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Bisexuality: What NYT and Slate Got Wrong

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The bisexual community has been buzzing since The New York Times Magazine published "The Scientific Quest to Prove That Bisexuality Exists" last week. What many were hoping would be a great leap forward for our visibility ended up falling quite short. While several hardworking leaders were rightly featured (American Institute of Bisexuality's John Sylla and Denise Penn, amBi Los Angeles's Ian Lawrence and activist Robyn Ochs, among others), the overall focus was on genitalia, bisexual curiosity and what occurs behind closed doors, instead of the much more pressing social, economic, psychological and cultural issues that affect bisexuals nationwide. Considering the fact that every five, 10, 20 years a new article arises that harps on the so-called "trendiness" of bisexuality as it pertains to bedroom routines, perhaps this shouldn't be surprising. But it's beyond time for us to move past this fascination to get to what really matters.

As bisexual activist, speaker and writer Amy Andre explains, "This is my quest: to experience health and well-being in the loving possibilities of our lives. To not be scrutinized as to whether or not we exist, but to be partners in the quest to examine what that existence currently looks like -- bleak, distressing, with elements of resilience -- and what it could become."

Instead, in the entirety of the 7,000-word piece, there is a mere 90-word paragraph that mentions the often life-threatening problems facing bisexuals in the United States today: "[Indiana University Researcher Brian Dodge] found that compared with their exclusively homosexual and heterosexual counterparts, bisexuals have reported higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, victimization by violence, suicidal ideation and sexual-health concerns." The paragraph following jumps right back into the sexual curiosity of bisexuals, with a strong focus on cisgender men and their genitals, instead of unpacking and diving deeper into each of these areas of import.

This is a perfect example of why matters of great significance to bisexuals continue to be covered up and erased -- greater society and the media that represents it continue to emphasize the sexual aspects of bisexuality instead of the difficult, often tragic problems that come with being bisexual, as well as the advancement of the community as a whole. The national bisexual organization BiNet USA says:

"Summaries of research show bi people to actually be poorer, sicker and more sexually assaulted than our gay, lesbian or heterosexual counterparts, but The New York Times didn't want to talk about that...When will we see a story on the three important leaders currently going through chemo or the multiple bi community organizers we've lost to suicide in just the past few years? ...Where are the stories on the LGBT centers from coast to coast who provide gay, lesbian and transgender health resources, but none at all for the bisexual community with the least amount of resources? Reading The New York Times, you won't find the truth of the bi lives of our people of color, our impoverished, and our proudly bi and trans community members. Nor will you read the stories of our resiliency under fire, or the stories of our happy lives filled with kids, partners, friends, family and co-workers so proud of our bravery and success."

The problems in the NYT article were compounded the following day in a response that appeared on Slate.com, titled "Is Bisexual Identity a Useful Fiction?" The author questions, "Is bisexuality even an identity in the way that homosexuality is?" Further asking whether bisexuality isn't "something you are" but "very much something you simply do?" and continuing on to deny the existence of a bisexual culture completely:

"Try, for instance, to contemplate a genre of bisexual film or literature, or a mode of bisexual criticism."

Try? There's no need to try -- it already exists.

Bloggers Sarah Stumpf, Eleanor Moss and Evan Slash Reed Peterson of the Bisexual Books Blog commented on this entry, noting such cultural staples as the Bisexual Book Awards and stating, "An article about the lack of bisexual culture that acknowledges that bisexual erasure prevents widespread knowledge about bisexuality, while at the same time claiming that bisexual culture doesn't exist, is an absurd exercise in cognitive dissonance."

Stumpf herself added, "To claim that there is no bisexual culture when the author spent no time looking for it, discussing it with bisexual people, or even looking at the work of bisexual community organizations and activists is incredibly foolish."

There's the rub -- consulting a few bisexuals, only for quotes in dismissive pieces like the aforementioned, doesn't make up for not running stories on what is really happening in everyday bisexual people's lives. We are so much more than our habits in the bedroom. We have tales of poverty, health disparities and mental illness; suicidality and addiction; and domestic and sexual violence. We have underfunded organizations, projects and programming.

We also have tales of hope and progress. We hold and participate in annual conferences (BECAUSE, Transcending Boundaries, Creating Change) that are growing year-by-year. We are working with GLAAD, the Task Force, and have been invited to the White House to work on the aforementioned issues, better aiding bisexuals in all areas of life. We have many colors, creeds and gender identities. We are a broad community with a wide variety of interests that cannot be pared down to a single factor - to do so misrepresents who we are and what we are capable of, what we are accomplishing already and aim to moving forward.

NOTE: Full disclosure, author is a BiNet USA board member.