Biphobia refers to the idea that monosexuality is superior.
More than just an internal, individualized belief, biphobia results in widespread intolerance of and violence against people who are bisexual — or who are assumed to be bisexual.
To understand exactly who might be the victim of biphobia, you need to understand what bisexuality means.
“By far the most popular definition of bisexuality comes from Robyn Ochs,” says bisexual activist Shiri Eisner, author of “Bi: Notes For A Revolution.”
To summarize: People who are bisexual have the potential for romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.
Anyone who identifies with this definition could experience biphobia.
But so could anyone who bigots think is bisexual — or not monoosexual — due to how they dress, who they sleep with, who they have dated, or who they spend time with.
To be very clear: The only way to know somebody’s sexual orientation is for them to tell you. You cannot discern somebody’s identity based on their fashion choices, sexual history, or dating tendencies.
Also: No sexuality has a specific look. However, systemic misogyny (oppression against women), heterosexism (oppression against people who are not heterosexual), and transphobia (hatred for trans and nonbinary individuals) has led people to believe otherwise.
For people who are bisexual, the term biphobia can be a validating way to name the injustices, inequities, and acts of violence, both big and small, that happen in their day-to-day life specifically because they are bisexual.
Biphobia vs. bimisia
It’s worth mentioning that some people prefer the term bimisia to biphobia.
Why? Because the suffix ‘phobia’, which means fear of, implies that someone is acting out of fear. Many believe this shirks some of the responsibility from those enacting violence.
The suffix ‘misia,’ however, means hatred of and aversion to, which keeps the blame solely on the hater.
Biphobia isn’t the only term that names the oppression someone faces because of their sexuality.
Panphobia, polyphobia, and queerphobia can present similarly to biphobia, with people being discriminated against because they are attracted to more than one gender.
Homophobia, however, can present slightly differently. Usually, it involves a person being discriminated against because they express attraction to someone of a similar gender.
To understand some of the ways the lived experiences of biphobia and homophobia differ — and how they can both impact bisexual folks — let’s look at the following two examples featuring Casey, a made-up bisexual woman.
If Casey goes on a dinner date with another woman, and the two women receive sub-par service after the waiter realizes they’re on a date, they are experiencing homophobia.
If Casey calls her friend after the date to spill the deets and the friend says something like, “Casey! Make up your mind! Are you into boys or girls” or “Oh… you’re back to women again?” that would be biphobia.
Biphobia vs. panphobia
Biphobia and panphobia have a tremendous amount of overlap. But it’s worth mentioning that there’s one way that biphobia plays out that panphobia doesn’t.
While the definition of bisexual does (and has!) included non-binary people, the misconception that bisexuality is inherently transphobic can cause bi folks to face the specific violence of being told that they’re transphobic (even when they’re not).
“There’s this idea that bisexuality perpetuates the gender binary, and bi people are only attracted to men and women,” says Zachary Zane, sex expert, journalist, and founder of BoySlut. “That isn’t the case one bit! Bisexuality is inclusive of all genders.”
A broader term you could choose to use is monosexism.
“Biphobia is an aspect of the broad system of monosexism, which privileges attraction to only one gender — especially heterosexuality,” explains Eisner.
Put simply, monosexism refers to the hatred and hostility anyone who has the potential to be romantically and/or sexually attracted to more than one gender faces as a result of their sexuality.
It encompasses the prejudices bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, and queer people face.
She says that monosexism can lead to biphobic phenomena and behaviors, including bisexual erasure, discrimination against bisexual people, and antagonistic behavior toward people to who they’re attracted.
Worth mentioning: Just as some bisexual activists prefer the term bimisia to biphobia, some prefer monosexism to either term.
Why? Because the term monosexism highlights that the prejudices against bi people are systemic (rather than individual).
One of the main ways biphobia shows up is through bi-erasure, says Eisner.
Bi-erasure is the false assumption that bisexuality isn’t real. It’s the belief that anyone who claims to experience attraction to more than one gender is lying or looking for an excuse to sleep around.
“Because biphobia most often operates through bi-erasure, most of its expressions in daily life are largely intangible and inexplicit,” she says.
Biphobia can also show up in the form of explicit erasure, minimization and dismissal, explicit exclusion, and stereotyping, she says.
What this looks like can vary, but all of the below comments and questions are symptomatic of biphobia:
- “Well, you’re not really bisexual because you’ve only dated men.”
- “Oh, you’re just going through a phase! I had a slutty phase in college, too.”
- “Okay, but how do you know you’re bisexual if you’ve only ever been with women?”
- “You’re married to a woman now, so you’re a lesbian.”
- “I could never date someone bisexual. I’d be too worried they’d cheat on me.”
- “Men can’t be bisexual! That’s a chick thing.”
Unfortunately, it can.
“In both straight and LGBT environments, bi people may be harassed, have their bisexuality fetishized, or encounter people who refuse to date bi folks,” says Eisner.
Monosexual people in the LGBT+ community (people who are lesbian and gay, for instance), might argue that bi people have “heterosexual privilege” or “straight-passing” privilege and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to access community spaces and resources, she says.
These off-hand biphobic jabs aren’t just annoying, they can be life-altering.
“The consequences of biphobia show up in the health disparities, high rates of poverty, high rates of suicidality, poor health and mental health, and in the extremely high rates of sexual violence that bi people face,” says Eisner.
Internalized biphobia results from bisexual and other polysexual individuals internalizing the untrue, harmful things society has told them about themselves either explicitly or implicitly.
Some of the untrue, harmful things bisexuals might internalize:
- Bisexuality isn’t real
- Bisexuality is greedy (and being greedy is bad)
- Bisexuals are cheaters
- Bisexuals can’t be in successful, happy monogamous relationships
- Bisexuals are just homosexuals who haven’t realized it yet
- Bisexuals are attention-hungry
The result? “It’s common for people who have internalized biphobia to stay closeted, feel like imposters, or constantly doubt their own sexuality, says Zane.
It’s also common for people to feel like they’re “bad bisexuals” if their behaviors or desires are in line with the stereotypes often associated with bisexuality, Eisner says.
A bisexual who enjoys threesomes or who yearns for a monogamous relationship, for example, might feel that they’re bad at being bisexual.
“Some people may internalize social biphobia by feeling that they have no place in the world, that they have no value, that they are unworthy of love, or even unworthy of living,” says Eisner, who notes that internalized biphobia plays a huge part in the high rates of suicidality and mental health conditions among bi people.
To start, affirm their identity and lived experiences as a result of their identity. Statements like, “I believe you,” “that sounds really challenging,” and “I’m here for you,” may sound trite, but they can be incredibly loving and validating.
Next, encourage them to find community with other bi and polysexual individuals. “Finding a bi community will help someone who’s bi feel less alone,” says Zane.
“While social media can be a hellscape, it’s an incredible way to meet and connect with other bi people,” adds Zane. He suggests using hashtags to connect with bi communities on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
“There are also a number of Reddit pages dedicated to being bi/connecting with other bi folks,” he says.
You can also Google “bisexual meetups” because odds are there is a bi community in your area, even if you’re someplace rural.
Finally, be sure to support your bi friends even when they’re not in the room. That means, for example, pushing back against jokes that bisexuals are cheaters, reminding others that you can’t assume someone’s sexuality based on their current partner, and checking yourself if you swipe past someone on the dating apps just because of their bisexual identity.
Ultimately, how you choose to address it will depend on what sphere of your life you’re experiencing it in.
For instance, if it’s happening at work you may choose to talk to HR, while if you’re experiencing it within your friend group you may need to have some sit-down convos or enact some boundaries.
Beyond that, “remember that you are glorious, brave, magnificent, and a gift to the world,” says Eisner.
The best way to learn about biphobia is to listen and read the stories bisexual people share about themselves and the injustices they face.
Ahead, are some of the best podcasts, newsletters, and memoirs to listen to and read by bi folks:
- “Greedy: Notes From A Bisexual Who Wants Too Much“by Jen Winston
- “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxanne Gay
- “The Rules Do Not Apply” by Ariel Levy
- “Fairest: A Memoir” by Meredith Talusun
- “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin
- The Bi-Monthly, a newsletter by Jen Winston
- BOYSLUT, a newsletter by Zachary Zane
- Selectively Slutty, a newsletter by Gabrielle Smith
- Bad in Bed, a podcast with Gabrielle Kassel and Bobby Box
- Queery, a podcast with Cameron Esposito
- We’re Having Gay Sex, a podcast with Ashley Gavin, Kate Sisk, and Gara Lonning
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.