Starting a Conversation on Bisexual Women and Mental Health

bisexual female symbolby Lola Davidson

Over the past few years several studies have shown that bisexual mental health issues are some of the most serious and overlooked health problems.

Bisexual women regularly deal with stigma and shaming from several different communities due to the intersection of biphobia and misogyny. Research shows that bisexuals have the highest risk of anxiety and depression, as well as the lowest level of social support out of any orientation group. I wanted to talk about why that is and how that ties in with the gender issues bisexual women deal with.

Something I’ve noticed that happens to both lesbian women and bisexual women is intense anger directed towards us for not entertaining the idea that our sexuality exists for men. There is still a lot of hypersexualization that happens to women when they’re with other women, and that hypersexualization can quickly turn even more violent when these women make it clear that they are not okay with their identity being seen as a fantasy. This violence can have a huge negative effect on women like bisexual women, who already receive a lot of social stigma for our orientation.

Bisexual women have the lowest overall mental health, which leads to loneliness and suicide attempts (in fact, 45% of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide). The struggle of bisexual women has been marginalized for too long because of the way we are dehumanized as sex objects and because bisexuality is often delegitimized as a sexual orientation.

This also explains why severe issues of bisexual mental health are commonly overlooked. It becomes a vicious cycle, because the trivialization of these issues adds to the anxiety and depression which bisexual women face, and which women in general face after being told that their struggles are not legitimate struggles.

Being LGBT is tough and being a woman is tough, and being both can sometimes make you a constant target for scrutiny and harassment. I want this cycle to break and I think with March being Bisexual Health Awareness Month this is a great time to talk about how serious of an issue this is, and I truly believe that starting this discussion is the best way to start to end this stigma.

(bisexual female logo via Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on by Lola Davidson in Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

Why Our Response to Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws Isn’t Working

Photo of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

by Arwen McKechnie

So, as many of you may know, after five long years of advocacy and international pressure against it, the President of Uganda has signed a bill into law which adds horrifically harsh sentences to existing Ugandan legislation criminalizing homosexuality.

The bill originally called for cases of “aggravated homosexuality” to receive the death penalty, but that has been removed. Repeat offenders of Uganda’s new law will instead be sentenced to life imprisonment, which I’m sure is cold comfort. First time offenders would receive fourteen years.

In addition to the increased prison sentences, the new bill also makes it a crime to provide any material or emotional support to LGBTQ people or causes.  Allies would face possible sentences of five to seven years for providing material support to LGBTQ causes or running a business or NGO which supports equality.

For actually “enabling” homosexual behavior – by marrying a same-sex couple, or by trying to aid or counsel a queer person – the mandatory minimum goes up to seven years.

This last clause is perhaps the most ominous, which is saying something, considering all of this legislation is a nightmare.

As a much cleverer friend of mine rightly pointed out, “aid and counsel” can be defined in any number of ways. If a lawyer represents someone accused of homosexuality and that person is convicted, is the lawyer then subject to prosecution herself? Will even the possibility of that happening have a chilling effect on who is willing to take on such cases?

I fear that the answer in both cases is yes – which means that whatever defence a person could offer against conviction will be weakened right from the start. This becomes an easy way for malicious people to ruin their enemies, creating an environment ripe for witch hunts.

These concerns don’t even address the fact that to identify as queer and do anything other than abjectly apologize for it is now a crime in Uganda. How can the Ugandan LGBTQ community do anything to repeal this law or advocate for basic human decency, when to do so is itself against the law?

The witch hunts have already begun: the day after the bill was signed into law, Red Pepper, a Kampala-based tabloid listed the names of “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos”, some of whom were known LGBTQ advocates, and some of whom have never before identified as queer, and, for all we know, may not still.

Red Pepper apparently has a history of homophobic attacks on people, and with the timing of this article, their intention seems clear. This is nothing less than an appeal to mob violence and vigilantism.

The last time such a list was published in Uganda, in 2011, a known gay activist, David Kato, was murdered, shortly after being granted an injunction preventing that paper from publishing the photos and names of any more gay people; his picture was one of the ones that had been published, under the caption “Hang Them.” Red Pepper’s editorial board has poured gasoline on a fire that will almost certainly result in the death or ruin of many innocent people.

Of course, by innocent, I mean everyone. President Museveni previously refused to sign this bill into law, back when it carried a death penalty for repeat offences, because he believed that sexuality was innate, and to penalize queer people so severely, beyond the existing penalties already in place, for something beyond their control was unjust. He’s apparently since been convinced otherwise by a team of Ugandan scientists who have all attested to the fact that homosexuality is a learned behaviour.

What I think much more probable is that President Museveni recognized that this bill was enormously popular within Uganda and got sick of being lectured and threatened by the global North, and recognized that same outrage in most Ugandans. No one wants to be talked down to, or treated as less than, and the representatives of many governments made their views pointedly known on this subject, sometimes in distinctly unhelpful ways. Read more

Posted on by Arwen McKechnie in LGBT, Politics, Racism 2 Comments

FFFF: Olympics Already a Bit Gay

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logoThe Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion takes aim at homophobia in Russia by pointing out the Olympics have already been a little bit gay.

If you liked that and want one easy thing to do to support their campaign, check out the CIDI’s Facebook page.

There is no voice-over, only music accompanying this video, so no transcript required.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF, LGBT Leave a comment

Gender Focus Reads: Excluded by Julia Serano

photo of a hard copy of Julia Serano's "Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive", with several post-its sticking outby Jarrah Hodge

I received a review copy of Julia Serano’s newest book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive last fall, and I knew it was going to be particularly important. Serano’s last book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Feminism and the Scapegoating of Femininity has been a hugely impactful book for many trans* people and feminists and was even named the 16th most important feminist book of all time by Ms. Magazine.

Moving into 2014, it’s clear this book – and the discussions it provokes – are more necessary than ever. Last year saw more than 790 individuals and 60 organizations sign on to the Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism, but it also saw trans people continuing to struggle – often without wholehearted feminist support – for acknowledgments of basic rights and freedom from violence. It saw the unjust imprisonment of CeCe McDonald, Vancouver Rape Relief invite an anti-trans speaker to their December 6 memorial event, and British media harassing trans teacher Lucy Meadows, leading to her suicide. And literally this past week, a similar event occurred when Grantland writer Caleb Hannan outed a trans woman, Dr. V., and published a cruel, misgendering article even after her suicide.

The continuing injustice and exclusion should unite us as feminist and queer activists, rather than dividing us, and Serano’s book considers how we can get there.

The first part of Excluded is a collection of Serano’s essays since Whipping Girl, outlining exclusion within feminist and queer movements, including femme and bisexual communities, and at events like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Fest:

“I realized right there at the lake what a mistake many women from Michigan make when they insist that trans women would threaten their safe space, destroying a rare place where they feel comfortable revealing their own bodies. Because there is never any safety in the erasing of difference, and no protection in the expectation that all women live up to certain physical criteria. The only truly safe space is one that respects each woman for her own individual uniqueness.”

The essays are particularly helpful for understanding the big picture if you haven’t read Whipping Girl or experienced the kind of discrimination she talks about first-hand.

The second part is new material introducing Serano’s proposals for creating inclusion. Serano states:

“One-size-fits-all approaches to gender and sexuality – whether they occur in straight male-centric mainstream, or within feminist and queer subcultures – inevitably result in double standards, where bodies and behaviors can only ever be viewed as either right or wrong, natural or unnatural, normal or abnormal, righteous or immoral…we should distance ourselves from these one-size-fits-all models, and instead embrace an alternative approach – what I call a holistic approach to feminism.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Books, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

We Need to Address Violence Against Bisexual People

Bisexual pride flag

Bisexual pride flag

by Lola Davidson

Trigger Warning: biphobia, biphobic violence, intimate partner violence

According to the CDC, almost 75% of bisexual women have been victims of sexual and/or domestic violence. This number includes rape, molestation and stalking. 81% of those bisexual women (61% of total bisexual women) have experienced violence from an intimate partner.

This makes bisexual women the number one target of sexual and domestic violence in the world, followed by bisexual men (47.4%), then lesbian women, heterosexual women, gay men and heterosexual men. The study doesn’t specify whether trans folk were included in the identities, but I’m assuming statistically they had to have been in some way.

As a bisexual woman, these numbers are very scary to me but also painfully believable.

I wanted to explore the issue further, so I made a post on my blog explaining what I was doing and asking fellow bisexual people to share their stories. The response I got was unbelievable. I found myself reading through their responses for days; it was a very emotional experience.

Bisexuals of different ages, genders, races and classes told me about how they’ve been beaten, punched, had bricks thrown at them, disowned, stalked, raped, harassed, mentally and verbally abused – there was even one person who shared with me a story about how their neighbor came to their house and beat them repeatedly to “cure”  their bisexuality.

The attackers mentioned where both heterosexual and homosexual. The interesting thing is that almost all these survivors said they felt that the people in their lives would have been okay with their orientation if they were either gay or straight but they weren’t okay with them being bisexual because they needed “to pick one or the other”. Read more

Posted on by Lola Davidson in LGBT Leave a comment

Stop Homophobic Bullying – LGBTQIA Rights as Human Rights

Photo of 6 hands touching, each painted a different rainbow colourby Nina Verfaillie

Over the past few years media outlets from around the world have covered the ongoing harassment of the LGBTQIA community through homophobic and transphobic bullying. The stories of homophobic and transphobic bullying appear nearly every day publicizing the stories of different victims and their individual and collective experiences of harassment and disenfranchisement.

Transphobic and homophobic bullying are clear examples of how discriminatory acts of harassment and violence speak to the base vulnerabilities of us all, and violate an individual’s basic rights.

The effects of bullying are well documented. We hear about the obvious suffering and torture of individuals bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We hear documented struggles of families to find recourse and justice in their communities, schools, places of employment and courts of law. These narratives demonstrate how often bullying is documented and reported and also how consistently it is ignored, ill-handled and in some cases supported or even committed by our community leaders.

In a 2011 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, an overwhelming majority of LGBT students reported being harassed for their gender identity or sexual orientation. The study revealed that 81.9% of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students reported being verbally harassed, 38.3% reported being physically harassed and 18.3% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

That means that 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experienced harassment at school. LGBT students are 2 to 3 times more bullied than straight hetero-normative students and LGBT teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide. That figure doubles for LGBT youth who have been rejected by their families.

The effects of bullying are damaging enough without taking into consideration what it’s like to identify with and be part of a group where being bullied because of your specific identity is a dominant experience. LGBT bullying is frequently linked with suicide and depression. There are increased reports of victims engaging in risky sexual and drug-related activities as well as experiencing social adjustment issues and other long-term health concerns. In a school environment being bullied interferes with a student’s ability to learn and perform well and can impact the ability to graduate, find a job or have a career.

Without legal protections enforced through legislative mechanisms and support and participation from academic institutions, homophobic and transphobic bullying will persist and continue to threaten human rights as a whole. Bullying and harassment that specifically targets the LGBTQIA community is a human rights issue and failure to effectively combat and prevent discriminatory bullying based on gender and sexual identities threatens all of us. The absence of justice and victims’ rights cultivates an acceptance of gender and sexual violence and the selective and therefore ineffectual enforcement of human rights and civil protections.

Human rights are the universal fundamental rights of all human beings, inalienable from the human condition. These rights are the expressed embodiments of our shared dignity as people which are to be protected, guaranteed and enjoyed.

Human rights are understood to be the same for everyone. They are intertwined in both conception and practice. Individual human rights are dependent upon each other in order to be fully protected or accessed, and no one right is fully enjoyed without the same protections and guarantees afforded to provide the enjoyment of all rights. They are held through their universality and each individual right is an expression of a larger notion of the rights of us all and the explicit dignities of personhood. Read more

Posted on by Nina Verfaillie in LGBT Leave a comment

Don’t Buy Into Shame Culture

Photo of spray-painted word "shame" on a wallby Matilda Branson

When we talk about gender issues and gender roles, a recurring theme of gender debates is shame. A victim of sexual assault is blamed and shamed for wearing too short a skirt or walking alone down a dark alley drunk. A football player is scorned by teammates or fans as a “pussy”, for not being manly enough.  People of all genders are shamed in different ways for not conforming to overarching gender norms and expectations.

But why do we feel ashamed? When shamed, why do we feel this overwhelming emotion that is not only uncomfortable, humiliating and embarrassing, but an emotion that wounds a person to the core? What is shame?

Shame is a very powerful and public emotion. The common ancestor of Germanic derivations of shame is skamo and it is thought to mean “to cover”, somewhat fitting in that the natural expression of shame is said to be covering oneself, either literally or figuratively. Hence shame, when it remains covered, or hidden, can be coped with – it is when shame is uncovered – is seen in the public sphere – that it becomes humiliating and disgracing. Shame operates in two ways:


  • It is a failure of recognition
  • It is recognition of failure


Firstly it is perceived failure by you, the individual, to recognize the importance of toeing the unwritten cultural boundaries, to do what is expected of you by family, friends and your community. You have overstepped the mark, and there will be recrimination/anger/hurt at what you’ve done, as the wider community recognizes your failure to abide by cultural norms and sees this as bringing your shame on your family, community or society. When people say, “He’s/she’s got no shame”, it means the individual’s behaviour is not constrained by those cultural norms.

Shame itself is not only a personal reaction to knowingly deviating from cultural norms which people invest heavily in emotionally, but it is also reliant on public discovery and condemnation to have power.

It’s a not-so-funny thing, this shame business. It’s a state of anxiety, a loss of control and even identity. If you’re associated with shame, then the way in which you’re recognized by everyone else is not the way you want to be recognized. The carefully constructed outer image of yourself that you put on show for the public has somehow failed, and a very private part of the self is exposed because you have failed to control it. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, LGBT 4 Comments
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