On Monday, Boy George, a gay icon, sent out a tweet that suggested bisexuality wasn’t real. He tweeted, “OK. ‘My computer got hacked’ is like saying ‘I’m bisexual’ or ‘I’m sniffing because I have allergies!”
The tweet rightly raised the hackles of bisexual people, many of whom are fighting for increased visibility of bisexual people within the LGBTQ community. When bisexual people aren’t being erased, they’re being stereotyped as “confused.” What Boy George may not realize is that his joke perpetuates the stigmas bi people face every day.
I've seen gay celebrities protected despite their biphobia. Fans would rather stan for their favs than ever hold them accountable.
— Eliel Cruz-Lopez (@elielcruz) January 2, 2017
bisexuals still get the same-sex hate but but with the bonus of biphobia, how does saying you're bi make the world treat someone better? https://t.co/qLVUklpetT
— Harrie Farrow (@BisexualBatman) January 3, 2017
Saying bisexuality isn't real, or we're greedy, or have it easy – is biphobia.
Saying it's a joke, or not meant seriously, compounds it.
— The Bisexual Index (@bisexualindex) January 2, 2017
It’s clear that the media still has a problem processing the idea of bisexuality. The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists” in 2014, which was sympathetic to bisexual activists but still framed the existence of bisexuality as up for debate. The Daily Mail published a piece with the headline, “Why DO so many young people say they’re bisexual? Honest? Confused? Influenced by celebrities? We talk to three youngsters — and their (somewhat bemused) parents” in 2016.
Boy George’s comments also fed into the idea that bisexuality is just a “phase,” and that eventually bisexual people will call themselves gay or lesbian when they accept their “true” sexuality. A 2013 study by University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health found that straight men were disproportionately likely to categorize bisexuality as “not a legitimate sexual orientation.” Although people identifying as gay or lesbian were less likely than straight people to hold prejudice against bi people, people identifying as gay or lesbian still held significantly less positive views of bisexuality than bisexual people. The people who participated in the study used the words “confused,” “different” and “experimental” to describe bi people.
Perceptions of bi people as untrustworthy affected the media coverage of Amber Heard’s abuse allegations against Johnny Depp. It also affects whether or not people choose to come out as bisexual at all. In a study released last year, Columbia University researchers found that many bisexual men with wives or girlfriends have not come out as bisexual to most of the people in their lives, out of fear that their attraction to women will be ignored.
As he attempted to defend himself, Boy George dug a deeper hole. A bisexual fan said she was “kind of hurt” that he would make her sexuality into a joke. He tweeted, “My tweet was not directed at you? How big is your ego right now? Lots of people use ‘bisexual’ when they really mean ‘gay.” He then challenged his critics’ reading comprehension and said he was not referencing “actual bisexuals.”
What may have been worse, however, was the outpouring of support of Boy George’s joke from people who said bisexual people were being too sensitive. The Daily Star, a UK publication, corrected bisexual critics, and wrote, “However, he was simply highlighting the fact that ‘sometimes gay people originally come out as bisexual but that doesn’t mean some people are not genuinely bi.’”
I agree, in my experience people use bi when they aren't ready to fully come out.
— Jonny (@tinwhiteduke) January 2, 2017
@BoyGeorge is a champion of the community. Not a bi-hater. He has lived and breathed the community for decades. He knows his stuff.
— Daniel Falconer (@DanielJFalconer) January 3, 2017
Although people may change how they identify at different points in their life — and there is nothing wrong with that —Boy George’s remarks perpetuate the idea that bisexual people in particular don’t really know their own sexuality.
The idea that not everyone can identify their own orientation doesn’t just hurt bi people. Conversion therapy and corrective rape, or the idea that someone’s sexuality can be changed through rape, have harmed the gay and lesbian community for a long time.
To his credit, Boy George did attempt to walk back his comments a bit, but he didn’t fully apologize or appear to recognize what the problem was with his original tweet.
My point completely but that doesn't mean some people are not genuinely bi. https://t.co/h3zFRzltwA
— Boy George (@BoyGeorge) January 2, 2017
Researchers have acknowledged that anti-bi stigma can affect the mental health of bi people. Lisa Colledge, the lead author of 2015 research on bisexual women’s mental health, which was published in the Journal of Public Health, said in a press release, “Homophobic prejudice is now widely and rightly condemned; specific stigma around bisexual identity needs to be similarly confronted.”
There is also plenty of research on poor mental health outcomes for bi people. Bi women scored much higher than gay and straight women on a 2016 survey that measured suicidal thoughts, and young bisexual men in the U.K. have worse mental health outcomes in general than their gay peers.
Fewer bi people come out to friends and family compared to gay men and lesbians, which means they have fewer support systems in place. According to a 2012 Human Rights Campaign survey, bisexual youth were less likely to have certain social supports in place when they felt sad compared to gay and lesbian youth. Thus, the decision to make light of bisexuality and feed into stereotypes about bisexual people does actual harm.