The Impact of Stigmatizing Bisexuality on Mental Health

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 16, 2020

Studies around bisexuality have found several factors that impact the mental health of bi-identifying men and women, Mashable reports.

In the piece, author Anna Iovine points to a 2011 study by San Francisco Human Rights Commission that examine bi people's susceptibility to depression and anxiety. More recently, in August, researchers at University of Manchester found that bisexual people are six times as likely to self-harm than heterosexual people over the course of a year. Incidents of bisexual self-harm over the course of a lifetime are about 4.6 times more likely than straight people, and 4.4 times more likely than gay men. Factors contributing to these stats include anxiety, depression, physical assault, bullying, and alienation.

Part of the problem, it appears, is the invisibility, invalidation, and erasure of bisexual identity among both heterosexual and LGBTQ communities. Mashable explains that, for years, this hindered studies of bisexual identity and experience — especially where recruiting bi-identifying people for studies is concerned. In some cases, "non-monosexual" (non-hetero and non-homosexual) use other terminology to self-identify — such as queer, pansexual, omnisexual. But the problem would appear to be the ways in which bisexual people have felt alienated from LGBTQ spaces that should otherwise be safe. As Sarah Jen, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas, explains:

"Bisexual people have historically and continue to say that they don't feel as welcome and they don't feel as much of a sense of belonging in those spaces... because they've faced bi negativity or biphobia...and they don't feel like that space is for them."

Tying in with this sentiment, Iovine's piece earlier this year explores the feelings of a certain group of bisexual-identifying people made to feel not "queer enough." The notion is centered on how society constructs queerness — what "queer" looks and behaves like — and how those who "pass" for straight, whether intentionally or not, often face questions about their sexuality. Several bisexual people quoted by Iovine explain their experiences with both straight and gay men and women, often feeling that their bisexual identity was dismissed or, in some cases, feared among those friends or acquaintances of the same gender. As such, this contributes to anxiety and depression among bi people.

As a consequence, researchers aren't able to accurately capture the wide swathe of non-monosexual identifying people — people who engage in bisexual behaviors, whether dating or having sex. Furthermore, the inability to reach potential subjects for studies on bisexual identity and experience makes it difficult to get a fuller picture. However, a study published in August found evidence that points to male bisexuality — a study that was groundbreaking because of the paucity in scientific research confirming bisexual identity. Or more directly: A step toward making bisexuality more visible.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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