As part of last fall’s National Black Justice Coalition Conference, “Out on the Hill”, I attended a White House meeting on Gay and Bisexual Men and HIV/AIDS. I came away from the meeting impressed by the level of concern that the White House and other partners in the fight to eradicate HIV/AID are consistently demonstrating.
We’re 30 years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic but according to a report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), infections among gay and bisexual men are on the rise in the U.S, especially for men of color.
As a bisexual community expert I think it’s essential to educate folks to the fact that bisexuals have always been at the forefront of the fight to prevent HIV infection. Even if many times history erased us. Since the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the bi community helped shape the messaging, support opportunities and intervention models pertaining to ending HIV/AIDS.
Many times bi efforts were slighted, invalidated, forgotten or in some cases erased. And as Dr. Herukhuti, Black bisexual theorist, so eloquently once put it, “bisexual erasure is psychic murder”. Nowhere is this more dangerous than in the arena of public health, where bisexual populations are often erased in favor of a few more convenient fictions:
- There are few bisexuals (Not!)
- Most bisexuals experience privilege from their heterosexual presenting relationships and do not need (or deserve) care allocated from LGBT resources. (FALSE!)
- Even if support providers frequently use bisexual data (‘cause it’s the worst) to strengthen arguments for more support in reaching LGBT populations, there is no legal requirement for them to find and serve bisexual people (SADLY TRUE).
Dr. Herukhuti has also directly linked bisexual erasure to the disproportionate rates of HIV bisexual people of color report saying,
“Bisexuals become the disappeared of the movement. Nowhere is the impact of this dynamic felt more viscerally than in black and brown communities. Historically, HIV research and prevention has had a problematic relationship with bisexuality in black communities, fluctuating from demonizing black bisexual men as vectors of HIV transmission to treating us as if we are exactly like black gay men — lumping us into a single box of men who have sex with men along with them. It is, therefore, no wonder that HIV rates are disproportionately higher in black communities.”
It’s no wonder then that gay history runs parallel to the history of biphobia, and its legacy, bisexual erasure. If bisexual historical figures and bisexual figures aren’t “bisexually erased” into being gay men or lesbians, they are removed from the conversation, even if their data isn’t!
For example, in 1985 when Larry Kramer first published his seminal work on the HIV/AIDS epidemic “The Normal Heart”, the only mention of bisexuals is in the stage directions. In the play’s “About the Production” section, Kramer describes the walls of the set being whitewashed and painted in “black, simple lettering” with “facts and figures and names”. One of the items on set walls?
“The number of cases in gays and the number of cases in straights, calculated by subtracting the gay and bi-sexual number from the total CDC figure.”
If gay+bisexual=gay, where does the bisexual go? Contrary to popular belief, we do not disappear in a puff of logic. We just die, and sometimes we die without anyone to remember our name.
To me this feels like vexation without representation, and bisexuals get nothing for their troubles. And troubles they are, with bisexuals facing higher rates of nearly every societal ill such as alcohol, drug abuse, smoking, cancer, sexual violence (including rape, stalking and intimate partner violence), heart disease, suicide and PTSD.
Bisexual oriented AND bisexually behaviorally people simply report more disparities than their gay, lesbian and heterosexual peers. In comparison to some research on transgender individuals, bisexuals report less hate crimes yet nearly the same rates of suicide and sexual assault.
Winning the disparity race has left bisexuals with nothing but shame, often internalized and externalized about our identity. Whether it be damaging oppositional dialogue about bisexual community labels or consistent calls for “visibility” instead of straight up parity, bisexuals have paid the price.
An evolving world is waking up to recognize that binaries are too simple to define love, and that bisexuals need more than just to be named. We need to be served like our lives depend on it and our sanity requires it. Will the world wake in time?
To learn more about the bisexual community and HIV/AIDS, please check out The Bisexual History of HIV/AIDS, in photos.