The invisible stereotypes of bisexual men

Alon Zivony & Thalma Lobel update us on their recent research

Bisexuals face two broad social problems: public invisibility and discrimination. Invisibility refers to the lack of representation of bisexuals and knowledge about bisexuals in society. In either the media, the sciences, and even in the LGT community – people are nearly unaware of the existence of bisexuals and the issues that affect their lives. Discrimination refers to prejudice and stereotypical attitudes towards bisexuals. For example, the notion that bisexuals are closeted gay\lesbian, untrustworthy, confused, and hypersexual.

At first glance, these two phenomena (invisibility and discrimination) seem paradoxical. How can invisibility and discrimination coincide? In other words, how can someone discriminate against a group they are not familiar with? The answer may be surprisingly simple.

In our study we evaluated social stereotypes of bisexual men in light of bisexual invisibility. Participants were presented with two characters on a first date and asked them to evaluate one of the characters (based on answers to various questions). Whenever the evaluated character was described as bisexual, he was evaluated as being confused, untrustworthy, and unable to stay in a relationship. In other words, he was evaluated based on negative stereotypes associated with bisexuals.

In another experiment we asked participants to indicate what are the stereotypes associated with bisexual men. In light of bisexual invisibility, it is not surprising that participants had little knowledge of these stereotypes. For example, only 20% of participants knew that bisexual men are often considered as closeted gay. Only 7% of participants knew that bisexual men are often considered as confused.

But we found something surprising as well. The results showed that prejudiced individuals knew even less about these stereotypes that non-prejudiced individuals. In other words, prejudice not only coincided with lack of knowledge, but was correlated with it. The meaning of this finding was spelled out for us by one participant. He wrote: “I’m not familiar with any specific stereotypes of bisexual males. I do sometimes feel that they are actually homosexuals, but are afraid to identify as such due to social stigma.”

In other words, this participant holds stereotypical beliefs about bisexual men, but did not know these beliefs were considered stereotypical. But, if stereotypes don’t come from knowledge about bisexuals, where do they come from? We think that these stereotypes are the result of misconceptions regarding sexuality and gender in general. For example, as men and women are considered as completely separate and “opposite” genders, people automatically imagine bisexuality as two dual attractions that work in opposite directions. The implication of that image is a constant conflict and turmoil. This is how bisexual stereotypes can be both common and unknown.

This situation actually makes things worse for bisexuals: people don’t try to suppress their prejudicial beliefs and behaviors unless they know they are prejudicial. Also, you can’t fight stereotypes unless people know they are stereotypes. This leads us to the conclusion that education is the solution for both bisexual invisibility as well as discrimination against bisexuals.

Bisexuality Talks at EuroPride 2014

Last weekend (20th to 22nd June) was the beginning of EuroPride 2014 that was being held in Oslo, Norway. Alongside the usual parties, parades and merriment, they organised a series of talks that they were holding at Pride House to discuss a range of issues relating to LGBT communities. A few months ago BiUK received an email inviting a member of the group to participate in two of the discussions they were organising on bisexuality. I went, as did Marcus Morgan of the Bisexual Index. We participated in two sessions called ‘Bisexuality: Make Up Your Mind’ parts one and two (though on the website they hadn’t included the word ‘bisexuality’ in the title). I was disappointed they had chosen this title since it draws on so many negative stereotypes of bisexuality that lead to it being questioned as whether or not exists. I later discovered that the name was being used ironically, though I think that people aren’t ready for that yet since general under standing on the topic is so poor.

Saturday arrived. The place seemed full of people getting busy to attend talks, chat with people and hopefully gain some new information. Our two sessions were up on the third floor in a big room that had a wall of books behind the speakers. The sessions were divided so the first was talks from four speakers (me on behalf of BiUK focusing on research, a local Norwegian academic, Marcus on bisexual activisms and a representative from a Swedish LGBT health organisation), while the second session was a panel discussion of six that included some extra speakers that are therapists and work for LGBT charities. Before the session began, I was rather chuffed as there were 55 people in the audience, which seemed promising as there were four other discussions on at the same time.

My talk focused on presenting the Bisexuality Report (Barker, Richards et al. 2012) as I thought that much of this information might be new to those in a Norwegian context. I explained the aims of the report, as outlining the experiences of bisexual people and supporting this with academic research. This enabled me to explore some of the complexities of defining bisexuality, particularly as more people might be behaviourally bisexual or feel that way without claiming the identity itself. I focused on outlining biphobia, probably introducing the word to the majority of the audience, and trying to explain the variety of ways that it can manifest including in the title of the talks. I alerted them to research indicating that bisexual people often suffer worse mental health than either lesbian or gay individuals. Then rounded off with some recommendations of ways that they could implement more inclusive practices and policies on bisexuality. I felt this was a good introduction. However I shortly discovered my comments were uncomfortable for some of the other panellists.

I fell into despair shortly after the second speaker began her talk: ‘The Invisible Bisexuals’. I will say that she was not speaking  in her native Norwegian but rather stilted English, so perhaps I should temper some of my reactions, as I’ve heard her opinions are more nuanced in Norwegian. She opened stating that she identifies as a lesbian, which has shaped her research and therapeutic practice. I wondered why she was asked to speak on the panel, though I knew that it can be a matter of limited numbers and who is available. My frustrations rose when she claimed that in her thirty years of being a practising therapist in Norway she had never met a bisexual person, or at least none of her clients had ever come out to her. This supported her argument that socially bisexuals are invisible, which can be true unless you look to the existence of bisexual communities that seemed lacking in Norway. In addition she was unsure how to discuss bisexual people because they are an excessively invisible population. She rounded off her talk with a statement addressing my talk that the term ‘biphobia’ was not helpful as instead we should think about broader social and structural issues through the term ‘heteronormativity’. I was given a chance to respond and explain that they are both useful but rather different and both much needed concepts.

When Marcus took the stage he did a point by point deconstruction of some of the hair-prickling talk we had just heard, in a speech that was infused with anger and humour. I can’t do justice to the way that he delivers his talks, and so will mention some of his key points. Bisexuals are not invisible, as he rightly indicated he is not invisible, but rather they are erased by others and society. Using the word ‘gay’ to refer to all LGBT people erases bisexuals and trans (see Meg John Barker’s blog post). This persistent and prevalent erasure of bisexual people and of biphobia probably encourages people not to identify as bisexual. Indeed bisexual people belong to both the LGBT community and to the SB (straight-bisexual) community, making it harder to neatly categorise them. Marcus’s talk managed to combine complex points yet made the audience laugh.

The final speaker was from a Swedish LGBT organisation RFSL and outlined that his his talk would focus on bisexuality, stigma and its challenges. He opened claiming that the problem with debate on bisexuality is that it often stops at questions of invisibility, which he thought arose from a binary view on sexuality and particularly gender. It seemed promising that we would learn some useful information on bisexuality in a Swedish context. However the rest of the talk was given to outlining the aims of his organisation, ways that they taught in schools and the need to deconstruct gender norms. I do agree that this is important work that needs to be pushed further, particularly at a school level, but it didn’t focus on the topic at hand which was frustrating.

On the whole this session seemed to be a mix of productive and frustrating as it was off topic, and at times biphobic. It was a shame that there was not more time for questions since there were so many people attending, though we did have the panel discussion in part two, which fortunately the other female academic did not attend. After this panel, people came up to Marcus and I thanking us for our contribution and helping them to realise there were more bisexual people.

The second panel went much better on the whole, in part as there were six discussants that limited the amount of time anyone could speak. Our chair for this session worked for the organisation LLH, who had put on the event and stated that she was so excited for this event as an out bisexual person, who had heard limited discussions on the topic within the community. Out of the six panellists only three were bisexuals, while the other three were gay men from various LGBT health organisations, and all of us were white and I was the only woman.

The discussion was varied and somewhat stilted partly as only three of us focused on bisexual issues and I promoted work done by BiUK drawing their attention to the report and research guidelines. Marcus spoke as an activist. The third from a Norwegian organisation discussed the complexity of identifying as bisexual due to the prevalence of biphobia and instead many people preferred the term queer. The three gay men spoke on behalf of the various LGBT organisations. One discussed the need to deconstruct gender norms rather than issues on bisexuality. A therapist spoke on how he had also met few bisexual people in his years of practice, and was unsure how he could address their specific needs. The third spoke from an organisation based in Norway that focused on LGBT youth and their health needs. He offered a refreshing contribution as stated that his organisation didn’t do enough or think enough about bisexual people often making jokes at bisexual identity in training when they wouldn’t about L, G or T. He found the session useful hearing about research happening elsewhere and thinking about strategies that they could implement within their organisation.

On the whole my impressions from the day were mixed. I was frustrated at having lesbians and gay men speak on behalf of bisexuals without having spoken to bisexual people (see Marcus’s write up). I had hoped to hear more about work being done on bisexuality in a Scandinavian context, though we did learn about a Norwegian LGBT report (2013) that outlined that bisexual people have worse mental health though people on the panel did not know what to do with these findings. It was frustrating to have to explain many of the basics on bisexuality and biphobia, but I’m glad that people – including the panellists – listened and asked questions. I was left cautiously optimistic.

Maybe next year we won’t be invited, as they will find more bisexual people from Norway to talk at their event enabling them to run one in Norwegian.  Maybe next year there will be a more complex and nuanced discussion on bisexuality rather than a ‘yes bisexual people do exist’. Maybe next year they can find therapists who are willing to find bisexual clients and offer them support. After the panel, several people spoke to me about wanting to improve their research in Scandinavia on the bisexuality, and hopefully having something like BiReCon there. Yes it was far from perfect, but I’m glad that we went since Marcus and I highlighted that bisexual people exist, outlined biphobia and demonstrated that research is being done. I see us being invited in the first place as a sign that they want to have the conversation on bisexuality. Now for them to find their own way.

New article on bisexual counselling competence

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Brooks, L. M. & Inman, A. G. (2013). Bisexual Counseling Competence: Investigating the Role of Attitudes and Empathy. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 7 (1), 65-86.

Researchers have identified factors that contribute to counseling competence and multicultural competence, yet there continues to remain a gap in bisexual counseling competence. Negative attitudes faced by bisexual individuals have significant implications for their psychological well-being and identity development. It is important for clinicians to explore their ability to empathize with this population and their attitudes toward bisexual clients. This study sought to determine whether clinician empathy and attitudes toward bisexuality were significant predictors of perceived and actual competence with bisexual clients. The study surveyed 101 clinicians. Multivariate multiple regression analyses revealed that only attitudes toward bisexuality were significant predictors of perceived and actual bisexual counseling competency. Implications and limitations of the study are discussed.

Bisexual Health Awareness Month

Activists and researchers in the US have dubbed this month ‘Bisexual Health Awareness Month’ to highlight the health disparities faced by bisexual people.

Ellyn Ruthstrom draws on the extensive evidence that now exists in this area to report that:

  • Forty-five percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35%), lesbians (30%), gay men (25%), and much lower rates for heterosexual women and men.
  • Bisexual women are twice as likely to have an eating disorder than lesbians.
  • Bisexual women report the highest rates of alcohol use, heavy drinking, and alcohol-related problems when compared to heterosexual and lesbian women.
  • Bisexual men and women report the highest rates of smoking of all orientations.

They also created this useful summary image:

BiHealth

 

You can read the full post about the Bisexual Resource Centre initiative here.

New York Times on bisexual experience and research

From the New York Times, 5th January 2014.

Bisexual: A Label With Layers

Tom Daley Comes Out as Bisexual, Igniting L.G.B.T. Debate

by Michael Shulman

Those six little words, tossed off like a request to please hold the mustard, were among the most deconstructed in Tom Daley’s YouTube video last month, in which the 19-year-old British Olympic diver announced that he was dating a man.

Leaning against Union Jack pillows, he continued, “But, I mean, right now I’m dating a guy, and I couldn’t be happier.” Mr. Daley’s message was sweet and simple, and gay rights advocates seemed thrilled to welcome an out-and-proud athlete into their ranks. (The cattier comments came later, when the “guy” was reported by numerous tabloids and blogs to be the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who is two decades his senior.)

But the cheers were premature, or at least qualified. Despite the trending Twitter hashtag #TomGayley, Mr. Daley never used the word “gay,” and there was the matter of his still fancying girls. While many commenters embraced the ambiguity (“I don’t care if Tom Daley’s gay or bi or whatever … He’s still fit,” one tweeted), others raised eyebrows.

Was it a disclaimer? A cop-out? A ploy to hold on to fans? Was he being greedy, as some joked? Or was he, as the video’s blushing tone suggested, simply caught up in the heady disorientation of first love, a place too intoxicating for labels? Read more…

Interview with Meg Barker at BECAUSE

Bi Cities has put up the interview they did with Meg Barker when they were over at the first US BiReCon, and BECAUSE conference, earlier this summer.

Meg talks about BiReCon, The Bisexuality Report, mental health, and more.

http://blip.tv/bicities/235-dr-meg-barker-because-2013-6626420

Amazing new bisexuality book – out this week!

Depicted as duplicitous, traitorous, and promiscuous, bisexuality has long been suspected, marginalized, and rejected by both straight and gay communities alike.

Eisner
Bi takes a long overdue, comprehensive look at bisexual politics—from the issues surrounding biphobia/monosexism, feminism, and transgenderism to the practice of labeling those who identify as bi as either “too bisexual” (promiscuous and incapable of fidelity) or “not bisexual enough” (not actively engaging romantically or sexually with people of at least two different genders). In this forward-thinking and eye-opening book, feminist bisexual and genderqueer activist Shiri Eisner takes readers on a journey through the many aspects of the meanings and politics of bisexuality, specifically highlighting how bisexuality can open up new and exciting ways of challenging social convention.

Informed by feminist, transgender, and queer theory, as well as politics and activism, Bi is a radical manifesto for a group that has been too frequently silenced, erased, and denied—and a starting point from which to launch a bisexual revolution.

For more about what the book is about (and links to excerpts), click here

Read more of this post

BiReCon goes stateside

BiReCon – the bisexuality academic/community conference set up by BiUK – has its first US outing this Friday with a day of events preceding the  the 21st Annual BECAUSE (Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting Supportive Experience). Meg Barker from BiUK will be keynoting the event and hoping to learn about the differences and similarities between UK and US bisexual communities in the process. Many thanks to the American Institute of Bisexuality for flying them over for the event.

BiReConUSA organiser – and longterm friend of BiUK – Dr. Alex Iantaffi added, “This year, with the addition of BiReConUSA, we are excited to expand our conference mission to include a focus on ‘bringing together members of the [academic] research and bisexual communities to help shape future research that will further the understanding and acceptance of bisexuality.'”

You can read all about the US BiReCon and BECAUSE conferences in This Article and see the BECAUSE website here.

Below is a picture of the craft materials I used for my creative methods workshop at BiReConUSA.

2013-06-06 09.22.39

50 shades of gay

A fascinating Ted talk arguing that most people are somewhere between completely gay and completely straight. Good to hear the Kinsey idea given some new energy.

Disturbing findings on bisexuality and domestic abuse

Bisexual Women Almost Twice As Likely To Be Abused As Straight Women

They are also three times as likely to be raped, according to the first-ever nationwide study on domestic violence and sexual orientation.
The first nationwide study to break down domestic violence rates by self-identified sexual orientation has found that lesbian and bisexual women are at higher risk than straight women, with bisexual women facing especially high rates.
The study [PDF], conducted by the CDC in 2010 and released Friday, found that 35% of straight women had experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner at some point in their lives. But 43.8% of lesbian women had experienced one of the three, as had a full 61.1% of bisexual women. Researchers interviewed a total of 9,709 women — 96.5% of them identified as straight, 2.2% as bisexual, and
1.3% as lesbian.
Bisexual women were also the most likely to have been raped by anyone, partner or not — 46.1% of them had experienced rape at some point, compared with 13.1% of lesbian women and 14.7% of straight women. And they were more likely to report that domestic violence had negatively impacted their lives — 57.4% of bisexual women who’d experienced violence said they also suffered aftereffects like missing work or having symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Only 33.5% of lesbian women and 28.2% of straight women said the same. Read more…

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