UK Study on Bisexuality

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According to a recently released report from the Equality Network in the United Kingdom, bisexuals do not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation when accessing services, even from LGBT providers. Sixty-six percent of the respondents felt that they have to pass as straight and 42% felt that they needed to pass as gay or lesbian when accessing services.

The report, entitled Complicated? Bisexual people’s experiences of and ideas for improving services, is based on results from a survey. The online survey was launched at the conference, BiCon 2013 in Edinburgh in July 2013. Data was collected through the end of September 2013. The Equality Network’s LGBTI mailing list of over 25,000 people was a major source of promotion, as well as several other online bisexual networks in the UK. The respondents were encouraged to redistribute the survey via their own social groups and online networks.

Over five hundred respondents who self-identify as bisexual reported a significant amount of discomfort when accessing services. Many encountered biphobia. Although bisexuals might expect to feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation with LGBT service providers, 25% respondents were not usually comfortable doing so. This is also reflected by the concerns about biphobia within LGBT services that were raised by respondents across several of the survey sections.

“My sexuality is judged entirely based on the gender of my current partner, even in LGBT settings,” one respondent reported. “Most service providers have no knowledge of biphobia and they actively or passively contribute to bisexual erasure.”

The instances of biphobia on the part of healthcare workers caring for disabled bisexuals are particularly disturbing. Thirty-five percent of the respondents reported that they were disabled and sought sensitive services.

One respondent reports, “A nurse refused to treat me due to being bisexual. My mother overheard him saying to the senior nurse, ‘I refuse to treat her, she’s not normal and just a greedy bitch, she needs to decide what gender she loves, it’s unnatural to love both.’”

In fact, many reported that bisexual women are often seen as greedy, promiscuous, liars and cheaters. They are often regarded as really heterosexual but pretending to be bisexual in order to
seem cute or edgy and attract men. Many reported that they are taken less seriously and said this was particularly problematic when dealing with heterosexual men, even in formal situations such as accessing services.

Further, some women said that they experience more, and feel at higher risk of, sexual assault and feel generally unsafe because they are bisexual and female. One respondent said a psychotherapist implied that it was somehow her fault that she was raped.

One woman stated, “Being harassed for being a woman often makes me want to become a lesbian stereotype in the hopes I would receive less sexual harassment. It makes me feel like I should have to tell the world that I have a girlfriend, just to make people leave me alone. Whenever a man asks me if I’m a lesbian I feel like by telling him that I’m bisexual I’m somehow offering him a chance, rather than just telling him my identified orientation.”

American studies have similar findings: According to the Control for Disease Control and Prevention, “46.1% of bisexual women experienced rape in their lifetime, compared to 13.1% of lesbian women and 17.4% of heterosexual women.”

The authors suggest: “If services are to reach out and build trust with bisexual people, then they need to do things that are specifically bisexual inclusive and not just LGBT inclusive. At the very least, LGBT inclusive or specific initiatives should ensure that they are explicit and fair in how they include and represent bisexual identities. Organizations working to combat prejudice and exclusion because of sexual orientation need to ensure that they understand and explicitly explain how biphobia is different to homophobia, and how to recognize it and challenge it. In all work it is vital that the roles played by intersectionality and multiple discrimination are acknowledged, explored and embedded from the very beginning.

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About Author

Denise Penn

Denise Penn is a Southern California-based journalist who has covered issues for the LGBT and HIV-affected community for nearly two decades. While an investigative reporter for the Blade Newsmagazine, her coverage of hate crimes became part of Congressional records. She served as News Editor for the Lesbian News and has contributed to In Los Angeles Magazine, EDGE, and many others. She is also a clinical social worker and brings that perspective to her articles. She produced and hosted an award-winning community television program in Long Beach, California for 12 years.

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