Leadership and Committee Initiatives

Being Bi in Psychology: The Importance of Visibility and Validation

The Bisexual Issue Committee surveyed community members on their experiences.
By Melissa Manley

Logo for the Being Bi in Psychology survey containing pink, purple and blue colors For Bi Visibility Week, the Bisexual Issues Committee distributed a survey asking for community members to comment on their experiences with being bisexual (or with other plurisexual identities) in psychology. Twenty people, including psychologists, students and related professionals, completed the survey and shared what they have found most rewarding and most challenging. By far, most of the challenging experiences respondents reported were related to invisibility and erasure. Many people indicated that because they have a different-gender partner, others forget, ignore or do not take their bisexuality seriously. As respondents noted, this invisibility often required them to come out "again and again and again." Furthermore, some expressed that colleagues would leave them out of LGBTQ/diversity conversations or that they were not seen as "queer enough" to "properly" do LGBTQ research." Workplace or university environments were frequently stressful, as some had encountered instructors who conveyed rigid attitudes about gender or sexuality, minimal attention to bi-specific content when discussing LGBTQ issues in training and generally non-affirming workplaces. While most participants were frequently assumed to be heterosexual, one remarked that colleagues made biphobic remarks around her because they assumed her to be lesbian. Participants mentioned invalidation and bi-negative statements came from both heterosexual and lesbian/gay people. Additionally, clinicians sometimes encountered biphobia or objectification from clients.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of respondents also indicated rewarding and positive experiences being bi+ in psychology. These experiences included connecting with and affirming bisexual clients, working with bisexual students, finding bisexual community, engaging in advocacy and contributing to research that helps bisexual people. Some people also noted the strengths in holding a more nuanced understanding of relationships, gender and/or sexuality, and they were able to use these perspectives to inform their research or provide support to others that they had not received themselves. Some who did feel visible as bisexual noted that this recognition was a positive experience. Another noted that graduate school provided opportunities to learn about queerness, helping the participant to recognize their bisexuality and come out while in school.

Notably, a couple of psychologists discussed how their experiences have changed over time, due to changes in the field as well as the challenges of being both bisexual and a graduate student/early career professional. These responses suggest that the field is potentially becoming more affirming, with more bisexual mentors available, less acceptance of biphobia and more opportunities to present and publish bisexual research. They also indicate the difficulty that students and early career psychologists (ECPs) may still feel in coming out as bisexual and becoming active in bisexual scholarship and advocacy.

These responses highlight the importance of bisexual visibility, community and affirmation for bisexual psychologists. We can all work to increase bi visibility and support bisexual colleagues, students and clients by using inclusive language, discussing bisexuality openly, challenging bi-negative comments and respecting the voices and perspectives of bi psychologists.