In the midst of growing acceptance for the LGBTQ2+ community, bisexuals still face a unique set of challenges
Ashleigh Brink, Copy Editor
It is an overcast winter day with a distinct chill in the air. Lonsdale Quay is bustling with life, and the vast array of foods fill the air with a wonderful mix of tantalizing smells. Sitting at a table just outside is Hayleigh Warry-Gayton. Her long, brown hair is tied back into a neat ponytail, and she is sporting both a hoodie and leather jacket to ward off the cold. To any passerby in the bustling seaside market, she would appear to be just another 19-year-old girl, but as one of the approximately 5.5 per cent of Canadian women who identify as bisexual, she has a unique perspective on dating.
“[I]t is definitely about meeting the right person, because if I have feelings for that person [that are] strong enough, it trumps everything else,” she said. For her, it’s the person she’s attracted to, not their gender. Yet, for some people that can be a hard concept to grasp. Many bisexuals are subjected to the misconception that their sexuality is “just a phase”, and that they will one day discover they are actually straight or gay. This is in spite of studies dating back to 1948 that show that a significant group of people do not fit into the narrow definitions of heterosexuality and homosexuality.
While there is growing acceptance of members of the LGBTQ2+ community and Canada boasting some of the most progressive laws in the world, homophobia does still prevail. Many within the queer community feel discrimination on a daily basis. In fact, Ashton Davies*, a 20-year-old bisexual man, feels uncomfortable to the point where he admits he would “never hold hands with a guy out in public.”
Bisexuals like Davies and Warry-Gayton face many of the same challenges as other gay individuals, but they also have to contend with their own unique disadvantages. These start early, as they struggle to discover their sexuality. Being attracted to both men and women (and possibly others outside the gender binary) means being able to fit into both the “straight” and “gay” boxes prescribed by Western society, while not truly belonging in either one. Both Warry-Gayton and Davies recalled their tenuous journeys discovering and accepting their bisexuality. “In Grade eight and nine I was so nervous because there were so many girls that I was attracted to, but I just thought, ‘Oh I just think you’re really pretty’,” said Warry-Gayton. SA few people even tried to change her mind about her sexuality. “It’s LGBTQ+, and it’s there, [bisexuality]’s on the spectrum, and people shade it out,” she said with exasperation.
It can be frustrating when others hold onto ideas that have long been disproven. A study conducted in 2008 showed that 92 per cent of women who identified as bisexual as adolescents still identified as bisexual 10 years later. “[B]isexual women were consistently sexually fluid over time, maintaining attractions to both genders, to varying degrees, over the course of a decade,” University of Utah assistant professor Dr. Samantha Joel wrote in Psychology Today regarding the study. Naturally, this harmful, inaccurate idea is massively frustrating to bisexuals. “[W]hen people say to you ‘it’s just a phase’… it definitely can be discouraging. You want to just scream and be like ‘yeah but it’s not’,” said Warry-Gayton.
Since sexuality is best described as a spectrum, researchers developed a method of categorizing it called the Kinsey Scale. The scale ranks sexuality on a scale from zero to six, zero being exclusively heterosexual, and six being exclusively homosexual. The remaining categories, one to five, are all different gradations of bisexuality. Contrary to the popular belief that bisexual people are “half gay, half straight,” most are not equally attracted to men and women. Some are naturally, but many lean one way or the other. One person may strongly prefer to date women, and another person may slightly prefer to date men. Yet, despite being scientifically backed, many people still question the legitimacy of bisexuality – even within the queer community.
Perhaps the most damaging stereotype bisexual people face, especially in regards to attracting partners, is that they are intrinsically promiscuous and disloyal. That just because they have the capacity to be attracted to, and to love people not restricted to one gender, they are assumed to be incapable of sustaining a happy, monogamous relationship. Or, that they are just insatiable sex fiends who can’t help but cheat. Unsurprisingly, this too has been shown to be completely and utterly false. According to the aforementioned 2008 study, nearly 90 per cent of participants were engaged in long-term monogamous relationships by its conclusion.
Unfortunately though, this misconception is widespread. Bisexual people are all too often written off as fickle, promiscuous and inevitably unfaithful. These pervasive opinions have some disheartening consequences for the bisexual community. A recent study showed that both gay and straight people are less willing to date a bisexual person, and a shocking 47 per cent of those surveyed said they would never date a bisexual person.
Amidst this discrimination, a worrying trend has emerged amongst bisexual pople. According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, bisexual people are notably less likely to come out to their friends and family compared to their gay and lesbian counterparts. This is significant because a strong support system is vital to LGBTQ2+ individuals, and not being out deprives them of this. Warry-Gayton repeatedly stressed the importance of having a good support network, and said she tries to mostly surround herself with mature, accepting individuals.
While Warry-Gayton is mostly “out”, and quite open about her bisexuality, Davies is not. He takes a drastically different approach and only tells a few individuals who he is certain will be supportive. “I think [biphobia is] why I’m scared of telling [people], that’s literally the only reason,” said Davies. “..[T]he friends I haven’t told… there’s reasons why I haven’t told them, because you can tell how open-minded someone is.”
With many bisexual men and women not being out, and therefore lacking those key support systems in addition to the rampant, albeit sometimes subtle, discrimination they face, there seems to be a profoundly negative effect on the community. “LGBT Americans face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and negative health outcomes than straight Americans, but among LGB people, those who are bisexual face disproportionately higher rates of these negative outcomes than lesbians and gay men,” according to a recent publication by a number of bisexual advocacy groups.
Naturally, the experiences of bisexual men and women vary a certain degree. For women, one of the most prominent challenges is their vast oversexualization, especially in modern Western society. “Bisexuality [is] regarded as something that women do for the pleasure of men,” said Meg-John Barker of BiUK in an interview with Refinery29. Unfortunately, this directly contributes to another issue bisexual women face, the perception that their attraction to women is somehow lesser than their attraction to men. That they “just need to meet the right guy” and they will suddenly be cured of their attraction to women.
Bisexual men, on the other hand, have a drastically different experience. Overwhelmingly, both gay men and straight women see them as less desirable. To compound things even further, bisexual men are often assumed to just be closeted gay men, just because they break the social conformity embedded in masculinity itself.
“In both cases it is assumed that bisexual people are really into men and not women. So bisexual women are often assumed to be in it to titillate men, whereas bisexual men are assumed to be gay men who are not brave enough to come out as gay,” said Barker.
Fortunately though, both Warry-Gayton and Davies seem to doing quite well. Despite their different approaches, both are increasingly comfortable with their bisexuality, and finding their place in both the LGBTQ2+ community and the world. “[I]t’s easy to deal with if you have a good… support system who understands you,” said Warry-Gayton.
That seems to ring true for many. With a strong support network of accepting friends and family, many bisexual people handle the discrimination levelled at them and find fulfilling long-term relationships, monogamous or otherwise. That being said though, we can only hope that acceptance of bisexuality continues to grow.
Warry-Gayton wraps up the interview in typical bisexual fashion – with awkward finger guns.
*Name changed to protect privacy