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.

Myths about bisexuality

Two great posts on myths about bisexuality:

In the first post, Samantha Joel summarises the scientific research which challenges the common myths that bisexuality doesn’t exist, that bisexuality is just a phase, and that bisexual people are unfaithful to their partners.

Bisexuality myths Debunked by science Science of Relationships

Bisexuality is the tendency to be sexually attracted to both men and women. This may sound like a superpower to some – double the romantic options means double the romantic odds, right? But in reality, bisexuality can be a bit of an awkward identity to have. Bisexual people are not “straight”, which can make it difficult to feel like a part of the sexual majority. On the other hand, bisexual people can often pass as straight, particularly when they have an opposite-sex partner, which can sometimes make it difficult to feel connected to the LGBT community.

Most importantly, bisexuality tends to be quite misunderstood. Myths and stereotypes about bisexuality abound, some of which even contradict one another. Straight and LGBT people alike can hold these stereotypes, which compounds the difficulties that bisexual people can have fitting into either group. Luckily, an increasing number of researchers have become interested in bisexuality in recent years, and with research, our understanding of bisexuality is improving. Here are three examples of how science has worked to combat the many misconceptions about bisexuality:  Read more…

In the second post, Shiri Eisner asks whether we should be defensively debunking the myths about bisexuality (as so many bisexual community websites do) or whether there is an argument for not busting the myths because many of them are about trying to prove that bisexual folk meet standards of normativity that actually might be worth challenging.

The Myth of Myth-bustingRadical Bi

In a recent blog post, The Suburban Bi dedicated a paragraph to what she referred to as the “obligatory myth-busting post that pretty much every blog on bisexuality provides”. And indeed, it seems near-impossible to encounter any English-language text about bisexuality without seeing these same myths countered in this same way. I thought I would take this opportunity to explore what this myth-busting and these myths mean, politically, and for us as a community.

Quoth The Suburban Bi:

  • Existence.Yes – we do.
  • Monogamy. Yes – we can.
  • Fidelity. Yes – we can. And – we do.
  • HIV & AIDS. No – it’s notall our fault.
  • Confusion. No – we’re really not.
  • Indecision. No – that’s not what fluidity means.
  • Greed. Yes, we can have just one piece of cake.
  • Pants. Yes – we’re as capable as anyone else of keeping our various bits in them.
  • Choice. No – we cannot choose to be straight; we cannot choose to be gay; we did not choose our sexual orientation in some thoughtlessly frivolous moment of rapacious abandon. Who does?

Let’s walk through some of those, shall we? No, we’re not promiscuous. No, we don’t sleep around. No, we’re not infectious. No, we don’t choose to be the way we are (SRSLY, why would anyone choose that?). Yes, we’re normal. No, we don’t threaten your sexual identification. Yes, we are just like you. No, you are not in danger of being like us. No, we don’t threaten your beliefs, your society or your safety. Read more…

Sex, Politics, and Stereotypes: BiUK’s response to Julie Bindel, June 2012

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Julie Bindel asks ‘What makes some of us uncomfortable with bisexual women’? She goes on to answer her own question by rehearsing a series of negative stereotypes about bisexual women, suggesting that they are apolitical, hedonistic, trendily transgressive sexual tourists, testing out their fantasies on unsuspecting lesbians and straight men. Interested only in the pursuit of pleasure, they are not to be trusted personally or politically, and indeed may not exist at all. If bisexual women had ‘an ounce of sexual politics’, she asserts, they would stop having sex with men and make a positive choice to identify as lesbians. Instead of this, they hedonistically pursue their sexual desires at the cost of their political integrity.

We would like to make two points in response to this article. First, a growing body of academic research and bisexual activist literature, both online and in print, and including work by Paula Rodríguez-Rust, cited by Bindel in her article, consistently demonstrates that for many people, identifying as bisexual is as much a matter of politics as it is of desire. As one bi activist told us:

Personally, I have definitely made a positive choice to identify as bisexual. I could easily identify as either lesbian or straight, but it’s politically important to me to identify as bi. My identity as a bi woman is grounded in my feminism, my conviction that gender and sexuality are socially constructed, and my commitment to LGBT equality. It’s deeply political- it’s just a different political position from Julie Bindel’s!

(Claire, bisexual activist)

Clearly, while many women who experience attraction towards people of more than one gender choose to identify as bisexual, many others choose to identify as lesbian or straight. All of these are valid choices, which may be made on the basis of deeply-felt political convictions. Bindel’s polemic, however, dismisses all viewpoints other than her own as apolitical, and swiftly resorts to name-calling. Bindel would most likely object, and rightly so, to a critique of radical feminism that relied for its credence on tired old clichés about cropped hair, boiler suits and man-hating, and dismissed lesbian separatism as an apolitical choice based on a failure to engage with the complexities of twenty-first century gender relations. It’s disappointing, then, that she dismisses political bisexuality in such terms.

Our second point is concerned with the impact on bisexual people of the publication of articles such as Bindel’s, which clearly promote biphobia. As we outlined in our recent publication The Bisexuality Report, research has repeatedly shown that bisexual people are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidality than lesbian, gay or heterosexual people, and that this may be linked to the negative stereotypes about bisexuality which circulate in popular culture. These statistics are of great concern to UK bisexual communities and their allies, as well as to mental health practitioners, and for these reasons, bisexuality and mental health is the theme of BiReCon, our biennial conference, in August this year.

By recycling harmful stereotypes about bisexuality in the defence of political lesbianism, Julie Bindel contributes to the biphobic cultural conditions that contribute to high rates of mental distress among bisexuals. By dismissing bisexuals as universally apolitical, she betrays her own ignorance of approaches to contemporary sexual politics other than her own.

Helen Bowes-Catton for BiUK

Read more:

New Statesman response

Stereotypes bad for bi people

From the Academic Bi mailing list

Researchers publishing in the The Journal of Bisexuality say a variety of unfounded assumptions often driven by the media contribute to a culture of Biphobia that affects all bisexual people. The studies show that the Bisexual community is diverse and subject to discrimination from gay/lesbian and straight people alike, which negatively impacts the health and social lives of people who identify as bisexual.

Denise Penn, a director with the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB), spoke with GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) about her thoughts on these recent studies, and how to end stereotypes about bi people in the media.

Penn, who says that bisexuality “is sometimes forgotten” by the public, is very pleased with the increasing diversity of LGBT characters in the media, but notes “there’s still a lot of progress to be made.” Often when a character is portrayed as bisexual, “the stereotype lingers that it’s a person who is confused, or someone who has a man and a woman on the side, or who has a woman and a man on the side.”

Read Full Article Here:
http://www.glaad.org/blog/study-shows-stereotypes-about-bisexuality-are-harmful

Hot bi babes: Stereotypes of bi women

Following the previous post on Jessie J, a new blog post is out today on radicalbi about media depictions of bisexual women. Here is a quote and a link to the rest of the article.

“In an article called Curiouser and Curiouser: the Strange ‘Disappearance’ of Male Bisexuality, British gay journalist Mark Simpson writes about biphobia against bi men, and compares their status to that of bisexual women. “It’s unques­tion­able,” he argues, “that female bisexuality is today much more socially acceptable than male bisexuality, and in fact frequently positively encouraged, both by many voyeuristic men and an equally voyeuristic pop culture.”… In this section, I would like to look a bit deeper into this “positive encouragement” and to question whether it really is so positive.

Simpson, of course, is right. Female bisexuality truly is encouraged by voyeuristic men, as well as by voyeuristic (male dominated) media. Spelling out media presumptions, Simpson writes that as opposed to male bisexuality, female bisexuality is considered “almost universal. It’s as natural and as true as it is wonderful and real and… hot!” And indeed, it seems that the main context in which female bisexuality appears in mainstream media is that of “hotness.”

In this section…, I want to be looking at media representations of female bisexuality in attempt to show the ways in which it is depicted, and the terms under which it is allowed to appear in mainstream culture. I wish to argue that while female bisexuality seems to be ‘encouraged’ on the surface, this encouragement applies to only one form thereof: that palatable to straight men. Bisexual women are presented in hypersexualized* contexts, as sexual objects for the hegemonic** straight male gaze, while directly or covertly appealing to a quasi-pornographic fantasy of a (2 females and 1 male) threesome, and while also reassuring us that these women are not really bisexual, but are rather simply behaving so for the satisfaction of the presumed male spectator.”

Read more…

Jessie J and bisexuality

Interesting article in The Independent on Sunday yesterday by Jane Czyzselska about Jessie J and the problems with bisexual and lesbian representations in the media.

Jane Czyzselska: Jessie J gets the Rock Hudson treatment

Poor Jessie J. The ridiculously successful “Do It Like a Dude” singer speaks openly as a proud bisexual, sings a song about being true to yourself, then someone comes along and ruins it all by claiming she’s a fake.

According to a new, unauthorised biography, Who’s Laughing Now? The Story of Jessie J, not only is The Voice star allegedly a lesbian, she’s also had the thumbscrews put on her by her record company, Universal, who apparently forced her to hide her Sapphic ways in favour of a bisexual image or risk her contract.

Read more…

Bisexual stereotypes

Interesting post over on the F word about possible responses to stereotypes about bisexual women being there for the titillation of heterosexual men.

Shit bisexuals say

A new entry into the ‘shit people say…’ meme which is going around at the moment. We like the vids where people highlight the problematic assumptions that others make about a certain group, but it’s also good to see people poking fun at their own groups in this way. Of course it’s helpful too in raising awareness of the kinds of assumptions that are out there that lead to people having to say this kind of thing.