According to a study released by the Williams Institute. Bisexuals actually represent a slight majority within the LGB community but bisexual activists and individuals still often feel their sexual identity isn’t seen as legitimate in our culture, and even experience discrimination within queer communities. Asking LGBTQ College Students and Bisexual Activists, “why do people find it too hard to come out as bisexual and choose to stay in the gay closet instead”, reporter Anya Callahan has set about finding the missing “B” in LGBT for the on-line magazine of Campus Progress, the college outreach arm of John Podesta’s liberal public policy think-tank the Center for American Progress.
“I came out of the closet 15 years ago and have been a part of the queer community. I happened to fall in love with a guy, and I don’t want to be kicked out of my culture,” Faith Cheltenham, the president of BiNet USA, told Campus Progress.
“People think I have privilege as a bisexual, I am a cisgender, bisexual woman with a cisgend husband”, she said using a term to describe people who, for the most part, identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. But Cheltenham’s experience is contrary to popular assumptions. “If you’re a bi person your relationship status will often indicate to others what your orientation is,” Faith explained. “Your identity being instantly understood by sight is a monosexual privilege,” one that referrs to people who are only attracted to one gender, including heterosexual people, gay men and lesbians.
Elaine Smith, a student at University of Puget Sound, told Campus Progress “I’ve personally experienced people telling me that they didn’t think bisexuality was a real thing. It is frustrating, in every sense of the word, to be told that your sexual identity isn’t legitimate.” Even within LGBT networks, Elaine explained that often gay and lesbian allies ostracize bisexuals. “Having [bisexuality]greeted with skepticism in a group that is commonly on the outside of society itself made me think for a while there that they were right,” she said, “that the emotions and things that I was feeling for men and women weren’t real.”
Denise Penn, MSW a member of the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) told Campus Progress she believes the stigma that surrounds bisexuality comes from a lack of education and understanding and is largely based in fear. “American culture tends to look at things in a very dichotomous way … things are either black or white…There is almost a fear of saying ‘maybe you could be kind-of this way.’” From this lack of education and fear stems deep-rooted negative stereotypes of bisexuality. Penn explained that people often assume bisexuals are “promiscuous, or really confused, or that they’re gay but afraid to come out, that they’re really straight people just playing around and having a good time, and they’ll go back to their real life.”
In comparison to other queer identities, Penn believes that our culture hasn’t made as much progress accepting bisexuality as it has accepting gays and lesbians. Penn, explained that bisexual is an umbrella term, the bisexual community really welcomes people who identify as pansexual and omnisexual and even asexual individuals feel welcomed in the bi community.
“The LGBT community has worked hard educating and advocating for their rights…what people don’t understand is that some of those activists have been bisexual and many of them haven’t been out,” Penn said.
Often when bisexual people do come out, they come out as gay or lesbian first. “There are people who are closeted bisexuals in the gay community…If you want to belong to a group, there are still so many negative connotations of bisexuality, sometimes it’s easier to stay in the gay closet.” All of the students that Campus Progress spoke with requested their real last names not be published for fear of the same discrimination of which they spoke.
Scott Clark, a student at University of Puget Sound, told Campus Progress, “I have been called “fake” by both homosexuals and heterosexuals. Some people seem to think that there is no way that a person can be sexually and romantically attracted to both sexes at the same time. Many people—both gay and straight—have questioned my sexuality because of the amount of females that I have had relationships with versus males.”
Madelyn Ray, also a student, has had similar experiences. “When you date straight it seems to negate the gayness to some people. It’s a toss up of how people view me. My sexuality is generally ignored and reduced to what’s simplest to understand.”
Young people often feel an immense pressure to make commitments, and sexual identity follows suit. “You’re supposed to know what you’re career is going to be, your major…and likewise you’re expected to understand your sexuality,” Penn said. “I don’t think that young people have to absolutely understand what their sexuality is. It’s a complicated, interesting, exciting thing to explore,” she said. And when our culture begins to understand sexuality in a more fluid way, Penn continued, it will lead to a more accepting environment.
Through all of her work in the bi community Penn has noticed that bisexuals tend to be very introspective and “examine themselves and who they are and what life is about, rather than pushing away certain feelings and thinking ‘this isn’t who I’m supposed to be.’”
“The biggest benefit of being a bisexual individual is you don’t have to pay attention to ‘gender’ in the slightest bit,” Scott said. “You get to pick people based entirely on what makes them a worthwhile person, and the only thing their sex affects is how you rub your wiggly bits together in the middle of the night.” And one of the biggest components to alleviating bisexual discrimination will be “the dissolution of the idea of ‘binary genders.’ The idea that humanity is separated into two completely separate types of individual based on the type of organs in their pelvic bowl is a little ridiculous.”
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