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Biphobia is aversion toward bisexuality and toward bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. It can take the form of denial that bisexuality is a genuine sexual orientation, or of negative stereotypes about people who are bisexual (such as the beliefs that they are promiscuous or dishonest). People of any sexual orientation can experience or perpetuate biphobia.
Etymology and usage
Biphobia is a portmanteau word patterned on the term homophobia. It derives from the English neo-classical prefix bi- (meaning "two") from bisexual and the root -phobia (from the Greek: φόβος, phóbos, "fear") found in homophobia. Along with transphobia and homophobia, it is one of a family of terms used to describe intolerance and discrimination against LGBT people. The adjectival form biphobic describes things or qualities related to biphobia, and the less-common noun biphobe is a label for people thought to harbor biphobia.
The term biphobia was first introduced in 1992 by researcher Kathleen Bennett to mean "prejudice against bisexuality" and "the denigration of bisexuality as a life-choice." It has subsequently been defined as "any portrayal or discourse denigrating or criticizing men or women on the sole ground of their belonging to this [bisexual] sociosexual identity, or refusing them the right to claim it."
Biphobia need not be a phobia as defined in clinical psychology (i.e., an anxiety disorder). Its meaning and use typically parallel those of xenophobia.
Denial and erasure
Biphobia can lead people to deny that bisexuality is real, asserting that people who identify as bisexual are not genuinely bisexual, or that the phenomenon is far less common than they claim. One form of this denial is based on the heterosexist view that heterosexuality is the only true or natural sexual orientation. Thus anything that deviates from that is instead either a psychological pathology or an example of anti-social behavior. In these instances, homophobia and biphobia are largely the same.
Another form of denial stems from binary views of sexuality: that people are assumed monosexual, i.e. homosexual (gay/lesbian) or heterosexual (straight). Throughout the 1980s, modern research on sexuality was dominated by the idea that heterosexuality and homosexuality were the only legitimate orientations, dismissing bisexuality as "secondary homosexuality". In that model, bisexuals are presumed to be either closeted lesbian/gay people wishing to appear heterosexual, or individuals (of "either" orientation) experimenting with sexuality outside of their "normal" interest. Maxims such as "people are either gay, straight, or lying" embody this dichotomous view of sexual orientation.
Some people accept the theoretical existence of bisexuality but define it narrowly, as being only the equal attraction towards both men and women. Thus the many bisexual individuals with unequal attractions are instead categorized as either homosexual or heterosexual. Others acknowledge the existence of bisexuality in women, but deny that men can be bisexual.
Some denial asserts that bisexual behavior or identity is merely a social trend – as exemplified by "bisexual chic" or gender bending – and not an intrinsic personality trait. Same-gender sexual activity is dismissed as merely a substitute for sex with members of the opposite sex, or as a more accessible source of sexual gratification. Situational homosexuality in sex-segregated environments is presented as an example of this behavior.
Biphobia is common from the heterosexual community, but is frequently exhibited by gay and lesbian people as well, usually with the notion that bisexuals are able to escape oppression from heterosexuals by conforming to social expectations of opposite-gender sex and romance. This leaves some that identify as bisexual to be perceived as "not enough of either" or "not real." An Australian study conducted by Roffee and Waling in 2016 established that bisexual people faced microaggressions, bullying, and other anti-social behaviors from people within the lesbian and gay community.
Bisexual erasure (also referred to as bisexual invisibility) is a phenomenon that tends to omit, falsify, or re-explain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources, sometimes to the point of denying that bisexuality exists.
Allegations that bisexual men are homophobic
One cause of biphobia in the gay male community is that there is an identity political tradition to assume that acceptance of male homosexuality is linked to the belief that men's sexuality is specialized. This causes many members of the gay male community to assume that the very idea that men can be bisexual is homophobic to gay men. A number of bisexual men feel that such attitudes force them to keep their bisexuality in the closet and that it is even more oppressive than traditional heteronormativity. These men argue that the gay male community have something to learn about respect for the individual from the lesbian community, in which there is not a strong tradition to assume links between notions about the origins of sexual preferences and the acceptance thereof. These views are also supported by some gay men who do not like anal sex (sides, as opposed to both tops and bottoms) and report that they feel bullied by other gay men's assumption that their dislike for anal sex is "homophobic" and want more respect for the individuality in which a gay man who does not hate himself may simply not like anal sex and instead prefer other sex acts such as mutual fellatio and mutual male masturbation.
Claims of bisexuals adapting to heteronormativity
Some forms of prejudice against bisexuals are claims that bisexuality is an attempt in persecuted homosexuals to adapt to heteronormative societies by adopting a bisexual identity. Such claims are criticized by bisexuals and researchers studying the situation of bisexuals for falsely assuming that same-sex relationships would somehow escape persecution in heteronormative cultures by simply identifying as bisexual instead of homosexual. These researchers cite that all countries with laws against sex between people of the same sex give the same punishment regardless of what sexual orientation the people found guilty identify as, that any countries where same-sex marriage is illegal never allow marriages between people of the same sex no matter if they identify as bisexual instead of homosexual, and that laws against "gay" male blood donors invariably prohibit any man who had sex with other men from donating blood no matter if he identifies as homosexual or as bisexual. The conclusion made by these researchers is that since there is no societal benefit in identifying as bisexual instead of identifying as homosexual, the claim that bisexuals are homosexuals trying to adapt to a heteronormative society is simply false and biphobic and causes bisexuals to suffer a two-way discrimination from both LGBT society and heteronormative society that is worse than the one-way discrimination from heteronormative society that is faced by homosexuals. It is also argued that such two-way discrimination causes many bisexuals to hide their bisexuality to an even greater extent than homosexuals hide their sexuality, leading to underestimations of the prevalence of bisexuality especially in men for whom such assumptions of "really being completely gay" are the most rampant.
Many stereotypes about people who identify as bisexual stem from denial or bisexual erasure. Because their orientation is not recognized as valid, they are stereotyped as confused, indecisive, insecure, experimenting, or "just going through a phase".
The association of bisexuality with promiscuity stems from a variety of negative stereotypes targeting bisexuals as mentally or socially unstable people for whom sexual relations only with men, only with women, or only with one person at a time is not enough. These stereotypes may result from cultural assumptions that "men and women are so different that desire for one is an entirely different beast from desire for the other" ("a defining feature of heterosexism"), and that "verbalizing a sexual desire inevitably leads to attempts to satisfy that desire."
As a result, bisexuals may bear a social stigma from accusations of cheating on or betraying their partners, leading a double life, being "on the down-low", and spreading sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. This presumed behavior is further generalized as dishonesty, secrecy, and deception. Bisexuals can be characterized as being "slutty", "easy", indiscriminate, and nymphomaniacs. Furthermore, they are strongly associated with polyamory, swinging, and polygamy, the last being an established heterosexual tradition sanctioned by some religions and legal in several countries. This is despite the fact that bisexual people are as capable of monogamy or serial monogamy as homosexuals or heterosexuals.
The mental and sexual health effects of biphobia on bisexual people are numerous. One study showed that bisexuals are often trapped in between the binaries of heterosexuality and homosexuality, creating a form of invalidation around their sexual identity. This often leads to recognized indicators of mental health issues such as low self-esteem and self-worth. These indicators and pressures to "choose" a sexual identity can, in many cases, lead to depression as they may feel they live in a culture that does not recognize their existence.
While doing research on women at high-risk of HIV infection, one study, from the Journal of Bisexuality, concluded that bisexual women in the high-risk cohort studied were more likely to engage in various high risk behaviors and were at a higher risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. These behaviors have been attributed to the unlikeliness of bisexuals to discuss their sexuality and proper protection with health professionals for fear of judgement or discrimination, leaving them uneducated.
Bisexual-identified people may face disparities in harsher degrees than their gay and lesbian peers. In the U.S. in particular, for example, they may face:
- Lower success rates for refugee applications; may also be the case in Canada and Australia
- Higher levels of intimate partner violence
- Higher likelihood of youth risk behaviour amongst high school students
- Higher likelihood of anxiety and mood disorders amongst bisexual women and men who report having sex with both sexes
- Higher likelihood of living on less than $30,000 a year
- Lower levels of reporting feeling "very accepted" in the workplace
- Lower likelihood of being out to the important people in their lives
A widely studied example of lesbian-bisexual conflict within feminism was the Northampton Pride March during the years between 1989 and 1993, where many feminists involved debated over whether bisexuals should be included and whether or not bisexuality was compatible with feminism. Common lesbian-feminist critiques leveled at bisexuality were that bisexuality was anti-feminist, that bisexuality was a form of false consciousness, and that bisexual women who pursue relationships with men were "deluded and desperate." However, tensions between bisexual feminists and lesbian feminists have eased since the 1990s, as bisexual women have become more accepted within the feminist community.
Nevertheless, some lesbian feminists such as Julie Bindel are still critical of bisexuality. Bindel has described female bisexuality as a "fashionable trend" being promoted due to "sexual hedonism" and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists. She has also made tongue-in-cheek comparisons of bisexuals to cat fanciers and devil worshippers.
Lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys writes in The Lesbian Heresy (1993) that while many feminists are comfortable working alongside gay men, they are uncomfortable interacting with bisexual men. Jeffreys states that while gay men are unlikely to sexually harass women, bisexual men are just as likely to be bothersome to women as heterosexual men.
Donna Haraway was the inspiration and genesis for cyberfeminism with her 1985 essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" which was reprinted in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991). Haraway's essay states that the cyborg "has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all powers of the parts into a higher unity."
While the general bisexual population as a whole faces biphobia, this oppression is also aggravated by other factors such as race. In a study conducted by Grady L Jr Garner titled Managing Heterosexism and Biphobia: A Revealing Black Bisexual Male Perspective, the author interviews 14 self-identified Black bisexual men to examine how they cope with heterosexism and biphobia in order to formulate coping strategies. Data from the interviews revealed that 33% of the participants reported heterosexism and biphobia experiences, while 67% did not. He explains that the internalization of negative sociocultural messages, reactions, and attitudes can be incredibly distressing as bisexual black males attempted to translate or transform these negative experiences into positive bisexual identity sustaining ones.
- Bisexuality in the United States
- Bisexual community
- Duclod Man
- History of bisexuality
- International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (biphobia was added to the name of the day in 2015)
- List of media portrayals of bisexuality
- List of phobias
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