Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bisexual women in the UK have worse mental health than lesbians



Bugged by “friends” who say that it is so much easier to be bi than lesbian? Well point them in the direction of this new research, which comes from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Sexual health researchers from LSHTM analysed the responses to the 2007 Stonewall UK Women's Health Survey from 5,706 bisexual and lesbian women. Respondents were all living in the UK and aged 14 or over. Of these, 937 were bi-identified.

The research showed that bi women were far more likely to experience poor mental health than lesbians. Lesbians, in turn, have worse mental health than do heterosexual women.

This quoted information is straight from the press release.

Bisexual women are more likely to experience poor mental health and mental distress than lesbians, according to new research published in the Journal of Public Health.


Bisexual women were 64% more likely to report an eating problem and 37% more likely to have deliberately self-harmed than lesbians. They were also 26% more likely to have felt depressed and 20% more likely to have suffered from anxiety in the previous year than lesbians.

The study found bisexual women were less likely to be ‘out’ to friends, family and work colleagues and also less likely to be in a relationship. According to the results, bisexual women were less likely to experience sexuality-related discrimination from work, healthcare services, education and family than lesbians, but more likely to experience discrimination from friends.

Study senior author Dr Ford Hickson, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Bisexual people are at particular risk of invisibility and marginalisation from both gay/lesbian communities and mainstream society. Although bisexual women in our study reported experiencing less sexuality-based discrimination than lesbians, this did not benefit their mental health. Mental health services should be aware of both the differences and the similarities in bisexual and lesbian women's mental health care needs, and tailor the services they provide accordingly.”

The authors also found that older bisexual women had more suicidal thoughts than younger bisexual women.

I strongly recommend reading this paper in its entirety – there is some academic jargon and statistics but it is comparatively easy to read; the information in it is both saddening and important.

A few questions and speculations


The authors report that things have changed since a previous report of 2000-2002, when bi women were not reported as having a greater prevalence of psychological distress than were lesbians. They suggest that greater public awareness and acceptance, and legal changes, have meant that lesbian relationships are more tolerated. These changes have not had the same beneficial impact on bi women.

But what has changed since 2007, when this research was carried out? Social media, which was in its infancy in 2007, has – I think – had a definite impact on the invisibility and erasure that is known to have a negative impact on bi people. Social media has the potential to connect people to the great benefit of all. It can also enable bullying and can cause even worse stress to people who are feeling vulnerable.

These are “bi-identified” women. What about women who are sexually/emotionally bi but for whom identity as such is not important. Or, indeed, who identify as pansexual or queer?

To what extent and in which ways would these findings be similar for bi/gay men?

In what ways do other oppressions – race and class, for instance – have an impact on bi women’s “mental distress”? Or the intersection of trans* and bi identities.

To what extent and in which ways would these findings be similar for bi/gay men?

I’d love to know how individuals feel about these issues in their own lives.

Bisexuality, age and mental health

So does this differ with age or generation – and if so, how and why? The authors do say that “older bisexual women had more suicidal thoughts than younger bisexual women” which is a sorry situation indeed. In the UK population at large, incidences of suicidal thoughts go down with age.

Why might this be?

Invisibility and marginalisation is surely at least part of it. If this increased mental distress is true for bi women as a whole, how much more true is this for older bi women. For sexual minority people in general, not being out, being invisible, hiding important parts of yourself – these are all known to have a negative impact on mental health.


Study lead author Lisa Colledge quite rightly says: “Homophobic prejudice is now widely and rightly condemned; specific stigma around bisexuality needs to be similarly confronted.”

Biphobia still clearly exists from both mainstream and queer communities, still has an impact on how women see themselves.


As the report says, “If felt and internalized stigma were commoner among bisexual than lesbian respondents, this may help explain the bisexuals’ greater mental health distress.”


Older bi people/women – as this blog as argued often – continue to be as invisible as they were 20 years ago. Bi people/women are far less visible than younger bi women, or younger bi people as a whole. When they are visible, they are viewed with contempt or bafflement. When they are invisible, it is because they don’t exist. A truly vicious circle, that surely helps no one.

I also think it is likely that growing up at a time when bisexuality was even more unacceptable, when there was even less of a bi community, and even less visibility, may have a profound and long-lasting psychological impact on some women. For those who came out later in life, they may find dating and finding new friends and partners who accept them more difficult than younger women. Those are just a few reasons, most of which the report recognises.


But this is NOT inevitable.

A few years ago, I wrote a draft post for this site on “How to be a happy bisexual” which I never finished because I was concerned it was too light, too perky. I think I will revisit it.

To read the original research, click here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bi and over 50 7: Butch

Here’s the latest in the series of email interviews with bisexual people over 50. Thanks to everyone for your support and interest. There will be a short break between the publication of this interview and any others – I want to write a couple of more general posts that feature my own thoughts on bisexuality and ageing.

As before, the questions in bold are written by me, everything else by the interviewee concerned.

***

Call me Butch. I am 51 years old. I am a white woman of bisexual orientation, and I identify as soft butch. I am a college-educated creative who worked in publishing for many years, and currently works in education. I live in the New England region of the USA, and have been married to a hetero cis-male for 18 years. We have a young child together, who is our biological offspring created the old-fashioned way!

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?

I realized when I was 14 that I was attracted to both sexes in a very fluid way. I heard the term "bisexual" in my twenties, and knew it was me. Over the years, my attraction has remained fluid, although my preference will settle for fairly long periods of time on one side of the gender binary, yet even so the attraction to the other side of the gender binary remains. I have had no experience with transgender individuals with regard to relationships.

What does being bisexual mean to you?

For me, it means having the ability to love both men and women, no matter what their orientation or identity, sometimes at the same time. That is the perceived dirty little secret about being bisexual - the ability to love two people of differing genders at the same time. Personally, I find it liberating, amazing, and utterly natural to love one person of each of the binary genders at the same time. I find that many in the bisexual community regard the existence of polyamorous bisexuals as counterproductive to the task of giving legitimacy and respect to the term "bisexual," but I'm not the only one out here in the world.

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?

I was strictly monogamous when I was younger. But now I have a secondary relationship with a queer woman who is also hetero-married. I was fully open about my bisexual orientation with my husband-to-be, although I thought at the time I would remain monogamous indefinitely. My husband remains my primary partner and I am devoted to him.

As I aged, it became impossible for me to suppress my version of bisexuality (in which there are two partners, one from each of the gender binary), and both my physical and mental health eroded severely. In order to stay a sane and a productive member of society, and to hold at bay the overwhelming depression that was pervading my life, I opened up my personal ethics to include limited polyamory. All parties involved are aware of each other's presence. I have no more than one partner of each binary gender, and STI testing was done before initiating a relationship outside my marriage and required of my proposed female partner.

My secondary relationship is kept private (i.e. secret) to all but my husband and a few of the closest people in my life; my secondary partner also keeps the relationship private in the same way. We are each well-known in our community, and it would cause some serious ripples, both personal and professional, if the true manner of things was revealed. To the world, she and I present merely as very good friends. Do we hate that it has to be that way? Yes. But society is not yet ready to openly accept polyamory, even in this very liberal part of the country.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?

When folks meet me, I'm sure it is pretty obvious that I am not straight. I present as butch. There have been times when I passed for straight, mainly for a previous job and when I was not feeling good about myself, but mostly I've looked fairly obviously queer. I have never hidden the fact that I'm not straight and when asked if I am a lesbian I have responded firmly that I am bisexual, although my being married to a hetero male has confused a good many people. I came out to my siblings early in 2014, and I was surprised that they were surprised. I guess my marriage to a man threw them.

When I was 20, my mom figured out I was not straight (I was with another woman during that time) and she outright rejected me. Those were very dark days of my life. She was the only parent I had, and she didn't talk to me for a long time. I think it wasn't until I was dating a guy in my mid-twenties that she felt comfortable around me again. Last week, I came out to my mom, again. She is 81 and has the early stages of dementia. Her reaction was completely different than her reaction 30 years ago. It was nice to be accepted by her at last for what I am. It was a long time in coming, with many tears along the way.

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

I wish I had recognized my potential need for polyamory before I was married. Revealing it to my husband 18 years into the marriage was very rough on both of us, but most of all on him. He is an incredible person, and is re-learning to accept me for who and what I am.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?

I can only hope that bisexuality, in all its permutations, will gain the wide acceptance it deserves in the greater LGBTQIA community. We are not even close to there, yet. The louder we are, the more we will be heard.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?

Be who you are, despite all obstacles real and perceived. Be out, and be proud. Be loud in your LGBTQIA community. Find other bisexuals and be there for each other. Everyone probably knows at least one bisexual already, but they are often hidden. If you stand up as an example of bisexual pride, it will give others the courage to stand up, too. Be brave, and be kind to yourself. You are amazing, at any age!

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase the visibility of bisexual people over 50? There are plenty of us out there, but far too many people don’t know that.

I am looking for other individuals over 50 who would like to contribute their “email interviews”, as Butch has done here. For more about what to do, look at this post

People of colour, people over 60, trans people, and people who are outside of the USA are particularly encouraged to get in touch.

Thanks.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bi and over 50 6: Lou

Here’s the latest in the series of email “interviews” with bisexual people over 50. Thanks everyone for your interest! 

As before, the questions in bold have been written by me. The rest of the interview is written by the interviewees themselves.

***

I'm Lou Hoffman, 56, white, cis female. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, and I'm legally married to Martin Quam. He’s also bi and 56, and he's native american and white, cis male. We live with our two kids, Arthur and Tristan, who just turned 22.  We're poly and I have a girlfriend who is also bi.

I currently work part time at Target, though I am semi-retired due to disabilities. I've had quite a few different jobs over my life time and also a lot of experiences outside the ordinary, as my philosophy is that if I haven't done something before that's a good enough reason to try it!

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
When I was 12 or 13, I realized I was attracted to both men and women, I first heard the word "bisexual" when David Bowie came out as bi, and I was so relieved, not only that there was a word for it but also because if there was a word for it, that meant there were others like me. They wouldn't have made up a word for just Bowie and I! It's funny now, but I grew up Catholic and on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin: VERY isolated. i didn't come out to anyone until I was 24.

When I went to collage I finally met people who were out as lesbian and gay, though comments and jokes about bisexuality ensured I stayed closeted. But I was rumoured to be lesbian and was openly an ally. It was after college that I moved to Minneapolis, met people who were trans, realized that my attractions were all across all the spectrums, and then met my partner Martin. We were both closeted but soon came out to each other, and shortly after that joined a local bi support group. I've been coming out and being active since then, 32 years now that I've been out, and 43 years since I started identifying as bi. Some phase, huh?

What does being bisexual mean to you?
Up until that point (coming out and joining a bi group) I hadn't thought out a definition of bisexuality and what it means to me, but it was through talking with others that the idea solidified for me. I was part of the discussion back then on what we, as an organization, meant by the word, and for me it's an attraction to people who are similar to and different from my own gender identity.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality?
Since I am very active and out, I can't think of anyone who doesn't know I'm bi. Most people are accepting and supportive, but the more conservative family members just ignore it. This is not to say I haven't been harassed for my identity, but I've been lucky to live in one of the best cities to be bi in the United States. I have not experienced sexual or physical harassment or violence; unfortunately I do know a significant number of people who have. I maintain many connections to people in the rural communities and have a great deal of sympathy for those who are isolated. While it isn't perfect, thank technology for the Internet, so people can find others! That is the biggest, most significant change in the years I've been out and active!

I'm pretty satisfied with my life so far. I've had a lot of fun! I may not be rich in dollars but I'm rich is experiences, friends and family. It would be nice to win the lottery so I could financially support the non-profits I'm involved in, but hey, I contribute my time and energy, and as I retire I hope, health permitting, that I can continue to do so. Being part of the bi communities has enriched me beyond any measure.

What are your hopes or fears for the future?
I hope that in the future the bi communities get funded! Though I may be experienced at working on a shoestring, it's so much easier to work on stuff when your organization has funds! We really need to do outreach to the celebrities that are coming out as bi! And I absolutely support people identifying as whatever speaks their truth, but I hope we don't fragment into competing identities. I hope all non monosexual people work together!

Any words of wisdom for younger (or older) bi people?
I don't know if I have any advice to give to anyone. Keep open to new ideas and experiences, but don't be gullible. Be kind. Get involved. You can make a difference.

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase the visibility of bisexual people over 50? There are plenty of us out there, but far too many people don’t know that.

I am looking for other individuals over 50 who would like to contribute their “email interviews”, as Lou has done here. For more about what to do, look at this post

Thanks.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bi and over 50 5: Chip



I'm so pleased with the response to this series of email interviews with bi people over 50. Thanks again to everyone who has shown interest in this project.

Each of the "interviews" is written by the individual concerned, with the questions in bold written by me.

***

My name is Chip and I'm a 51-year-old white, bisexual male from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, where I work as a professional freelance artist. Currently single and looking. 

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
I knew I was bi when as a teenage boy I'd enjoy looking at my older sister's Playgirl magazines (depicting photos of nude men). I was fascinated by their bodies - athletic, hairy chests, and of course their penises! When I had sex with another man, it felt natural. It felt wonderful. I loved it.

What does being bisexual mean to you?
Being bisexual means I have twice the chance of getting lucky in a bar - LOL! I have the ability to be happy, enjoy relationships and sexual intimacy with both men and women without guilt.

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
For men, it is harder to be bisexual than women,. If a woman openly flirts or kisses another woman it's hot, and accepted. If a guy openly flirts with or kisses another guy, he's labelled as gay.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react? 
After years in the closet, inspired by the positive reaction of a Boston sports writer, who came out as gay, and at the urging of friends who are lesbians, I decided to come out on a Facebook status update. I explained that I had an announcement to make. I wrote for years I had been intimately attracted to both men and women,. That to support my art career I had worked as a stripper in a gay bar. In closing, I said I wanted to come out of the closet and let you all know I am a happy bisexual man. Then I went to bed. 

The response the next morning was great and supportive. It felt like a piano off my back. Even some straight girls/guys introduced me to their gay brothers or cousins for dates. 

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently? 
I wish I'd come out sooner. No question. Wish I had explored more relationships with guys.

What about your hopes or fears for the future regarding bisexuality?
I hope more male and female celebrities come out as bisexual so it gives encouragement to people young and old to enjoy being bisexual without fear of being beaten, bullied or chastised by others. 

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones? 
Come our of the closet and enjoy love with whoever you desire without fear or guilt.

Chip is on Twitter @chipobrien - he is looking to meet bisexual men or women for friendship and more.


Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase the visibility of bisexual people over 50? There are plenty of us out there, but far too many people don’t know that.

I am looking for other individuals over 50 who would like to contribute their “email interviews”, as Chip has done here. For more about what to do, look at this post

Thanks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bi and nearly 50 2: Mary

Due to popular demand, I have expanded the remit of this blog series to include people who are nearly 50. There are even more of us out there!

As before, the questions in bold come from me. Everything else is written by the interviewees themselves.

****

My name is Mary Rowson, I am nearly 49 (just about 50!) and live in Australia with my husband and grown-up daughter. I was born and raised in Nelson, New Zealand - a very beautiful part of the world. I am a social worker by trade and also a writer and musician (I play the violin).

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
I recognised attraction to more than one gender as a young adolescent (1970s) but didn’t fully understand it until my late 30s/40s. I thought I was mistaken or ‘confused’. The AIDS epidemic was hitting NZ at the time I was recognising my bisexual feelings. Unfortunately bisexual men were getting a hammering from the press then for being ‘the evil spreaders of disease’. The negative stereotypes really affected me, and I pushed all those feelings down. Of course, they exploded 25 years later (as feelings tend to do when pushed down!).

What does being bisexual mean to you?
Being bisexual means being attracted to more than one gender to me.

Has this changed over the years, and if so how?
Yes, things have changes significantly for me. I have tried polyamory (loved the person but decided it wasn’t for me). I have become increasingly interested in writing short stories with bi characters in them and have also (like Harrie) written a novel with bisexual main characters.I am also involved with the bisexual alliance in Melbourne and think it is crucial to keep pushing bi visibility. I think older bi visibility is particularly an issue, so I like what you are doing here!

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
My friends and family have been pretty ok with it apart from a few! Presenting as confident about my sexuality certainly helps to reinforce positive reactions back from people.

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had come out earlier but actually I don’t think it would have worked out, so no, I don’t have regrets.

What about your hopes or fears for the future regarding bisexuality?
My hopes are that bisexuality will be recognised as real and bisexual people will be able to be themselves –in all their wonderful diversity.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?
Be yourselves. You DO exist and you are absolutely OK.

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase the visibility of bisexual people over 50? There are plenty of us out there, but far too many people don’t know that.

I am looking for other individuals over 50 (or thereabouts) who would like to contribute their “email interviews”, as Mary has done here. For more about what to do, look at this post

Thanks.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bisexual and over 50 4: Lynnette

Here's the latest in the series of email interviews with bi people over 50. Other potential interviewees always welcome - do get in touch!

Each of the "interviews" is written by the individuals concerned, with the questions in bold coming from me.

*****
My name is Lynnette McFadzen and I live in Portland, Oregon, USA. I am a 57 year-old single white cis-gendered woman with three daughters and four grandchildren. I am single and, at the moment, celibate.

I am disabled but have had many occupations in the past, from nursing to chainsaw chain packaging. The packaging job is where I lost most of my hearing but it really started way before then. After the death of my estranged husband and my mother, I had my biggest breakdown and attempted suicide. That time I sought help. I spent the next 10 years healing and figuring out why my life was so dysfunctional. There was no room for relationships during that time.

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
          
Last year I had finished my second round of chemo for Hepatitis C that I probably contracted as a nurse in my 20s. Not that it is important where I got it - Hep C is non-discerning. The first round failed so I spent a total of two years in treatment. That's a lot of down time to think.

At the end I felt ready to try dating and my old demons re-emerged. I found women attractive. I always had. My first crush was on Audrey Hepburn and I had a series of “girl crushes” throughout my life. But I truly believed all the lies I had been told about bisexuality.I spent the best part of my life proving to myself I was heterosexual and somehow broken and wrong inside. I know that was a contributing factor to my depression and suicide attempts. I really believed my loved ones would be better off without my evilness. What saved me was realizing I could not leave the legacy of suicide to my children and grandchildren. My father had done that to me.

I had never really acted on my same attractions but once and it was a disaster. But with the help of good friends and family I began to learn bisexuality was not what I thought. I turned to the LGBT community and was met with disdain, coolness or outright hostility. I was shocked and disheartened.

So I searched for a bisexual community and eventually was able to find it online. I made good supportive friends with similar stories and similar struggles with internalized biphobia. Through this I was able to accept that, yes I am bisexual. But it took some searching And the search engines at the time were not much help.

It also spurred me to help others like me who felt lost and alone and confused to find and build their support, and realize they can be proud. And have a community of their own since I am limited physically I decided to learn to podcast. And with friends and volunteers we created The BiCast. A podcast for the bisexual community. 

What does being bisexual mean to you?

It means being a complete whole person with no internal shame or feeling of wrongness. Of understanding myself. It means being at peace with me. It has really to do with sex and everything to do with self love. And knowing that just because I am bisexual it doesn't alter my moral compass at all

How has this changed over the years?
I just came out last year. Doing that to myself was the biggest issue. The climate is changing for the general public perception of bisexuality. But the biggest reason I could not accept sooner that I was bisexual was because of what most people believed as I grew up and many still do. That it is a lifestyle choice, that you are shallow, indecisive, hypersexual, liars and all round morally bankrupt. It is changing, but not fast enough for me.

What do other people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?

Everyone knows I'm bi. It's part of being on a podcast about bisexuality. My family and friends are totally supportive. I am blessed with a diverse and loving family and have been fortunate to find amazing people as friends. I am a lucky one. I am in a really safe place.

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

I wish sometimes I had come to terms with this at a much earlier age. That I may have dismissed a good relationship as a possibility based on gender. That I had not tortured myself for no reason at all.
I get a bit melancholy but then remember it gives me a better appreciation of the happiness I have now.

What about your hopes or fears for the future (regarding bisexuality)?

Truthfully, I want to see how all bisexuals are treated change, and help others understand they are OK.

Any words of wisdom for younger bi people – or older ones?

For both really. Don't believe what you are told. Find out your own truth. Stay strong.

YOU ARE NOT WRONG. YOU ARE NOT BROKEN. YOU DESERVE RESPECT.YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING. YOU ARE BISEXUAL.

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase the visibility of bisexual people over 50? There are plenty of us out there, but far too many people don’t know that.

I am looking for other individuals over 50 who would like to contribute their “email interviews”, as Lynnette has done here. For more about what to do, look at this post

Thanks.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Bisexual and over 50 3: Brian


This is the third in the series of email interviews with bi people over 50. Thanks again to everyone who has shown interest in this project.

Each of the “interviews” is written by the individual concerned, with the questions in bold written by me.

***

I am Brian Driscoll, aged 59, married to a woman for 31 years and living in a medium-sized city in British Columbia, Canada. Retired from a career in journalism

What does being bisexual mean to you?
Being bisexual means (to me) being sexually attracted to, and enjoy being with, both men and women. 

How did you come to think of yourself as bisexual?
At age 18, I realized I wanted to experience gay sex, even though I felt strongly attracted to females. I thought that meant I was gay and felt confused and disturbed about the situation. About a year later (this is 40 years ago), I heard the term bisexual and intuitively recognized that it described me.

Has your bisexuality changed over the years, and if so how?
Over the years I have heard that gay people follow a path from bi to gay, and wondered if that would apply to me as well. It hasn't really. I've remained bisexual though I lean more toward homosexual in terms of physical needs and straight in terms of emotional needs. I have never felt the need for an emotional relationship with a man.

What do people in your life know about your bisexuality and how do they react?
My wife has known I am bi for many years but most friends and acquaintances are only now learning about my bisexuality as I have come out recently on social media. The reactions have been muted, at best. Nothing really negative or positive. In fact, I've had no reaction from most people. That does not surprise me, though. If I learned on a friend's Facebook page that he was bisexual or gay, I may not have commented directly, either.

Looking back over your life so far, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I came out late in life. I deeply wish I had done so twenty or thirty years ago. If I were twenty today, I would probably come out at that age. But then, today's situation is different from the 1970s.

What are your hopes and fears for the future, regarding bisexuality?
That difference between then and now makes me profoundly hopeful for young bisexuals. They can (and probably should) come out shortly after they come to accept their sexuality. Coming out early can make a great difference in their lives. 

Would you like to help combat bi erasure and increase the visibility of bisexual people over 50? There are plenty of us out there, but far too many people don’t know that.

I am looking for other individuals over 50 who would like to contribute their “email interviews”, as Brian has done here. For more about what to do, look at this post

Thanks.