by Valerie Hughes
Hosted by Chicago’s Bisexual Health Taskforce, the Bisexual Health Summit gathered the area’s predominant researchers, educators, counselors, medical professionals, and activists to discuss recent research within the Bisexual+ (Bisexual+ includes all people who are sexually or romantically interested in more than one gender) population and provide recommendations for improvements in both research and field work with Bi+ folx. The event featured several panels discussing everything from bisexual advocacy to statistical data driving healthcare innovations. These are my major takeaways, the stones I keep polishing in my brain, from the event:
LGBTQIA+ Youth in the Midwest predominantly self-identify complex sexual and romantic orientations.
Lizzie Bartlett of the University of Indiana, presented her recent research on LGBTQIA+ identifying youth ages 14-18 in North Carolina and southern Indiana. The purpose of this research was to gather information on how youth understand and express their sexual and romantic orientations. Bartlett found that very few participants in her study selected just one sexual or romantic orientation. She also found that many participants reported romantic orientations that did not necessarily align with their reported sexual orientations (for example, heterosexual and panromantic). What does this mean? First, those who provide medical or mental health services must work to tailor initial assessments to affirm a large number of sexual and romantic orientations (Bartlett recommended abolishing the “other” category and replacing it with more affirming language, “my orientation is not listed, but I describe it as…”). Second, researchers and clinicians must work to continue to understand and affirm a vast number of intersectional identities by continuous study and open questioning.
Bisexual+ folx face unique stressors when out.
Being out and Bi+ means that one will likely be expected to bear the emotional labor of perpetually coming out regardless of the gender of their current partner, face the irrational expectations around the gatekeeping associated with being a “real” bisexual (i.e. “to be bisexual one must like men and women equally all the time,”), or be confronted with being stereotyped as hypersexual. In a study by Christina Dyer of Northwestern University, Bi+ people reported experiencing stigmatization from both heterosexual and LGTQ communities, which means their access to communities of folks with shared experiences is limited. Furthermore, the romantic relationships of Bi+ folx were not considered to be protective factors as many research participants reported stress associated with intimate partner jealousy. To mitigate some of these challenges, organizations like Center on Halsted have begun to incorporate Bisexual specific groups and events into their programming, increasing opportunities to access community support. See their Bisexual event calendar here: https://www.centeronhalsted.org/neweventsbycategory.cfm?cat=1
Activism and the “drive to improve” are both resiliency factors for Bi+ individuals and lifeforce for the creation of resources for Bisexual communities.
In 2008, Michael Oboza was a volunteer at Center on Halsted and at that time there was no bi-specific programming. He has since created the role of bisexual liaison and CoH now hosts Bisexual support groups and social activities weekly. Organizations like Howard Brown Health Center utilize patient service forms that provide 15+ sexual orientations and gender identities, including a write in space if yours is not listed. These opportunities for connection and affirmation of identity didn’t simply happen overnight, they are the results of persistent advocacy and insistence of visibility.
For more information about the Chicago Bisexual Health Task Force and to stay informed about future events:
Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/ChiBiHealthTF
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ChiBiHealthTF/