As this year’s Bisexual Day of Visibility falls within Suicide Prevention Month, we explore what it’s like to be young and bi+ in Australia.
As the largest subgroup of the LGBTQ+ community, bisexual, pansexual, and fluid people’s experiences are both unique and distressingly commonplace.
Even as the world becomes increasingly open to talking about mental health, the extraordinarily high rates of mental illness and isolation among bi+ people still slips under the radar.
22-year-old host of queer radio show Pride and Prejudice Caitlin says bisexual people are often “left out of a lot of conversations and targeted support.”
“We’re at higher risks of anxiety, depression, suicide, and there’s a major lack of support and awareness around that. There’s also not a lot of support in letting those who are exploring their sexuality know that being bisexual is a thing.”
Caitlin says that although she’s been “fortunate” enough to work in “pretty safe spaces”, she knows others who have experienced discrimination due to their bisexuality.
“Biphobia – particularly internalised biphobia – is a major reoccurring thing within the queer community. There’s always this internal doubt of ‘I’m not queer enough’ and that’s doubled with external jokes and criticisms.”
A study published this year by La Trobe University – which surveyed the largest-ever cohort of bisexual Australians – found that 77.6% of the sample experienced thoughts of self-harm or suicide, compared to 13.3% of the general Australian population.
A staggering 27.8% of the bisexual participants had actually attempted suicide.
Younger bi+ people, who are often exposed to bullying and paired with the trials of growing up, are at an even bigger risk.
Caitlin says this makes being outspoken about her identity all the more important.
“Being open bi, especially on queer platforms, hopefully lets people know (bi or not) that it is a sexuality that exists and is valid.”
But not all bi+ people are as open as Caitlin.
In fact they are less likely in general to be “out” than other LGBTQ+ people – especially if they’re male. For some that’s due to discrimination or shame. For others it’s simply about not being labelled.
25-year-old teacher Jack* says that although most of his friends know he’s had experiences with both women and men, he doesn’t consider himself “visibly out”– which he defines as whether those in a workplace would know – and doesn’t label his sexuality.
He says his hesitation to adopt any label is about not wanting to be reduced to one small facet of who he is.
“Just like I don’t being boiled down to a seemingly appearing ‘straight, white man,’ and having my opinions invalidated due to factors out of my control, I wouldn’t like to be identified straight away as bisexual [because] it could change the way people perceive me.”
But Krish*, 19, says he never told anyone when he realised that he was bisexual, because he didn’t think they would understand.
“[My girlfriend] is the only one that knows. I love her, and she’s pretty supportive, but I don’t talk about it much. My parents wouldn’t get it, and it’s definitely not something I talk about with my guy friends. Yeah, it can be lonely in a way.”
22-year-old artist and filmmaker Anastasia was a young teen when she realised she was attracted to girls as well as boys. She also isn’t out to her family, though all of her friends know.
“I’m pretty open with my personality and have never changed who I am around my family except with sexual identity and the fact I’m dating a girl.”
Like many bi+ people, she sees her relationship with her girlfriend of four years as a source of strength.
“I think I’ve been lucky to be able share my feelings and identity with my partner. [She] has taught me about love in a way where there is no judgement.”
The La Trobe Who I Am study showed that bisexuals in relationships with same gender partners, or particularly supportive different gender partners, have much better mental health overall.
For Anastasia, having someone who “doesn’t question her identity” makes her feel safe.
“I forget about the fact I’m dating a girl as a bi woman and sometimes don’t think my identity matters.”
When asked what her hope is for the next generation of young bi+ Australians, Caitlin says she wants them to be “properly represented and know that it’s okay to identify as bisexual.”
“Bisexuality is a sexuality that is constantly erased, forgotten about, and misrepresented.
“I want the next generation of young Aussie bis to be safe and secure in exploring who they are and who they love.
“I also hope they have some pretty wicked media representation.”
And with popular TV shows now featuring bi+ romance and characters, and so many young celebrities now out as Bisexual, Pansexual, Queer, or choosing to eschew labels altogether, that future could be drawing closer.
As less and less young people identify as “exclusively heterosexual,” perhaps we are headed for a future less concerned with labels, where young bi+ folks will thrive.
*Editor’s note: some names have been changed to protect the identities of the people in this story.
Image by Rachael Sharman