TW: Rape, abuse, suicide
So each March the Bisexual Resource Centre (US) launches Bisexual+ Health Awareness Month and encourages people to tweet, facebook, blog, and write articles about bisexual health, whether it be their own lived experience or discussing research which covers the health of the bisexual+ community.
This month, and last year around bi-visibility week (the week before or after depending on your fancy Celebrate Bisexuality Day), I’ve been thinking about the numbers. The numbers are not good (and I’ll detail some of the not good later), and as a community bisexual people struggle to access services, be believed, manage biphobia, and constantly deal with bi-erasure.
A note about terminology. I use bisexual a lot because that is how I identify and it is listed as part of the rainbow acronym (LGBTIQA+). The information and data I’m sharing below is often drawn together from people who identify as bisexual, pansexual and queer. The term that is easiest to use (and I’ll fail a lot at this because habits die hard) is multi-gender attracted (MGA). That is a useful and descriptive term that is a decent umbrella. It captures attraction (sexual and/or romantic and/or any other type) and just states that some people are attracted to more than one gender – even though they may use other labels to identify themselves.
Bisexuals may be same-sex attracted, but that’s not our only attraction. Pansexuals are same-sex attracted but that’s not their only attraction. Multi-gender attracted is a useful descriptor.
Let’s start first with poverty because poverty really limits your ability to access health services, social services, keep a roof over your head, exit from abusive relationships, etc. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) data was examined in relation to LGB and straight financials. Sadly the authors of the paper I’m about to list were biphobic and really didn’t talk in detail about the bisexual community, but I managed to find some relevant numbers. (Sabia, JJ & Wooden M 2015, ‘Sexual Identity, Earnings, and Labour Market Dynamics: New Evidence from Longitudinal Data in Australia’, Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 8/15, University of Melbourne)
The HILDA data found that bisexual women are less likely to be employed, bisexual men have a larger earning penalty than gay men and that bisexual people have slower wage growth.
This is backed up by a Canadian study by Ross, LE & O’Gorman, L & MacLeod, MA & Bauer, GR, MacKay, J & Robinson M 2016, ‘Bisexuality, poverty and mental health: A mixed methods analysis’, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 156, May 2016, Pages 64-72, ScienceDirect, which found that bisexuality impacts employment experiences and/or earning potential, which in turn impacts mental health and a substantial number of bisexuals live in poverty.
Bisexuals are less likely to be out – and that’s a whole ‘nother post about why it’s not always safe to be out. The table below is from Private Lives 2 ( Leonard W, Pitts M, Mitchell A, Lyons A, Smith A, Patel S, Couch M, Barrett A 2012, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing GLBT Australians, GLHV), a study undertaken of the LGBTI community in Australia. Private Lives 3 is being planned I understand. This table shows that bisexual men and women (thanks the binary) are much more likely to hide their sexuality or gender identity than lesbian and gay people.
Studies in the US also have found that bisexuals are less likely to be out. This means that it is difficult to find community, to find services that can treat the whole person, and for services and communities to actually understand what multi gender attracted people need.
This next bit talks about sexual and other forms of violence experienced by bisexual people.
Within the LGBTQ community, transgender people and bisexual women face the most alarming rates of sexual violence. Among both of these populations, sexual violence begins early, often during childhood.
The CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010) found for LGB people:
- 61% of bisexual women and 44% of lesbians have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of heterosexual women
- 37% of bisexual men and 26% of gay men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of heterosexual men
- 46% of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 17% of heterosexual women and 13% of lesbians
- 22% of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9% of heterosexual women
- 47% of bisexual men and 40% of gay men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21% of heterosexual men
Here is a fluffy duckling
As you can imagine this leads to poor physical and mental health outcomes. Just today The Trevor Project discussed how poor the mental health is of young bisexual people in the US is.
Overall, bisexual youth reported higher rates of various mental health struggles than all their peers.
When asked if they felt sad or hopeless, ever seriously considered suicide, or attempted suicide, bisexual youth had the highest affirmative responses.
A majority of bisexual youth (66%) reported feeling hopeless or sad. In comparison, 27% of straight youth reported this, as well as 49% of gay/lesbian youth.
When it comes to suicide ideation, 48% of bisexual youth have ‘seriously considered it’. 27% have actually attempted suicide.Nearly half of all bisexual youth in the US have seriously considered suicide – GayStarNews
Among gay and lesbian youth, these numbers are 37% and 19%.
And really I didn’t want to write all this down (or borrow it from presentations that I’ve done) just to say “Look numbers!”, because there is so much more to this.
How does it feel when you see yourself and your experience in those numbers? How does it feel when you see those numbers and can relate them back to friends and family? Having co-facilitated Bisexual Alliance Victoria‘s bisexual discussion group since the mid 2000s, I have heard these stories, I have witnessed this pain. At no point are these numbers ever abstract for me. They are real people that I have met.
I’d personally love to do more activism, to stand up and shout louder. However, I have my own trauma to manage, I provide mental health care and support to people I love fiercely, I have a job, and I just don’t have time to do more (despite so many organisations constantly asking me, both LGBTI and other).
I feel like I’m not always a visible activist, despite being the President of a Bisexual advocacy and support group, because I am not always on these issues. And I can’t be, because to get the stuff done that I need to get done, I have to prioritise my time.
So I’ll be here, with the people who have experienced the shit that society dumps on bisexual people, standing fast against the storm and moving ahead, one step at a time.