B: The Forgotten Letter in LGBT
What’s harder than not belonging anywhere? Try belonging everywhere.
You’re a friend to everyone and subsequently an enemy to many. It must be so easy for you, people might say, you can just switch it off, and go for her or him, or whatever you wish. Why complain?
Because desire isn’t a fancy, you think, but you can’t communicate this to a heterosexual who thinks you’ve got it made, or to a homosexual who thinks you’re abusing the fringed acceptance that’s been creeping in for LGBT people during recent years.
You’re somewhere in between, in a world neither here nor there. You’re on your own, and you need to find a voice and a community. Enter Faith.
Not faith the word, but Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNetUSA, an organization over two decades old and self-described as "America’s umbrella organization and voice for bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer-identified and all other of us ’somewhere in between’ people..."
"We definitely have a large number of bisexual people in the U.S.," Cheltenham told The Mirror, adding that BiNetUSA was founded in 1990 "out of a need for a national advocacy organization for bisexual people."
What is a bisexual person? The answer isn’t as clean cut as some may think, Cheltenham said, leading to a myriad of societal complications.
"We identify ourselves as bisexual if we recognize in ourselves the ability to be attracted to more than one gender," she said.
It’s unusual to be attracted to both genders at the same time. Attraction morphs and changes over time with no clear range of when it might switch or slowly recede from one gender to the other. That’s how the nickname "fluid" became prominent. It’s an easier way to explain one’s sexuality than simply saying "bisexual," to which most respond with resounding misconceptions.
"That’s something we work to educate people on," Cheltenham said. "Many mainstream organizations and publications, as well as LGBT organizations, refuse to let that definition live. But we bisexual people know that doesn’t really work for anybody."
By "we bisexual people," Cheltenham is referring to a substantial portion of the LGBT community. According to LGBT think tank The Williams Institute, 51 percent of people within the LGBT community are bisexual.
"It’s not about who we are with, it’s not about who I am with right at this moment," said Ellyn Ruthstrom, president of the Bisexual Resource Center, an almost 30-year-old group geared toward raising awareness of bisexual issues.
And there’s more data, according to BiNetUSA: Bisexual men are 50 percent more likely to live in poverty than gay men; bisexual women are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as lesbians; bisexual men and women are at least one-third less likely to disclose their sexual identities to their doctors than gays or lesbians. (For more, see sidebar).
With these numbers, bisexual people should be out and proud, but it’s not that way.
"We come out all the time. Everyday, multiple times a day. It’s a very different type of experience than a gay or lesbian might experience," Cheltenham said. "As gayness has become norm, bisexuality has become more queer."
Having a high population doesn’t mean having loud voices around the country. Bisexuality is on the fray. It’s misunderstood, it’s stereotyped into obscurity, it’s everything that was wrong with lesbianism and gayness in the ’80s. Few know what it is, or how it works, less are willing to do anything about it. But like all things, it gets better, if slowly at that.
"I’ve been out as a bisexual for a long time, almost 25 years. I’ve seen a great deal of difference in that time. I’ve seen it improve. I have high hopes. Sometimes it’s confusing when we see the good effects in certain populations, but I can’t answer when it will finally break through," Ruthstrom told The Mirror. "These past few years have been very significant for us because of how diverse sexualities have been discussed publicly. That’s a really positive thing. It’s hitting lots of different media so people can be exposed to the concepts more."
In a study that looked at LGBT-focused philanthropy over 40 years, from 1970 to 2010, Funders For LGBTQ Issues found that out of $771 million in grants, projects and other types of funding, $84,000 went to bisexual related groups or issues. To put that in perspective, consider this: The transgender community got $17 million.
Further perspective? $84,000 out of $771 million is about a hundredth of a percent, or .01 percent of the pie.
"It rounds up to zero," Cheltenham said.
Policies for bisexual people? Nil. Legislation for bisexual people? Nil. Protections? Nil.
In fact, Google considered "bisexual" a "dirty" word until 2012. In an algorithm that removed words from search results in an attempt to get rid of pornography from showing up, a list of words were restricted. This changed when pressure from U.S. groups, namely BiNetUSA, forced the search giant to reconsider its tactics.
"One reason it’s hard for people to get their heads around it is that people like simplicity. They like binaries. Gay/straight is easy. But there’s this whole other area in human sexuality, and that makes it more complex for people to get it," Ruthstrom said. "I’m continually amazed at how hard it is for some people to get it, even when they know bisexual people, they see bisexual people in relationships, they see them get married. They don’t seem to hold onto that concept of bisexuality for very long. They see a person’s partner as a definition of that person’s sexuality."
BiNetUSA and the Bisexual Resource Center are here to help. They put the information in this article into fact sheets, spread them around the country and attempt to educate both the heterosexual and LGBT communities.
"When someone hears the word bisexual, there’s an immediate stigma," Cheltenham concluded about the uneducated mass. Coming out is a daily occurrence. And is followed by questions. Responses aren’t supportive, they’re jealous. Jealous of an instantaneous fluidity and choice that is simply not there, that is simply incorrect, that is simply stigmatizing. "We’re not gay, and we’re not straight."
They’re in between.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bisexuals:
[Sources: The Williams Institute, Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Sexual Research and Social Policy]