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‘An illness’: Fighting misconceptions of bisexuality

When Bridget Macrae first came out to her psychologist a few years ago, she was told her sexuality was a medical symptom.

She says that bisexuality is still pathologised and conflated with hypersexuality.

“People don’t realise this is happening,” explains Macrae, who organises the Brisbane Bi+ Network.

“That made me feel very uncomfortable and very strange for a long time, that people told me it made me unwell.

“It happens with a lot of people, being told it’s a symptom of an illness rather than a valid sexuality.”

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A queer minority

Bi people are often thought to be the largest group within the LGBTIQ community, and can be more affected by issues including violence and mental health issues.

Macrae adds that stigma around sex between men may cause some bi men in particular to be reluctant to seek appropriate sexual health care, leading to physical and mental health issues.

She says that February’s inaugural Brisbane Bi+ Network meetup was a hit with the local community, with some attendees saying it was the first time they hadn’t felt like a minority at a queer event.

“We’re trying to supply a space where people can feel like their experiences are understood,” she said.

“We’re also looking to advocate in the health space, which will be expressed through what we hear from the community.”

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Prejudice and isolation

During March, Bisexual Health Awareness Month is drawing attention to the unique concerns facing the bisexual+ community (including bi, pansexual, queer, and other non-monosexual orientations).

LGBTIQ phone counselling service QLife reports from its anonymous data that the top reason for calls from bisexual people is coming out, with almost one in five bi callers discussing this topic.

Also among the top reasons for bisexual people to reach out to the service are loneliness, mental health, and family and other relationship issues.

Sally Goldner AM of Bisexual Alliance Victoria says that the poorer mental health outcomes of many bi people may be due to factors including prejudice, both from wider society and from some in the gay and lesbian community.

“Such prejudice can include erasure based on the gender of a current partner,” says Goldner.

“This stress leads in turn to physical health issues, such as excessive alcohol and other drug use.

“Isolation, such as in smaller cities and rural and remote areas, can also be a factor.”

Bisexual Alliance Victoria has partnered with Drummond Street Services and Melbourne Bisexual Network to develop the Bi-Five audit tool and training program to ensure greater bi-inclusiveness in a range of LGBTIQ settings, set to be available in the second half of this year.

“We believe this will contribute to inclusiveness and better bi+ holistic health and wellbeing,” says Goldner.

Unique experiences of discrimination

Misty Farquhar of Bisexual+ Community Perth says that bi people are commonly misunderstood by mainstream society and invisible in LGBTIQ discourse.

“Issues faced by bisexuals are assumed to be addressed by existing protections for same-sex attracted people, but unique experiences of discrimination and biphobia remain neglected,” says Farquhar.

“Although many bisexuals are comfortable with [or] proud of their identity, research from around the world tells us that bisexual+ people are more vulnerable to systemic and individual victimisation than lesbians and gays.

“Bisexuals are more likely to experience unsafe educational environments, workplace discrimination, and intimate partner violence.”

Farquhar says that connection with others is fundamental to mental wellbeing, social recognition, and belonging.

“Bisexuals often feel guilt and shame about our identities due to persistent invalidation and disapproval, leading to low rates of bisexual+ people being out,” they say.

“The sense of a bisexual+ community can seem lacking, whereas lesbians and gays are more likely to feel there is a community to support them with both the coming out process and the problems they face based on their sexuality.”

Like similar groups around Australia, Bisexual+ Community Perth works to help people become more connected and enhance wellbeing and resilience, increase visibility, and build awareness of the issues faced by bisexual+ people.

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Improving bi community care

Victoria’s Thorne Harbour Health Director of Services Carolyn Gillespie says that Bisexual Health Awareness Month is a chance to reflect on what is being done to look after the bi community and what can be improved.

“Increasing the visibility of bi people is a big part of addressing the issues faced our bi communities,” says Gillespie.

“Being a bi woman in a leadership position allows me to play an active role in bi representation and ensure bisexual health stays on the agenda.”

She explains that bi people often experience biphobia and bi erasure, which can lead to social isolation, trigger feelings of invisibility, or impact relationships and feelings of self-worth.

“Our bisexual communities also share similar experiences with our broader LGBTIQ communities, including family violence, issues with alcohol and drug use, as well as HIV and sexual health concerns,” she says.

Thorne Harbour Health’s Bi & Mighty therapeutic group offers a safe and affirming space to celebrate bi+ identities with peers.

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