Bi Aware: Bisexuality Awareness Week

September 20th-26th, 2015 is Bisexual Awareness Week, with September 23rd in particular being Bi Visibility Day. As we finish out Bisexual Awareness Week, myself and the team at CCGSD, hope that you have had a wonderful week of reflection and celebration! With the ‘B’ so firmly entrenched in the acronyms used to identify the larger queer and trans community, some might question the need for such a prolonged ‘awareness’ and ‘visibility’ campaign. As a bisexual femme, I am no stranger to being told in straight communities that “not everything has to be about being queer” and from queer and trans communities that “not everything has to be about bisexuality”. While strictly true, being that there are many other lenses to analyze and deconstruct issues through (gender, race, class, ability, etc.), this is frequently used as a dismissive silencing tactic.

Bisexual narratives, while they should never be the only narratives, are valid and deserve space and respect in the discussions of various issues. I am careful here to use the word ‘narratives,’ in the plural, as bisexuals are not a homogeneous group. Not only am I here using bisexual in its ‘umbrella term’ sense, encompassing distinct identities (to the extent that those individuals agree to be included under this umbrella) that happen to share the feature of sexual and/or romantic attraction to multiple gender identities, but bisexuals are a diverse group racially, economically, lingusitically, and in almost every other sense. They may be (trans) men, (trans) women, or non-binary, cis or trans, intersex or not, polyamorous or monogamous, and falling into just about any binary category or along any spectrum one can find to classify human experience, identity, or behavior.

IMAG0347_1From my specific positionality as a white, able-bodied, upper-middle class, educated, neurodiverse, cisgender, femme, bisexual woman there are two issues that impact daily on my life and are preoccupying my mind during bisexuality awareness week. Although, by no means ‘bisexual issues’ alone, this is one bisexual take on these problems.

Firstly, there is the issue of access to safe and appropriate health care, particularly sexual and reproductive health care. Bisexual individuals, like many other gender and sexual minority groups, face barriers to accessing quality health care. This largely stems from two interrelated problems: firstly, the fear of discrimination or judgement that prevents bisexual folks from disclosing bisexual orientation to health care providers and secondly, a lack of awareness on the distinct health needs of bisexuals (which may be compounded for bi trans individuals), particularly in the areas of sexual health, nutrition, and mental health.

Statistics show that bisexuals experience health disparities in these areas significantly differently from straight or lesbian/gay individuals. Particularly in regards to bisexual women, or wsw (women who have sex with women) more generally, health care providers may be unsure how to counsel on safer sex practices or routine health procedures. In a room of bisexual women (and trans men and AFAB non-binary folk, although these groups face other additional difficulties and barriers relating to their gender intersection) it is not uncommon to hear personal accounts of health care providers insisting that routine PAP smears are unnecessary for them (in reality, bisexuals with a cervix should follow general guidelines for PAP smears), being unsure or argumentative about STBBI testing, or being unaware of or uncomfortable talking about relevant safer sex tools (dental dams and both their use and importance, where to acquire, and how to modify other barriers). As alluded to, many bisexual folks are also trans and thus face the additional difficulty of accessing health care that safe, appropriate, and non-judgmental not only for queer or bisexual folk, but also for trans individuals. A disproportionate number of sex workers in Canada are also bisexual, according to a recent study. This again layers the difficulties of finding a sex worker-friendly health care provider with one that is bisexual-friendly. These considerations interplay with the general difficulties of finding a family doctor in one’s area that is currently accepting new patients.

Bi health disparities BHAM

Furthermore, repeated studies have also found that bisexuals, particularly bisexual women (even compared to lesbians), have disturbingly high rates of mental health issues from eating disorders and depression to suicide attempts and self-harm. General health care providers may not be aware of this and this increases the self-advocacy burden on bisexuals as they must bear the research and search costs not only to find a bisexual-friendly general health care provider, but also for bisexual-friendly mental health professionals.

Moving on from barriers to accessing general, mental, and sexual/reproductive health care, I want to touch on the issue of the eroticization and fetishization of bisexual women (an issue which is again amplified for bisexual trans women). In addition to a societal trend of objectifying women in general, queer women are often conceptualized and portrayed (in popular media and pornography) as objects for consumption by the straight male gaze. Bisexual women in particular have their attraction to multiple genders conceptualized as as hypersexual and an excess of sexual energy. Moreover, they are theoretically available to straight men, fueling fantasies of threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes (which is indulged by much bisexual pornography). This is a symptom of sexism and biphobia that needs to be deconstructed on multiple levels. Ultimately, this translates into bisexual women facing sexual microagressions, harassment, and sexual assault at a disproportionate rate compared to straight and lesbian women (trans women have not been statistically disaggregated in any research I have come across, which is sorely needed, but one could reasonably speculate that they face similar if not worse rates). Queer and trans women, and bisexual women in particular, do not exist for objectification and the pleasure of straight men. We need to work to have more conversations about the problematic portrayal of bisexual women in media and pornography, male presumption of entitlement to bisexual women’s bodies and sex lives, and generally combat both sexism, biphobia/bierasure, and other oppressions that intersect with bisexual identities.

If  you have taken something away from a ‘bisexual take’ on either of these issues, that is important. The simpler and more important take-away is not, however, the specific content of this post, but a recognition of the importance of both validating and creating/holding space for bisexual folks and narratives of all kinds.