Yes: it really is different for bisexuals.
This is one of the findings from last week’s interim release of results from the Workplace Survey – possibly the largest of its kind – designed to investigate the work experiences of those who identify as bisexual, pansexual, many-gender-loving or fluid desire.
That is: it is not just that bisexuality is a genuine, distinct sexual orientation – as opposed to a phase that individuals pass through – but being bisexual leads individuals to face a number of challenges and pressures that are very different from those experienced by those who identify as lesbian, gay or even straight.
To begin with, the survey revealed that bisexuality is much more broadly defined than non-bi people know or understand, with almost one in five who identify as gay or straight also indicating clear bisexual behaviour or feelings. Some 53 per cent of those surveyed identified as female, 35 per cent as male and ten per cent as queer.
Most bisexuals come out to themselves between the ages of seven and 19, which according to the authors is similar to the age at which most of those who identify as lesbian or gay come out.
Two out of five bisexuals consider themselves to be polyamorous, which creates additional pressure. This is defined as having or wanting numerous intimate relationships with the consent of those involved.
Individuals were more likely to be out as bisexual where a company’s non-discrimination policy included both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression: in companies where there the non-discrimination policy covered just sexual orientation, respondents were no more likely to be out than if it was not in the policy.
There are clear, specific, unique workplace concerns for bisexuals that are distinct from those for lesbian or gay employees
Half of respondents felt that their co-workers had misperceptions about bisexuality. In general, respondents reported a number of similar issues to those reported by lesbian and gays. However, they suffered an additional disadvantage of being seen as not belonging to either ‘side’ (gay or straight) – and therefore reported a degree of distrust from both those groups.
Respondents reported that bisexuals who leave a partner of one sex and then become involved with someone of another sex are gossiped about much more than someone who is straight or gay. This effect then filters through into other aspects of work life, including the perception that bisexuals are often seen as unstable, unreliable, and therefore un-promotable .
A further issue identified was the need for polyamorous bisexuals to remain closeted, even where their bisexuality is accepted.
The survey also found that transgender people are seen as most accepting of bisexuals.
The results released to date are based on a preliminary data set of 800 respondents (out of nearly 1,200 obtained to date). Final results will be published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Bisexuality.