A small group of University of Connecticut students had one thing to say when asked what they wanted the world to understand about bisexuality: “we are not sluts.”
While that may sound simplistic, the idea that bisexual people are promiscuous, need more than one partner, or are more likely to cheat, boils down to a fundamental misunderstanding about what it means to be non-monosexual, human development and family studies advisor Kristin Van Ness said.
Van Ness spoke Wednesday afternoon at the Rainbow Center’s Out to Lunch series about her findings from a series of conversations she had last year while researching the experiences of bisexual students on campus. While she was ultimately unable to bring together a statistically significant sample of participants, the three students (one male, one female and one gender-queer individual) who followed through on the study had a lot to say about stigma, relationships and bi-erasure.
“They get s**t from both sides. They’re just as stigmatized from heterosexual communities, and I’m using that intentionally, as they are from homosexual communities,” Van Ness said of the students’ experiences. “Gay people don’t want to date you because they think you’re going to leave them for straight privilege, and straight people don’t want to date you because you’re viewed as sexually promiscuous.”
Bisexual men, women and gender-queer individuals face different stigmas as a result of their intersecting identities, Van Ness said. Bisexual men are commonly assumed to be gay, while bisexual women are dismissed as attention-seeking “partysexuals.” Characterizing bi people as existing halfway between straight and gay exacerbates these stigmas by implying that they are somehow more sexual than their peers, Van Ness said.
The fear of being hyper sexualized can even be a factor in deciding whether or not to come out to someone, an anonymous 18-year-old female participant in Van Ness’ study said.
“It’s such a gamble. Even if they’re still going to be friends with me, is the dynamic going to be weird? Is it going to be different? Are they going to be like, ‘oh I better not hug her because she might think I want to touch her boobs,” the female participant told Van Ness during her study.
Alternatively, non-monosexual people may be assumed straight or gay based on the gender of their current partner - an assumption that reduces bisexuality to a behavior rather than a set of sexual, romantic and emotional preferences. While not everyone is concerned with how their relationships are perceived, coming out carries its own risks, the female participant said.
“I feel like some people do that (allow others to assume they’re gay/straight) to deflect it so that they don’t have to expose themselves to discuss intimate details and preferences. As soon as it’s something that you state, in some people’s minds it's immediately up for a question and answer session,” the anonymous participant said.
Van Ness said that much of the stigma surrounding bisexuality may stem from the brain’s tendency to break the world down into simple categories. It’s easier to view the world as straight or gay, or black or white, than to account for a spectrum of non-binary identities.
“It might be true, and research is really starting to provide a lot of evidence for this, that gay folks and straight folks have more similar experiences than folks who identify as neither of those,” Van Ness said. “It’s soothing when we have categories. The least amount of effort your brain can use, it’s going to use. So this is difficult for folks.”
The next Out to Lunch lecture will be held Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 12 p.m. at the Rainbow Center.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.