Adapted from "Crisis Counseling and Support for Bisexual Youth" by Brad Dent, MSW, CCSW, and Stacey Langley, National Bisexual Youth Initiative Coordinator
As the modern bisexual movement moves into its fourth decade, more people are identifying their sexual orientation as bisexual. Crisis workers should note that proper support of bisexuals may require re-thinking of commonly accepted "you're either straight or gay" views of sexuality. Below are some suggestions on improving the quality and sensitivity of crisis interventions with bisexually-identified or bisexually-acting people.
1) Allow the person in crisis to label themselves, if they choose to label themselves at all. In crisis, a label may seem irrelevant or anxiety-producing. Listen to a person's feelings, fears, attractions, and relations with others, and accept all of these unconditionally. Many bisexual people note that they thought they were gay, lesbian, or heterosexual because these were the only sexual identities sanctioned by counselors, teachers, friends, or society in general. Don't be overly eager to assume that those with emotional or sexual attractions to people of the same gender are gay or lesbians.
2) Some counselors may suffer from "biphobia," which is similar to homophobia. Biphobia manifests itself as a negative attitude based on fear, ignorance, or misunderstanding of bisexual people. Common biphobic attitudes include:
"Bisexuals cause lesbians and heterosexuals to get AIDS."
"Bisexuals are unreliable partners in intimate relationships."
Counselors may also exhibit "monosexism," which is a prejudiced belief that sexuality is either exclusively homosexual or exclusively heterosexual and that anything else is inferior or deviant. Common monosexist attitudes include:
"Bisexuality does not exist. People who say they're bisexual are just deluding themselves. You're either straight or gay."
"If you're bi you're copping out, you're not fully queer. Bi people are just semi-gay, trying to be trendy."
3) Do not bias your support by conclusions that a bisexual identity is always a phase that gay men and lesbians go through before accepting their homosexual orientation. It is true that many gay men and lesbians identify as "bisexual" in this way. However, it is also true that many bisexual people first identify themselves as "gay" or "lesbian" before accepting their bisexuality. A goal of good support is to allow people to describe their experiences and feelings to an empathetic, non-judgmental ear, not to lead a person to adopt a particular sexual orientation.
4) If someone is having sex with both women and men, it is important to talk about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Please do not forget that pregnancy is also a serious factor impacting upon people who have sex with either women or men and identify as "bisexual." It is also an important issue for people who say they are "lesbian" or "gay" but may still have sex with people of the other gender that they may choose not to tell you about. Be sure to be knowledgeable about contraception and family planning information and review this, if appropriate.
5) Bisexuals may call to talk about attractions to or relations with people of the other gender. This is often a very important and valid issue for bisexually-identified or oriented people. Counselors should treat these issues with the same respect and attention given to same-gender attractions or relations. Do not consider it inappropriate or "too heterosexual" to warrant serious programming for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. Make sure staff and other group members do not ostracize bisexual people when they talk about or include their other gender boyfriend or girlfriend in your group's activities.
6) Sexual orientation is often a matter of how a person feels or thinks, not necessarily who a person actually has sex with. Many bisexual people have long-term partners of the same gender or the other gender. Many gay men and lesbians have had sex with or have sex with people of the other gender. Remember that a person's sexual and emotional attractions may be very different from their sexual history or how they label themselves.
7) Refer bisexuals to bisexual-specific groups or resources in their local area. Your agency will greatly benefit from having an updated database on resources for bisexual people. The Bisexual Resource Guide is available for $8.00 from the Bisexual Resource Center, P.O. Box 639, Cambridge, MA 02140.
For more information, contact:
The National Bisexual Youth Initiative c/o Brad Dent, Liaison 426 Watergap Drive Fayetteville, NC 28314 (910) 864-3769
BiNet USA -- National Bisexual Network P.O. Box 7327 Langley Park, MD 20787 (202) 986-7186
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