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.