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Bisexual Invisibility Has Dangerous Consequences

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The first time I was called "greedy" it was by a drag queen at the Michigan Pride Festival. She wasn't talking to me directly. She was calling out audience members in the unapologetic, hilarious, and crass way only a drag queen can, asking one attendee if she was a lesbian. The woman said, "No, I'm bi." The drag queen responded, "Oh, you're GREEEDY." Everyone laughed, myself included. But I also left thinking, "So that's how it is."

I could never be "greedy." I have terrible luck with women. But I probably wouldn't date you, male or female, regardless of luck. I'm very particular, maybe to the point of delusion, and my interest rarely has to do with physical attraction above all else. You would need to be funny, clever, overly literate, cultured, and committed to social justice. I'm also a serial monogamist and loyal to a fault, unable to focus on more than one person at a time. I'm not your stereotype, but few of us are.

I believe sexuality, as a continuum with no easy boxes to fit into, is the most logical explanation for the variations we see in human sexuality. Labels are vile and unrealistic to me, an attempt to satisfy others' need for simplicity when life just isn't so. I have struggled with how I would explain myself, resentful that I had to at all. My partners have always known me to be fluid and I hadn't considered it anybody else's business. At a certain point I decided that I had to claim my place in the community because my own invisibility would be part of the perpetuation of others pretending I don't even exist. I wrote 'bi' across my forehead and wore it proudly.

Sex and the City's Cynthia Nixon recently found herself swimming in controversy when she told the New York Times that she didn't identify as bisexual. After much explanation she clarified that she was capable of attraction regardless of sex but was turned off by the label. The label can seem ugly, as the stereotypes that are associated with bisexuality are unflattering and demonizing by societal norms.

Bisexuals are seen as promiscuous, confused, invalid, incapable of monogamy, oversexed, greedy, going through a phase, and on and on...

I claim the bisexual label because I don't remember a time when I wasn't attracted to both men and women, either in a romantic sense or as a manifestation of sexual attraction. A bisexual (pansexual, omnisexual, fluid) is someone whose enduring physical, romantic, emotional attraction is to people of more than one sex/gender. Bisexuality is still offered only tentative acceptance in the gay rights movement. The lack of mention is all the more interesting when you consider that bisexuals make up the largest group within the LGB community, with one third of men and two thirds of women in the community identifying as bi. While most Americans don't identify themselves by the label, a 2002 study found that 13% of women and 6% of men report being attracted to both women and men.

We now have studies that show bisexuality is both a real and stable designation. To prove our legitimacy a brave bunch of us (not me -- ouch!) volunteered to be tested for arousal at the sight of sexy images of men and women. Those who claimed to be bisexual, gasp, were able to respond to both sexes. Studies have also disproven claims that bisexuality is a stop on the way to figuring out your sexuality. In one study 92% of participants who identified as bisexual or "without label" at the start of the study identified as bisexual and without label 10 years later.

The stigma, or biphobia, that comes with being bisexual has serious consequences. Bisexuals have higher incidences of depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, alcohol and drug abuse, and poor physical health in general than their heterosexual, gay and lesbian counterparts. Bisexuals most often don't come out to their health provider and as a result receive incomplete information regarding their sexual health. Bisexual women with monosexual partners have an increased rate of domestic violence compared to every other female demographic. Compared to lesbians, bisexual women are twice as likely to live in poverty. Discrimination against bisexuals is greater in the workforce. While lesbians earn 2.7% less than straight men, bisexual women earn nearly 11% less.

There is an acute stress that comes from feeling like you are not a legitimate member of a community. In nonurban areas lesbians and bisexual women experience comparable levels of frequent mental distress, but in urban areas distress decreases for lesbians and nearly doubles for bisexual women. Resources and support are more likely to be available for lesbians in urban areas, and still likely to be nowhere to be found for bisexuals. Regardless of established need, projects addressing issues related to bisexuality are the least funded among programs for the lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender communities.

I'm currently dating a man. I refuse to hide him because being in a relationship with him is part of who I am. If asked about my sexuality I would expect him to answer without pause that I identify as bi. Still, when a man is my date to a gay rights event there is an uncomfortable and restless feeling of undeniable guilt that rests inside me. I feel like a traitor, I feel like I took the easy way out, I feel like I'm not relating and might, therefore, not be able to represent the queer community. In reality I know that those judgments come from the outside. When I'm dating a man the truth is that I fell in love or in like and it happened to be with a man. In gay rights we fight for the freedom to love and the freedom to express our desire without shame. In our efforts to gain the basic rights that we lack in order to care for our loved ones we encounter enormous and shocking amounts of hate. I may not always be with a man but I will always bring my date to the party. I'm just grateful that love, my fluid ability to love included, exists.