”Bisexual Privilege?” No—Just the Opposite!

by Rev . Dr. Janet Edwards

As we celebrated and acknowledged Bisexuality Visibility Day this week, I was struck by how much the conversation around bisexuality has changed. There is more and more happening, from postings (mine included) on #WhatBiLooksLike for Huffington Post, to dialogue on posts here at Believe Out Loud dealing with Bi issues.

All this fuels a growing sense that this largest segment of the LGBT community is finding its voice.

During Holy Week this year, I posted an essay confessing my sin of living with straight privilege. I am married to a man so I can—and do—pass as straight unless I specifically share with others that I am bisexual in my sexual orientation. In the article’s comments, two people took me to task by calling into question the idea that bisexuals experience any privilege.

Actually, I firmly and strongly agree with these commenters—there is no “bisexual privilege.” In fact, it is just the opposite. Research shows this to be true: bisexual people face higher rates of suicide, illness and poverty than lesbian, gay, and straight people, and a lower allocation of resources within the LGBT community to address these issues. My article was not about “bisexual privilege,” but rather, my experience of being granted the straight privilege.

Consider with me why bisexual people—those who acknowledge we can love others of our own gender and of a gender other than our own—face this kind of difficulty and trouble. I have experienced arch skepticism from lesbians and straight people alike who seem to presume that I am a coward, unable to admit that I am really lesbian.

These folks do not believe my own claim of self-knowledge, insisting they know me better than I do.

Not only do these critics erase as a possibility my hard-won self-identity. They also demean my capacity to understand myself and determine authentically how I choose to present myself to the world. This has felt to me like an attack on my even being fully human.

It makes terrible sense that bisexual youth—as they struggle to establish themselves as mature adults—express greater unhappiness than both their straight peers and lesbian and gay teens.

Some also equate being bisexual with being promiscuous or with polyamory—being involved romantically with more than one person at the same time—and judge me for this. Some of us may be these things, just as some straight, lesbian, gay and transgender people are. This realm is not bisexual people’s exclusive domain, surely, though many speak as if it is.

These assumptions leave a bisexual person desperately homeless as criticism comes from every side.

The invisibility on the one hand, or notoriety on the other we continue to face, both inside and outside the LGBTQ community, can leave us feeling whipsawed every which way.

That these assumptions are rampant in even the progressive church is especially egregious. Our churches could and should be places of refuge for people so buffeted about by doubts and disapproval expressed around them.

No wonder we have greater difficulty with self-acceptance and self-care than lesbian women and gay men do.

So, I agree—there is no “bisexual privilege,” and I never meant to suggest it.

If you think there is, what could it possibly be?

Image via flickr user Rick Kenrick