Homophobia’s lesser-known cousin, biphobia has its own unique characteristics. Adam England explores its effect on bisexual people
The number of bisexual people in the UK is rising, with 1.3% of people in the 2021 Census identifying as bi. It might be a small percentage, but that’s 628,000 people. Comfortably over half a million.
"Biphobia refers to hatred or prejudice directed at bisexual people"
Yet, biphobia is still all too pervasive, as many bisexual people will know all too well. Biphobia refers to hatred or prejudice directed at bisexual people, in much the same way as homophobia refers to hatred or prejudice directed at gay people. Biphobia and homophobia are different, but bi people can actually face a double whammy of both.
Myths about bisexuality
First of all, what does it mean to be bisexual? According to the Human Rights Campaign, a bisexual person is “someone who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender, or gender identity, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way, or to the same degree”.
“Biphobia finds its roots in a lack of understanding and awareness regarding bisexuality,” explains counsellor and CEO at Gem State Wellness Matt Schubert. “Although it's a common human tendency to fear what we don't fully grasp, it's essential for individuals to actively seek education and knowledge. By doing so, we can counteract biases and discriminatory attitudes, fostering a more inclusive and accepting environment for everyone.”
There are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding bi people and bisexuality. From the idea that it’s not a “real” sexuality, and bi people should “pick a side”, to the idea that bisexual people are more likely to cheat or less likely to be monogamous.
"There are lots of myths and misconceptions surrounding bi people and bisexuality"
It’s sometimes assumed that bi men are secretly gay, whereas all bi women are secretly straight. Why is sex with men considered to be the default? Or, that all bi people are “half-and-half”; that they’re equally attracted to men and to women. Actually, bi people may find themselves attracted to people of some genders more often than they are others. However, they’re still bi.
It’s in part because bisexual people have long been ignored in the media— known as bisexual erasure. This might come in the form of a lack of bisexual characters, portraying bisexuality as a “phase”, or even simply leaving out bisexual people when it comes to LGBTQ+ advocacy and awareness.
Biphobia in relationships
And even in relationships, bisexual people can face biphobia. A straight or gay person in a relationship with a bi person might make biphobic comments—whether they intend to or not. They might ask you how you know you’re bi, ask you if you’ve been unfaithful, or even ask you to label your sexuality in a way that makes them feel more comfortable.
If you come out as bisexual to a partner, they may accuse you of lying. While that’s understandable to a degree—after all, you don’t want to think of your partner hiding something so big from you—it can be difficult to come out even to the people closest to you. They might ask you how you know, or if you’ve been unfaithful—or if you’d like to be. This sort of language, even if it comes from a place of genuine concern or worry, can be hurtful.
Some people have even broken up with their partners after they came out as bi—of course, nobody is obligated to remain in a relationship against their will, but imagine missing out on a potentially brilliant relationship purely because of biphobia?
It’s easy to internalise biphobic messages and ideas yourself, too. If you grew up in a society where heterosexuality is the default, and where other sexualities do feature it’s generally homosexuality almost pitted against heterosexuality as a binary, it’s easy to see why you might feel negatively about your own sexuality.
For me, I knew that I was, for the most part, attracted to women. However, I also knew that I wasn’t only attracted to women. So, for a long time, I squashed it down and tried to pretend that I was straight. But, while I’ve had many more experiences with women, I’m still bisexual and my experiences don’t invalidate that.
"For bi men in particular, there are unique challenges"
I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship where I’ve never once felt judged for being bisexual—my partner is a bisexual woman herself—and while we might “pass” as straight on the outside, we’re both still bi. Throughout my relationship history, I’ve largely felt comfortable identifying as bi, but I realise I’m lucky. Not everyone has the same experience. And for bi men in particular, there are unique challenges—studies have indicated that straight women perceive bi men as being less sexually and romantically attractive than straight men, for example.
But perhaps things are changing. All we can do is raise awareness of bisexuality and in turn biphobia, and address it when we see it. And, gradually, things might become easier.
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
Loading up next...