Saturday, July 23, 2016

Bisexual Women and Consent

(Image Credit: Simon Chaput Photogrpahy)

Let’s be clear, all sexual assault is horrid and deserves attention and care. It is not my intent to undermine, neglect, or minimize the trauma and experiences of others who are not bisexual females. The intention of this post is to add to the conversation an awareness of the specific challenges bisexual women face, so we can collectively stop the continuation of harmful stereotypes. I also want to clarify that I do not speak for the entire bisexual community, and I speak only to my own experiences and research.

According to the findings in Victimization by Sexual Orientation Survey, in comparison to heterosexual women, bisexual women are twice as likely to experience sexual assault and three times as likely to be raped. Bisexual women have a 46.1% chance of being forcibly raped. This rate is 2.6 times higher than straight women and 3.5 times higher than lesbian women.

I briefly mentioned my experience with sexual assault when I participated in the BYU: Stop Silencing Victims demonstration. Many women are apprehensive to come forward after an assault or rape because of the rape culture that is perpetuated by the Honor Code. However, when a bisexual woman is assaulted her sexual orientation can and will be used against her with assumptions that she deserved or liked the sexual violence imposed upon her due to stereotypes surrounding her sexual orientation. Another challenge preventing bisexual women from coming forward is that her sexual orientation can also be used as grounds for discipline or expulsion.

Bisexual women share a harmful stereotype with male victims of sexual assault. Both seem to be perceived as always wanting sex, therefore sexual assault against them isn’t taken seriously. Sadly, she is the person most likely to experience sexual assault, but is also treated as the least trustworthy. It’s not difficult to understand why bisexual women are reluctant to even report their assault. When they do bisexual women receive the fewest positive social reactions overall, and have higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The media and porn industry can complicate the problem when they project bisexual women as sex objects to fulfill the fetishes of others without regard for her consent or desires, especially when these scenarios are combined with violent and/or oppressive behaviors. Bisexual women are then dehumanized by becoming the hypersexualized trope in a patriarchal narrative.

It’s a horrible feeling to be:

1. Told your sexual orientation isn’t real, or doesn’t exist
2. Greeted with skepticism by both hetero and homosexual individuals
3. Fetishized and objectified
4. Assaulted partly or fully due to stereotypes about bisexuality
5. Experience biphobia and bi erasure
6. Distrusted when reporting an assault, because you’re a “confused” bisexual
7. Blamed for seeking attention when you are seeking help
8. Disregarded as having illegitimate or exaggerated concerns
9. Sexually assaulted by both males and females
10. Told you deserved it because of your sexual orientation

This puts bisexual women in a losing paradox of being perceived as promiscuous and undesirable, while also being objectified as the pinnacle of sexual desire. There’s no winning.

There is a reason why bisexuals are called the “invisible majority.” According to Pew Research, bisexuals are also much less likely than gay men or lesbians to “come out” to the important people in their life. Only 28% of bisexuals say all or most of the important people in their life know they are bisexual. By comparison, 77% of gay men and 71% of lesbians say the important people in their life know about their sexual orientation. Despite the “B” being the largest subset in the LGBT+ community, many are apprehensive to come forward about their orientation not only because they receive shaming for having a non-heterosexual orientation and/or are rejected for not being “completely gay”, but because their orientation puts a target on their backs for sexual harassment, assault, violence, and rape.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that bisexuals are not a legitimate part of the LGBT+ community, or they are only legitimate after they prove themselves with a detailed description of the sexual history. This is one reason why many bisexuals reside in the “normalcy” of a heterosexual marriage or relationship. It’s safe. True, bisexuals often enjoy the privileges of blending into a predominately heterosexual society, but many suffer in silence when it comes to sexual violence and harassment due to the unique rape culture that surrounds bisexual women.

Bisexuality does not mean sexual attraction towards anything with a pulse. Bisexuality does not mean sexuality attracted toward you. Bisexuality is not an invitation for sexual contact. Bisexuality does not mean having indiscriminant sex with multiple partners. Bisexuality does not mean she is automatically interested in non-monogamy. Bisexuality does not mean confused. Bisexuality does not mean you are entitled to intimate details about her sex life. Bisexuality does not mean you are entitled to making her your bipoly unicorn. Bisexuality does not mean hypersexuality, promiscuity, or nymphomania. But most importantly, bisexuality does not mean you can dismiss the legitimacy of her orientation or consent.

As we continue to have important and productive conversations about consent, rape, assault, harassment, violence and rape culture, I hope we seek to better understand the experiences and challenges of all victims, so we can work together to build communities where all victims can get the help they need and everyone’s consent is respected.