Isolation, Health, And The Bisexual Community

Isolation_StreetAt the beginning of June, a study came out about the health differences of BLGT people versus straight people. When I heard about it I figured it would show something similar to what previous studies with the same idea have shown: that overall BLGT people have worse health, more depression and higher suicide rates than straight people. Considering the hurdles so many have to face, such results are unfortunately not surprising.

However, this study was different in two ways: first, its sample was from one entire state, Massachusetts, and second, a major difference was noticed and pointed out about bisexuals and how they compare to both straight people and gay and lesbian people. The ultimate finding: bisexuals, especially bisexual women, have the worst health of all of the groups that were studied.

This quote sums up some of the more alarming findings: “Compared to heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals were more likely to say their health was worse on 16 of 22 measures. They were more likely to be tense or worried, to smoke, have asthma, abuse drugs, or be victims of sexual abuse. Bisexual men and women were also more likely than heterosexuals to say they faced barriers to getting health care, had higher cardiovascular risk, felt sad, and had contemplated suicide in the past year. Binge drinking was more common among bisexual women than heterosexuals. Bisexuals, but not gays or lesbians, were more likely than heterosexuals to be poor. Bisexual women were the most likely to report having been sexually assaulted. ‘All told, bisexual women had the worst health,’ Conron [the scientist who did the study] said in an interview. ‘We were surprised that there were such differences for bisexual people compared to gay and lesbian people.’ Although the study didn’t investigate the causes for the gaps among people with different sexual orientations, Conron said she hopes further research will look at the social stigma bisexual people may face not only from heterosexuals, but also from gay men and lesbians. ‘Bisexual people may feel in between the two and may not necessarily be fully accepted by either group,’ she said. ‘I think it merits further investigation. We know isolation is bad for health.’ ”

I have to admit, it was nice to see the researcher of a study come right out and admit that isolation is a big problem for many bisexuals instead of trying to make the usual excuses. Of course, this is not good news. But as much as I hate to say it, is it really surprising? Bisexuals face some of the worst ostracism of any sexual minority group. Often we are rejected by the straight world, and contrary to popular belief, this can happen even if we are in an opposite-gender relationship if we admit to being bisexual. We start to hope there is an accepting community out there for us, and hearing the letters BLGT gives us hope.

However, too often, we face ridicule, exclusion, and social pressure, as well as being told we don’t exist, and being blatantly made fun of in some cases. Who wouldn’t have issues when their existence in constantly questioned? The very first comment under the article that totally misses the point of it illustrates how far we still have to go: “They may have the poorest health, but they get to play for both teams. So they have their perks.”

So, what can we in the bisexual community do about this? Fighting for acceptance is the first step, and not backing down about it. If we are excluded from something, we should do what the transgender community does (and possibly team up with them!) and have our own version of the event. We also need to reach out to newly out bisexuals or people who may be about to come out as bisexual; they need to know that there is a community that supports them. Secondly, there need to be health programs specifically aimed at bisexuals to help us deal with our unique set of problems, something other than just lumping us in with “BLGT.”

I’ve read that more health programs aimed at bisexuals are popping at BLGT centers, so that is a good place to start. Bisexual organizations need to strongly encourage such programs. Thirdly, there need to be more studies like this one done that take the unique experiences of bisexuals into account; hopefully more such studies will lead to a dialogue between the straight, bisexual, and gay and lesbian communities. I hope this study and others like it will get peoples’ attention and eventually lead to some gains, understanding, and acceptance for the bisexual community.

Your Problem Is My Problem

romantic couple in front of santa monica amusement park at sunset. My friend Majed and I were on the road again a couple of  Saturdays ago and as he took me on the scenic, off-highway tour of Massachusetts’ North Shore, we spent a lot of time talking about the oftentimes difficult nature of human relationships.  We weren’t just discussing family and friends though.  As educators, we consider our ties with our students and colleagues to be of special importance.

Each of us has had occasion to work with students who needed support and encouragement.  Some need extra help with their class work.  Others have pressing personal issues-including illness in the family, divorce, childcare and work-that impinge on their academics.  Majed and I-like our colleagues-have worked with students to find solutions that make finishing their degrees possible because we consider the process part and parcel of the vocation of the teacher.

Majed, though, expresses his sentiments more directly and powerfully.  While we were having a coffee stop, Majed described how he faced one particular student in difficulty.  After having heard the student’s story, his words were, “Your problem is my problem.”  It’s a good thing I had finished my coffee because I’m sure I would have spilled the cup on myself.  I don’t think I’ve heard solidarity expressed so clearly and poignantly in quite a while.

In very much the same way, I feel that when it comes to the bisexual community-especially bi men and my fellow Italian Americans-“Your problem is my problem.”  I can’t very well exhort people to come out or explore their bisexuality if I’m not going to be there in some way.  I can’t complain about the lack of visible bisexual men if I don’t step up to the plate.  That is why I made a conscious decision to go online.  I know how lonely and isolated I used to feel as a bisexual man-as a bisexual Italian American man to be absolutely precise.  I could either spend my time feeling bad or I could take action.  I also realize that I have opportunities to speak out and be out that others don’t.

The more bisexual voices out there, the better it will be until we can all feel safe, supported and free to be ourselves.  The important thing to remember is that we bisexuals are not alone. We have a community that we are continuing to strengthen.  It is too easy to feel isolated and separate in this age and in our society.  We must remember that we do not live alone and  that in some way or another we have opportunities to reach out to each other.  As a columnist, I always hope that my stories will comfort, encourage and challenge you.  Those of us who can lend a helping hand should do so.  If you need help, ask for it.  Our joys and pains are community property.   In Majed’s wise words, your problem is my problem.