According to recent research bisexual women are 64% more likely to report an eating problem; 37% more likely to have deliberately self-harmed in the past year; 26% more likely to have felt sad, miserable or depressed in the past year; and 20% more likely to have felt anxious or nervous in the last year, compared with lesbians. It was also reported that bisexual women are also more likely to be suicidal, and have more issues with physical health. These results also intersect with other identities that experience poor health due to marginalisation such as bisexual trans women, bisexual people of colour and trans bisexuals of colour.
I’m a white, cisgender bisexual woman. And these results don’t surprise me at all, because I’m also mentally ill. I suffer from depressive episodes as well as symptoms of anxiety. My boyfriend and some of my friends and family are aware of this, but what most of them don’t know is that I’ve also been suicidal. Right now I’m being treated for my illness, I take daily medication and go to weekly counselling.
Last year I began to think more about my sexuality after noticing I was attracted to women and non-binary people as well as my interest in men. In retrospect I realise that I’ve had crushes on other girls when I was younger without understanding it at the time. I believe it’s important to know who you are, so I was really excited by this discovery. I knew that coming out for me wouldn’t be an issue with my immediate family, close friends and my boyfriend as they’re very accepting and supportive people. Naturally I was nervous but I rushed to tell them and responses ranged from ‘cool’ and ‘we figured’ to asking me more about it. It was a very positive experience for me.
It was only after I joined the queer community that I started to have issues regarding my identity. I realised that there was little representation in the media – and where there was representation, it usually conformed to stereotypes.
The word ‘bisexual’ is rarely even said on television or in books, even if a character is attracted to two or more genders. Piper from Orange is the New Black is probably bisexual; she’s had relationships with both a man and a woman. But she’s only ever referred to as a lesbian, ex-lesbian or straight girl. So far, Piper hasn’t identified herself, and she hasn’t ever really talked about it either. It’s possible that she doesn’t want to label herself. But why not?
Why not include us? Not only in a programme has that already showed a diverse range of characters, but across all media. Of course there is a high value of visible and positive representation. Not only is it more true to life, but representation provides somebody to identify with for those questioning their sexuality or gender – and shows diversity to people outside the queer community.
The problem with erasure doesn’t end with fictional characters. Many news outlets call bisexual celebrities gay, talk about ‘Gay Pride’ instead of simply ‘Pride’ and dub same-sex marriage ‘gay marriage’. There’s also a lot of biphobia and ignorance towards bisexuality.
Here’s an example from personal experience. At my second Pride, the drag queen presenting did a typical call and response shout out to all the different identities. But when she called to bisexuals and we called back, she replied with ‘well… you know what they say – bi now, gay later!’
As someone who had recently come out, this was devastating for me. It told me that I wasn’t really welcome in the community. Because even at Pride, where I believed everyone would be accepted, I was told I didn’t exist. As bisexuals, we might not always find acceptance in mainstream society, but we should be able to find support and acceptance within the queer community.
It’s just one experience that sticks in my head, and I often feel uncertain about who I am as a result. I’ve come to find that this was only the first of many experiences that made me feel uncomfortable about my sexuality. I don’t feel queer enough because I’ve never been with anyone but my boyfriend. There’s a perception of bisexuals as half-gay and half-straight, slutty, confused, attention seeking or just experimenting. These stereotypes are obviously going to be hurtful to a lot of people, but when you happen to conform to one of those stereotypes you feel like a cliché rather than a complex human being.
I’m not sure if my mental illness is caused solely by my experiences as a bisexual woman. However I do know that those experiences certainly contribute. Quite often I’ve noticed that when we are talking about our experiences of biphobia and bi erasure we are often ignored or talked over by others and that people within the community can contribute to the biphobia that we experience even without realising.
March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month, which will highlight the challenges our community is facing and work to bring about positive change. I think it’s a really great step forward to solve the problem.
Thanks for reading my story and feel free to leave your comments below!