 Apr 2017 11:59
    For information about local bi support organisations in places like Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield see www.bicommunitynews.co.uk/local-groups

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