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Author: Shiri Eisner
Editor: Abbie E. Goldberg
Date: 2016
The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 5
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Page 792


Monosexism is a social structure operating through a presumption that everyone is, or should be, monosexual (attracted to no more than one gender). This system includes institutional and social rewards for monosexual people, and oppression against bisexual people and others who are attracted to more than one gender. The term monosexism is used in order to address and define oppression of bisexual people as institutional and systematic rather than as personalized and individual, and to define broad trends rather than specific attitudes. Monosexism as a structure creates multiple and varied effects over bisexuality and bisexual people, including bisexual erasure and multiple disparities between bisexual and monosexual people.

Difference From Biphobia

As opposed to the term biphobia, which mainly describes personalized attitudes and behaviors aimed against bisexual people, monosexism describes a broad social structure. Discussions of biphobia generally address direct negative attitudes or treatment of bisexual people, including stereotyping, rejection, discrimination, negative representation in the media, and so on. Monosexism, on the other hand, describes the base structure that enables these attitudes to take place, meaning that biphobia is only one form of monosexism. On the other hand, monosexism addresses multiple factors that are not necessarily directly or explicitly aimed against bisexuality or bisexual people, but nonetheless have the effect of eradicating their existence or legitimacy. These prominently include bisexual erasure and the privileging of monosexual identities and behaviors.

Bisexual Erasure

Bisexual erasure is the widespread social phenomenon of erasing bisexuality from discussions in which it is relevant or is otherwise invoked (with or without being named). It is characterized by, among other things, a lack of representations, lack of communities, lack of awareness, lack of discussion, and lack of acknowledgment—all derived from the presumption that bisexuality does not, and cannot, exist. The fields in which bisexual erasure takes place are broad and varied, including the media; literature; history; academia; and most medical, psychological, and sexual discourses.

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Bisexual erasure is present in multiple spheres, including the public/cultural sphere, the social/community sphere, and the private sphere. In the public and cultural spheres, bisexual erasure is mainly characterized by a lack of representation. For example, according to a study made by the UK organization Stonewall, out of 126 hours of British television examined, only 5 minutes and 9 seconds were devoted to depicting bisexual characters. In a U.S. study by psychologist Gregory Herek, heterosexual research participants stated that—with the exception of intravenous drug users—bisexuals were the group that they felt most negatively about.

In the social/community sphere, bisexual people are generally believed to be either straight or gay/lesbian, and bisexual issues and people are often left unaddressed. Many bi people experience pressure to change their identity to anything other than bisexual (usually gay, lesbian, or straight), and experience social isolation in both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities.

In the private sphere, upon coming out as bisexual, bi people’s families and other close people often presume that they are in fact heterosexual, gay, or lesbian (depending on the situation), and continue to pressure them to “choose” heteronormativity.

American legal scholar Kenji Yoshino identified three types of bisexual erasure: categorical erasure, individual erasure, and delegitimization. Categorical erasure refers to the erasure of bisexuality as a category. For example, in 2005, U.S. researcher Michael Bailey published a study reported in the New York Times under the headline “Gay, Straight, or Lying.” According to this study, bisexual men did not exist. As another example, in American theorist Judith Butler’s theory of gender melancholia, heterosexuality and homosexuality are both manifested by rejection of one another, leaving no room for a possibility of bisexuality. Individual erasure occurs when bisexuality as a category is acknowledged but, at the same time, the bisexuality of a particular person is denied. For example, UK scholar Kate Chedgzoy has shown that many Shakespeare scholars attempt to deny the bisexuality evident in his sonnets and to instead read them as heterosexual. As another example, American scholar Terry Castle’s film research names 1920s film star Greta Garbo as a lesbian, even after mentioning that Garbo desired men as well as women. Finally, delegitimation occurs when negative meanings are attributed to bisexuality and bisexual people. This is mainly done by stereotyping, as characteristics are attributed to bisexual people that are socially perceived as negative. For example, in heterosexual discourses, bisexual people are often described as promiscuous, treacherous, or as vectors of STIs. In gay and lesbian discourses, bisexual people are often described as closet cases, fence-sitters, or traitors to the community.

Effects of Monosexism

Due to its structural nature, monosexism negatively affects the lives of bisexual people and others who are attracted to more than one gender. This can be observed through research about bisexual people that shows various disparities with other groups. For example, in the United States:

  • Over 40% of bisexual people have considered suicide, compared with 8.5% of straight people and 27% of gay people.
  • Nearly 50% of bisexual women are survivors of rape, compared with 17% of straight women and 13% of lesbians.
  • Nearly 45% of bisexual youth have been bullied on the Internet, compared with 19% of straight youth and 30% of gay youth.
  • More than 1 in 4 bisexual people (27.6%) live in poverty, compared with 18.2% of straight people and 21.6% of gay people.
  • About 1 in 4 bisexual people (25%) receives food stamps, compared to 15% of straight people and 14% of gay people. Nearly half of African American bisexuals (47%) and 39% of multiracial bisexuals receive food stamps.
  • More than 1 in 5 bisexual people (22%) suffer from poor health, compared with 9.7% of straight people and 9.8% of gay people.
  • In the United Kingdom, 55% of bisexual people are not out at work, compared with 8% of gay men and 6% of lesbians.
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Moreover, in the years 2008 and 2009, out of over $200 million given by U.S. foundations to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations as grants, no money went toward bisexual-specific organizations or projects.


Monosexism intersects with other oppressive social structures, such as misogyny, cis-sexism, and racism. These intersections create unique influences over bisexual women, transgender people, and people of color, for example. The fact that bisexual people are disproportionately women, trans people, and people of color is also of note.


Sapphobia is a word coined by bisexual blogger mercurialvixen, denoting the intersection of misogyny and monosexism. This concept is helpful in discussing and defining bi women’s particular experience of monosexism and misogyny, as separate from bi people of other genders, as well as from women of other sexual identities.

One of the central ways in which sapphobia works is through the sexual objectification of bisexual women, as they are often perceived or presented as hypersexual, mainly as part of cisgender straight male fantasy (for example, as part of threesomes). This widespread trend of objectification generates a great deal of sexual and intimate violence against bisexual women. As a recent U.S. government study has found, bisexual women are far likelier than monosexual women to have experienced rape (almost 50% of bi women), sexual assault (75%), and intimate partner violence (61%). Further, bisexual women are often blamed for the violence aimed against them, using the same type of problematic discourse. Accusers suggest that bisexual women are more vulnerable to sexual violence because they are more “sexually available” to men.

Bisexual women’s unique circumstances also show in statistical findings (from the United States), which indicate that bisexual women are at higher risk than monosexual people as well as bisexual men:

  • An estimated 45% of bisexual women have reported suicidality.
  • Bisexual women are significantly more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
  • Bisexual women are significantly more likely to be in poverty.
  • Almost 1 in 3 (28%) bisexual women receives food stamps.
  • In the UK, 1 in 3 (31%) bisexual women suffers from poor health.
  • Bisexual women report the lowest levels of social support.

Monosexism and Cis-sexism

Cis-sexism is the social system according to which everyone is, or should be, cisgender (identifying as the gender they were assigned at birth). This system includes the privileging of those who are cisgender, and social punishment for transgender people. The intersection between cis-sexism and monosexism negatively impacts bisexual transgender individuals.

One of the central intersections between monosexism and cis-sexism is that of erasure. Bisexual trans people suffer from double erasure, as both bisexual and transgender. Not only are bisexuality and transgender erased in culture and society separately, but they are also erased in combination, as the particular existence of bisexual trans people is symbolically obliterated. This happens on all levels discussed above, including the public/cultural sphere, the social/community sphere, and the private sphere. In addition, this happens on all three levels of categorical erasure, individual erasure, and delegitimation. In these cases, bi people’s difficulty in receiving social acknowledgment or validation of their identities is exacerbated by the additional difficulty of cis-sexism and trans erasure.

It is important to note that bisexual trans people not only face erasure in the context of straight culture, but must also contend with it in LGBTQ communities. Within gay and lesbian communities, both bisexual and transgender erasure is widespread, meaning that the existence of bi trans people is rarely acknowledged. Transgender Page 795  |  Top of Articleerasure is also present in bisexual communities, while bisexual erasure is present in transgender communities. Another way in which bisexual trans people are erased is via the accusation that the bisexual identity promotes the gender binary (the idea that there are only two opposing genders—woman and man). This argument erases the existence of bisexual trans people in particular.

Due to this very erasure, little to no statistical research exists about bisexual trans people. However, it should be noted that trans people are one of the most vulnerable populations within LGBTQ communities, showing extreme disparities in comparison with cisgender people (including lesbian, gay, and bisexual [LGB] people who are cisgender). Combined with the significant disparities between bisexual and monosexual people, it might be inferred that transgender bisexual people face unique disparities as a distinct population. However, more research is needed in this area.

Monosexism and Racism

Bisexual people of color often experience a combination of monosexism and racism, which negatively impacts their well-being. Like bisexual trans people, bi people of color suffer from cultural erasure and exclusion, finding little representation or acknowledgment within straight culture or within particular communities. Many report having to contend with biphobia within communities of color, and with racism in LGBTQ communities.

Another prominent way in which this intersection works is through the exacerbation of racial stereotypes via biphobia. For example, both bisexual people and people of color are often stereotyped as hypersexual, as having a “wild” sexuality, or as sexual predators. Bisexual women of color experience a combination of racism and sapphobia that constructs them as exotified sexual fetishes, while bisexual men of color are often imagined as sexual predators or as vectors of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Due to the erasure of this group, little statistical information is available regarding it. However, a recent study regarding food insecurity (i.e., limited access to adequate food) among U.S. LGBTQ people shows that bisexual people of color are significantly more vulnerable to it, compared both with White bisexual people and with monosexual people of color.

Gay and Lesbian People’s Complicity in Monosexism

Though monosexism is a structure that is based in, and originates from, heterosexism and straight culture, gay and lesbian people are often complicit in enacting it. Bisexual people report high levels of biphobic treatment within gay and lesbian communities, including erasure, hostility, rejection, and even verbal and physical violence. Indeed, many bisexual activists and researchers theorize that the disparities between bisexual and monosexual people are partially caused by lack of resources devoted to bisexuality within LGBTQ communities.

The broadest form of monosexism in gay and lesbian communities is the notion that bisexuality either doesn’t really exist, or is not valid as a sexual identity. As a result, bisexual people are broadly erased in gay and lesbian communities or have their identities invalidated. In addition, bisexual people are often stereotyped by gay and lesbian people as being either “really gay” or “really straight,” as being indecisive, or as going through a phase. Since many bisexual people come out to gay and lesbian communities looking for support around their sexuality, this negatively impacts their mental health and general well-being.

Shiri Eisner

Further Readings

Barker, M., Richards, C., Jones, R., Bowes-Catton, H., & Plowman, T. (2012). The bisexuality report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity. Milton Keynes, England: The Open University.

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Eisner, S. (2013). Bi: Notes for a bisexual revolution. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

Ulrich, L. (2011). Bisexual invisibility: Impacts and recommendations. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Human Rights Commission LGBT Advisory Committee.

Yoshino, K. (2000). The epistemic contract of bisexual erasure. Stanford Law Review, 52(2), 353–461.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX6482300252