Biphobia, bi-erasure and bisexual mental health in Ireland

Bisexual people have the highest risk of developing a mental illness, self-harming and considering suicide in comparison to lesbians, gay men and heterosexual people.

The LGBTIreland Report 2016, which is considered to be the largest study of LGBTI people in Ireland to date, found that 34% of participants had self-harmed, with 60% of these people saying that their self-harm was related to their LGBTI identity. Bisexual people were more likely to have self-harmed than lesbian/gay females and gay males, with 54.5% of bisexual people interviewed stating they had self-harmed at a point in their lives.

The report also found that 60% of LGBTI people had seriously thought of ending their lives, with almost half of these people considering it in the past year. 60% said that their suicidal thoughts were related to their LGBTI identity. Again, bisexual people were more likely to consider ending their own lives than lesbian/gay females and gay males, with 65.3% of bisexual people interviewed mentioning they had considered ending their life at one point. This is compared to 19.5% of gay men, and 37.4% of lesbians/gay women.

With figures so high, you’d think that this would be a difficult problem to ignore. Unfortunately in Ireland, bisexuality in general is still very much swept under the carpet. The stigma surrounding mental health issues is slowly but surely being broken down, but bisexuality is something that people still fail to understand. To tackle the problem of poor mental health in bisexual people, we need to look into why it’s happening in the first place. Why are bisexual people so much more prone to developing a mental illness, self-harming or attempting suicide? Sharon Nolan, Galway based Bi+ Ireland co-ordinator, says that there are many different factors contributing to this,

“The lack of acceptance within both gay and straight spaces for bi+ people [causes poor mental health]. Questioning the validity of their identity, slut-shaming, questioning their commitment abilities, and questioning the sheer existence of us. This leads to rejection from social spaces and internalised biphobia. The pressures of feeling that you always need to educate or defend your identity is also damaging for your mental health.”

I carried out a survey on 100 people who identified as bisexual, to see what their experiences were with biphobia, bi-erasure and mental health difficulties. The findings were as follows:

93% said they had experienced difficulties with their mental health

50% had been diagnosed with a mental illness

79% said they had experienced biphobia or bi-erasure

54% said that biphobia or bi-erasure had contributed to their mental health issues

67% had self-harmed

28% had attempted suicide

As Sharon mentioned, biphobia and bi-erasure are contributing factors to the poor mental health of bisexual people, adding to the shocking statistics above. Biphobia is the dislike or prejudice against bisexual people, and Matthew Palliser-Kehoe, a 20-year-old bisexual man from Cork says that his experience of biphobia seems to stem people being unwilling to understand what bisexuality is. The BESS (Business Economics and Social Studies) student says that there is a significant difference between homophobia and biphobia,

“There seems to be a large proportion of members of the LGBT community, along with the wider population, that are unwilling to even recognize bisexuality as a thing that exists. While homophobia is undoubtedly alive and well, there is an underlying acceptance that homosexuality exists. This contrasts with biphobia, where the most painful and most common encounter of biphobia is the denial or refusal to accept the existence of bisexuality in the first place.”

Ellen Reid-Buckley, a 23-year-old queer woman from Limerick, says that biphobia has a lot to do with erasure, “I think marriage equality hit home in assimilation culture for cis gay men especially, but cis lesbian women also gained from that representation. Bi+ and trans voices didn’t get a word in edgeways.”

Ellen, who recently graduated from UCC with a Masters in English (Irish Writing and Film) has experienced biphobia both from inside of the LGBT community and from heterosexual people. One of the more recent incidents was being called “blasphemous” by a lesbian at Dublin Pride for having a boyfriend. She has found that some members of the lesbian community have been “very sceptical or almost enraged” by the thought of a bisexual woman. However she says she most commonly experiences biphobia from cisgender straight men,

“I have been asked by many cis men how many women I’ve slept with, solicited for threesomes by strangers on Tinder because I had a bio that stated I was queer, and even filmed in nightclubs kissing women.”

Nicole* is one of many bisexual people who has suffered badly with mental health issues; she has struggled with eating disorders, self-harm and suicide attempts in the past. In 2011 when Nicole* was still in secondary school, a girl named “Layla” added her and other people in her year on Facebook. She was a blonde haired, blue eyed American girl, and instantly she zoned in on Nicole*. What Nicole* did not realise was that it was a fake account,

“After about three weeks of a joke that everyone except me was in on, Layla told me that she liked me. And I melted, I felt excited and attracted to her too. So I told her I had always felt this way toward girls, and she said that it was okay to like girls and try it out, and that we could try it together. The next day, Layla fell off the face of the earth.”

The next few days in school were hell for Nicole*, who was called a “dyke” by classmates who refused to get changed in the same room as her for PE. The next year she met her first boyfriend, and everyone forgot about her and Layla. But Nicole* never forgot,

“I didn’t ‘look or act gay’ anymore so I sailed through school relatively unscathed. The flip side of straight passing is that I lost all sense of self and identity, and fell quickly into drugs and alcohol after school.”

Nicole* also found it difficult to come out to her family, who do not believe in bisexuality, “They think its greed or confusion, but they all voted yes to marriage equality. They’re not homophobic, they love gay people but the bisexuality thing doesn’t make sense to them.”

If we aren’t going to acknowledge that bisexual people exist, it makes tackling the bigger problems like poor bisexual mental health even more difficult. We have to take it right back to the basics and examine the way we think and talk about bisexual people. Ireland can be a very one-track mind type of nation, where there is a tendency to think in binaries because that’s all we know. But with statistics as high as these, something has got to change. Sexuality is a spectrum, and there is so much more to it than simply being straight or gay.

Nicole’s* name has been changed to protect her identity



Sometimes all you have, is you.

Almost a year after coming out, I have a lot to reflect on. Its been quite a journey, but I appreciate it.

August 30th, 2017

Next month will be a year since I came out.

A year and a half since I came out to myself, to some of my closest friends.

A year since a relationship that taught me so much about myself, so much that I thought I’d die without figuring out.

It had never seemed clear before.

I never thought I’d allow myself to get to this place.

A year since I first experienced what it really felt like, to be so full of appreciation for someone, for the life I’d chosen to live, that I was blissfully unaware of the rest of the world.

I chose this life.

It was me.

I did it myself.

I decided that my life had to change.

I decided that I had to put my happiness first.

In doing that I risked everything; my stable yet unfulfilling life was turning upside down, rattling.

An aura of self-confidence surrounds my every move now,

Because one year ago my confidence was all I could rely on.

The harsh reality that you might lose the ones you love does that to you, creates this shield.

Some may try to knock you down and you have to be sure of yourself,

And if they walk away you need someone. And that someone, sometimes all you have, is you.

Throughout it all I was glad I had a hand to hold,

I thought I’d continue to watch this link unfold,

But it stopped. I didn’t expect it to stop.

And I thought I would stop too, but I didn’t.

This was the moment I’d anticipated, but not when I’d expected it.

Sometimes all you have, is you.

But that’s life.

The world keeps spinning and life doesn’t stop for anyone.

I had to learn to appreciate it.

When you experience the highs, sometimes you have to face the lows.

And I’m grateful for that.

If I didn’t experience the ups and the downs of coming out,

Then where would I be?

Sitting at the bottom of my bed, asking myself again,

“What do you feel?”

“Nothing. Emptiness.”

I don’t look back on my journey with sadness,

I’m fucking proud of myself.

Of the person that I’ve become,

Finally able to say that I’m gay and smiling,

Not curled up in a ball in my bed, through choked up tears and a pounding head and a pain in my heart because I can’t face my life in this lie that I’m living.

It still feels surreal.

Almost one year on, and a lot has changed.

Acceptance has come my way,

Slowly but at the same time, faster than I had ever imagined.

To hear that one of my favourite people said,

“Promise me one thing; that you’ll never turn your back on her.”

When they were who I most feared would turn their back on me,

Well it makes everything worthwhile.

I’ll always be grateful for the life I have now,

That I fought so hard for.

I will always appreciate my journey.


Stop flaunting your sexuality

Why is there a need to validate our sexuality in this day and age? Why is there even a need to come out at all? Why can’t we just love who we want to love, be with whoever we want to be with? Why is it assumed that we’re all born heterosexual, with young girls being told that one day they’ll find their Prince; oblivious to the fact that for some it might actually be a Princess? Because it’s 2016 Ireland, and although people think we’ve made leaps and bounds since the Yes vote in the marriage referendum, we haven’t come that far yet.

We understand what it means to be straight, and we understand what it means to be gay. For decades we’ve been campaigning for gay rights, proclaiming that gay people were born this way and were not able to change their sexuality. Eventually, people began to accept that others were gay. They did not entirely understand it, but they got their head around the concept. Then along came bisexuality; people were finally comfortable coming out and admitting that they were attracted to more than one sex. There are many different sexualities out there, and it’s up to each individual to find onelesbian that fits their preference (or they may choose not to label themselves at all). We’re now aware that heterosexuality isn’t as “normal” as we once thought, so why is there still a need to say, “I’m gay.”?

After the success of the marriage referendum, some may think that the process of coming out is way too dramatized. That it shouldn’t be a case of proclaiming, “Look at me, I’m different!” When really, nobody actually cares and you’re not that different at all. It seems that now, if you come out people are thinking “What’s the fuss about?” Because it’s just another gay, bisexual or queer person. We know so many of them now, and that’s amazing. Coming out should not be dramatic, nobody wants it to be. But for many people, it is.

As much as we like to tell ourselves that the world is a kind, loving and accepting place, sometimes it just isn’t. Yes, people have become more accepting of the LGBTQ community since the marriage referendum, but we still have a long way to go. People seem to forget that, although our generation are overwhelmingly accepting, some of the older generation are still alive, kicking and not too happy about same-sex relationships. There are parents out there with a “not on my doorstep” attitude, and small town syndrome is still prevalent all over the country.

When young people come out these days, it can still be dramatic. They go into it knowing that they could lose some of their best friends and closest family members, and for some of them, they do. You might think it’s not that big of a deal because your family voted Yes in the marriage referendum, but for some people coming out, it’s a huge deal. And granted that it all goes well, that your family say they still love you and your friends couldn’t care less: if you’ve waited 23 years to come out and you’re finally comfortable with your sexuality, it’s a big thing. You should be able to celebrate that without complaints that you’re making a fuss.

There have head shaking and sighs about LGBTQ people throwing their gayness in your face since the beginning of time. What started with “I don’t mind gays, but I hate when they flaunt it” has turned to the likes of “I’m not judging you because you’re gay, I’m judging you know because you’re talking abolesbian3ut it on social media” as time has gone by. And what that boils down to is this; you are flaunting your non heterosexual sexuality by coming out and being visible. By having a presence, and letting people know that, “Hello, I’m Laura. I’m 26, I’m a nurse, and I’m gay.”

Ask an LGBTQ person about why they make such a big deal out of their same-sex relationship and you’ll get the same answer as you would from any heterosexual couple. When you’re in a relationship with somebody, they become a big part of your life. You’re proud of the person they are, you want to show them off and show others that you are together. It’s normal.

It’s not about flaunting anything. It’s wanting to show affection to your partner, to let them know that you appreciate and care about them. It’s about kissing them goodbye outside of the car, rather than hiding away inside. It’s about being comfortable holding your partners hand in public, just because you want to be close to them. It’s not a statement, and it shouldn’t be.closet

Ideally, we would love to live in a world where nobody had a problem with the LGBTQ community. But unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. This is why people still feel the need to “come out”, to label themselves and this is why sometimes the process is still quite dramatic. We don’t want it to be, but in reality, it is. And until there comes a time where we have complete acceptance of the LGBTQ community, some feel that they have to ensure they are visible. That they can say, we’re here; we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, pansexual, and whatever else. They still have to remind people that they exist.

The generation below us need to see that LBGT people are here, that LBGT people are visible, and most importantly that LGBT people are normal. They need to have someone to relate to, whether it’s a family friend or a famous Youtuber that they can identify with. With visibility comes the breaking of stereotypes, like the camp gay man and the big butch lesbian. It can only get better from here, but we have to be patient.

As much as we all want coming out to be a thing of the past, we need to respect that for some people it’s still a huge deal. Until it’s a thing of the past, the LGBTQ community will still feel the need to validate their sexuality. Because once upon a time, they had somebody they looked up to and thought, “He/she is just like me.” Maybe they want to help somebody too.