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Column: 'Negative attitudes persist among heterosexual and homosexual people'

But people who are attracted to multiple genders make up between 2 and 25% of the population, writes Bi+ Ireland.

Various

BI+ IRELAND WAS established in 2012 to support and advocate on behalf of our bisexual community. It was set up in response to a lack of recognition of bisexual people and now has a thriving online presence with thousands of followers as well as monthly meetups.

Today, we at Bi+ Ireland are celebrating Bisexual Visibility Day. We’d like to take this opportunity to share why this day is so important, particularly why visibility is so important, and to give some insight into the realities of bisexuality.

Raising awareness of these issues could have considerable impact as bisexual people make up a significant portion of the population. People who are attracted to multiple genders make up between 2 and 25% of the population, depending on the study .

Why is visibility important?

DSC_1004 Bi+ Ireland at Cork Pride, 2017.

Ensuring the visibility of bisexual people is important for many reasons. One of the most important of these is to counteract the many widely-held misconceptions regarding bisexuality. These misconceptions have terrible consequences as they perpetuate stigmas which have knock-on effects on the mental and physical health of bisexual people and their likelihood of living life out of the closet.

Before considering these misconceptions, it is worth considering what an accurate depiction of bisexuality looks like. The great American bisexual activist, Robyn Ochs, described herself in these words:

I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.

This is a wonderfully inclusive definition of bisexuality. To recognise this level of inclusivity, we often refer to our community as the bi+ community and we welcome anyone who identifies with the essence of the definition above. This may include people who identify as pansexual, omnisexual, nonmonosexual, polysexual or who prefer not to use a label at all.

What bisexuality is not

Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards bisexual people persist, among both heterosexual and homosexual people. These negative attitudes are largely constructed of false stereotypical beliefs about how bisexual people act, or whether bisexuality is even a valid sexual orientation.

For example, bisexuailty is considered by some to be a transitional stage or state of “confusion”. However, longitudinal studies have shown that, while some people move from a bisexual identification to either a straight or homosexual identity, the vast majority consistently identify as bisexual.

Another common, and inherently judgmental, myth is that bisexual people are innately promiscuous, despite studies showing that most bisexual people are in committed, monogamous relationships. Of course, the number of sexual partners a person has is unrelated to their sexuality, and more importantly, unrelated to the quality of their character. Furthermore, open and polyamorous relationships are just as valid as monogamous relationships for people of any sexuality.

Another crucial point of clarification regarding bisexuality is that it does not necessarily imply equal attraction to people of all genders. Sexual and romantic attractions come in all different forms and can vary across time, just like most other human characteristics.

Finally, bisexual people are do not have an easier life experience due to their capacity for relationships with people of the opposite sex. In fact, despite bisexual people making up the largest group within the LGBT+ community by many estimates, we are the least likely to be out. Furthermore, concealing a stigmatised identity has been shown to cause severe stress which can have an impact on psychological well-being.

Our well-being

The lack of understanding, the “double” stigma from both heterosexual and homosexual people, and the related difficulty in disclosing one’s bisexuality results in a higher level of mental health difficulties among bisexual people.

The 2016 LGBT Ireland report demonstrated that bisexual people in Ireland experienced more distress, more symptoms of depression and more symptoms of anxiety than lesbians and gay men. A recent study demonstrated that loneliness and the experience of negative attitudes from both the straight community and within the LGBT community contribute to these higher levels of mental health difficulties.

Visibility is an important step towards solving these problems and Bi+ Ireland will continue to work to increase the visibility and presence of bi+ people in Ireland and to create diverse, vibrant and welcoming communities.

Authors: Bi+ Ireland Coordination Team: Aoife, Chris, Ciara, Emma, Gavin, Helen, Jess, Jon, Jonathan, Kyna, Lou, Niamh, Paula, Roisín, Sharon, Shauna, Sinéad, Siobhán, Tendai.

Bi+ Ireland have created a space where bi+ people can make friends, access peer support and reduce any isolation they may experience. To find out more, check out their website, Facebook and Twitter. To learn about the lived experience of bi+ people living in Ireland, see their We Exist series.

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