Monday, March 10, 2014

Solutions for Bisexual Mental Health

This article originally appeared, in a slightly different version, in the 2014 Spring Issue of Bi Women Quarterly.

Solutions for Bisexual Mental Health Issues

 Educating mental health workers, groups and organizations that claim to be LGBT.
Much harm is done to bisexuals who reach out for help to LGBT groups, websites, therapists, and mental health workers who are ignorant or poorly informed about bisexuality, or not infrequently enough, outright biphobic. Often, there is a complete lack of understanding that bisexual mental health issues are in many ways different from and more complex than those of gays and lesbians, with little or no mention made of separate or distinct challenges that bisexuals face. Since many bisexuals just coming out are likely to reach out to LGBT groups unaware of the potential pitfalls, we need to make sure websites, mental health workers and other organizations that claim to have information about bisexuality are not giving out misinformation or participating in bi-erasure. Any group, organization, website that uses LGBT in its name needs to be in compliance with actually being LGBT or change their name to LG. Monitoring should take place by a bisexual group formed for this purpose.

A readily findable, strong bisexual community.
One of the main directives given to LGBT individuals who are not welcome in their family/school/church is to find a new accepting and supportive “family.” Thus bisexuals often reach out to what is ostensibly the LGBT community, and while it is not unusual for bisexuals to find new friends, allies, support in this world, it is also unfortunately common to find instead new problems in the form of lesbian and gay biphobia and bi-erasure. Bisexuals need a bisexual community to safely reach out to for support, advice and family.
Having a strong bi community will also lessen stress bisexuals have when losing straight or gay community support when they go from being in a relationship with one gender to being in a relationship with another gender.
While there are the promising beginnings of bisexual communities forming, they need to be strengthened, expanded, developed, and more tightly bound together.

More mental health professionals specifically dedicated to bisexuality.
Bisexuals with issues affecting mental health need to be able to find professionals who are more than just minimally acquainted with the specific life challenges that bisexuals face.

Educating the general public about bisexuality.
There needs to be a massive multi-front educational campaign aimed at the general public. Currently, the great bulk of information the average person is likely to happen to upon about bisexuality is filled with stereotypes, myths, misinformation, and bigotry. Perplexed teens are asking and answering each other’s questions about bisexuality. Many people likely first come across the word “bisexual” in pornography, and then connected to slurs, and thirdly in some form of misinformation often from seemingly reputable sources. It is telling that gay-friendly parents of people coming out as bisexual are reported by their children to spew things about a gay phase, bisexuals not being real, and bisexuals being sex-crazy and immoral.

More out and outspoken bisexuals.
As with any minority group seeking to rise above prejudices, we need to be visible and vocal.
Harvey Milk’s Coming Out Campaign is, I believe, hugely responsible for today’s greater acceptance of homosexuality. The only truly effective way to bust the myths is for the world to know who we are and how we live. We need to let the world see something of us besides the barrage of porn labeled “bisexual,” gays who went through a phase, and party girls who flirt with each other in front of men, but actually self-ID as straight.
We have been ripe for being bashed, as our invisibility makes us weak, easy, targets, ready victims who bashers have counted on to not lash back with any intimidating force. We need to let the bashers know they will hear from us, that we will embarrass the press and national organizations publicly for their biphobia. We need to make it clear we expect our allies to defend us too.
Individuals who come out and speak up will feel better about themselves, all bisexuals will benefit from the lessening of biphobia, and the most vulnerable among us will hear someone is speaking up for them, see there is hope and pride, know they are not alone.
We need a bigger bisexual campaign for National Coming Out Day, and a much bigger broader promotion of Bi-visibility Day.
While it’s important to acknowledge that many bisexuals cannot safely come out; those who can without serious recriminations should be encouraged and supported, those who cannot should be given info, support and resources to help them break free from their oppressive restraints.

A better resource list for bisexuals.
Though there are several good resource lists for bisexuals available, they need to be up-date and fleshed out. Grant monies could be used to fund regular searches for new resources, check out their legitimacy and update lists. Lists, including those in different countries and regions, should be cross referencing one another. 

A consensus about sexual labels, identities, and practices.
Daily fought mini wars over definitions, which divide the non-mono-sexual community, further contributes to mental health issues. A bisexual/pansexual/omnisexual/etc. alliance needs to be formed to come up with agreements on definitions, and then a campaign with all groups participating, to promote these definitions. “Bisexual,” as the most widely recognized term needs to be the umbrella term, so that the greater public will not become further mystified. The notion that “bisexual” necessarily and/or always promotes the binary needs to be eradicated.
This alliance also should tackle other issues so that people seeking help don’t find websites/groups at odds with each other with regards to philosophies about the need to come out, and mindsets about monogamy, for example. The alliance should be formed in the spirit of embracing and celebrating our diversity.

Rebuttals to religious dogma regarding homosexual acts.
One of the biggest mental health problems bisexuals face – as well as gays and lesbians - is shaming and fear due to religious teachings. Bisexual groups should engage with gay and lesbian groups in researching, validating, and collating the many useful responses/rebuttals to these teaching, which are currently available, and creating a strong cohesive resource which individuals and groups can easily find. 

Educating the public on the intolerability of male sexual objectification of women. 
We have to bring back the feminist fight against male objectification of women, especially in terms of male fantasies regarding two or more females in engaged in sexual activities. It should be emphasized that while it’s okay for consenting adults to choose to participate in gratification of f/f male fantasies, it is quite another thing for men to equate “bisexual woman” with an automatic desire to please men in these ways.

Own up to some facts about bisexuals.
In response to “bisexuals are confused” a typical retort by bisexuals is no, bisexuals are not any more confused than any other gender. While clearly not all bisexuals are confused, and bisexuals are not, by nature of their orientation, confused, the fact is that many bisexuals are confused. While it’s true that the confusions bisexuals have are due to a mono-sexual oriented, hetero-centric, monogamy-based society’s ‘norms’ and expectations, this doesn’t erase the reality. Denying this fact prevents us from helping elevate the sources of the confusion. Many bisexuals when first recognizing that they are attracted to more than one gender are yes, confused, by these attractions, and sometimes go through a lengthy process of sorting it out. Additionally, some bisexuals are confused about how to work their desires towards more than one gender into their desire for committed relationships. Bisexuals are also sometimes confused when reconciling who they thought they were – which could include anything from a gay-hating heterosexual fundamentalist Christian to an out-proud biphobic homosexual – to who they now understand they are, a bisexual. Some bisexuals experience “fluidity” in their sexual attractions, and for some this too is a source of confusion. Further, there tends to sometimes be confusion for people who perceive themselves to be romantically inclined towards one gender but only sexually interested in another. These potential sources for mental health problems need be acknowledge so they can addressed.

Funneling grant money and other funds designated “LGBT” towards bisexual issues.
Many of the suggestions above will require funding, so this is perhaps the most fundamental solution for bisexual mental health issues. Bisexual groups, organizations and individuals need to lobby federal, state, and local governments, and Funders for LGBTQ Issues, and others, to specifically designate “LGBT” monies - long channeled nearly exclusively towards lesbian and gay issues - for bisexual specific issues.