Bi Women Face More Relationship Abuse. Let’s Talk About Why.

Did you know that tomorrow is bisexual visibility day? (Of course you didn’t. Now get your bifocals on.)

This year, I hope we can take the conversation a bit further than “bisexuals exist,” and discuss some overlooked health and violence risks that bisexuals experience. On that list is the glaring fact that bisexual women experience significantly higher rates* of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to both lesbians and heterosexual women (this violence is largely perpetrated by men).

*(This data is from CDC survey, and thus focuses on the US. I’d guess that the numbers are worse in places where the legal outlook for being openly queer and for reporting sexual/relationship abuse are bleaker.) 

So far, there’s not as much data on why. While we wait for (and encourage) researchers to dig deeper into this issue, I want to anecdotally highlight some relationship patterns that are part of this picture.

Below are some common ways in which bisexual identity is targeted or weaponized by abusive partners (including some behaviors used against bisexual people in general, and others coming specifically from heterosexual men dating bisexual women). While I can’t draw a one-to-one link between any of these behaviors and violence-related statistics, we can at least consider some of the real-life reasons behind the numbers.


Threatening to ‘out’ a partner:

  • “I’ll tell everyone you’re bi if you leave.”
  • If you don’t listen to me, I can tell your family.”

Being out as bisexual can be wonderful, but in some circumstances it can be can be dangerous, socially isolating, or just too much to handle emotionally. Therefore, threatening to out someone without consent can be a potent power move for abusive partners.

Identity policing/forcing a partner to stay closeted:

  • “You don’t need to go around sharing the details of your sex fantasies.”
  • “If you’re serious about this relationship, that shouldn’t even matter.”
  • “People will think this marriage is a joke if they hear you’re bisexual!”

In a healthy relationship, each partner should respect the other’s autonomy in defining and disclosing their sexual identity. Treating a bi partner’s sexuality as a dirty little secret can prevent them from fully accepting their sexual identity or finding a supportive queer community. It can also limit the closeness of their relationships with friends or family, as they are unable to share their full range of feelings and experiences.

Leveraging internalized and cultural biphobia to manipulate bi partners into staying:

  • “If you leave, everyone’s gonna think it’s because you cheated.”
  • “If you leave, everyone’s gonna know you were gay[/straight] all along.”
  • “Of course you want out. I knew someone like you couldn’t commit to one person.”
  • “Every bi girl I’ve been with has left me to date dudes. Guess you’re no different.”
  • “You’re lucky I was so accepting of the bi thing. Other people out there won’t want that baggage.”

These statements hit hard for bisexuals who already fear being seen as cheaters, liars, incapable of commitment, or less-desirable romantic partners. This fear of fulfilling stereotypes can motivate some to remain in an unhealthy or unhappy relationships.

Treating bisexual identity as universal sexual consent:

  • “She’ll fuck anything that moves–of course she’s down.”
  • “You said you liked girls–so make out with that friend of yours for me now.”

Of course no one, regardless of gender or orientation, should assume sexual consent without asking. However the combination of bisexual stereotypes (“bi women are sluts”) and misogynistic victim blaming (“sluts are asking for it”), means that bi women are more likely to be forced or coerced into sexual situations by men who view them as universally sexually available. This can also include the expectation for bi women to “perform” their same-sex attraction under any circumstances, as desired by a male partners.


So what can you take away from this?

  • If you’re a bi person or dating one: Pay attention to these red flags! Have you heard or said anything similar in your relationship? While one comment does not equal abuse, it is important notice any patterns of policing or shaming bi identity. When biphobia is normalized, it can be hard to recognize that full acceptance and respect of bisexuality can be your relationship standard.
  • If you’re involved in LGBTQ activism or community organizing: don’t ignore or exclude bi women in relationships with men! Doing so overlooks a large portion of queerphobic abuse and violence that occurs within those relationships.
  • If you’re involved in anti-sexual violence movements: this is your issue too! Among other points of intersectionality, the #metoo movement would benefit from discussion of how sexual orientation impacts risk for sexual harassment, abuse, and assault (for instance, Harvey Weinstein’s abuses involved trying to coerce openly bi women into threesomes).
  • If you’re involved in medical, psychological, or public health research: bisexual people are a distinct population worth studying! Research that focuses on the lives and well-being of bisexuals (beyond just questioning or verifying our bisexuality) is just catching on, and these stats are only the beginning of the picture. While anecdotal scenarios can help us understand where the troubling stats are coming from, further research could identify more specific risk and preventative factors for relationship violence among bi women. 
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We’re Here (and we’re also there, and we always have been)

You call it a foreign substance
As if it weren’t running in this blood call your own
And you see it glittering across the earth
But not in the shadows of your own backyard

But can you remember
When they sold you those fears to wear as your own?
Can hardly blame you–I’ve slurped up their sweet talk myself
(But it could never wash out this blood)

White Jesus Won’t Save You (On Religion and Attempts at Arab-American ‘Whiteness’)

In 1913, George Dow, a Syrian* immigrant in South Carolina, was trying to convince a court that he’s white, a requirement for citizenship at the time. This wasn’t the first or last case disputing the categorization Arabs within the racial hierarchy of US law, but it’s the one that would make it to the Supreme Court.

So how do you convince white people that you’re white enough? According to that legal history, there’s a few strategies. It sure helps if you’re closer to looking the part, in terms of skin color and features. You need to buy into white supremacy–explaining how you’re too good and too smart to belong to any other racial category. You can dig through the wormholes of “scientific” racial theory to find a version that benefits your ancestors.

You can argue for easy assimilation: that you’ll blend in with white people without rocking the boat too much. Most of these people were Syrian/Lebanese* Christians, and didn’t hesitate to highlight their Christianity fact for white points.

And then there’s the White Jesus card.

As the argument goes, Jesus–who presumably must be a white man–was from the same region as George Dow. Therefore Dow must be granted legal whiteness to protect Jesus’ precious white image. (To argue whether or not Jesus was actually was white isn’t quite the point here. American whiteness is a social and legal construct with borders that could be redrawn specifically to include Jesus, maintaining the links between American nationalism, whiteness, and Christianity.)

In 1915, after several multiple appeals, the Supreme Court ruled that Syrians* are in fact legally white. Of course, that “white” status would be up for legal debate and social skepticism for years to come.

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A slice of the deeply consequential nonsense. Compiled by Ian Haney Lopez


In 2002, Nadia Khayrallah, a seven-year-old first-generation Lebanese-American* in North Carolina, had no clue what box to check the on the demographics page of a standardized test. “Um, why don’t you just check the ‘Other’ box,” the proctor stammered, eying me uncomfortably. “That’s probably what it’s for.” Little did I know, the “White” box was technically mine to check, if not socially mine to inhabit.

But I hoped I could white-pass if I just tried hard enough to fit into that box. I dropped any interest in speaking Arabic. I kind of resented my parents’ accents and the way they packed me hummus for lunch about five years before it became ‘cool.’ I dreamed of marriage only because it could involve changing my name.

I must have mostly white-failed, because people still had questions–lines of questions that might start with “Where are you from?” and lead down to either “Are you a terrorist?” or “Are you a lesbian?” (both of which sounded equally scary at the time–at least I felt fairly certain that I wasn’t a terrorist).

And then there were the raised eyebrows asking if I goes to church or . . . something.

(My deal wasn’t quite what they were thinking. My family includes both Christians and Muslims, but I wasn’t aware of the significance of that distinction. By Lebanese law, I was in fact a card-carrying Christian, but I had no reason to know that given my non-religious upbringing.)

The entire concept of religion was a little opaque to me, but I had picked up enough sociopolitical common sense to know this: if churchy people suspect you’re a Muslim, outing yourself as an Atheist won’t do you any favors.

So I did the thing I do quite poorly: I lied. I made up a church to pretend I went to. Given how little I knew about churches, and how bad I am at lying, I doubt that I was very convincing. But still, like George Dow, I knew to call upon Jesus to save me from racial otherness.


But oh how naive to think that White Jesus would make us pure in the eyes of white supremacy. If only we knew how tenuous that salvation would be.

A few years ago, I heard about an Orthodox Christian church near my parent’s current house in California that was burned down after 9/11, allegedly because the congregation was largely Arab.

“But…it’s literally a church,” my mom remarked in confusion. “People who commit hate crimes aren’t known for precision,” I responded.

Indeed, race and religion are still knotted together in our bloody cultural fabric. While Muslims are particularly targeted, anyone considered vaguely Muslim-adjacent can feel the blow of Islamophobia.

Some Arab Christians hope to escape by insisting that they’re different and not like the other ones.  Yet even if you choose self-interest over solidarity, the broad strokes will sometimes hit you too. Jesus, not even White Jesus, can save you from that.


*Note about nationality labels: Because borders are imaginary lines that were fiddled with in the early 20th century, the distinction between between Syrian and Lebanese people gets fuzzy and anachronistic real fast. For simplicity, I’m calling people by their most immediate nationality as it would be described at the time.