by Ifetayo Harvey
“Bisexual Health Month” comes and goes under the radar each March and very little is done to improve the healthcare for those of us who are bisexual. Even though the bisexual population has increased to be 52% of the LGBT community, we are still largely invisible and our needs are underserved. Access to quality healthcare for Black bisexual women is still a struggle.
Bisexual folks face higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and negative health outcomes than gay and lesbian populations. With rates this high, it is critical that our community feels safe and cared for by health practitioners. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
BGD is a reader-funded non-profit. If everyone who reads BGD gave as little as $10, we’d be fully funded for the next 10 years. GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
As a young, Black, bisexual, cis woman, dealing with healthcare professionals is difficult. I routinely encounter biphobia, a slew of racist and misogynist comments, and an overall lack of compassion each time I see a healthcare provider. To say I don’t feel genuinely supported by my healthcare providers as a bisexual, Black, cis woman would be an understatement.
#1. Healthcare Isn’t Always Accessible or Helpful
My home state of South Carolina has yet to accept the Medicaid expansion. For a poor bisexual like myself, this means choosing between getting the root canal I’ve been putting off or buying groceries. Accessing mental health services as an uninsured person is like running through an endless maze. The outdated lists of healthcare providers, the lack of POC mental health practitioners, and the unaffordability of these services all deter folks from seeking treatment.
Bisexual folks, like most of the LGBTQIA community, face navigating a healthcare system that provides many actively harmful treatments. Because bisexual people are often seen as “towing the line” of gayness, they are subject to conversion therapy and deep questioning by practitioners in the hopes that patients will choose one side or the other.
Even with a ban on conversion therapy in California, New Jersey, and DC, there is so much more work to be done towards therapists and doctors having a clearer understanding of LGBTQIA identities.
#2. Treatments Are Actively Biphobic
With Obamacare, more bisexual people will have access to healthcare, but what does that mean if healthcare providers aren’t queer-competent? Queer-incompetent health providers put bisexual folks’ well-being at risk with their ignorance.
I visited a therapist a few months ago who seemed helpful at first, yet later attributed my bisexual identity to “seeking love from all the wrong places”. And my former therapist fed into stereotypes of the “confused bisexual/secret straight woman” and tried to convince me to pick a side.
There will continue to be folks like me who retreat back into their mind when their therapist or doctor invalidates their bisexual identity. Then what happens? Self-doubt, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts can return. The bisexual community can’t afford this anymore. Every human deserves access to healing. Healing cannot happen if we don’t trust each other.
#3. Facing Judgmental Doctors
My first STI screening was at my alma mater’s infirmary. Before this, I didn’t have health insurance. I lacked familiarity with the seemingly awkward, invasive questions the doctor asked.
Once I arrived at my doctor’s office she immediately told me my number of sexual partners was high. Interestingly enough, the inflection in her voice made her statement seem like a question. As a young, bisexual, Black hottie with a libido, it should be no surprise I’m having a lot of sex. I came to the infirmary for a simple STI test, not a morality lecture.
Instead of grimacing when I talk about my sex life and only passing out condoms, health providers should go into better detail about having a vulva and having safe sex with folks who aren’t cis men.
#4. Assumed Gender(s) Of My Partner(s)
“Do you sleep with men?” I never know how to take this question. I want to ask, “do you mean people with penises or folks who identify as cis men?” Health providers must come up with a better way to pose questions to patients, such as talking directly about body parts involved in contact.
My doctors don’t always acknowledge that some of my partners are trans and some don’t fit into the gender binary.
In my experience, straight healthcare providers are quicker to understand gay and lesbian identities than they are to understand bisexuality, pansexuality, and queerness. Like straightness, gay and lesbian identities are monosexual. Mainstream understanding of gayness isn’t enough to support bisexual, pansexual and queer folks because, simply stated, monosexual identity is wholly different from bi- or pan- sexual identities.
Asking “what do you identify as?” or “how would you describe your sexual identity” is a great way to find out my sexual orientation. When I tell you I’m bisexual believe me, don’t give me a blank stare, avoid using gendered pronouns when referring to my sexual partners, and instead use “they/their” pronouns because it’s gender-neutral.
#5. Lack of Understanding That Racism Impacts Health
Combine bisexuality with Blackness and you get intersectional levels of oppression. For Black bisexual women, we experience a hypersexualized gaze from partners. This often leads to high levels of sexual and physical violence from our partners and peers.
The rate of sexual violence among bisexual women is double that of gay, lesbian, and heterosexual populations. Consider the rate of domestic violence that Black women already face in addition to a queer sexuality and you get a whole lot of violence. And the statistics for trans folks, many of whom are bisexual, are worse. According to the Anti-Violence Project trans folks account for 72% of the victims of hate crimes in the United States.
And this is just my experience as a bisexual woman. Bisexual men deal with a different form of judgment, especially bisexual men of color. They are treated as predatory “down-low” HIV spreading monsters. When it comes to bisexual folks who are trans or gender nonconforming people, their health needs are often ignored altogether in these conversations.
Given the amount of violence Black bisexual women deal with, we need a solid support system, especially when things beyond our control go awry. Healthcare work rests on the fulcrum of trust. Without educating healthcare providers on bisexual issues, without trans-competent doctors and mental health professionals, bisexual people won’t build trusting relationships which jeopardize our physical and mental health.
It’s time for health professionals to drop the stereotypes they’re desperately clinging to and start listening to their bisexual clients. The same goes for our families, coworkers, and LGTBQIA community. We could all do a better job of acknowledging and supporting the vastness of needs within the bisexual spectrum.
Ifetayo is from Charleston, South Carolina. As a writer and advocate for children of incarcerated parents, Ifetayo’s work has been featured in the Huffington Post and Alternet.org.
Do not republish anything from this site without expressed written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.