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Why bisexuals stay in the closet

Only 28% of bisexuals have come out because of stereotypes in the straight and gay communities that they're sex-crazed or incapable of monogamy, a new study shows.

July 14, 2013|By Emily Alpert

In the back of a Himalayan restaurant in Culver City on a recent Sunday, men and women in the bisexual social group amBi traded stories about being dismissed and denied: people folding their arms as they passed during a gay pride parade, would-be girlfriends or boyfriends bolting or assuming they couldn't be faithful to one person.

"This is the first group where I can say, 'I'm bi' — and nobody will judge me," said one woman who wouldn't give her name.

Bisexual activists lament the "B" is overlooked by LGBT organizations that provide little programming specifically for them. Pew found that bisexuals — especially men — were less likely to have belonged to such groups. More than half said they have only a few LGBT friends or none at all.

Researchers believe such isolation may have dire results. Some studies have found that bisexual people are at greater risk of emotional woes than people who are gay, lesbian or straight: Bisexual women are more likely to binge drink and suffer depression, a George Mason University study found.

A Kent State University study of bisexual women found that they were more likely than straight or lesbian women to harm themselves or endure suicidal thoughts. Other studies have also cited higher risks for bisexual men.

"I think these problems are coming from two places," said Northwestern University human sexuality researcher Allen Rosenthal. "The absence of a bisexual community and the psychological stress of being in the closet."

Activists say bisexuals have two closets — a straight and a gay one.

While a gay man might casually mention his husband, or a lesbian might out herself by talking about her girlfriend, bisexuals are often wrongly assumed to be straight or gay depending on who they are with. Spelling out that they are bisexual can be misconstrued as rejecting a current partner or declaring themselves up for anything.

Faith Cheltenham, president of the national bisexual organization BiNet USA, was often presumed to be lesbian when she dated women. When she met the man who would become her husband, she worried people would assume she was straight, invalidating the work she did to come out.

But when she tries to correct that assumption, some mistake it as a sexual invitation. They say, "Why would you tell me you're bi when your husband is right there?" Cheltenham said.

University of Utah research backs up the argument that bisexuality is not just a phase: Though 62% of gay men once identified as bisexual, nearly as many bisexual men — 56% — had once said they were gay, professor Lisa Diamond found. More women switched from calling themselves lesbian to calling themselves bisexual than vice versa.

Though surveys show that bisexuals rival or exceed gays and lesbians in number, experts say there is still little known about bisexuals because studies often group them with gay men and lesbians. While research lags, reality may already be changing: Younger people seem more at ease with bisexuality, adopting alternative labels such as "pansexual" or shrugging off labels completely, McGinnis said.

Northwestern University researcher Brian Mustanski said unlike earlier studies, his research showed bisexual youth were less likely to suffer mental disorders than gay and lesbian youth — a possible sign of growing acceptance of sexual fluidity.

But there's still a long way to go, said Ellyn Ruthstrom, president of the Bisexual Resource Center in Boston. In the middle of a pride parade, "I've had people shout out to me, 'When are you going to come out?' " she said. "Excuse me? We're marching in a pride parade. How out is that?"

Bisexuals less out and less connected

Bisexual men and women rival or exceed gays and lesbians in number, according to studies, but a Pew Research Center survey shows most remain closeted.

Gay men Lesbians Bisexual men Bisexual women Attended an LGBT pride event 72% 61% 25% 37% Attended a rally or march in
support of LGBT rights 58% 44% 23% 26% Been a member of an LGBT organization 48% 49% 12% 34%

Sources: Pew Research Center

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