In the Black community, the subject of bisexuality is encircled by a contentious debate filled with hypocrisy, ignorance and misinformation. More than 40 percent of LGBT+ people of color consider themselves bisexual, but Black people bear a greater burden of consequences when identifying as such.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 77 percent of Black LGBT+ youth have heard family members say disparaging remarks about LGBT+ people. This leads to a toxic environment that especially showcases the stigma and sexist double standards regarding bisexuality.
While women are usually given the benefit of the doubt, their sexuality often explained as just “experimenting” by others, men are often not given that same understanding. Both of these views are damaging, seeing bisexuality through a purely sexual lens. While this affects all bisexuals greatly, men tend to experience a particular kind of negative backlash, and this rings especially true for Black men.
The media plays a major role in depicting the image of Black men to the masses. Through media, we have received various stereotypes of Black manhood: strong, big, brutish, emotionless, inherently athletic, etc. Not only has this imagery been planted in the minds of other groups, but subconsciously in our minds as well. The idea of Black masculinity is often defined through these tropes, creating a rigid structure and a catalyst for a type of hyper-masculinity to appear. One that prohibits exploration beyond established boundaries, specifically sexuality.
“It’s where you have to be hard, tough, hyper masculine or you’re not real. You’re not one of us,” says Dr. Marcus Patterson, clinical psychologist and owner of Full Circle Mental Health Services in Washington, DC. Patterson primarily specializes in counseling gay and bisexual Black men. He says lack of understanding and an unwillingness to have open dialogue within the Black community creates that barrier, formed in part due to our history, the traumatic effects of slavery on our psyche, and the heavy influence of religion.
“[Other groups] don’t have the same qualification in terms of masculinity,” Patterson explains. “[A lot] of it is driven by faith. It’s layered and nuanced.” This confusion continues to permeate because of stereotypes and myths about both bisexuality and Black masculinity.
The “down low” man is a common go to when speaking about Black bisexual men. The term vilifies these men as being dishonest, both with others and themselves, and as the main spreaders of sexual diseases within the community. This is, of course, false, and it refuses to grasp the concept that multiple sexualities exist. “It’s a grossly underserved population,” warns Patterson. “Nobody likes to be pigeonholed or categorized. You kind of get ostracized from both camps, and then you’re in the middle.”
Lack of empathy and support, combined with a failure to comprehend bisexuality, leaves bisexual Black men in an uncomfortable position. This correlates with a rise of stress-related disorders. Studies suggest that Black bisexual men experience more health disparities than their gay counterparts. This includes higher rates of depression, anxiety, PTSD and physical Assault, among other things.
The common denominator in decreasing biphobia starts with recognition and support. “Sexuality is very fluid,” says Earl Fowlkes, president and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, an organization dedicated to the social, economic and health equity for the Black LGBT+ community. “There is a place for bisexuality. By admitting that, it removes the stigma.”
On the surface, it appears progress has been made and we have come a long way in our acceptance of people’s sexual beliefs. Unfortunately, that is far from the case.
Within LGBT+ communities, inclusivity can be a façade. In the media, attention is given acknowledging the struggles faced by lesbian, gay and transgender individuals. But rarely do we witness the impact of being bisexual (or other sexualities, for that matter). Constant statements such as, “They’re confused, it’s a phase” or “bi people are more prone to cheat” have always been spread throughout other communities. These harmful remarks minimize the experiences of what bisexual people go through. It exacerbates the feelings that might prevent some people from coming out.
As society continues to adapt to changing times, sexual orientation has become a constant focus of conversation. Throughout the past decade there has been a monumental shift in how we view the intersection of gender and sexuality. We have seen the rise of very prominent figures within entertainment, politics and activism express their individual selves without having to conform to societal expectations.
This train of thought has opened the door for many to explore their sexual identities. The concept of sexual fluidity is becoming more mainstream. Though not a new phenomenon, our access to information and terminology has created a space where many people can feel comfortable to express their desires and find themselves in the process. Millennials contribute greatly to this upswing. With a growing number stating that they have had sexual encounters with more than one gender.
As more LGBT+ representation is being highlighted, it will continue to open the doors for a more intersectional movement within the community. As Fowlkes mentions, increased visibility can also lead to greater resources such as more grant funding for exploring bisexual health needs. The goal is to view bisexuality as normal, just like any other orientation. “Having sex with different kinds of people doesn’t define who they are,” Fowlkes said. “We really need to create a safe space for [all] bisexual [people].”