Lately there has been a 2013 PEW post taking over my social media feed, trumpeting their bisexual research, using problematic language and monosexist questioning techniques to get biased answers from the LGBT community. You may be saying, “Mono-what?” Well, Monosexuality is the romantic or sexual attraction to members of one gender only. One can be gay, lesbian, and straight and be considered monosexual. Bisexuality is conversely a romantic or sexual attraction to more than one gender. Now that we have the Mono/Bi discussion out of the way, Monosexism, is the structural privileging of “monosexual identities and behaviors,” as Shiri Eisner and others have been talking about for many years both digitally, and in print.
What does monosexism have to do with the PEW study? Isn’t it great that PEW is even including bisexuals in their study? On the surface the study looks inclusive, and to some degree it is a great attempt at being bi positive. Where the PEW study goes to a monosexist place is in the crafting of their questions. Questions like “Q.12 - Do you strongly favor, favor, oppose, or strongly oppose allowing gays and lesbians to adopt children?” Not only does this question not include bisexuals, but completely ignores the transgender community as well. Another question caught my eye, “Q.6 - How much discrimination is there against each of these groups in our society today?, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Gays and lesbians, Women, and Muslim Americans are the only groups presented. It seems as if the PEW might need a visit from a bisexual community organization like BiNet USA, the Bisexual Resource Center, or Bisexual Organizing Project to find their way out of the Gay and Lesbian rut in which they have found themselves. By presenting an LGBT study, and primarily asking questions about gays and lesbians they are creating a monosexist space, where bisexuals are left out of the sexuality equation.
Women are included in the above discrimination question, yet on page six of the report they state, “there is more perceived acceptance of bisexual women (33% a lot) than of bisexual men (8%).” Part of this answer is the continued sexualization of women in general, but bi women in particular are sexualized for just being their full selves. Bisexuality in women is encouraged, fetishized in fact, for the male gaze. It isn’t as if women should be surprised by these numbers, we see the sexualization of women everywhere from the billboards that hang above freeways and off of buildings, to the covers of magazines. Let’s face it, sex sells. What doesn’t sell is male sexuality that isn’t monosexual. At the White House Bisexual Roundtable in 2013 the one of the items that we used data from was a study where heterosexual people found ratings on 101‐point feeling thermometers were less favorable for bisexual men than any other group, save injecting drug users.
Another place where the PEW study went horribly wrong, like a train wreck that you can not look away from, is the question the PEW group asked of the entire group, “Here are a few activities some people do and others do not. Please indicate whether or not you have done this each of the following: Been a member of an LGBT organization…, or [Attended] LGBT pride events,...” this is where language matters when discussing events or organizations. What came out of this particular question was, “When it comes to community engagement, gay men and lesbians are more involved than bisexuals in a variety of LGBT-specific activities, such as attending a gay pride event or being a member of an LGBT organization.” One of the reasons that this language is problematic is that bisexuals have been made unwelcome at gay pride events for a very long time, and bisexual leaders have even petitioned NYC Pride to include bisexual representation in their grand marshal pool. To be clear, if you were asked about joining a group, or event, where the organizers regularly forget that you are community members, calling you allies and such, or straight, because you are in a mixed gender couple, like Brenda Howard, the "Mother of Pride", who was edited out of the website from the 2014 NYC Pride, Heritage of Pride, you might be upset by even the question. It is no wonder that “gay men and lesbians are more involved than bisexuals” in pride events or LGbT organizations which routinely ignore, or are hostile to bisexual participants.
According to the Supporting and Caring For Our Bisexual Youth report, authored by Amy Andre, bisexual youth "are less optimistic about their futures than their non-LGBT counterparts, less engaged in their communities and schools, and highly susceptible to sexual harassment." When PEW asked a question about the future of their communities acceptance 10 years from now, 58% of bisexuals, say society will be a lot more accepting in the coming years, as opposed to 71-76% of gay men and lesbians. This is one place that the PEW confirmed current research on bisexuality. If our identities are not important, our events not important, and our voices silenced, perhaps it is due to the false binary of sexuality that people place upon bisexuals, “Are you straight and gay?”
The good news is however, that we have a voice, silenced or not, which has gotten a boost lately. Kate Brown, the governor of Oregon, is a an out and proud bisexual. The first known bisexual to become a governor in the United States. Currently there is no breadth or depth of bisexual civic leaders like Brown, whereas there are a plethora of people for gay men and lesbians to find inspirational. One can count the number of out bisexual leaders in government on one hand, Governor Kate Brown and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. It was no stretch for find that according to PEW “Gay men and lesbians are more likely than bisexuals to see a lot of value in people knowing someone who is LGBT and in the influence of public figures who are open about being LGBT.”
It is obvious to me as someone in leadership of a bisexual specific organization, that PEW needs to become a more culturally competent organization for the bisexual community before crafting the questions to represent that community.
Download the 2013 report here: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2013/06/SDT_LGBT-Americans_06-2013.pdf
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