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Biphobia is aversion toward bisexuality and bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. People of any sexual orientation can experience or perpetuate such feelings of aversion. Biphobia is a source of discrimination against bisexual people, and may be based on negative bisexual stereotypes or irrational fear.
Etymology and usage
Biphobia is a portmanteau word patterned on the term homophobia. It derives from the English neo-classical prefix bi- (meaning "two") from bisexual and the root -phobia (from the Greek: φόβος, phóbos, "fear") found in homophobia. Along with transphobia, homophobia and biphobia are members of the family of terms used when intolerance and discrimination are directed toward LGBT people.
The adjectival form biphobic describes things or qualities related to biphobia, whereas the noun biphobe is a label for people thought to harbor biphobia.
While biphobia and homophobia are distinct phenomena, they do share some traits: with attraction to one's own gender being a part of bisexuality, the heterosexist view that heterosexuality is the only true attraction applies to bisexual people as well as to gay people. However, bisexual people are also stigmatized in other ways.
The belief that bisexuality does not exist stems from binary views of sexuality, that people are assumed to be exclusively homosexual (gay/lesbian) or heterosexual (straight), with bisexuals either closeted gay people wishing to appear heterosexual, or experimenting with their sexuality, and cannot be bisexual unless they are equally attracted towards men and women. Maxims such as "People are either gay, straight or lying" embody this dichotomous view of sexual orientations. Bisexuals often face this type of discrimination from the heterosexual community, but are frequently eyed with suspicion by gay people as well, usually with the notion that bisexuals are able to escape oppression from heterosexuals because of their attraction towards the opposite gender. This leaves some that identify as bisexual to be perceived as "not enough of either" or "not real."
Resulting negative stereotypes represent bisexuals as confused, undecided, dabblers, insecure, experimenting or "just going through a phase." Another negative stereotype that persists against bisexuality is stating that bisexuality is a trend. By saying this one is disproving the existence of the sexuality itself. Sexual attractions toward both sexes are also considered fashionable as in "bisexual chic" or gender bending. This fashionability affects bisexual males, as they are often invalidated more than females in terms of their sexuality not being viewed as "hot." Another discriminatory tendency that often affects exclusively males is the stereotype that women can be bisexual, but men cannot. Relations are dismissed as a substitute for sex with members of the "right" sex or as a more accessible source of sexual gratification. Situational homosexuality due to sex-segregated environments or groups such as the armed forces, schools, sports teams, religious orders, and prisons is another facet of explaining why someone is allegedly temporarily gay.
The association of bisexuality with promiscuity stems from a variety of negative stereotypes targeting bisexuals as mentally or socially unstable people for whom sexual relations only with men, only with women, or only with one person is not enough. These stereotypes may result from cultural assumptions that "men and women are so different that desire for one is an entirely different beast from desire for the other" ("a defining feature of heterosexism"), and that "verbalizing a sexual desire inevitably leads to attempts to satisfy that desire."
As a result, bisexuals bear a social stigma from accusations of cheating on or betraying their partners, leading a double life, being "on the down-low", and spreading sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS. They are characterized as being "slutty", insatiable, "easy", indiscriminate, and in the case of women, nymphomaniacs. Furthermore, they are strongly associated with polyamory, swinging, and polygamy, the last being an established heterosexual tradition sanctioned by some religions and legal in several countries. People of any sexual orientation can change partners, practice serial monogamy or have multiple casual sex partners or multiple romantic relationships. The fact that bisexuals are potentially sexually attracted to both men and women does not mean that they must simultaneously engage in sexual relationships with both men and women to be satisfied; they can be happily married or in an exclusive relationship with one person of either gender.
Mental and sexual health effects
The mental and sexual health effects of biphobia on bisexuals are numerous. Studies show that bisexuals are often trapped in between the binaries of heterosexuality and homosexuality, creating a form of invalidation around their sexual identity. This often leads to recognized indicators of mental health issues such as low self-esteem and self-worth. These indicators and pressures to 'choose' a sexual identity can, in many cases, lead to depression as they may feel they live in a culture that does not recognize their existence.
While doing research on sexual tendencies of women who have sex with women, one study, from the Journal of Bisexuality, concluded that bisexual women are more likely to engage in various high risk behaviors and were at a higher risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. These behaviors have been attributed to the unlikeliness of bisexuals to discuss their sexuality and proper protection with health professionals for fear of judgement or discrimination, leaving them uneducated.
Bisexual erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality in history, academia, the news media, and other primary sources. In its most extreme form, bisexual erasure can include denying that bisexuality exists. It is often a manifestation of biphobia, although it does not necessarily involve overt antagonism. However, there is also increasing support, inclusion, and visibility in both bisexual and non-bisexual communities, especially in the LGBT community.
Another place that biphobia often manifests is within the LGBTQI movement itself. While the name specifically claims inclusivity making reference to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, queer identifying individuals, and intersex people, the needs of the BTQI community are often not prioritized in the same way as the needs of the LG community. While the beginnings of the gay rights movement started in the late seventeen hundreds within groups of militant "sodomite-citizens" in Paris, it was not until 1997 that the UK’s first bisexual youth group was established. In 1992, despite requests from the bisexual community for a more appropriate and inclusive category, the groundbreaking bisexual anthology Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out by Loraine Hutchins and Lani Kaahumanu was forced to compete (and lose) in the category "Lesbian Anthology" in the Lambda Literary Awards. Additionally, in 2005, Directed by Desire: Collected Poems, a posthumous collection of the bisexual Jamaican American writer June Jordan's work, had to compete (and win) in the category "Lesbian Poetry". Led by BiNet USA, and assisted by other bisexual organizations including the American Institute of Bisexuality, BiPOL, and Bialogue, the bisexual community launched a multi-year struggle that eventually culminated in 2006 with the addition of a Bisexual category.
The marginalization of bisexuals also manifests regularly in terms of social acceptability of discrimination against bisexuals. For example, habits of letting biphobic comments and jokes that would not be acceptable, were they about gays or lesbians, go unchallenged. Another way this occurs is when people ask intrusive questions about a person’s bisexuality that would be considered offensive in relation to other’s monosexualities. While this primarily affects bisexuals on a social level this social discrimination also leads to institutional marginalization, which can result in exclusion from anti-discrimination policy.
Monosexism is a term used to refer to beliefs, structures, and actions that promote monosexuality (either exclusive heterosexuality or homosexuality) as the only legitimate or right sexual orientation, excluding bisexual or other non-monosexual orientations. The term may be considered analogous to biphobia.
The term is primarily used in discussions of sexual orientation to denote aversion towards all non-monosexual people as a social group or as individuals. It was likely adopted in place of unisexual, which is already used in biology and would produce confusion. It is sometimes considered derogatory by the people to whom it is applied.
The proportion of people who fit into the category depends on how one uses the word. If the term is used to mean exclusively monosexual in behavior, then according to Alfred Kinsey's studies, 63% of men and 87% of women are what may now be termed "monosexual" as determined by experiences leading to orgasm. Freud thought that no one was born monosexual and that it had to be taught by parents or society, though most people appear to believe that monosexuals are in fact the majority and identify as such.
Monosexism could also be attributed to the belief in sexuality as a binary. The notion of sexuality as a binary is not new. Throughout the 1980s, modern research on sexuality was dominated by the idea that heterosexuality and homosexuality were the only legitimate sexualities, dismissing bisexuality as "secondary homosexuality". These ideas persisted until the development of alternative models such as the Kinsey scale. The Kinsey scale was developed by Kinsey in 1953 and instituted a paradigm shift that completely changed the way that people looked at sexuality. His seven-point scale redefined sexuality, as it allowed people to identify at various points throughout the scale with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual. The scale is now widely used and seeks to eliminate the dominance of the binary that is often the cause of biphobia.
A number of women who were at one time involved in lesbian-feminist activism have since come out as bisexual after realizing their attractions to men. A widely studied example of lesbian-bisexual conflict within feminism was the Northampton Pride March during the years between 1989 and 1993, where many feminists involved debated over whether bisexuals should be included and whether or not bisexuality was compatible with feminism. Common lesbian-feminist critiques leveled at bisexuality were that bisexuality was anti-feminist, that bisexuality was a form of false consciousness, and that bisexual women who pursue relationships with men were "deluded and desperate." However, tensions between bisexual feminists and lesbian feminists have eased since the 1990s, as bisexual women have become more accepted within the feminist community.
Nevertheless, some lesbian feminists such as Julie Bindel are still critical of bisexuality. Bindel has described female bisexuality as a "fashionable trend" being promoted due to "sexual hedonism" and broached the question of whether bisexuality even exists. She has also made tongue-in-cheek comparisons of bisexuals to cat fanciers and devil worshippers.
Lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys writes in The Lesbian Heresy (1993) that while many feminists are comfortable working alongside gay men, they are uncomfortable interacting with bisexual men. Jeffreys states that while gay men are unlikely to sexually harass women, bisexual men are just as likely to be bothersome to women as heterosexual men.
Donna Haraway was the inspiration and genesis for cyberfeminism with her 1985 essay "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century" which was reprinted in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (1991). Haraway's essay states that the cyborg "has no truck with bisexuality, pre-oedipal symbiosis, unalienated labor, or other seductions to organic wholeness through a final appropriation of all powers of the parts into a higher unity." However, Cyberfeminism and Bisexuality by Jane Cyborg, a short essay published as a book in 2015, states, "Cyborgs can be bisexual, and cyberfeminism can and should be accepting of bisexuality."
While the general bisexual population as a whole faces biphobia, this oppression is also aggravated by other factors such as race. In his examination of the bisexual male perspective, entitled, Managing Heterosexism and Biphobia: A Revealing Black Bisexual Male Perspective, Grady L. Garner delves into the oppression that he faces as both a black and bisexual male. He explains that the internalization of negative sociocultural messages, reactions, and attitudes can be incredibly distressing as bisexual black males attempted to translate or transform these negative experiences into positive bisexual identity sustaining ones. The experience of bisexual black males is different from that of bisexual white males. As the demands and tribulations of black bisexual males appear to be comparatively more distressing than those that black and white, homo- and heterosexual individual's encounter, this acknowledgement is important and vital to the understanding of biphobia from an intersectional perspective.
A 2005 article in The New York Times used the word biphobic when criticizing a study about male bisexuality. The study, which was by Gerulf Rieger, Meredith L. Chivers, and J. Michael Bailey, and took place in 2002, said that a sample of men self-identifying as bisexual did not respond equally to pornographic material involving only men, and to pornography involving only women, but instead showed four times more arousal to one than the other. The article criticized the method of measurement of arousal as too crude to capture the richness (erotic sensations, affection, admiration) that constitutes sexual attraction. The American Institute of Bisexuality stated that Bailey's study was misinterpreted and misreported by both The New York Times and the study's critics.
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