Bisexual Erasure and Stigma Are Still Too Real

by Nikki Naser (they/them)

Even though bisexuality is not even remotely a new concept, it’s still misunderstood and heavily stigmatized—not just among heterosexuals, but also in queer communities. The unique types of discrimination, exclusion, and stigma faced by those under the bisexual+ umbrella can take a heavy toll on mental health.

New Definitions = Better Understanding?

Not even a year ago, if you were to look up “bisexual” in Merriam-Webster, you’d see irrelevant and outdated definitions:

In 2020, after GLAAD and bisexual+ activist Robyn Ochs pushed for an updated definition, Merriam-Webster eventually updated it. Although, it’s still pretty problematic:

Why do we care what a centuries-old dictionary has to say about bisexuality?

Rich Ferraro, GLAAD Chief Communications Officer, explains that revising these definitions “has a direct impact on how the world recognizes marginalized communities. By updating the definition of ‘bisexual,’ Merriam-Webster took an important step in helping to create a more accurate and current understanding of bisexual+ people.”

Our Definition

Bree Rodriguez, LCSW, a behavioral health therapist at 26Health, gives us a more updated and inclusive definition of bisexual

“Bi+ is the term that encompasses bisexuality, pansexuality, omnisexuality, and other multisexualities. Bisexuality [describes] a person whose primary sexual orientation is toward people of their same gender and of other genders, or people regardless of their gender; bi means two, so essentially someone who identifies as bisexual [is] attracted to two different genders.

The misconception of bisexuality is that a person feels attraction solely to males and females, which isn’t true for everyone. Pansexuality is an attraction to all genders without a preference and without recognizing the gender of a person; one could call it an attraction to someone just for who they are, and others define pansexuality as being gender blind. Omnisexuality is attraction to all genders without preference while recognizing and seeing gender.

As covered earlier, there are various definitions for the word bisexual. The bi+ umbrella not only brings together the multisexualities, but also encompasses all of the definitions of bisexuality. One may define bisexuality as an attraction to masculine and feminine energy, to men and women, or to multiple/different genders.

It’s important to remember that your gender identity and sexuality are yours to define. Although labels can help us better understand ourselves, they are not meant to be barriers.”

Monosexism, Bi-Erasure, and the Double Closet

The problem is that even with an updated definition, bisexual+ people are still marginalized and misunderstood. They also have unique stressors that can affect their mental health.

Rodriguez explains that “monosexism” is a major stressor for the bisexual+ population. They define monosexism as “the belief that people are either heterosexual or homosexual.” This binary view of human sexuality “can result in isolation of bisexual individuals from both the heterosexual and the queer community, which is known as bi-erasure—the dismissal of the existence of bisexuality, biphobia, or the double closet effect.”

For instance, when a bi+ person is in a heterosexual relationship, their bisexual or queer identity often erases. Similarly, someone may label a bisexual person as gay or lesbian if they date someone who matches their gender identity.

“It’s Just a Phase” Leaves a Long-Lasting Mark

The dismissal of bisexual identity as “just a phase” can come from both the heterosexual and queer communities. Straight family members might feel relief that they “got over” being gay. Their LGBTQ peers might not see them as queer enough to belong to the LGBTQ community. Bisexual+ folx might then be or feel excluded from queer events, outings, or groups.

Stephanie Selvick, PhD, LGBT Coordinator at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, says she encounters many students who doubt their queer identities. Especially those who “hold middle identities,” such as bisexual and pansexual.

“These feelings of not being queer enough are only exacerbated by parents and families who still delegitimize bi and pan identities as only being a phase. This leaves bi, pan, and questioning young people on shaky ground—encouraged to extinguish their personal exploration before it even begins. It also creates internal divisions and really vicious forms of social norming within the bisexual community. This positions some bisexual identities as more real or legitimate than others. There is so much learning and unlearning to do!”

The Importance of a Bisexual Community

The list of biases and preconceived notions of bisexuality goes on—they’re more likely to cheat, they won’t be satisfied with one partner, they’re greedy or simply “confused,” they don’t face as much discrimination as others in the LGBTQ+ community. A 2016 study also showed that participants’ attitudes were “generally more positive toward bisexual women than bisexual men.” 

All of this stigma leads many to stay in the bisexual closet. In fact, a 2017 survey done by Stanford University shows that 26% of bisexual adults are not out to any friends or family members.

“Bisexual individuals also experience increased minority stress and social isolation than other individuals in the queer community and heterosexual population,” says Rodriguez. When so many don’t feel comfortable coming out, even those that have can end up feeling very isolated and alone.

Selvick stresses the importance of bisexual community. “This is the most important first step to supporting anyone who is experiencing marginalization or exclusion. It can be life changing and saving to be in community with folks like you,” says Selvick.

Bisexuality and Mental Health Support

Being essentially invisible in the LGBTQ community and the “straight world,” even after coming out, or being forced to stay in the closet because you know you will face these issues takes a serious toll on your mental health.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) points to data that shows “bisexual individuals in comparison with heterosexual, gay or lesbian individuals report increased experience of depression and suicide.” This goes along with many other increased mental health risks.

And although they make up 55% of the adult LGBT population, bi+ people often don’t get or seek out the mental health resources they need. According to a resource sheet from the APA, mental health research underrepresents bisexual people, and they may seek out help less frequently than gay and lesbian individuals. 

This further compounds for people of color, who face racism (within and outside the LGBTQ+ community) and barriers. This includes lack of culturally competent providers, increased mental illness stigma, underinsurance, language barriers, and not enough support for mental health services. According to, “more than one-quarter (28%) of LGBTQ+ adults of color have no health insurance coverage.”

The American Psychiatric Association states that “people from racial/ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental care. Among adults with any mental illness, 48% of whites received mental health services, compared with 31% of blacks and Hispanics, and 22% of Asians.” 

Taking Action

So aside from updating definitions and talking about stats, how do we support the mental health of the bisexual+ community? 

We can start with acknowledging and validating their identities, recognizing their unique struggles, and offering more mental health resources for bisexual+ needs.

Rodriguez says, “The best thing to support bisexuality from the queer community and heterosexual population is to remain mindful, accepting, and seek to learn new knowledge and pass on existing knowledge to others. We are all educators and leaders.”

Focusing on mental health, especially for those marginalized within the LGBTQ+ community, is where 26Health began. It will always be critical to our mission.