Census data reveals 1.3% of UK people are bisexual, but why can’t they ‘stay out’?
Despite bisexuality being almost as common as gay or lesbian identities, they face a unique struggle to be fully accepted both outside of and within the LGBTQ+ community.
Until now, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on their own methods of collecting data on sexuality in the UK. Organisations such as Stonewall have tried the best they could to capture the numbers of different sexualities across the country, but these are often limited samples of the population. However, in 2021 the Census, a nationwide survey taken every 10 years, asked respondents to label both their sexual orientation and asked whether their gender identity differed from their sex registered at birth for the first time.
Respondents, aged 16 or over, were asked to choose from four options; straight or heterosexual; gay or lesbian; bisexual; other sexual orientation. Those who chose ‘other’ were asked to write in the sexual orientation they identified with. Alternatively, they could skip past the question instead. 44.9 million people responded, equating to 92.5% of the population who are 16 and over.
Speaking to Avi Kay (they/them), Chair of Bi Pride UK, about the data and this milestone for the queer community, they noted that the data does not capture those who ‘don’t necessarily use a label’, which is important to keep in mind when examining data of this kind.
The results showed that 1.3% of the UK identify as bisexual, a number which is almost as high as those who ticked gay or lesbian at 1.5%. To Kay, this number is unsurprising, as they say,
‘It tells exactly the story that the bi community have always been saying, which is that there are loads of us out there, we know we’re probably bigger than the L and the G when they’re put together’.
If this is the case, Kay questions why ‘is it that none of the funding for LGBT stuff goes to bi things’ or why ‘very few of the LGBT spaces are actively seeking to be bi inclusive’.
The claim that bisexual people are left out of LGBT conversations and spaces is not new. A 2017 study by Stonewall showed that 27% of bi women reported discrimination from others within the community compared to only 9% of gay/lesbian women.
Biphobia is a widespread problem, and can look very different to the discrimination that a gay/lesbian person may face. Kay explains that there is an ‘inherent sexualisation and negative sexual narratives around bi people’ stemming from an idea that ‘they’re going to cheat or because they’re going to want to have sex all the time’. Narratives such as these can be incredibly unhelpful, and the Stonewall data shows how this perception may put bi people in danger as they are more likely to face sexual violence from a partner.
‘it’s really hard to be out and stay out as bi because there’s so much assumption that your sexuality is defined by who you’re currently with’
Kay also highlights a common issue that can arise for bisexual people, which is an assumption about their sexuality based on their current relationship status. They explain, ‘it’s really hard to be out and stay out as bi because there’s so much assumption that your sexuality is defined by who you’re currently with’. This assumption affects not just bisexual people but also anyone who is sexually attracted to more than one gender such as pansexual people. It can lead to people feeling unable to be completely themselves or have the freedom to date without judgement. Speaking from personal experience, Kay says,
‘I spent a good sort of four or five years not being in relationships at all, not being in formalised relationships at least because I’d spent so long and so much mental energy “coming out” that I didn’t want to then put myself back into a closet based on what other people perceived to be my gender and what other people perceived to be a gender of the person that I might be with’.
It is all well to simply recite this information and do nothing more. But it is fundamentally clear that for bisexual people to feel truly accepted within both the LGBTQ+ community and wider society, we need to take a practical, hands-on approach. It is no secret that we have all internalised stereotypical gender roles, leading us to make assumptions about someone’s sexuality or gender based on their dating life or something as seemingly insignificant as clothing. We need to move past the heteronormative and binary assumptions that are rooted within society and our own heads and change our mindsets.
Natalie McCandless, a Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, says, ‘To become more open minded to people who are different to us we first need to examine the origins of our own values’. Suggesting a practical method we could all easily do today, she says,
‘read a newspaper that is opposite to what you usually read, and instead of instantly rubbishing the opinion, try to take a neutral stance and listen to what is being said by the writer. You may not agree with what they are saying, but instead of sitting in an echo chamber of similar opinions by only reading what you agree with, in order to be open minded we need to listen to all experiences and voices.’
When researching open mindedness, possibly the most important way cited is through human experience. By ‘meeting people who live and have opinions opposite to our own, and by engaging in their lived, human experience in real life’, says McCandless, ‘can radically break down prejudice and help with challenging our own thoughts and beliefs.’
For us to truly become the inclusive society that we appear to be striving towards, we should all strive to become more open minded.