Workplace discrimination

Here’s an interesting and very recently published study on workplace discrimination faced by bisexuals. The authors of Employment Discrimination Against Bisexuals: An Empirical Study (and the whole thing can be downloaded from the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law), describe it as “the first published quantitative study to focus comprehensively on bisexuals’ experiences with employment discrimination.”1

They surveyed bisexual individuals and found that although they experienced significant levels of employment discrimination, very few of them had sought any kind of relief, and none had sought relief in the court. The study then examined the likely reasons for bisexual invisibility in case law and bisexuals’ apparent reluctance to sue for discrimination in the workplace.

They found that the ways laws are implemented, and the practices of individual lawyers and judges, contribute to the absence of bisexuals from the legal record.

The survey revealed that half of bisexuals had experienced employment discrimination at some point in their lives. The most common types of discrimination reported were (in descending percentage order): inappropriate jokes or insults at work, verbal sexual harassment, unfair access to fringe benefits, verbal harassment based on gender expression, verbal harassment based on sexual identity, and threats or verbal abuse. Some of the respondents also reported having experienced excessive supervision, different or harsher standards of performance, discriminatory questions or comments during job interviews, and inappropriate questions or statements on job applications.

Additionally, some individuals reported being hypersexualized (that common bisexual stereotype!) at work. For example, one woman “was asked by her co-worker in a law firm about her interest in threesomes and public sex after he learned about her bisexuality from the Internet.”

The study provides detailed quantitative data about the frequency of these incidents, as well as discussion of how individuals dealt with it and the decisions of some not to report. It provides some food for thought about the importance of understanding the severity of the impact that perceptions of bisexuality can have on individuals.


  1. Tweedy, Ann E. and Yescavage, Karen. Employment Discrimination Against Bisexuals: An Empirical Study, 21 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 699 (2015). Web. 

Bisexual Book Awards

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The Bisexual Book Awards are happening on May 30! The Awards, organized by the Bi Writers Association, are coming up on their third year. The Bi Writers Association’s (BWA) goals include promoting bi writers and works that dispel myths and stereotypes, and promoting bi visibility1. It’s refreshing to be writing about media and characters put out by bisexuals and/or presenting non-negative, non-stereotypical portrayals of bisexuality for a change.

This year the BWA received 70 submissions for 10 categories, a turnout the BWA is thrilled about. The categories for the Bisexual Book Awards are:

  • Bisexual Fiction
  • Bisexual Non-fiction
  • Bisexual Romance
  • Bisexual Erotic Fiction
  • Bisexual Speculative Fiction (Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror)
  • Bisexual Memoir/Biography
  • Bisexual Teen/Young Adult Fiction
  • Bisexual Mystery
  • Bisexual Poetry
  • Bisexual Anthology
  • Bisexual Book Publisher of the Year
  • Bi Writer of the Year

See a full list of all the finalists for the categories at the BWA’s website here. I’m chuffed to see so many varied categories. Some of the finalists that I want to highlight are Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual MenA Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir, and Otherbound.

Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men edited by Robyn Ochs and H. Sharif Williams is an anthology of bisexual men’s writing. The anthology presents a variety of experiences and themes, and the writers included have diverse racial, ethnic, political, age, geographic, social class, educational status, occupational, nationality, ability and religious/spiritual backgrounds2. I started reading the first piece, “Two Peas in a Pod: Letter From a Bisexual Son to His Bisexual Dad,” written by a 71 year old man to his deceased father, and within the first few paragraphs I already started to get a bit teary-eyed, and I expect the anthology will be full of other moving and provoking pieces. I’m especially pleased to see a book like Recognize given bisexual men’s erasure that I’ve previously written about.

A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir by Daisy Hernandez relates the author’s coming-of-age story in her Columbian-Cuban family. “Daisy sets out to defy the dictates of race and class that preoccupy her mother and tías, but dating women and transmen, and coming to identify as bisexual, leads her to unexpected questions.”3 One of my interests is how bisexuality is perceived and experienced in different cultures, so I look forward to reading this one.

Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis is a finalist in the Teen/Young Adult and Speculative Fiction Categories. It includes characters that are racially diverse and differently-abled. Speculative fiction has always tended to do a much better job of including characters with socially marginalized identities in ways that they are not stereotyped, so this isn’t surprising, but it’s heartening to see all of these qualities in a young adult book.

It’s encouraging to see something like the Bisexual Book Awards, and I hope that literature and media like this can eventually reach a wider audience.


  1.  http://www.biwriters.org/about-bwa/ 
  2. Ochs, Robyn and Williams, H. Sharif. Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men. Boston: Bisexual Resource Center, 2014. Print. 
  3.  http://www.amazon.com/Cup-Water-Under-My-Bed/dp/0807014486 

In/Visibility, Bisexuality, and Disability

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I found “We Exist: Intersectional In/Visibility in Bisexuality & Disability” by K. Caldwell a while before starting this blog, and when we read “Why the Intersex Shouldn’t be Fixed” by Sumi Colligan from Gendering Disability in class, I thought I might find some similarities between the two pieces. Although I ended up finding much less overlap in the articles than I expected, it was such an engaging read because Caldwell makes some excellent points.

First the idea of “in/visibility” in the title refers to how for both bisexuality and disabilities there’s an invisibility (lack of recognition, erasure in the case of bisexuality, etc.) but also a hypervisibility of negative stereotypes.

Caldwell proposes that since disability and bisexuality are both “rendered invisible by paternalistic environments where individual and political identities are defined by oppositional binaries” then disability studies could provide a “non-normative discursive space” in which to address some parallel identity issues critically. And likewise, a bisexual perspective could be informative in applying queer theory to disability studies.

With regards to bisexuality, and the theme of my blog, perceptions, Caldwell says this about definitions of bisexuality:

Many are excessively behaviorist, reliant upon sexual behavior as definitive orientation rather than other dimensions vital to the development of sexuality, such as desire, identity, and relationships.

I briefly mentioned the annoyance of assuming that one’s sexuality is defined by, or only “provable” by whom one has sex with in previous posts. It comes up in difficulty coming out as bisexual if an individual and only had visible relationships with individuals of one gender; it contributes to bi-erasure, etc. Furthermore, as Caldwell continues:

Behaviorist models of identity not only support negative stereotypes, but require them. Bisexuals can only exist in these models if they act “bisexual enough” and fulfill their socially ascribed role as promiscuous, non-monogamous, untrustworthy, transitive, greedy, disloyal, STD-ridden philanderers.

I love how accurately Caldwell captures the catch-22 of bisexuality where there is such denial about bisexuality as a real sexuality, but when it’s acknowledged, bisexuals are saddled with such strong, negative stereotypes. And clearly this illustrates the titular in/visibility.

I mentioned in the last post how the findings from the study about male bisexuality could actually be used to argue that most men are bisexual — that is, bisexuality is the norm, and individuals choose heterosexuality or homosexuality. Caldwell also mentions this:

…one could take the perspective that we are all innately bisexual beings differing only in the degree to which we recognize and permit ourselves to act on our sexual attractions … Bisexuality becomes normalized and hetero- and homo- sexuality constructed as “a monolithic ‘semi-sexual’ collective composed of those sexually limited by a pathological preference for intimacy with members of only one sex.”

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Ooh, burn.

Of course, Caldwell is not actually advocating this stance, and neither am I. It’s just “perversely satisfying,” in Caldwell’s words, after such dismissive and judgmental narratives of bisexuality.

Overall, Caldwell also points out that “society reproduces the most resilient binary of all ad infinitum: normality/abnormality.” This is such a penetrating observation because it relates to binaries of heterosexuality vs homosexuality, queer vs monolithic heterosexuality2, monosexual vs bisexual, able-bodied vs disabled, etc. All of which are problematic because they can be reductive.

In short, I cannot say enough how much I enjoyed reading Caldwell’s article. These are just a few of the many keen observations and connections they make (since I limited myself to things directly related to perceptions — biased ones — of bisexuality).


  1. Ault, A. “Ambiguous Identity in an Unambiguous Sex/Gender Structure: The Case of Bisexual Women” The Sociological Quarterly. 37(3), 449-465. 
  2. Cohen, Cathy J. “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies3.4 (1997): 437. Web. 

Gendered Experiences of Bisexuality – Men

erasure

The counterpart to my posts about the perceptions of and experiences of bisexual women (and now I feel really awful about focusing on the gender binary…) will focus on what is possibly the most prevalent aspect of being a bisexual man — erasure.

Whereas bisexual women in media get hyped up, bisexual men are almost nonexistent. And the lack of media representation is probably just a reflection of the general cultural perception.

Erickson-Schroth and Mitchell give two publicized examples of bisexual men’s erasure1:

One is the 2005 New York Times article “Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited” that reported on the results of a study. The actual hypothesis of the study was that bisexual men did not exist, and that those who claimed to be bisexual were either straight and pretending to be more “open” than they actually were, or were gay and were in denial. The Times article didn’t mention that even the self-identified heterosexual and homosexual men in the study were at least somewhat aroused by their non-preferred sex. This might be used to argue that most men are actually on a bisexual spectrum — a good twist to all the biphobia, which I’ll revisit in the future — but instead, the researchers chose to conclude that “it remains to be shown that male bisexuality exists.”

The other example was when Idaho Senator Larry Craig was charged with lewd conduct for allegedly inviting sexual contact with an undercover police officer in a men’s bathroom. In a press conference later, Craig insisted “I am not gay. I never have been gay.”

As Erickson-Schroth and Mitchell questioned “Why did Senator Craig feel the need to insist that he was not gay? Why didn’t he argue that he bisexual, or at least not bisexual, rather than not gay? He was married to a woman at the time yet appeared to fear that one case of alleged sexual contact with another man would make him gay.” (emphasis mine)

Because he knew that the question on the public’s mind or the speculation would be that he was gay (not bisexual). It’s interesting, if not infuriating, that, as Erickson-Schroth and Mitchell alluded, a single instance of homosexual contact would lead to a person being perceived as gay, when it feels like no amount of lived experience seems to convince them that bisexuality exists! (And of course, as a disclaimer, I am not speculating on Craig’s sexuality. He could be straight, he could be gay, he could be bi. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the question. The issue is how quickly perception jumped to homosexuality. And, indeed, Erickson-Schroth and Mitchell mention that after this incident happened, people were obsessed with speculating as to whether he was really heterosexual or homosexual.)

An instance of male bisexual erasure is occurring right now in the case of Orashia Edwards2 who has for a long time been seeking asylum in the UK. Edwards, who is bisexual, is seeking asylum under the UK policy for LGBT people seeking refuge from countries where they’re in danger. Edwards, who has been in a relationship with a man for the last two years, and was previously married to a woman in Jamaica, had his asylum denied due to “dishonest sexuality.” Officials haven’t believed him, and he’s even had to resort to showing them pictures of him having sex with a man.

“It was extremely degrading for me to have to do, and still they didn’t believe me,” he told The Independent.

I’m noticing that my posts on the gendered experiences of bisexuality are ending on really grim notes, which I wish wasn’t the case.

However, since as I mentioned earlier, these posts looked at the experiences of bisexual individuals within the gender binary, I would be grateful to hear about experiences of bisexuals who are genderqueer, agender, non-binary or who likewise perhaps have a different perspective. Please feel free to make suggestions for readings or share your lived experiences.


  1.  Erickson-Schroth, Laura, and Jennifer Mitchell. “Queering Queer Theory, or Why Bisexuality Matters.” Journal of Bisexuality 9.3-4 (2009): 297-315. Web. 
  2.  http://www.advocate.com/world/2015/05/10/bisexual-asylum-seeker-humiliated-trying-prove-sexuality-uk-officials-0 

Gendered Experiences – Women – Part 2

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Artsy Artichoke’s comic, Living the Bi Life, illustrates the bias bisexual women face in lesbian circles, and the frustration it causes them. To be clear, I’m not saying that all lesbians are biased against bisexual women. However, the exclusion and offhand, hurtful comments that bisexual women experience are nonetheless very clear.

The aptly (if not cheeky) titled qualitative study “Bisexual Women’s Understandings of Social Marginalization: ‘The Heterosexuals Don’t Understand Us But Nor Do The Lesbians'” looked at the experiences of bisexual women in the UK. Through interviews the researchers identified three themes: bisexuality didn’t seem to fit in either heterosexual or LGBT communities, a dismissal of bisexuality, and the sexualization of bisexuality. These are common occurrences with regards to bisexuality, and not exclusive to the experiences of bisexual women. However, quotes from the transcribed interviews directly illustrate the exclusion the women experienced in lesbian circles. One women related her experience of going to a lesbian support group:

I thought maybe that will be different and maybe they might be able to help me and understand. It was just … like a disaster movie […] I just went to the first meeting and was told “if there are any bisexuals in the room, we want you to leave now.” And I was too embarrassed to stand up and go out. So I had to wait till the end and then sort of escape and it was just really unpleasant.

 

Another woman found a group that claimed to be bi-inclusive, but was not actually supportive of her relationship with a man:

They say they are bi inclusive, but it’s a women’s group okay, so what that actually means is that all the women who have women partners, when they go on the hike on a Sunday morning, can take their women partners, but I can’t take my husband.

 

When I think about this exclusion I wonder how much of it comes from the sense that bisexuality is a betrayal to the second-wave feminist notion of “feminism is the idea; lesbianism is the practice.” And in the study, the authors do mention that it has been argued that lesbian separatism was the root of tensions between lesbians and bisexual women. However, I think reducing it to that alone would be erroneous. It’s more complicated than that. Bisexuality presents a challenge to some of the current identity politics used by gay and lesbian movements, some of which Erickson-Schrioth and Mitchell covered in the class reading of “Queering Queer Theory, or Why Bisexuality Matters.”

An important consequence of this bias, exclusion, and sometimes outright hostility that bisexual women face is how the women deal with it. The authors explained, “This regulation and policing of lesbian space and women-only space meant that bisexual women felt that they could not comfortably acknowledge their attractions of involvements with men.” They “strategically censor themselves” and avoid speaking about their male partners or their bisexuality when they’re trying to fit in. One of the women interviewed said,

Not that I tried to pretend that I was a lesbian when I went out [but] I wouldn’t go round broadcasting “oh yeah I’ve got a boyfriend at home by the way” in case they run you out of the pub.

 

These experiences add up to a very un-welcoming environment and a pervasive feeling of exclusion that bisexual women have to deal with.

Please keep in mind that my intent with this post is not to be a shit-stirrer. The last thing I would want is more tension between lesbians and bisexual women. I wish I had suggestions for improving this situation, but unfortunately I’m only left with the discouraging Simone de Beauvoir quote in mind “[No] group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself.”

Gendered Experiences of Bisexuality – Women

There are a few ideas that I see recurring frequently as either perceptions of bisexual women and/or as part of the experiences of bisexual women: female sexuality as fluid, the commodification of bisexual women’s sexuality, and bias against bisexual women in the lesbian community.

The first is this notion of women’s sexuality as “fluid.” Our class reading of “Sexual Fluidity ‘Before Sex'” by Leila J. Rupp places the idea that women’s sexuality is fluid in a historical context. Whether the fluidity is seen as a more recent phenomenon or something that has existed historically in different contexts (the latter is Rupp’s argument), I think this idea that women are more “flexible” in bed, and especially bisexual women, is part of what contributes to bisexual women being asked so often (completely unsolicited) to join a heterosexual couple in a threesome. Being a woman and putting “bisexual” on one’s dating profile almost inevitably leads to these requests. I think this also shows that the people (usually men) making the requests see the woman’s sexuality as compartmentalized, unconnected to the woman. They don’t see her as a woman on a dating site, who happens to be bisexual, and is looking for a relationship and/or partner; they see  “bisexual” and their train of thought goes immediately to “will get in bed with me and my girlfriend!” It’s as if her sexuality is the most defining thing about her. This is also problematic in that it’s partly based on the idea that the act of having sex, and that alone, is what defines one’s sexuality, but I’ll address that again in another entry.

Connected to that is the second thing I see frequently — the commodification of bisexual women in media and in porn. Throwing in an unexpected kiss between two women on a TV show that previously had not addressed non-heterosexuality was a sure-fire way to create press, garner comments of “steamy,” and potentially attract viewers. However, the shock factor of this is in steep decline with the ever-increasing number of shows now depicting a variety of LGBT+ characters in larger, and occasionally even main, roles. Nonetheless, the recent comments made by Mama June and Miley Cyrus and the amount of press generated by them is an example of how the media just gobbles it up. Or rather, the media puts it out there because they know people will gobble it up.

I think it’s also very telling how in porn — and I’m referring to the more common, “mainstream” if you will, porn made with an audience of heterosexual men in mind, not porn by women for women, or queer porn like the Crash Pad series — “bisexual” is often a category onto itself, and by bisexual it usually means “two girls and a guy.” This is also a visitation of the idea of women as sexually fluid.

The third is the negative reception bisexual women sometimes get from some in the lesbian community. I’ll address this in the next post.

Reflection on use of “queer” and other terms

This post isn’t necessarily or solely about “outsiders'” perceptions of bisexuality, but rather some personal observations about the preferences of some bisexual individuals about terms describing their sexuality after attending a bi-monthly (no pun intended) meeting of bisexuals at the LGBT Center.

I’ve been attending this social group, which has moderated, but informal, topical discussions, for the past couple meetings. The topic this time was “Expanding our Bisexual Vocabulary.” With a prompt that began, “We all know that words can hold power and meaning, and there are many of us who defy labels as constraining and imprecise. But the reality is that these same labels are a first step in communicating who and where we are,” we were invited to discuss and express our feeling about terms that we’ve found confusing, enlightening, useful, etc. Some of the terms that were brought up were queer, versatile, fluid, homo/hetero-romantic, etc.

There were a few things that stood out for me, and were sort of motifs that the discussion kept drifting towards:

  • Who owns words? Who determines what they mean, and how do those meanings change over time?
  • A divide roughly based on age/generation about the use of “queer”
  • Whether the creation of new terms is enlightening or confusing

The first point is a rather expansive topic, and the moderator self-effacingly said that would be a discussion better moderated by a linguist and/or historian, and he kept trying to bring the discussion back to the actual terms when it got kind of derailed by this broader topic.

The discussion around the use of the word “queer” however was the most interesting to me. A number of middle-aged and older men were in agreement that it still held too much of the derogatory meaning — they were used to it being hurled as an insult when they were growing up and developing their identities — for them to adopt it as an identifier for themselves. By contrast, the younger individuals in attendance liked it as an identifier for themselves or as an umbrella term. This reminded me of my Intro to Social Work class when we had a presenter on gerontology, and she mentioned the need for services for LGBT seniors, and she made of a point of saying that they use “LGBT” and not “LGBTQ” because that age group does not identify with “queer.” Again, largely because of its use in the past.

Another interesting point that was debated was whether the creation of new terms to describe gender and sexual identity was too confusing. There was a little bit of a generational divide here as well, but it’s better explained by, as a few people pointed out, that humans just tend to be resistant to change, and so replacing what we’re used to with new vocabulary is sometimes met with resistance. One person, who’s a therapist, gave the example of how heated the debate got at her workplace about various trans-related terms and the use of “cis.”

Other terms that individuals brought up that they liked to use to describe themselves included “polysexual,” “ambisextrous” (a clever juxtaposition), and one person emphasized that she liked “bi” but not “bisexual.” The discussion shifted, and she didn’t expand on that point, but I would have liked to hear more. I wonder if might have been related to the societal over-emphasis on who you have sex with as the only way to “legitimize” your sexuality/identity.

I think it goes without saying that identity is a highly individual and personal thing, and this meeting certainly reflected that.