What's biphobia? Isn't that just watered-down homophobia? Don't bi people have it slightly easier since they can "pass" as straight if they want to?
As a bi person who writes about bi issues, I get this question a lot. The answer, in short, is no. Biphobia is not just "watered down homophobia". To say so is... you guessed it... biphobic.
Biphobia is related to the term homophobia, in the sense that both refer to fear-based bigotry toward non-straight people, but they are not synonyms. Homophobia, in modern usage, has come to refer not only to the stigma against gay people but against same-sex relationships in general (which does include bi people). Bi people, who often are in same-sex relationships, are thus victims of homophobic bigotry all the time. Biphobia, however, is a term that was coined by bisexual activists to describe specific kinds of bigotry unique to the bisexual experience.
This means bi people can be victims of homophobia AND biphobia. Bi folks experience the same homophobic insults and attacks, the same risk of being disowned by our parents, fired from our jobs, or even threatened with violence for expressing our attraction to the same gender. In addition to all of this, society also subjects us to additional stigmas that are unique to bisexuality. Here are a few;
Bi people can experience discrimination from within the LGBTI community.
When gay people come out, they can at least seek the safe space of LGBTI circles, but bi people are often ridiculed and made to feel unwelcome even within LGBTI spaces. This is due to biphobic attitudes held, unfortunately, even by some gay people. It's a very common (and sad) story. Bi people reach out to "Lesbian and Gay centers" or to "Gay/ Straight alliances", only to be told they don't "qualify" or worse yet — that they are in denial or lying about their sexuality. Stop to think for a minute how devastating it could be for a person to finally get up the courage to come out and be honest about their sexual orientation — only to be rejected by the very communities that claim to be safe spaces for such people.
Bi people can be rejected by potential partners simply due to their sexual orientation.
Straight and gay people, of course, experience romantic rejection as well. But straight people aren't turned down by potential partners of the opposite sex simply for being straight. Similarly, gay people aren't turned down by partners of the same sex simply for being gay. It is all too common for bi people to be rejected by partners of either sex simply because we are bi. For a lot of people, bisexuality is a deal-breaker when it comes to dating. This can be due to false and unfair stereotypes about bi people being confused or disloyal, or it can even be because some claim to find bi people "gross".
I myself have had both men and women turn me down as a potential partner simply because they were grossed out by the thought of me having had sexual relations with one or another sex in the past. That is so ridiculous. I mean, even if women aren't your thing, guys, it's not like I haven't showered since. And ladies, just the fact that I've been with fellas doesn't mean I'm any "less of a man". Statements like this, made bluntly to a first date's face, are beyond the pale. If someone is truly this bigoted, I sure wish they'd be polite, keep it to themselves, and do the fade away like a normal civilized person.
Bi people have to come out over and over and over again, throughout our entire lives.
This is another problem unique to biphobia, one to which gay folks cannot relate. When a bi person comes out, society still doubts us. Or worse, ignores us. We are treated as if we are still in the closet, and as if we are just waiting to get up the courage to come out "all the way". When I date a girl, people ask me why I'm straight again. When I date a guy, people ask me if this means I'm gay now. Let me save everyone some time: sexuality doesn't work that way. I'm still bi no matter whom I'm dating, or even if I'm single. Bi. Still bi. Always bi. Simple as that.
So, what can you do to be more supportive of bi people? Simple. If you ever see a bi person being ridiculed or excluded in an LGBTI center or community, please speak up in defense of the bi person. This includes being teased or pushed to finally admit that they are gay. Even the kind words of one person can make a huge difference.
Also, if you ever go on a date with a bi person, please don't assume that our sexual orientation disqualifies us. Take the time to get to know us; you might like us.
And lastly — if a friend or family member comes out as bi, please don't force them back in the closet every other week with assumptions about their "true" sexuality. It's true that some people are confused, but that doesn't mean every bi person is confused. And with that kind of pressure, no wonder so many bi folks give up and accept the monosexual labels straight or gay.
Basically, just understand that bisexuality is a real orientation and that bi people are a diverse group who deserve to be judged for their character — not for their orientation — just like everyone else.