Biphobia: Still Definitely a Thing

It’s #TBT and time for a classic column. This one ran in the Philly Weekly in October of 2015. 

In case you didn’t know: Philly used to have a les­bi­an bar, and I used to work there. At least once a week, someone would ap­proach me and ask, apro­pos of noth­ing, “Are you gay or straight?”

“That’s the wrong ques­tion,” I’d reply, “for so many reas­ons.”

Bi­sexu­als have been called a lot of cute things: day walk­ers, dual cit­izens, AC/DC, fence sit­ters. We’ve also been re­ferred to as greedy, in­de­cis­ive, ly­ing, go­ing through a phase—and even nonex­ist­ent. In pop cul­ture, we’re com­monly de­pic­ted as wacky, promis­cu­ous hard parti­ers, in­cap­able of mono­gamy. While that’s fairly cool as far as ste­reo­types go, it’s only really true for some of us. And it’s just as likely to be true for a straight or gay per­son.

bisexuality day 2013Are you a hack screen­writer and want to make a char­ac­ter seem in­ter­est­ing? Make her bi­sexu­al, and call it a day. Not per­fect, but at least it’d ac­know­ledge we ex­ist, which is more than can be said for many bar-go­ers, as well as main­stream news out­lets.

Celebs dat­ing someone of the same sex are of­ten labeled by gos­sip rags as gay or les­bi­an, re­gard­less of how they ac­tu­ally identi­fy. A 2014 New York Times art­icle ques­tioned the ex­ist­ence of the bi­sexu­al com­munity, and ad­vice colum­nists from Dr. Drew to Slate’s Emily Yof­fee have told bi-identi­fy­ing people to stay closeted un­til they pick a team.

This is des­pite the fact that more people identi­fy as sexu­ally flu­id (not be­ing ex­clus­ively at­trac­ted to one sex) than as gay or les­bi­an, es­pe­cially among young­er gen­er­a­tions. Bi­sexu­als com­prise 40 per­cent of the LGBT com­munity, but are starkly un­der­rep­res­en­ted by queer act­iv­ism groups, es­pe­cially in lead­er­ship roles. NYC Pride has fea­tured gay, les­bi­an and trans­gender grand mar­shals in its parade, omit­ting bi­sexu­al rep­res­ent­a­tion un­til just this year. Even the Na­tion­al Gay and Les­bi­an Task Force has used its plat­form to ar­gue against the iden­tity, claim­ing that it’s trans-ex­clu­sion­ary. (Pro tip: You don’t get to define oth­er people’s iden­tit­ies.)

Each Septem­ber, Bi­sexu­al­ity Aware­ness Week seeks to com­bat bi­sexu­al eras­ure and in­vis­ib­il­ity. Across so­cial me­dia, people take the op­por­tun­ity to come out, cel­eb­rate and shat­ter myths. For some, it’s about ba­sic re­spect and not let­ting oth­ers define them. When I’m with a man, for in­stance, it’s auto­mat­ic­ally as­sumed I’m straight, neg­at­ing my queer­ness. When I’m with a wo­man, we are called les­bi­ans, which is equally in­ac­cur­ate. It’s as an­noy­ing as hav­ing your name con­stantly mis­pro­nounced.

But bey­ond an­noy­ance, there are ser­i­ous re­per­cus­sions for this type of eras­ure. Bi­sexu­als ex­per­i­ence dis­crim­in­a­tion, har­ass­ment and ex­clu­sion from both the straight and queer worlds. We get the de­grad­a­tion of ho­mo­pho­bia while sim­ul­tan­eously be­ing shunned by those gays and les­bi­ans who con­sider us priv­ileged, dis­ease vec­tors or more likely to cheat.

bisexualsA 2011 study con­duc­ted by the San Fran­cisco Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion found that, due to this mar­gin­al­iz­a­tion, bi­sexu­als make less money, are more likely to live in poverty than gays or les­bi­ans and are far more likely to ex­per­i­ence dis­ordered eat­ing, sub­stance ab­use and sui­cid­al ideation. Med­ic­al pro­fes­sion­als rarely talk about sex with pa­tients in gen­er­al, much less with un­der­stand­ing of the spe­cif­ic health con­cerns of those who could part­ner with both men and wo­men.

Vari­ous stud­ies have demon­strated the im­port­ance of pos­it­ive rep­res­ent­a­tions in me­dia. See­ing a TV or movie char­ac­ter who shares our skin col­or, has our in­terests or shares a sim­il­ar back­ground gives us role mod­els and af­firm­a­tions of our value. If someone who is like us can be suc­cess­ful and happy, then we might be able to as well. Rep­res­ent­a­tions also have a hu­man­iz­ing ef­fect on oth­ers’ bi­ases. A good friend’s mom came around about her daugh­ter’s les­bi­an­ism after watch­ing a sea­son of ad­or­able clean-cut queer kids on Glee. Ap­par­ently, the joy of an all-gay boy cov­er of “Teen­age Dream” can fill a heart so full, there’s no room left for hatred.

We’re get­ting bet­ter at find­ing pos­it­ive, real­ist­ic por­tray­als of bi­sexu­al­ity, though at a much slower pace for men. Bi fe­male char­ac­ters of­ten ex­ist purely to tit­il­late, but com­prise 75 per­cent of de­pic­tions of bi­sexu­als, so we have that go­ing for us. If the as­sumed audi­ence for TV is straight men, the ar­gu­ment goes, it makes sense to them for a fe­male char­ac­ter to be drawn to an­oth­er wo­man, but makes them won­der why a man who could be with a wo­man would opt for a male body. The think­ing pro­cess ap­pears to be a very nu­anced “Eww! Weird! Penis! Do not want.”

Mean­while, at parties, I’ve gathered with a room full of wo­men to re­watch the Eric/Jason love scene in True Blood ap­prox­im­ately 50 times. The mar­ket is out there. Just so you know.

And this week­end, as we cel­eb­rate Out­fest, know that bi­sexu­als are out there, too.

Questions? Comments? Violent reactions? Email or tweet @timaree_leigh See more at and

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