via Pam’s House Blend.
The San Francisco Human Rights Commission LGBT Advisory Committee has recently released a report, Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations (PDF) that reviews the existing research on bisexuality as a sexual orientation and discusses the experience of bisexuals within the queer community and society at large.
While acknowledging that “bisexuality” is not universally accepted as an indentity by everyone who has been involved sexually (or attracted to) both women and men, the report’s working definition of bisexuality is:
Bisexuality is the capacity for emotional, romantic, and/or physical attraction to more than one sex or gender. A bisexual orientation speaks to the potential for, but not requirement of, involvement with more than one sex/gender.
As the title of the report suggests, its main concern is with the ongoing issue of bisexual invisibility within queer communities and in the population at large. As the report’s author points out:
Despite the overwhelming data that bisexuals exist, other people’s assumptions often render bisexuals invisible. Two women holding hands are read as “lesbian,” two men as “gay,” and a man and a woman as “straight.” In reality, any of these people might be bi―perhaps all of them.
The majority of research lumps data on bisexuals under “gay” or “lesbian,” which makes it difficult to draw any conclusions about bisexuals and skews the data about lesbians and gay men. “Thus any particular needs of bisexuals are eclipsed and conflated. Only a handful of studies separate out bisexuals and/or report on their bisexual-specific findings. Fewer compare bisexuals to people who are not bisexual.”
I found one of the most fascinating aspects of the report to be the research data they were able to uncover, in which the number of people self-reporting as bisexual was actually greater than the number of people reporting as gay or lesbian. Take, for example, the data from a 2010 report drawing on responses from over 5,000 adults: 2.1% of respondents (4.2% of men and 0.9% of women) reported being homosexual and 3.1% (2.6% of men and 3.6% of women) reported being bisexual. In another survey of 818 adolescents, 4.9% of respondents identified as bisexual while only1.0% identified as gay/lesbian.
Despite this relative prevalence of individuals who report some measure of fluidity in sexual experience and desire, our cultural narratives persist in glossing sexual orientation as something innate, fixed, and binary: one is either attracted to those of the same sex or those of another sex. To be sexually attracted to more than one sex/gender is to be confused, duplicitous, somehow threatening to the idea of sexual orientation as innate to our beings.
I’ve written on my own blog and previously here at Harpyness about some of the limitations of these narratives from my own personal perspective. This report does a solid job of outlining some of those limitations from a broader political and public health perspective. As someone who generally identifies myself as “queer,” while variously using the words “bisexual,” “fluid,” “lesbian,” “dyke,” and occasionally “gay” to refer to myself, I don’t have a particular stake in staking out a corner of the queer neighborhood where we can post “bisexuals only!” signs and clamor for unique status. I don’t necessarily see the results of this report as pointing toward a greater degree of marginalization for those who are bisexual than those who are mono-sexual (gay, lesbian, or straight). There are too many variables to be claiming some sort of hierarchical place in the oppression olympics (gag). However, I think reports like this are invaluable in pointing out the way in which the way we conceive of sexual identity is limited and, to a surprising extent, is not very useful in describing the lived experience of a significant group of people in this world.