Bisexuality: Claiming Your IdentitySeptember 5, 2013 • By Susan J. Leviton, MA, LMFT, LGBT Issues (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Topic Expert Contributor
When it comes to bisexuality the myths abound, including the one that bisexuality doesn’t exist. This denial and dismissal of a large part of one’s identity negatively affects one’s self-esteem and sense of connection, which are vital parts of well-being.
Identity begins forming very early in life and comes from many sources. We enter the world with certain immutable identities: baby sister, midwesterner, Latino. Other identities are given to us by family and friends: Jewish, shy, athletic. Our sexual identities come about much later, usually during the preteen years, when we are trying to decide which of the labels we were given actually fit and which we want or need to change. The teenage years are all about this process of figuring out who we are, mainly by feeling a connection to certain other people and groups.
Most of us are exposed to many life options during our youth. We grow up aware that many different religions are practiced in our country; there are many styles of dress, thousands of different colleges and occupations to choose from, and so on. When it comes to sexuality, however, traditionally there have been only two options in our culture—you are either male or female and attracted to the “opposite” sex.
With the growing visibility and voice of the gay community, a second option for sexuality is gradually being accepted: that of being attracted to those of the same sex. This is a good thing, but it still doesn’t make space for those identifying as bisexual (or polyamorous/pansexual/omnisexual), who usually get relegated to either the gay or straight categories. (Myth: If you are partnered with someone of the opposite sex, you are straight; if with the same sex, gay. Myth: If you are attracted to both males and females, you are gay and afraid to come out.)
Even when it is acknowledged that bisexuality exists, other myths denigrate this population by claiming that it is impossible for a bisexual person to remain faithful in a relationship, that he or she is afraid of commitment, that he or she is more likely to have sexually transmitted diseases, and so on. Historically, the gay community has not been any more accepting of bisexuality than the heterosexual community. Nor has the scientific community. Until the 1990s, few, if any, studies were done of the bisexual population; researchers were into denial as well.
This left those identifying as bisexual in the same marginal position in society that so many other minorities were and are in. How can you trust what you know and believe when so many others are telling you that you are wrong? How do you feel good about yourself when society says you don’t exist or are contemptible? Where do you fit in? Where do you feel you can be yourself?
In the past, finding others like yourself may have been very difficult. However, the abundance of communication provided by the Internet has been a blessing to many disenfranchised people. More and more websites and blogs are dedicated to people who are bisexual and to their concerns. As with the gay community, being visible opens the doors to connection, union, and political voice.
More personal support can also be found by way of the web, local LGBT associations, or publications. As a therapist, I see more and more courses being offered on bisexual issues and on affirmative therapy with people who are bisexual. The more aware the general public is, the safer it is for people to come out into the open. And when you don’t have to hide parts of yourself, you feel better. Visibility has been credited by many for the rise in acceptance of those who are gay. It can work for people who are bisexual as well. And there is reason to be positive—it was recently announced that the White House will hold a closed-door session on bisexual issues. This kind of acknowledgement is a giant leap forward.
- Common Myths of Bisexuality. Bis and Allies, University of Illinois, Chicago. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from www.uic.edu/depts/quic/bisandallies/myths.html
- Rust, P. C. R. (2002). Bisexuality: the state of the union. Annual Review of Sex Research, Vol. 13, p. 180, 61p.
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JessieSeptember 5th, 2013 at 11:12 AM
I have found that from my own experience and struggles it takes a very strong and loving family support unit to really feel comfortable in who you are and knowing what you believe from a very young age. I did not have alot of the same sort of struggles that many bisexual friends have had because I was fortunate to have a family who supported from the first day that I came out. It is as if I was given the perfect family for me. If they ever had any questions or struggles they never shared them with me. . . they simply accepted me for who I am and believe me, this has made living so much more freeing and fulfilling on so many levels. I have friends who literally have to hide such a large part of who they are because they are afraid of what their families would think of them if they knew the truth about them but I have never felt that. I think of all the many wonderful things that they have done for me and said to me through the years and how they have always stood up for me and how much more loving the world could be if only everyone had people like this in their lives.
joyceSeptember 6th, 2013 at 3:50 AM
I mean no disrespect, but I have always thought that it must be hard to actually find your identity when you identify as bisexual.
There must be a lot of confusion there already, so to find your identity must be hard especially at a young age when there is so much confusion rampant in the first place.
MeghanSeptember 6th, 2013 at 11:25 PM
From what I could tell by watching others, its just really hard to find your identity, regardless of preference. Once I realized that I was sexually attracted to people, I knew I was bisexual. The only questions that came about were as a direct result of the constant bigotry against women, against homosexuals and against bisexuals.
markSeptember 9th, 2013 at 12:54 PM
I have found out its a lot easier on the females then males I’m shund by everone even the gays
Susan Leviton, MA, LMFTSeptember 9th, 2013 at 2:54 PM
A loving, supportive family contributes highly to a person’s health and well-being. Family is meant to provide a safe haven from the outside world and this is especially important to those who experience rejection and discrimination from society. As I stated in the article, finding one’s identity is not a problem if you are allowed the freedom to be yourself. However, when only certain options are presented, or considered acceptable, it often causes confusion and self-doubt.
kayla v.February 18th, 2015 at 12:27 PM
I don’t believe that if I came out as bisexual the world will change. But it’s really important for people to be truthful about who they are and fight for equality. We need to help the world usher itself into the next phase.
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