by Joel Barrett
“Bisexuals are the unicorn of the queer world,” said Nora Ekeanya, D.O., local Kansas City psychiatrist who identifies as bisexual and is married to her husband.
Like the mythical, one-horned creature we have all heard about, bisexuals roam nearly invisible among us, having their very existence questioned. Yet there in the middle of the letters LGBTQ sits the mysterious, obligatory B, often ignored like an unwanted stepchild.
There are no bars or resource centers just for bisexuals. There is a bisexual flag, but most of us have no clue what it looks like. Go to a Gay Pride event and you may find a lone table of bisexual resources tucked among the countless products, educational materials, services and organizations targeted to gays and lesbians.
Recently I overheard a group of gay men discussing a mutual friend who is now with a woman after ending his relationship with a man, which followed an earlier marriage to a woman.
“What’s with that?” they asked incredulously. “First he was with a woman, then with a man and now back with a woman. Is he confused? I thought he was gay?”
Their baffled response to their friend’s relationship history is all too common. Bisexuality is greatly misunderstood and often maligned, even from members of the LGBTQ community. Like the unicorn, bisexuals are viewed as simply a figment of one’s imagination and not to be taken too seriously.
I went on a quest for these mysterious unicorns of the LGBTQ community. I quickly discovered they are neither rare nor mysterious. Once I began inquiring, I found them all around me, but unlike others in our community they aren’t as easily spotted in day-to-day life. When two men or two women are together we quickly assume they are gay or lesbian. When a man and woman are together we assume they are straight. The problem with this binary view is that it ignores bisexuals.
Our human nature wants desperately to organize humans into neat, tidy categories that we can understand. Like all humans, bisexuals are complex and varied creatures who live on the spectrum of sexuality.
Bisexuals may be in a same-sex relationship, an opposite-sex relationship or no relationship at all. They may be transgender, cis-gender, queer or gender non-conforming. They may be happily married with children to their opposite-sex spouse but still identify as bisexual. They may feel equally attracted to both sexes. They may find their attraction points more heavily to one end of the spectrum or the other. They may be in monogamous relationship. They may have had relationships with both sexes. Younger generations may not identify as bisexual at all but instead prefer the more inclusive identifier pansexual. Regardless of all of these possible scenarios, it is easy to see that bisexuals/pansexuals don’t fit into our societal boxes, thus the myths and misconceptions flow freely.
All those I interviewed shared similar frustrations about the myths perpetuated by society and even friends in their own social circles. When asked what they wish others knew and understood about bisexuals, their answers were almost identical. These are seven common myths they wish to dispel:
• Bisexuals are confused and can’t make up their minds.
• Bisexuals are incapable of monogamy and are always looking for sexual encounters with the opposite of whom they are with.
• Bisexuals are afraid to admit that they’re really gay.
• Bisexuality is a transitional phase between straight and gay.
• Bisexuals are sexually greedy and really into threesomes or group sex.
• Bisexuals are still bisexual even if they are happily partnered with someone of the opposite sex or not in a relationship at all.
• Bisexuals don’t have sexual preferences or attractions.
With notions like these floating around, it is easy to understand why bisexuals abuse substances at a much higher level than gays and lesbians do. According to Dr. Ekeanya, who specializes in addictions at The Truman Medical Center Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic, “A lot of this has to do with the fact that they don’t fit into any particular community. There’s no safe space for those who don’t fit into gay, lesbian, or heterosexual. Consequently a lot of people rely on drugs and alcohol.”
Dr. Ekeanya notes that even within the gay community bisexuals are often minimized with statements like “Oh you’re just not ready to be gay yet” or “You’re just afraid to admit you’re gay.” On the other side, the straight folks are saying “oh you’re just having fun. Experimenting. When you’re done, get married, have kids. Everything will be good.”
The lack of safe spaces to be authentic can be extremely harmful to bisexual individuals. Society often assumes that the LGBTQ community is a warm and welcoming space for everyone in the rainbow of letters. Many bisexuals do not feel that acceptance and warm embrace from the community.
“If you’re bisexual, you’re shunned. You’re not accepted on either side of the fence. It’s crazy,” says Shon, a bisexual man who has been in relationships with both sexes. He was surprised at the negative response from some within the gay community when he ended his relationship with a man and married his wife, Carol.
“You’re not committing. You’re epitomizing what we’re fighting against,” were some of the attitudes Shon encountered. Some of his closest gay friends had a big issue with him going back to being with a woman.
He finds it strange that the very community that seeks acceptance and understanding from the people they care about when they come out, struggle to offer the same to bisexuals when they come out.
“I learned early on that you keep the bisexual side to yourself. People don’t understand it,” Shon said.
While Shon refuses to hide his bisexuality, he recognizes that many people want bisexuals to choose between being gay or straight.
“They aren’t comfortable with the gray area of bisexuality.” He laughingly recalled a joke that described the straight response to his bisexuality: “You know what they say: bi now, gay later.”
Shon’s experiences are not unique. Dr. Ekeanya explains, “Bisexuals often don’t talk about their sex lives openly because they are afraid of the stigma. Consequently addictions, STIs, mental health issues go untreated. That’s the biggest issue we have now.”
“Even within the medical community it’s a work in progress,” Dr Ekeanya noted. It was only in 2015 when the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, an organization that educates and advocates on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender mental health issues, changed its name to The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists to be more inclusive. “This name change was important to me because I am neither gay nor lesbian.”
Each of the bisexuals I spoke with shared a common desire for society to understand that sexuality is a spectrum. No one is static. “Hopefully people are becoming less negative to the idea of bisexuality.” Dr. Ekeanya says, “Sexuality for humans is very fluid. Sexuality is very individual.”
Bisexual? You are not alone. You are not the gay unicorn. Dr. Ekeanya recommends that bisexuals not hide, but go out to LGBTQ locations and meet other bisexual members of our community. They are there.
Resources for bisexuals are available locally at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, The LGBTQ Affirmative Therapists Guild of Greater Kansas City, KC Care Clinic and more. Visit thephoenixnewsletter.com for a complete list of resources.