Written by Nicole Kristal for Bi+ Health Awareness Month
“Get a new f**king career.”
It wasn’t the phrase I expected to hear from our lesbian psychotherapist, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected either. My girlfriend and I had seen *Susan for two years to help improve our communication skills and address unresolved trauma from past relationships. She had always used colorful language, which we had found relatable. Now she was airing her feelings about my profession as the leader of Still Bisexual, one of the only 501(c)(3) non-profits serving bi+ people in the country.
“Trust me, that community will never change. It’s been the same since the ‘70s. You can’t help them,” she argued. The rest of her advice became a blur as I tried to argue with my therapist about the unique mental health needs of the bi+ community and how we had higher rates of suicidality, poverty, sexual assault, and substance abuse than gay or straight people. My girlfriend chimed in and said what I was doing was valuable and needed.
Susan started to backpaddle while still holding her ground on her opinion that my work was simply too difficult to make me happy.
After we logged off of Zoom, I was ready to never see Susan again. But a few weeks later, when faced with a challenging issue in our relationship, we went back to her. And pretended like nothing happened. Susan was more than happy to do the same.
It felt terrible have to receive help from someone who was hostile to my identity simply because we didn’t want to spent thousands of dollars getting to a place with another therapist who was familiar enough with our issues to help us. I was mostly angry at myself. There had been red flags.
About a year earlier, Susan had told us, “You are my favorite lesbian couple.”
“You mean bisexual couple,” I said, correcting her. “We’re both bisexual.”
“Well, whatever,” she had said.
At the time, Susan’s dismissiveness was irritating but we ignored it then for the same reason we ignored it later—because Susan was helping our relationship. We had started seeing Susan because she specialized in LGBTQ+ relationships, but we had quickly learned that specialty doesn’t denote bi-competent or even bi-affirming care.
Sadly, our experience is not uncommon. As part of Still Bisexual’s work for #Out4MentalHealth, cultural broker Poshi Walker conducted a townhall meeting to assess the mental health needs of the bi+ community. During the meeting, bi+ attendees shared the following experiences they’d had during therapy sessions—having to explain their sexual orientation to their therapist, therapists disbelieving their identity because the bi+ person had never dated someone of the same gender, and one incidence where a gay therapist told a male cisgender client flat out, “Men cannot be bisexual. It’s physiologically impossible.” At one point in the townhall meeting, one of the bi+ attendees said, “I would like to see some type of like legal ramification,” referring to how harmful bi-incompetent therapy can be. “People’s lives are literally at risk.”
But Walker made an excellent point in the Bi Listening Session Summary report: Many therapists do not even realize that they do not know what they need to know in order to effectively work with a Bi+ client. Additionally, bi+ people don’t often know they have the right to a therapist who understands their identity or even that it’s okay to ask for that. As Walker notes in the report: Many Bi+ individuals have experienced so much negativity and rejection that they may be willing to overlook a therapist’s lack of Bi+ knowledge when that therapist appears to be nonjudgmental of bisexuality.
I learned from my experience that even a therapist who seems nonjudgmental of your bisexuality can still share bias years later that you never realized existed. As a bi+ leader, I should have better vetted our therapist for bi-negativity before we selected her. But even I was shy and made assumptions of bi-acceptance when we selected this therapist—mostly because she had experience in LGBTQ+ relationships. So I didn’t ask how she felt about bisexuality or about her experiences working with bi+ clients. I didn’t ask if Susan had any knowledge or thoughts about bisexuals’ place in the larger movement for LGBTQIA2-S equity. So I learned two years later than those opinions were hurtful.
Inspired by this experience, I used our #Out4MentalHealth group, the Bi+ Mental Health Justice Coalition, to workshop a vetting form for bi-affirming therapists. Through months of meetings with bi+ community members and input from licensed therapists, we created an application to help us build the first ever nationwide Bi+ Therapists Directory so our community members can safely find bi-affirming therapists.
I encourage you if you are a bi-affirming therapist or if you have a bi-affirming therapist to share the link to the application: tinyurl.com/bitherapistdirectory. Our plan is to build a directory large enough that you can find a therapist who isn’t just bi-affirming but also one who intersects with other elements of your identity—including your gender identity and race.
Finding someone who understands and affirms your bi+ identity shouldn’t be a tall order in 2023.