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.

Media reporting of bisexuality

Meg has written about media reporting of bisexuality over on Rewriting the Rules.

This weekend I was contacted by a programme-maker with the following request regarding a series on sexuality. They said that they were putting together their bisexual episode and wanted me to contribute to the discussion of whether ‘there really is such as thing as being bisexual’. Read more…


Bifuriosity in the Huffington Post

There’s a great article today by Matt Stanley and Lauren Connors in the Huffington Post responding to a recent belittling piece they published about bisexuality. Nice mention for The Bisexuality Report too. Thanks Matt and Lauren!

Bisexuals – its seemingly okay for belittling blogs questioning our identity (or even if we exist) to not only be granted a voice, but to remain largely unchallenged. This fact has been uncomfortably highlighted by Daniel Warner’s recent exercise in hackery, creatively entitled ‘Bisexuality: Is It Fun, Non Committal or Just Plain Greedy?’.

We hope Daniel realises how short this falls from the mark for groundbreaking, or even ‘edgy’ writing. Being bisexuals ourselves, we can assure you that being called ‘greedy’ happens to us with a tedious frequency – imagine, if you will, the number of times a day you might have to read an irritating phrase like ‘float my boat’ or ‘cut the mustard’. Lazy writing aside, we thought we could take this opportunity to explain (for those of you who are ‘confused’ or can’t make up your minds) what bisexuality is and is not. Read more…

BiNet wins google battle

After a campaign by BiNet USA and bisexuals worldwide, Google has removed bisexual from its list of banned words.

BiNet USA is pleased to confirm that Google Inc. has unblocked the term bisexual from its search algorithm. Now that “bisexual” is allowed, terms such as bisexual quotesbisexual rights, and bisexual parenting are automatically suggested to Google users.

“It’s not every day one of the biggest companies in the world changes its mind, but we are thankful that Google now sees bisexual people just like everyone else,” said BiNet USA President Faith Cheltenham“It will take time for bisexual search terms to be ranked as they were before the ban, but now bisexual people and their allies have a fighting chance to be seen, heard, and understood.”

Read more…

Bisexuality and depression

There’s a great new post up on Bisexuality and Beyond by Sue George on bisexuality and depression.

For long as I’ve been writing this blog, one of the main ways new people find it is by searching for “bisexuality and depression”. I find that really sad, but nothing like as sad as the statistics about bisexuality and mental health.

  • A major Canadian study found bisexual men 6.3 times more likely, and bi women 5.9 times more likely, to report having been suicidal than heterosexual people
  •  A large Australian study found rates of mental health problems among bi people to be higher than those among lesbians, gay men, or heterosexuals.
  •  The UK Mind report on the mental health and wellbeing of LGB people found that bi men and women were less at ease about their sexuality than lesbians or gay men, and less likely to be out.

Bisexuality and mental health is currently a big issue in the bi community. This summer’s BiReCon (the British conference that looks at current research on bisexuality) had bisexuality and mental health as its theme. Read more…

Google furthers bi invisibility

There’s a very useful article over on The Huffington Post about Google’s block on the word bisexual. Unlike the words lesbian, gay or trans, Google has blocked bisexual from its auto complete and instant search features. This means that if you type the word into a Google search you don’t see the other words which people have commonly searched for alongside bisexual, and you don’t get an instant sense of the million of web pages related to  bisexuality, bisexual communities and bisexual resources.

This has very real impacts, for example the article mentions one man who searched on Google to find out whether anyone was in his situation (by looking to see whether anyone had searched for bisexual and suicide). Finding nothing he assumed he must be alone.

Well done to BiMedia for noticing the blockage of bisexuality a year ago, and to BiNet USA for picking up on it now.

The president of BiNet USA, Faith Cheltenham, writes a fascinating analysis of this situation, in relation to bisexual invisibility, and calls on Google to change their policy. BiUK certainly support this call, and the research summarised in The Bisexuality Report would suggest that this is exactly the kind of area where we need to increase bisexual visibility.

Deconstructing images of bisexuality in the media

For the next 8 weeks bitchmedia will be publishing blog posts about examples of bisexual invisibility in the media. Definitely one to watch…

“Bisexual people are suffering, and the media continues to treat them as a joke. We have plenty of bisexual visibility when it’s dramatic, when it’s titillating, when it’s controversial. But we don’t have nearly as much bisexual visibility where it counts—honest, realistic portrayals of bisexual people that counter stereotypes and create an environment of support and equality.

Over the next eight weeks, I will explore both progressive and problematic depictions of bisexuality in order to see how far we’ve come and how much progress still needs to be made. Together, we will look at examples in film, television, music, celebrity culture, and new media. And, with any luck, we will be able to start a discussion about what the media could be doing to increase realistic and positive depictions of bisexual identities and, by extension, advance bisexual acceptance.”

The Bisexual Index on relationship recognition

The Bisexual Index has written a very thoughtful piece on the place of bisexuals in same-sex marriage and civil partnership debates, calling for the law to change to recognise both ‘same-sex’ marriage and ‘opposite-sex’ civil partnerships, and exploring the reasons why bisexual people wanting recognition of partners of a different gender to themselves might well opt for civil partnerships over marriage if that was possible.

The post includes comments from OutRage! and Stonewall about the continued invisibility of bisexual people in their policies and activism on these matters, such as the use of terms like ‘gay marriage’ and ‘heterosexual civil partnership’ in OutRage!’s campaign, and Stonewall’s consideration of ‘opposite-sex’ civil partnerships not being within their remit (despite being an LGB organisation).

Quote from The Bisexual Index:

“The way the law is currently written does not mention sexuality, but instead the genders of the people. Why can’t the people campaigning for equality understand that the way to amend the law isn’t to talk about ‘gay vs. straight’ but instead to address the genders – remove the genders from the law and it’s not just gay and straight men and women who’ll have equal love, but all of us.

Equality isn’t saying ‘gay and straight people can marry’, or ‘same-sex and opposite-sex couples can marry’.
Equality is saying ‘people can marry'”

Read the full post here.

Update on The Bisexuality Report

Things are going very well with The Bisexuality Report since its launch on February 15th.

The launch itself was a great success with attendees from many organisations, groups and political parties. The Metro Centre and Stonewall (who sponsored the event) gave great speeches about how useful the report would be, and the Government Equalities Office were extremely positive. We are now working with them (and BCN and The Bisexual Index) on five key recommendations to prioritise putting into practice.

So far there have been over 20,000 downloads of the report from the various places it is available online (here, on The Bisexual Index, and through the Open University)! Also, the American Institute of Bisexuality is keen to put the report on a free memory stick to give out at the various sexology conferences that are happening this year (along with the Stonewall report on bisexuality in the workplace and the San Francisco Bisexual Invisibility report). We hope to give the report out at BiReCon and the LGBT health summit as well.

The report also made it into various newspapers, magazines and radio programmes. We’re keeping a list of media reports here.

The Bisexuality Report out now!

February 15th 2012 saw the launch of The Bisexuality Report in London and the document going live online (see the Open University website link, or the page for the report on this website). This will be followed by a Manchester event and discussion of the report at BiReCon 2012, later in the year. Here we want to say a bit about how we came to write the report, what it is all about, and where we go to with it from here.


The report happened for three main reasons:

The first was the publication, in 2010, of the Bisexual Invisibility report by the San Francisco human rights commission. That document brought together the research on bisexual invisibility and biphobia, and their impacts, and drew out recommendations from this for policy and practice in the area. As the first of its kind, the report had an impact far beyond the area it was intended for, as it was circulated in online fora and many of us in other countries began to use it as a key source of evidence.

Then there was a UK bi activist meeting in the summer of 2011 which many of the BiUK research group attended. As we were throwing around ideas about where the most valuable place to put our energies would be, Jen Yockney suggested a report similar to the San Francisco one, but with a specifically UK focus (two other main ideas to come out of the meeting and be acted upon since were addressing race in the UK bi community, and coming up with guidelines for researchers working on bisexuality). We realised that many of us were frequently responding to policy ideas, or media representations, or practices, by pointing out the implications for bisexual people. It would be much easier if we all had a document to point to which summarised why these things were important and what could be done about it.

The final reason the report happened was that there is now a big enough group, with just about enough time and expertise between us, to put something like this together. We had the members of BiUK, together with Marcus from The Bisexual Index, and Jen from Bi Community News, so between us we had knowledge about the academic literature on different aspects of bisexuality, and the specifics of UK bi activism, community and experience. I knocked up a first draft, based on the topics we’d come up with at the weekend, and we passed that around the group, all adding the areas we knew about. On some of the areas we knew less about we got help from other experts (like Ian Watters and Surya Monro), or spent some time reading up the literature.

The Report

The report itself is similar to the San Francisco report in focusing on the key areas of biphobia, bisexual invisibility, and the impact on health. However, we’ve managed to include specifically UK examples in all of these areas as well as international research. For example, we’ve included an updated version of our analysis of UK media depictions and how these often erase bisexuality by suggesting that people can only be gay or straight.

We also spend some time in the report fleshing out the different groups who can fall under the ‘bisexual umbrella’. Diversity is a big theme in the report as we consider how issues may be different for different groups who may define (or be defined as) bisexual, and we also have a section specifically on intersections between bisexuality and other aspects of identity, background and practice (including race, gender, age, geographical location and several other aspects). A major argument of the report is that ‘B’ should not be always be lumped in with ‘LGBT’ because there are aspects of experience that are specific to bisexuality. But we are also saying that the ‘B’ itself doesn’t present one unified experience.

Another couple of things that are unique about the report are that it gives a sense of the bisexual communities in the UK – which are likely both similar and different to the communities in other contexts – and we also emphasise (at the end of the document) the positive aspects of bisexual experience. Despite the many challenges of being bisexual in a culture which generally doesn’t recognise bisexuality and which discriminates, being bisexual obviously brings rewards as well as difficulties. We were very lucky that a research study had recently been carried out on exactly this topic, including participants from the UK who we quote in the report.

Once the report was written we ensured that there were plenty of brief accounts of bisexual experiences throughout, to bring the issues being covered to life for the reader. We also pulled out a set of recommendations for different areas (such as media, education, healthcare, and the workplace). And we wrote a summary at the start of the report to cover the main points.

We were very fortunate that the Open University, once they heard about the project from the three members of BiUK who work there, offered to publish the report and to help us to publicise it. Once we had a final version we were happy with, Amandine Scherrer from the CCIG group at the OU, sorted out the beautiful design that we now have, and getting nice printed hard copies, as well as a pdf to make freely available online. Sarah Batt helped us to book accommodation and food for the launch, and several different groups within the OU provided financial support for all of this.

Whilst this was happening, the authors approached various organisations we were in touch with to see whether anybody would be interested in endorsing the report. The results were amazing, and we are stoked that all of the following groups came on board as endorsers: Stonewall, the Psychology of Sexualities section of the British Psychological Society, The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, Pink Therapy, the Metro Centre, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, and Hertfordshire Foundation NHS Trust.

The final stage is the launch on February 15th, which the OU, Stonewall and the Metro Centre are kindly sponsoring. After that we will hopefully continue to promote to report online, and at various events, throughout the year.

Where next?

The Government Equalities Office will be attending the launch, and BCN, The Bisexual Index, and BiUK have already been speaking with them about how we can work together towards better bisexual inclusion in UK policy and practice. Hopefully we’ll be meeting twice a year from now on to develop some key practical goals which we can work towards in relation to this.

It would also be great to provide more training once the report is out around these issues. Hopefully the report will be a good basis for bi community members to use for training in their local areas.

It would also be great if other countries developed similar reports, drawing on what we’ve done with our report, and the San Francisco one. We’ve already been talking with some of the international bisexual community about a possible report for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexuality, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) to develop a report on bisexuality that was written for them, but not published, some years back.

Obviously The Bisexuality Report will not be perfect. It was an attempt to produce something useful from the knowledge and expertise of the people who had the time and energy in summer 2011 to work together on this. There will inevitably be some areas which could be usefully developed or where we weren’t aware of all the evidence that is out there. Also, as politics and situations change over time, there’ll be a need to update the report to reflect the shifts in bisexual community and experience.

As an online document it will be possible to update the bisexuality report every few years (as long as we have some funds for the design). So it would be great if people with expertise would volunteer to edit the relevant sections when we get to that point. Meanwhile, if there are sections of the report that people would like to elaborate on, it will be possible to put extra documents up on the BiUK website which go into more detail on various points. We would welcome any evidence-based input along those lines, and any responses to the report which we can put up on the website.


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