Brigid Bergin: Hi everybody, I'm Brigid Bergin in for Melissa Harris-Perry, and this is The Takeaway. Pride Month is all about celebrating the LGBTQ community and bringing light to issues the community still faces, ranging from homophobia and transphobia, to economic insecurity, to civil rights and liberties. Today, we're highlighting another set of issues, something that members of the B in LGBTQ struggle with, biphobia and bi-erasure. Many people in the Bi+ community, which includes bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual folks among others, feel invisible and validated and dismissed by members in and outside of the LGBTQ community.
Pressured to choose a side, in other words do identify as straight or gay, many Bi+ people find themselves in limbo when it comes to finding acceptance and understanding, and as a consequence, can struggle with adverse physical and mental health issues. In fact, according to the Bisexual Resource Center, Bi+ people face even higher rates of depression and anxiety than lesbians and gay men. For more on this, I'm joined now by Belle Haggett Silverman, president of the Board of Directors of the Bisexual Resource Centre. Welcome to The Takeaway, Belle.
Belle Haggett Silverman: Thank you so much, Brigid.
Brigid Bergin: Let's just start out with some Bi 101. What is the plus in BI+ and who makes up the community?
Belle Haggett Silverman: Absolutely. Here at the Bisexual Resource Centre, the BRC, we use Bi+ as an umbrella term to represent the community that has come together around their sexuality that is more expansive than one gender. Anyone who is attracted to more than one gender, whether it's physically, emotionally, or sexually, such that they might identify as bisexual, pansexual, or many other beautiful labels like queer or fluid.
Brigid Bergin: What are cultural or societal myths or perceptions about Bi+ people and what do people often get wrong?
Belle Haggett Silverman: There are so, so many and it can be culturally specific to the different cultures that people exist in. A couple examples might be that a bisexual+ person might be promiscuous, perhaps that they are confused, perhaps that they are doing a performance either for male attention or to be edgy. There are lots of these misunderstandings of bisexual+ community that result in serious stigma that can be different for different genders. Bi men and bi women and bi non-binary people do tend to face different types of stigmas, but all Bi+ people often are subjected to these myths and misunderstandings.
Brigid Bergin: It sounds like you're starting maybe to talk about biantagonism or biphobia, can you talk about how they impact people in the Bi+ community?
Belle Haggett Silverman: Yes, and I can use a little bit of my personal story as well knowing that it can be different for everybody. I grew up in a community which was relatively LGBTQ-affirming, and I was very lucky to have that space. Still, while I was growing up and when I was coming out, I received messages both from my queer friends and from my street family and friends as well saying, "Oh, you think you're bisexual now, but you're going to figure out who you are later and then you'll get to grow up into your real sexuality." That never happened because I am bisexual and that is who I am and that's who I think I will always be.
It wasn't until I got to go to a Bisexual Resource Centre support group for the first time that I really experienced what it was like to be affirmed and celebrated for who I was. I had such a physical reaction to that, it felt like lightness in my chest after decades of being told that I was less than or confused or not queer enough or straight enough to really find community.
Brigid Bergin: Belle, are there stigmas and misconceptions about Bi+ men, and are they different than for women?
Belle Haggett Silverman: Yes, and again, culturally dependent, can vary depending on where you are. However, bi men tend to face very particular stigmas around their sexuality. More folks may be less willing to accept that a bisexual man exists. You'll see sometimes research that is done just to prove that they exist, as if just talking to bisexual men is not enough. We have, I think, here in the American context an understanding that perhaps women are more sexually expansive or fluid and that's built into our culture, but we don't have those same understandings for bi men.
That said, bi women face different stigmas as well. They may be over sexualized or accused of performing the sexuality to seem attractive or to be able to be more interesting, and that can have really profound impacts too on bi women. In particular, sexual and domestic violence, the rates for bi women are really high. No matter what gender you are in the Bi+ community, there are distinct stigmas that surround those identities.
Brigid Bergin: What about intersectionality, are there issues that other groups within the Bi+ community experience?
Belle Haggett Silverman: Absolutely. This community is so diverse and vibrant. It's one of the wonderful things about being in the Bi+ community, and also, that means that there are stigmas that are attached to the intersections of that identity. Bi+ identity has a large intersection with Black identity as well. Black women are some of the most likely to identify as bisexual, and of course, as we were talking about, that comes with particular stigmas and hardships that are faced because of those stigmas and the lack of community.
It goes beyond race as well, bisexual identity and disability status has a really large intersection. So many other people cross-cutting all these beautiful different identities do, unfortunately, come with their own stigmas. Services need to cater to those intersections.
Brigid Bergin: Well, let's talk about what are some of the resources for Bi+ people facing some of these stigmas?
Belle Haggett Silverman: I think the biggest thing that can be really helpful for a lot of people is to get educated and get connected. Organizations like the Bisexual Resource Centre, but there are many out there like Still Bisexual and the Bisexual Organizing Project are out there to make sure that we have good information about what it means to be bi and Bi+. Getting educated and educating those around you can help you make sure that you're feeling less alone and that you've got good information to battle some of these myths and misconceptions.
Then the second part is get connected. I mentioned my story about connecting with a support group and how important that was to me. Even just being a part of the board of Bisexual Resource Centre is affirming and allows me to express my queer identity in a way that is affirming. I really believe that if everyone had access to quality community that is not just accepting but celebrating that whole bisexual person, that some of those adverse mental and physical health outcomes would be mitigated just through the power of community.
Brigid Bergin: I'm wondering, what gives you hope for the future of the bi community?
Belle Haggett Silverman: What gives me hope is that the number of young people who are identifying as bisexual goes up every year. What that tells me is two things, one, that the future is very bi and we have this brilliant future coming for us. The other is that they're feeling more comfortable and that there's a little bit less stigma for every generation that's coming after me and that gives me enormous hope. I really just believe that if we were able to come together and build a movement of bi acceptance with our allies, with the Bi+ community and all its diverse beauty, that we can build that future that's a little kinder for Bi+ people everywhere.
Brigid Bergin: Belle Haggett Silverman is president of the Board of Directors of the Bisexual Resource Centre. Thank you so much for being here.
Belle Haggett Silverman: Thank you so much, Brigid. It was a pleasure.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.