Bisexual youth are at higher risk than their peers for sexual assault and bullying, and almost half of bisexual youths have seriously considered suicide in the past year, according to research by The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth. While bisexual people make up the largest portion of the LGBTQ community, bi youth are often erased and their specific needs overlooked.
In September, The Trevor Project published How to Support Bisexual Youth: Ways to Care for Young People Who Are Attracted to More Than One Gender, a beautifully illustrated educational resource covering a wide range of topics for supporting and celebrating bisexual youth.
I recently spoke with Rory Gory to learn more about the new resource. Gory serves as The Trevor Project’s digital marketing manager, engaging a social media audience of over 1.5 million followers.
Terri Wilder: Thanks for speaking with me today. First, can you tell me what inspired The Trevor Project to create this resource and release it to the world?
Rory Gory: Definitely. As I’m sure you know, the LGBTQ community is super diverse. We have been recently providing different resources that youths and our allies can use to better inform themselves about different identities, or how to support LGBTQ youth, in general. For example, we created a guide to supporting trans and nonbinary youth, and a coming out handbook. For Bi Awareness Week in September, we wanted to offer a similar evergreen resource to bi youth and their allies, while also speaking to other multisexual identities that are attracted to more than one gender.
Wilder: This publication covers a wide range of topics. It’s really well written and easy to follow, and I really appreciate all the definitions. Can we start out with a basic definition of bisexuality?
Gory: In our guide, we defined bisexuality as a sexual orientation, and bisexual—or bi—people as those who have the capacity to form attraction and/or relationships to more than one gender.
It’s also worth noting that we really like the popular definition of bisexuality from bisexual advocate Robin Ochs, which is the potential to be attracted romantically and/or sexually to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.
Wilder: The publication was released to support bisexual youth. What makes that so important?
Gory: For one, the fact that bi folks are subjected to biphobia and bi erasure. They’re such a large group that if we can do better supporting bi folks in LGBTQ spaces and in the world at large, we can really reach a lot of LGBTQ youth who need support.
Wilder: Who is the target audience for this publication? Is it for youth? Adults? Health care providers?
Gory: When we were writing it, we were thinking about that question and thinking that we wanted someone who was bisexual and reading this to feel understood and seen, and not just talked about. We also wanted to inform allies on how they could be more supportive and do better.
I have a strong personal belief that even if you hold an identity, you don’t necessarily know how to be an ally. You may not know a lot about that identity or your community. So I always think that no matter how you identify, you should learn more and learn how to be an ally in so many different ways.
Bisexuality: Why Language and Labels Matter
Wilder: There’s an entire section in this guide on the thinking that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary. Can you speak on that thinking, and why it was important to include it in the publication?
Gory: My perspective is impacted by managing our communities online. I see a lot of young people talking about different words that they’re using. I also get to look at The Trevor Project’s data around the expanding language that LGBTQ youth are using.
So, I wanted to confront a common misconception that bisexuality is binary.
We talked about Greek prefixes, and why someone might assume that a word means one thing, while also honoring that bisexuality means being attracted to more than one gender. It’s not inherently binary. People use a wide range of different labels to define their multisexual identity. There isn’t really a right label or a better label, it’s just about the label that resonates for you.
Wilder: In the publication, there’s a definition for pansexuality that sounds very similar to bisexuality in its description. Why was this particular term included?
Gory: When we’re looking at our audience, we see a lot of young people using the word bi. But we also see young people using the word pansexual. Also, for folks who are asexual but defining a romantic orientation, they may use biromantic or panromantic to describe themselves.
Some people use the terms interchangeably because there are some similarities. Some people feel very strongly that they prefer pansexual or bisexual or queer. So, we wanted to cover that word because we’re seeing it being used, and then also show how it integrates with these other words that folks are using for multisexual identities.
Wilder: In The Trevor Project’s 2019 national survey on LGBTQ mental health, respondents used over 100 different terms to label their sexuality. Can you talk about some of the terms and their definitions? I think many people may not even realize that there are 100 different terms in use.
Gory: It’s wild. You can actually find some of them in our survey. People use, as I’ve mentioned, biromantic. Some folks use demiromantic; graysexual, monosexual, panromantic, pansexual. There are really so many words. We’ve worked with dictionary.com, actually, to explore some of these words and their various definitions, their popularity. It’s something that I as a writer really enjoy looking at.
These days it strikes me that it’s less about finding one word to try and explain your entire self, all your attractions, all the relationship types that you’re part of or how your identity is. People are more using different words in different ways to describe the complexity and the nuances of their sexual orientation, their romantic orientation, or their gender identity.
Wilder: A question in the publication asks: Do we actually need labels? So, do we?
Gory: I have so many feelings about this question because it’s something that I think about a lot. For myself sometimes, it’s more freeing to not label yourself. Everybody should have the right to choose whether or not to label themselves, and if so, what label they choose. It’s highly personal. No one else should dictate which label you use or don’t use.
That being said, I do think, especially when it comes to bi erasure, that labels are important. Often there will be representation on TV where people don’t label themselves. That can contribute to this sense of erasure, that bi people don’t really exist, or that they don’t really need labels.
Labels allow us to collect data and to do research and to find community, to find like-minded people who share your experiences. They allow us to measure the differences between those groups.
If we say, “Oh, well, labels don’t matter at all,” then we’re overlooking these discrepancies between monosexual and multisexual people. So, the answer is, yes and no.
Unpacking Myths, Biphobia, and Bi Erasure
Wilder: When I see a nonprofit organization advertising that they provide services for the LGBTQ community, I often wonder if they really do have dedicated services for people who identify as bisexual. There are definitely services for L, G, and, even more recently, for T, but fewer services and support for bisexual people.
Gory: I would say I agree with that sentiment. That’s been my personal experience, as a person who is both fluid in my gender and my sexuality. In my personal experience, I’ve felt like it’s because communities and identities get a little bit siloed. And if you are fluid, you may exist in more than one world. That can be very challenging.
My work here at The Trevor Project has been extremely rewarding, because when I brought these ideas or concerns, say, to our research team, they’ve been very interested in looking at those identities and coming up with information—and then our marketing team, creating a resource like this.
In general, if you look at, say, grants and funding, very little—it’s less than 1%—is provided for specifically bisexual people or organizations that serve bisexual people. The majority of funding does go towards groups that are LGBTQ inclusive. I think that you’re right that biphobia and bi erasure can exist within the community, as well as in the world at large.
Often bi people, even though they are a very large group, find themselves without really knowing where they belong. There can be gatekeeping around whether or not someone is bi enough, or whether or not they’re really allowed to be part of the community. Then, in the world at large, there’s homophobia and biphobia. People are often erased or told to downplay who they are and not disclose it. That results in bi people having those worse outcomes, because there’s a lack of community support and resources.
Wilder: Can you provide some very specific examples of biphobia?
Gory: It’s defined as the fear, intolerance, or hatred of people who experience an attraction to people of more than one gender. And bi erasure is an element of biphobia—it’s when the existence and legitimacy of bisexuality is questioned or denied outright.
You see this in the world where people are, depending on your identity and who you’re partnered with, assumed to either be gay or straight. People often don’t stop to question their assumptions and consider that maybe a person in that relationship is bi. Maybe one person is gay and one person is bi. People’s identities are not defined by who they’re in relationship with currently.
We can all do better by just not erasing bi people and really being open to the fact that there are so many bi people—chances are you may know someone who’s bi.
Dealing With the Stigma of Biphobia—and Finding Healthy Relationships
Wilder: When someone is stigmatized, they can start experiencing some internalized stigma, and even some internalized biphobia. From your experiences with The Trevor Project, can you share what it’s like when a youth feels stigmatized and then starts internalizing those messages?
Gory: That’s why earlier in the conversation I mentioned how I really believe strongly that no matter how you identify, you can always learn more about your identity and your community. Just because you’re bi doesn’t mean that you haven’t picked up all of those negative messages—especially if you don’t have a supportive community, or you don’t have positive role models or folks to explain why those biphobic assumptions are inaccurate.
You may think, OK, well, that’s true. And that must mean something about me.
It’s a slow process of unlearning those beliefs about yourself. They can become almost unconscious and things that govern how you feel about yourself, in ways that you don’t even realize. I think that as you find community and learn more about your identity, you can unpack some of those beliefs, both in the external world and also looking inside yourself and thinking, is this who I believe I am? Or has this harmful belief changed how I feel about myself?
Wilder: We know that homophobia and transphobia can impact people’s health outcomes. Similarly, how might biphobia impact people’s access to health care—in particular, with HIV prevention services and HIV health care?
Gory: Yes, definitely; for bi people, there are particular concerns. One biphobic stereotype or assumption is that bi people are untrustworthy, or more likely to cheat, or hypersexual. There can be so much stigma and shame around sex, and bi people deal with that to a greater degree because there’s an assumption that they are hypersexual or that they can’t commit to any kind of relationship, or that, especially among queer women, sometimes there’s this assumption that bi women are more likely to have STDs. That shame can prevent people from accessing the health services that they need and talking about these things openly.
Wilder: The publication covers a really important question: How do I tell if my relationship is healthy? What’s the importance of that section, and why did The Trevor Project choose to include it?
Gory: This was a special section as it relates to relationships that bi people might be in, and biphobia that they may encounter. Because we know that statistically bi youth are at a higher risk for sexual assault and intimate partner violence, we felt that it was important to really explore what a healthy relationship looks like in case someone is thinking about these things as they read the guide and wondering if they’re in a healthy situation.
Also given the biphobic assumptions that bi people are more likely to cheat or are hypersexual, this can cause issues in relationships, where a bi person is stigmatized or not trusted or policed in certain ways. So, we wanted to offer these resources.
And, of course, if you are struggling, definitely reach out to RAINN [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network] or The Trevor Project for support.
Key Takeaways and Contacting The Trevor Project
Wilder: I wanted to give a shout out to your illustrator—the illustrations are amazing. Who did them, and how did they come about?
Gory: Absolutely. This is Ashley Lukashevsky, who is @ashlukadraws on Instagram. She also identifies as bi. We always try to work with artists who are LGBTQ and who can relate to the resource that we’re creating, in some ways. I think it makes the publication more authentic.
We’d already worked with Ashley on Instagram’s safety guide that they worked on with us. Those illustrations were just so beautiful that we thought, OK, this is the perfect alignment for this guide.
Wilder: If there were only one or two messages for readers to take away from the publication, what would those be?
Gory: It would be that the bi community is extremely large, and that we can all do better, whether we’re straight or LGBTQ, at being an ally to bi people.
Wilder: If there are youth who identify as bisexual who are struggling or need support or feel like they’re in crisis, how can they get in touch with The Trevor Project?
Gory: It’s easy. You can go to thetrevorproject.org/help and find us by calling, chatting, or texting. We also have a social network site, which is available internationally, called TrevorSpace. You can find that at trevorspace.org.
Wilder: And this is available 24/7?
Wilder: Fantastic. Thank you so much for talking with me, and congratulations on this publication. It serves a great need and gap in what’s available to bisexual people in the community.
Gory: I’m so glad. Thank you for highlighting it.