Obscure identities struggle for recognition

Obscure+identities+struggle+for+recognition

Rochita Ghosh

Art by Dzung Nguyen

The most well-known members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are those who identify as the first two letters; 3.3 percent of the U.S. adult population, or roughly eight million people, identify as either gay or lesbian, according to Statista.

For others who identify as LGBT but not necessarily as lesbian or gay, the more widespread awareness about homosexuality can be a difficult obstacle to those coming out as not homosexual. Junior Valerie Besser, who identifies as bisexual, says as the reason for her confusion when coming to her eventual understanding.

“I realized I liked girls pretty easily, but the real part that made it complicated was this whole thing where I couldn’t tell if I liked guys or if I just thought I should,” Besser said. “For a while, I thought I was just gay until I actually figured things all the way out. I also think I was kind of worried about being that stereotype where you identify as bi and then realize you’re actually gay, but I got there in the end.”

Besser attributes her turmoil on whether she liked guys to compulsory heterosexuality, the idea that society assumes every person to be heterosexual, according to a paper published by the University of Georgia. She said compulsory heterosexuality was why she couldn’t figure out if she actually liked men or not because of the demand to be attracted to men regardless of one’s actual feelings.

Additionally, the stereotype Besser refers to is the perception that bisexual people are simply “confused” or “just in a phase.” Dr. Samantha Allen, a senior LGBT reporter for the Daily Beast, said such assumptions contribute to monosexism, which is the belief that everyone is attracted to a sole gender.

“[Monosexism is the] struggle that bisexual people deal with that gay and lesbian people generally don’t,” Dr. Allen said. “I think we can see the effects of monosexism in the mental health outcomes among bisexual people, which are some of the worst in the LGBT community. Being told your orientation is not real can take a serious toll.”

She refers to an article she wrote addressing that bisexual women have a correlation with higher depression and suicide rates than either straight and lesbian women. Additionally, Dr. Allen also said there are higher substance abuse and anxiety rates in the bisexual community as well, which she attributes to bisexual discrimination, or biphobia. While Besser has encountered little of it herself thus far, she said biphobia was part of the reason for why she “was really resistant to actually settling on being [bisexual].” Dr. Allen said experiences like Besser’s are reasons for why biphobia must be understood.

“That’s why it’s necessary to understand that a term like biphobia encompasses more than just some gut-level reaction to bisexuality, it’s also a broader cultural attitude that informs misunderstandings about — and discrimination against — bisexual people on a systemic level,” Dr. Allen said. “The effects of biphobia aren’t just restricted to heterosexual people, either. Gay and lesbian people can be biphobic. Bisexual people themselves can [struggle with] internalized biphobia. It’s honestly hard not to grapple with some form of biphobia in a culture that marginalizes bisexuality, reduces bisexual people to punchlines, and erases their identity.”

More than four million people of the population identify as bisexual, but despite LGBT containing only four letters, the acronym encompasses far more than a couple sexualities. Among the forgotten sexualities include pansexuality, demisexuality and asexuality, which people of each one face unique challenges.

“Asexual folks often deal with the assumption that they must experience sexual attraction. Many are told to see a doctor to rectify their lack of sexual attraction, and because many asexual folks still experience romantic attraction but not sexual attraction, many people have a particularly hard time wrapping their head around it,” Dr. Allen said. “As a researcher named Dr. Lori Brotto once told me, ‘The fact that an individual can develop a romantic attraction and not develop a simultaneous sexual attraction really challenges many of our societal and, I would argue, romantic beliefs about what is human and what is normal.’”

Junior Mariah Dasczynski identifies as demisexual, saying she came to the realization as she was researching different sexualities and realized it was very applicable to her. She defines demisexuality as not finding people sexually attracted until getting to “really know them and their personality and [feeling] very close to them.” She’s never met anyone else who identified as demisexual, noting it to be fairly rare and thus a reason for why it’s a misunderstood sexuality.

“A few friends I’ve told just didn’t really understand and tried to tell me I was dumb and that demisexual isn’t a thing,” Dasczynski said. “They assumed I was trying to make up a word for not wanting to sleep around with everyone, but that’s not what it is.”

These incidents are why Dasczynski prefers to not mention her demisexuality among friends unless she trusts them implicitly. Additionally, Dasczynski said that with her parents being unsupportive of even homosexuality, she doesn’t want to bother with trying to explain her own identity.

“My parents don’t know, either, because I know they wouldn’t want to listen or be accepting — they’d just think it’s me trying to be different than everyone else or fit in because being gay is such a ‘popular’ thing right now,” Dasczynski said.

Discrimination within the LGBT community, backlash from friends and family and having to justify your sexuality all combine to the fact that sexualities that aren’t homosexuality are far less likely to come out, according to Pew Research Center, saying only 28 percent of bisexual people come out to important people in their lives compared to the 77 percent of gay men or the 71 percent of lesbian women.

“A majority of my friends know, but in general I just prefer not bringing it up unless someone asks about it,” Besser said. “People are definitely surprised sometimes, and they’ll do the whole ‘Oh, I heard you like girls, but you’re dating a guy. What’s up with that?’ thing because me being [different] doesn’t really occur to them.”

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