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.

The Perception of Attraction

oppinionAs I was reading this article by my co writer, Peter Ruggiero, I was struck by this quote: “On top of this, there are some extra challenges for the bisexual male. If you’re one of the “regular guys,” folks may not want to believe that you are also attracted to other men. If you’re a man who’s gender atypical, folks often have a hard time believing you like women. I have a friend, also named Peter, whom I like to quote on this subject; “I’m here, I’m queer and I like women too. Get used to it!”’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.”

That really made me think—being in the bisexual community has taught me not to judge people by appearances and even mannerisms, because those are not set in stone and mean different things to different people, and can change over time. This brings with it a certain openness, to get to know people for who they are on the inside, not outside, and not to follow stereotypes. Basically, don’t judge a book by its cover, but there is much more to it even than that.

One problem people have with understanding bisexuality seems to be based on understanding gender and gender roles. If a person doesn’t fit into a certain perceived gender box, i.e. they don’t behave, look, or dress in a way that is supposed to fit with their gender, then they can’t possibly be bisexual. This has been a problem for the gay and lesbian community as well, as many masculine gay men and feminine lesbians will tell you—but it seems to be an even bigger problem for bisexuals, because of the duality of our attractions, and because we sometimes change roles and demeanor depending on what community we are in.

If a man is considered masculine, he can’t possibly be attracted to men, if he is perceived as more feminine, then he can’t possibly be attracted to women. For women, if you are “too butch”, it’s hard to imagine you liking men, and if you’re what is considered a feminine woman, people have a hard time believing you can be attracted to other women. I’ve experienced it myself—depending on how I dress, or act, my hair length, my nails-I have to be either gay or straight, because I “can’t possibly be attracted to (insert either gender).” A few weeks ago I met what many would consider a very “butch looking lesbian”—who started telling me she’s actually bisexual and dates men as well as women. I admit, even I had thought she was a lesbian by first glance-which really goes to show that unfortunately these stereotypes get ingrained in all of us at some level.

Since there is a mainstream gay and lesbian community, and several stereotypes have grown up around it (all gay men are feminine acting, all lesbians are masculine acting), bisexuals often get caught between the stereotypes—if we behave “too straight”, we must really be straight and just “experimenting”, if we behave “too gay” we must just be denying we are really gay. These stereotypes that both sides have of each other run rampant in both communities. I tried dissecting it in the gay community once, and asking “what does it actually mean to be too straight? Am I acting too feminine for you? Does this mean I can’t possibly be attracted to women? Would you say that to someone who considers herself a “femme” lesbian?” Naturally I didn’t get an answer, just a look of confusion.

I’m sure if I asked in the straight community-“what exactly does it mean to be too gay?” If a woman doesn’t wear skirts, or has short hair, or is too opinionated— does that automatically mean she can only be attracted to women and not men? If a guy is short, not into sports, and not stereotypically masculine, is he automatically attracted to only men and not women? We’ve seen those stereotypes broken over and over again, that how someone looks or even acts in a given situation doesn’t determine who they can be attracted to—there’s even a name for it in the gay community—“straight acting” gay man or woman” and yet the stereotypes persist.

Then we have the idea of “well you don’t act like a bisexual”—how is a bisexual person supposed to act? Should we have someone of each gender on each arm? Should we be a cross between a gay stereotype and a straight one? Do I need a sign? Do I need to actively chase both men and women in front of people? I never seem to get answers to any of these questions either.

So to paraphrase Peter’s friend: “I’m here, I’m queer, and I like men too. Get used to it!”