February in the UK is LGBT History Month, a time to recognise LGBT issues, topics and history. It’s incredibly important to the community, but I also feel it’s important for society as a whole. As a bisexual woman who only “came out” to her family last year, I’ve been exploring my own thoughts, feelings and experiences and hope to cover some of those in this article.
Sexuality – Biphobia and Homophobia
Stigmas and stereotypes are so damaging to individuals within minority groups. On a personal level I have witnessed and experienced stigmas around my sexuality for as long as I can remember. It’s why I’m so sensitive about it, because it reminds me of my internalised biphobia and homophobia from my teenage years.
As an awkward teenager I experienced a lot of bullying. For this reason, I would say and do things just to fit in. It was common for children to state things such as “that’s so gay!” or to laugh at out bisexual people, calling them “greedy” and suggesting that they “pick a side”.
It was only when I attended a lecture by an old CEO of Stonewall at De Montfort University who asked the lecture hall to “raise your hand if you ever said ‘that’s so gay'”, and roughly 80% of the attendees did so, that I realised how much I had internalised. I felt a deep sense of shame that I had taken part in that behaviour. It meant that when I returned to work that week in a secondary school, I became increasingly sensitive to students using that phrase in the playground.
As a teenager I knew that I was bisexual – I was attracted to both men and women. But there was no education about different sexualities, and it certainly wasn’t something I could talk about at home. So my bisexuality was kept completely secret for years. I had seen many friends come out and be referred to as:
- going through a phase
- closet gay
- someone who will cheat in relationships
- a swinger
All of those misconceptions and stereotypes made coming out challenging. How would I be treated? How would my family feel? Would I be rejected? The fear was exponential and so I didn’t talk about my sexuality with my family until I was 29.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t ‘out’, but I think it was mixed. Witthin my friendship group I experienced warmth and compassion. I am very lucky and privileged that my friendship group is filled with such a wide array of people – heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, trans, non binary as well as different relationship types and preferences – monogomous, open, polyamorous and asexuality. This meant that I could be ‘me’ without any concerns.
But it’s common that those who identify as Bisexual often feel seperate to the LGBTQ community. The Equality Network produced a report: “Complicated? Bisexual people’s experiences of and ideas for improving services” which found that 45% of participants felt only “a little” bit part of the community, with 21% feeling “not at all” included. This stemmed from experiences of feeling like a “fake LGBT person”, biphobia from gay individuals (those who don’t want to date bisexual people) and feeling that the community is more “LG” rather than “LGBT”.
But in my familial relationships I was always fearful. I finally decided that I wanted to be open and I was met with questions and confusion:
- But you’re engaged to a man?
- I’ve never seen you with a woman?
- It must just be a phase
- Does this mean you’re going to get a female partner too?
- I thought you were happy in your relationship?
These misconceptions were hurtful for a variety of reasons. For example the second point – I always wanted a girlfriend. But knowing that I couldn’t bring a woman home to my family, I never felt that I could explore that avenue. This doesn’t mean that I am not bisexual though. This is where “bi-erasure” comes in.
Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include the belief that bisexuality itself does not exist.Wikipedia
Something I wish to point out though. Those questions and confusions that I was met with were not a lack of acceptance, nor were they a rejection. They were not active attempts to hurt me or make the experience difficult. It resulted in a very emotional few days as I felt aggrieved and a loved one felt confused. I’m thankful that I persevered, as it has created a further sense of openess and acceptance within my family
But would I have been able to do that 15 years earlier? No. Part of that is because I knew now that I had a loving and supportive relationship as well as friendship group to take that risk. When I was a teenager I didn’t have that backup from friends. I was very lonely, and especially felt alone about my own sexuality. I dated only male partners from the age of 14 to keep up appearances. This was isolating and meant that I never felt like I could embrace and love myself. There is a reason that mental health problems are prevelant within the LGBTQ community.
The 2018 “Stonewall LGBT in Britain – Healthcare Report” found several key points:
- 52% said they’d experienced depression in the last year
- 13% of 18-24 year olds had attempted suicide
- 46% of trans people had thought about taking their own life
- 13% of 18-24 year olds had taken drugs at least once a month
- 15% said they’d drank alcohol almost every day
- 72% of bi women had experienced anxiety, 60% lesbians, 56% bi men and 53% gay men
This report is incredibly important in understanding the demographics and issues that affect the LGBTQ community, and I highly recommend having a read.
For more on LGBTQ+, visit Sussex Rainbow Counselling, where you can read about all things LGBTQ. I wrote a little more about my experiences as a bisexual woman for Bi Health Month, which can be read here.