Welcome to The Challenges of Bisexual Representation. This website explores the social, political, and intellectual factors that contribute to bi-erasure and biphobia through a series of keyword entries. These keywords entries distill the ideas and themes of several bisexual writers and queer theorists in language accessible to readers who may be unfamiliar with LGBTQ+ issues and queer theory. I hope these entries may help you in your own research about bisexuality and facilitate an open conversation about the perception of sex, gender, and sexuality in our culture.
On this website, you will find twelve keyword entries: Biphobia, Both/And, Desire, Evidence, Fence, Gender, Politics, Puns, Queer, Scales and Graphs, Symbolism, and Temporality. Where entries refer to other keywords, links to the relevant pages have been embedded in the text. You will find all works cited in the entries under the Works Cited tab, and Resources that provide helpful information about bisexuality and bisexual communities. In addition, all of the entries and works cited can be downloaded as PDF and Word Documents for easy printing and annotation.
You can read more about the motivation behind this project below.
UNDERREPRESENTATION, MISREPRESENTATION, AND NEGATIVE EFFECTS ON BISEXUAL LIVES
Bisexuals and bisexuality are both underrepresented and misrepresented. Bisexuals, including other multiple gender attraction identifiers, comprise the largest group (from forty to sixty-two percent) of the LGBTQ+ community (Gates 3, 4; Parker; “A Survey of LGBT Americans”). Yet in comparison with monosexuals (i.e., hetero-/homosexuals), bisexuals receive little recognition in a variety of disciplines such as media, entertainment, literature, research, business, and politics. Furthermore, portrayals of bisexuals and bisexuality that do appear, like in Sex and the City or The L Word, often fail to capture the intricacies of authentic, bisexual experiences. Myths about bisexuality (inaccurately universalizing statements like “Everyone is [a little] bisexual,” or “Bisexuality isn’t real”) effectively erase the existence of bisexuality, while damaging stereotypes (e.g., bisexuals are inherently unfaithful, greedy, indecisive, or actually straight/gay), which have pervaded conversations around bisexuality for decades, promote biphobia among monosexuals. Even as non-heterosexual identities and lifestyles become more accepted in the United States and other countries around the world, these misperceptions of bisexuals and bisexuality continue to circulate.
The consequences of bi-erasure and biphobia can be quite serious. When bisexuals are constantly ignored, invalidated and stigmatized by both heterosexuals and homosexuals, they become more susceptible to mental and physical health problems. Bisexuals consistently report higher rates of mood or anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies, compared to heterosexuals and homosexuals (Movement Advancement Project 13-16). At rates of sixty-one percent among bisexual women and thirty-seven percent among bisexual men, bisexuals also experience the most incidents of intimate partner violence, domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault (20-21). In addition, negative health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and sexually transmitted infections are more prevalent among bisexuals (17-18).
Bi-erasure and biphobia further exacerbate the health disparities between bisexuals and monosexuals. Due to fears of invalidation or bias, approximately on third of bisexuals do not inform medical professionals of their sexualities, thereby limiting bisexual patients’ access to bi-specific information and resources that could improve their mental and physical health (17-18). Similarly, bisexual youths are less likely to disclose their sexualities to immediate or extended family, their peers, and their teachers, compared to homosexual youths (Human Rights Campaign Foundation 10-11). Only twenty-eight percent of bisexuals in general report that “all or most of the important people in their life” are aware of their sexuality, compared to fifty-four percent of all LGBT members (“A Survey of LGBT Americans”). Bisexuals who feel that they cannot trust or comfortably discuss their sexuality with medical professionals, family and friends, may experience more psychological problems as they attempt to navigate social discrimination on their own. Thus, bi-erasure—as both underrepresentation and misrepresentation—and biphobia create a positive feedback loop of mental and physical health risks and destabilize the lives of bisexuals.
Certain solutions may provide immediate remedies for the issues outlined here. Many bisexual and other queer activists want producers in media to include more bisexual individuals and conversations on fluid conceptions of sexuality; many bisexual activists also want public health policy and other legislation to reflect the size and needs of the bisexual population in the United States. While these efforts would certainly increase public awareness of bisexuality and bisexual issues and improve health outcomes for bisexuals, they do not address the systemic problems in our society’s perception of and conversation around bisexuality and sexuality in general.
The Challenges of Bisexual Representation does not propose to solve bi-erasure and biphobia. However, this project does seek to provide a much-needed online resource with accessible information on bisexual representation from an academic point of view. Twelve keyword entries, which synthesize and analyze important theoretical and sociological research, probe the recurring concepts in literature on bisexuality and bisexual representation. This constellation of themes, each so profound and elusive on its own, cannot be integrated into a single hypothesis which accounts for the perpetual underrepresentation and misrepresentation of bisexuality; therefore, these entries have been written as autonomous texts, though they contain many references to one another.
The Challenges of Bisexual Representation will develop in readers foundational knowledge on bisexual representation that will assist them in future research and conversations on bisexuality. Furthermore, this project aspires to facilitate an open conversation that might lead to an artistic and societal shift towards more fluid conceptualizations of sex, gender, and sexuality and relieve bisexuals of bi-erasure and biphobia. While the focus of this project is on bisexual representation, readers will hopefully perceive that all genders, sexes, and sexualities are oppressed in some way, and in desperate need of liberation from ourselves.
While the keyword format of this project resembles a dictionary or encyclopedia, these entries do not definitively explain the keywords. As a text about bisexuality which manifests in many forms, it is important that this project does not essentialize bisexuality or any of the terms related to this project. Consider the keyword format as a method of organizing information, rather than defining bisexuality.
Research for this project relies primarily on English-language texts, and some texts translated into English. Thus, the perspectives in these essays tend to follow Western cultural and philosophical norms (as in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and France). Additionally, many English-language texts cited in this project presume whiteness, and bisexuality in popular culture is frequently represented as a "white" sexuality. This project does not seek to perpetuate this myth but also does not give enough attention to race in the context of bisexuality. While this project would certainly benefit from more diverse perspectives on bisexual representation and the intersection of bisexual erasure with other social oppressions like racism, such extensive research is currently outside the scope of this project.
Research for this project does not include any original social science research. However, much of the synthesis and analysis of such sources and the conclusions drawn from them are original to this project.
This project uses the terminology frequently found in the cited texts. As such, these entries may contain sensitive words, such as “queer.” While “queer” has historically been used as a slur against people who do not conform to traditional gender and sexual roles and lifestyles, it appears in these entries as a word of empowerment. Generally, “queer” may refer to either the socio-political movement in academic circles referred to as “queer theory,” or to individuals or groups of individuals who cannot be categorized by the LGBTQ+ acronym, either because they are too diverse for any one such label, or because they prefer not to enter the quagmire that is identity politics.
Topics related to trans identities have largely been omitted from these entries, despite the close alignment of goals among bisexual activists and trans activists. Again, the research related to trans issues is currently outside the scope of this project. If you would like to read more about this common ground, read Shiri Eisner's book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, or view her website, Radical Bi.
This project is far from complete. With more time and resources, I hope to continue researching bisexual issues and to update the entries to reflect current thinking in queer theory and the bisexual community. Some keywords that I would like to add: Alliance, Ambiguity, Bi Identities (in Race, Nationality, Lingualism), Erasure, Feminism, Heterosexism, Language/Linguistics, Literature, Media, Monosexism, Passing, Queer Theory, Sex, Sexual Orientation, and Stability/Instability.