Bisexuality doesn’t get as much attention as other sexual orientations. Even lesbian and gay people don’t often think about what it is like to be bisexual. I sat down with Gay Therapy Center psychologist Sky Ellen Beaber, Ph.D. to discuss her work and research on the under-discussed topic of bisexuality.
Adam Blum: Sky Ellen, what are the persistent myths about bisexuality?
Sky Ellen Beaber: There are so many stereotypes. For example, that all bisexual people are promiscuous, non-monogamous, or that they are going through a phase and are in denial about their true identity. They are seen as confused. Many people simply believe that bisexuality doesn’t actually exist.
I’ve encountered these myths in both the straight and queer communities. However, my research found that bisexual women perceive even more even stigma from the lesbian and gay community than they do from the heterosexual community.
There is so little research on bisexuality and much misinformation. I want to change that.
AB: How do you think these stereotypes impact bisexual people?
SEB: Until they take the time to explore their fears and prejudices, some people are unwilling to date someone bi. You often see this in dating sites with the hurtful words, “no bisexuals.”
Due to the stigma, some bi people choose not to come out as bisexual because they want to be accepted. And we all know that life in the closet is lonely.
Bisexuals tend to be invisible, as we all often make assumptions about sexual orientation based on the gender of one’s current partner. There are not yet many public bisexual communities. With a lack of bisexual role models, it’ s difficult for bisexual people to receive validation, something everyone needs.
Many bisexual people also experience internalized biphobia, which means they have internalized the negative messages of society. This internalized oppression can manifest as low self-esteem, self-loathing, and isolation.
AB: Do you have any thoughts about why biphobia exists?
SEB: While society is moving towards a more fluid understanding of sexual orientation, historically sexuality has been “either/or.” Bisexuality is threatening to that belief.
We like to put things in boxes. We want to label and compartmentalize. People are told to pick a side. It is difficult to tolerate nuances and complexities of identity.
AB: What kind of issues are you seeing with bisexuals in couples?
SEB: If you are bisexual, coming out in your relationship can be difficult, and courageous. Couples need lots of support around this.
If their partner is lesbian or gay, that partner might feel abandoned. They may assume that their partner will cheat on them with someone of the opposite gender. It’s important to remember that it is not bisexuality that is the threat. Partners of any sexual orientation can cheat.
Most lesbian and gay people have been marginalized. When they find out their partner doesn’t have the same sexual orientation, their painful history of being stigmatized can get triggered.
In any relationship, we need to look at our own fears of being left.
However, coming out in a couple can also be a positive experience. For some relationships, the disclosure of one’s bisexuality can prompt rich and honest conversations about identity, desire, and relationships needs. Disclosure is an opportunity for partners to deepen their connection and understanding of each other.
AB: What can gay, lesbian, and straight people do to be helpful?
SEB: We all can do some personal consciousness-raising by examining the stereotypes we hold. Ask yourself “How would I feel if my partner came out as bisexual?” Then look honestly and compassionately what comes up for you.
AB: That’s a great question to consider. And what do you suggest to bisexual people who want to increase their comfort with their own sexuality?
SEB: Seek out a bisexual community where you can find it. Social support is a huge contributor to self-esteem. Know that you are not alone and get connected to others who can reinforce that who you are is valid and wonderful.
Therapy can also help because it provides a non-judgmental place to explore identity and attractions. In therapy, you can experience the acceptance that you are not getting in society. That’s healing. From there it is easier to take the feeling of ”I’m okay” into the world.
Find a therapist that is not only neutral but is affirming of your sexual identity. I’ve seen clinicians who just don’t get it when it comes to bisexuality. Some assume the client is on a path to being lesbian or gay. Therapists have also been exposed to bi-negativity in the culture and are prone to the same myths and stereotypes.
AB: We’ve been talking about the difficulties of being bisexual in our culture. Are there any benefits?
SEB: Certainly! It can be really positive to experience fluidity and openness to different experiences. There’s freedom in being open to connection in all forms.
There is a richness that comes from nuance and complexity of identity.
Gay Therapy Center psychologist Sky Ellen Beaber, Ph.D. works with individuals and couples in her San Francisco office. For more information about Sky Ellen, click here.