As homophobia is on the rise and anti-transgender legislation continues to pass in state legislatures, the activists in the LGBTQIA+ community are spread thin. That leaves little room to address biphobia, which affects more than half of queer adults in the U.S.
“People seem to be at their saturation point with learning about homophobia and transphobia, and then they learn about individuals experiencing biphobia, and they just don’t want to deal with it,” said nonbinary Denverite Alden Vadar. “Society is very uncomfortable with people who can honor the whole spectrum and binary within their sexuality.”
Bisexual people make up almost 60% of the LGBTQIA+ community in the U.S., which makes bisexuality the most prevalent sexual identity under the queer umbrella. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of biphobia is similar to homophobia or transphobia in its first line: “An aversion toward bisexuality and toward bisexual people as a social group or as individuals.” But what is unique about biphobia lies in the second part of the definition: “It can take the form of denial that bisexuality is a genuine sexual orientation, or of negative stereotypes about people who are bisexual (such as the belief that they are promiscuous or dishonest).”
“A lot of people have this underlying understanding that bisexuality is some kind of ‘half-queer’ situation,” Vadar said.
But that view restricts bisexuality to a binary, which many don’t resonate with. In fact, bisexuality serves as yet another umbrella term for those who identify as pansexual, biromantic, polysexual, omnisexual, or sexually fluid. Especially for bisexual folks who predominantly date the opposite gender, that “half-queer” thinking can erase their identity both within the LGBTQ+ community and in a heteronormative society.
Jaylin Goodloe, the director of Mental Health Services at The Center on Colfax, the largest LGBTQ community center in the Rocky Mountain region, identifies as a bisexual woman. In her experience, the majority of the biphobia she’s faced has come directly from the queer community.
“They like to ask you, ‘Who are you dating right now? Are you really bisexual, or are you straight?’ There’s always this assumption that you have to pick and choose a side,” she said. “Just because you’re a bisexual person doesn’t mean you can’t be in a relationship with someone of the opposite gender, even though that may look like a heterosexual relationship. It doesn’t invalidate your queerness.”
Vadar described their experience with biphobia in a similar light. “From the [cisgender-heteronormative] community, I think that I present as pretty gay instead of bi, so they often just typecast me as queer and gay and don’t really consider the fact that that’s not my full identity.” Vader added that many people have what they perceive as a “different kind of fear” surrounding bisexual people: They view them as having more options in the romantic sense than most.
Bisexual women, in particular, often face fetishization as a part of biphobia. Kendall Bates (name has been changed due to privacy concerns), a bisexual woman, said that the biggest stereotype she encounters in dating, particularly from men, is that she would be open to threesomes because she identifies as bisexual. Straight couples often prowl dating apps like Tinder searching for a bisexual woman who will have sex with them—a phenomenon known as “unicorn hunting.”
“What you want in an intimate setting is completely separate from your sexuality,” she said.
She added that men in her life have expressed a lot of insecurity about her sexuality when she has confided in them. “Some of my guy friends or male partners in the past have tried to force me into thinking I was gay, because it’s just so hard for some of them to accept that other part of your identity. It can make relationship dynamics really tricky and call for a lot of adjustment.”.
Although bisexuals may be coded as straight and thus receive some level of privilege in a society that is actively attacking LGBTQIA+ individuals, the flip side of this is that bisexuals face plenty of skepticism and are often not accepted within the queer community.
“The bi community is out here. We’re not in hiding,” said Goodloe. “We’re finally having these conversations in queer spaces about transphobia and homophobia because everyone is facing a challenge. So we need to help each other in these moments and bring awareness to biphobia as well. We need to open the conversation up more about biphobia and put people in a more comfortable place to talk about it.”