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Column: Bi the way… sexuality isn’t just ‘straight or gay’

A frequent misconception when someone comes out as bisexual is that they’ve only stepped ‘halfway out of closet’. This view ignores the fact that human sexuality exists on a continuum, writes Odhrán Allen.

Odhrán Allen

TOM DALEY, Lady Gaga, Angelina Jolie and David Bowie. What do they all have in common? Probably not a lot apart from their fame, but they’ve all said publicly that they are attracted to both men and women, that is to say they’re bisexual. The most recent of these, 19-year-old Olympic diver Tom Daley, stated that even though he’s in a relationship with a man he still fancies girls. Whilst the general reaction to his coming out has been very positive, sadly the reaction has been less than positive from some quarters with a torrent of abuse from some on Twitter and Facebook.

There are three widely recognised sexual orientations – straight, gay/lesbian and bisexual. Human sexuality exists on a continuum ranging from attraction to the opposite sex at one end of the spectrum and attraction to the same sex at the other. While most Irish people identify as straight about 8% identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Irish research found 4% of 17 to 25-year-olds said they were gay or lesbian and 4% said they were bisexual with a further 3% saying they weren’t sure of their sexuality.

Misconceptions

A frequent misconception when someone comes out as bisexual is that they’ve only stepped halfway out of closet and it’s just a matter of time before they come all the way out and say they’re really lesbian or gay. While this is true of some gay people’s coming out journey, it is surprising how many people actually don’t believe bisexuals exist and that you can only be straight or gay.

When people discover they aren’t straight it’s common for them to fear negative reactions from family and friends. Some gay people do find it easier to first come out as bisexual because they’re still exploring their sexuality or because this feels less scary for them. But usually when someone says they’re bisexual they ARE bisexual and we should accept and respect this. Maybe bisexuality challenges some of us because it reminds us that sexuality isn’t just straight or gay but is on a continuum, with people being at different points along the spectrum.

Bisexual people, who often say ‘bi’ for short, can face prejudice because they are bi and this can have a significant impact on them. Irish research shows that stress experienced because you’re gay or bi can affect your mental health. The same research shows that bi people report higher levels of self-harm and attempted suicide when compared to gay people. Perhaps this is partly because bisexual people can experience prejudice just as much from gay people as from straight people.

Biphobia

As many people know, homophobia is negative attitudes and behaviours towards gay people but biphobia is prejudice directed specifically at bi people. It can take many forms and may even be unintended. Bisexual people often hear comments that they ‘are sitting on the fence’, ‘are letting the side down’, ‘won’t accept they’re gay’ or ‘want their cake and want to eat it’. These hurtful and offensive comments convey a message that there is something wrong with being bisexual or that it’s a lesser sexuality. This isn’t true.

Being bisexual is a legitimate sexual identity as much as being straight or gay is. Bisexual people are as capable of having a loving, committed relationship as straight and gay people. As is the case in all relationships, it is the quality of the communication, honesty and trust between the partners that gives stability to a relationship.

The real problem with these negative messages about bisexuality is that it can add to the confusion for someone, especially a young person, who is discovering their sexuality and feeling they may be bisexual. The myths and misinformation about bisexual people can confound the confusion a young person feels when they are questioning their sexual orientation or are afraid to come out.

It’s important for people questioning their sexuality or coming out to feel comfortable being themselves, whether they are straight, gay or bi. While they may not feel the need for such a public disclosure, hopefully they can take some comfort from the words of Tom Daley in his coming out video when he said:

In Spring this year my life changed… something just clicked… I still fancy girls but right now I’m dating a guy and I couldn’t be happier… it just feels right… all my family and friends I’ve told have been so supportive… and I’m still Tom.

For more information visit www.lgbt.ie or www.lgbtmentalhealth.ie or if you’d like to talk to someone in confidence call the LGBT Helpline on 1890 929 539

Odhrán Allen is Director of Mental Health with GLEN – the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network www.glen.ie

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Odhrán Allen

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