The Terrible Invisibility of Being Bisexual and in Poverty

Originally published on the Huffington Post and republished here with the author’s permission.

A person staring thoughtfully into the camera against a brick wall.

A person staring thoughtfully into the camera against a brick wall.

One thing that has always struck me about LGBTQIA+ activism is how little is made of poverty. Lots of things are talked about in the framework of human rights: the autonomy to have sex, the autonomy to be granted access to abortion, the freedom to not be abused.

Yet poverty is rarely ever spoken about even though it plays a major factor in all of these issues.

Poverty is a violation of human rights. All people should have access to a roof over their heads, education and healthcare. Issues of class are also predictably ignored when it comes to bisexuality. Unless it’s a fluff piece then you can forget analysis of what bisexual people are experiencing.

Yet as far as analysis on sexuality goes, bisexual people are more likely to be in poverty (this is especially true if also trans, disabled, neurodivergent and/or a woman of color). This is a huge factor in why bisexual people are often marginalized and isolated.

There are very few events especially for bisexual around the United Kingdom, the major one being BiCon. If you’re in poverty, however, how exactly are you supposed to be able to pay for a hotel and travel? BiCon is an absolutely fantastic event, but for so many it is the only event and even that is off the table if someone is in poverty.

This problem is exacerbated for anybody in a rural area.

Groups for bisexual people in urban areas are rare, and at least there are often LGBTQIA+ groups, but bisexual groups in rural areas are practically unheard of.

Travel therefore once more becomes an issue, and taking a train into the city may not be possible for many. It seems then that the prerequisite for access to these groups then also depends on class and income (and let’s not forget that people of color and disabled people are at greater risk of living in poverty).

Poverty also plays a massive role in mental health. Bisexual people are particularly at risk of experiencing a mental health condition — from depression to anxiety, even substance addiction. They’re also at risk of suicidal ideation and self-harm.

Mental health access is therefore vital, but not only are bisexuals often not recognized as an at-risk group by healthcare providers, but mental health services themselves are often inaccessible.

The narrow treatment options available do not suit everyone; some cannot take medication and talking therapies may not work best for everyone. Seeking treatment can be the toughest battle for those with anxiety due to the amount of phone calls required.

Furthermore, receiving treatment is somewhat of a lottery due to prolonged waiting times. For those in poverty, tracking down a counselor (and one that has good knowledge with tackling specific issues facing bisexual people) or a private service that would work for them is just not possible due to their charges. The compounding problem of poor NHS coverage and expensive private coverage means that bisexual people who are far more likely to need support or even less likely to be able to receive it.

There’s an isolation that comes with living in poverty that dominates people’s lives. It manifests itself in many forms – from not being able to talk about the pressures, to having every moment focussed upon how to pay the next bill.

Bisexuality too is a silenced issue. Too many times bisexual people simply aren’t welcome or safe in LGBTQIA+ spaces and while the labels of “gay” and “lesbian” are receiving more support than ever, the only time people reject the need for labels is when the conversation turns to bisexual people.

The immediate dismissal of bisexuality demonstrates that bisexual people are simply invisible. They are not recognized within the LGBTQIA+ world and at times are treated as unwanted.

The stats show a bleak picture for any bisexual person in poverty (and clearly there are many). We talk about the loneliness crisis with the elderly (as we should), but what about bisexual people being left behind of all ages? The freedom to love or be (whichever line is being used right now) doesn’t fulfill its promise if it ignores a large chunk of those it is supposed to be fighting for, and ignores the issue of poverty.

The overwhelming rates of poverty are a bisexual issue, and an issue for the wider LGBTQIA+ community. The community, however, has been inclined over the years to reject all analysis of class and/or poverty. Perhaps this is due to the more prominent presence of banks at Pride and the fact that LGBTQIA+ orgs have to scramble around for private donations so any kind of analysis of capitalism is unwelcome.

Whatever the reason though, it isn’t enough to just focus on issues such as same-sex marriage which won’t offend anyone new. The churches were always going to oppose any kind of legislation giving greater rights to LGBTQIA+ people just like they always have. In a way, the great legislative battle (at least in the media) was never going to isolate anybody within the movement because it was about supporting the same people we always have.

Poverty requires different demands of this movement because the LGBTQIA+ organizations that dominate are ones which are run by white, cis, and middle class people who are using private companies and donors for funding.

Being LGBTQIA+, and especially bisexual, is about more than attractions and identity; it’s about experiences. What links us all is our experiences of oppression. If we don’t fight these unique inequalities and prejudices we face, we will have failed. It isn’t enough to just focus on hate crimes.

It’s time to move beyond writing articles about bisexual people which are merely concerned with who we go to bed with. Poverty is one of the biggest issues bisexual people face and it is a huge issue for the general LGBTQIA+ community.

It dictates access to health care (particularly if looking to transition), risks of homelessness, employment options, and future financial stability.

We can’t campaign for better access to health care without acknowledging the link to poverty. We can’t say LGBTQIA+ homeless youths are being left behind without demanding the community make poverty a top priority. We certainly can’t claim to be representative if we talk about everything except poverty.

Queer people of color and disabled people are especially likely to be living in poverty, so why on earth would they feel safe or represented in the LGBTQIA+ community if that’s something that we never pay any attention to?

The activism that LGBTQIA+ people carry out cannot be effective if it skirts around the root of so many problems. It isn’t enough that we ask banks to help fund pride or sponsor a charity event. We need to decide what we want more: the politics of respectability or real change.

Stephanie Farnsworth is a charity worker, freelance writer and dedicated LGBTQ+ activist. She has worked to support causes such as fighting LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and challenging biphobia within the LGBTQ+ community. Follow her on Twitter @StephFarnsworth.