By Jessamyn Bowling, PhD, MPH
My five-year-old kid does not remember a Pride parade. It has been so long since we were able to be in a space in which our relatively cishet-normative downtown is flooded with rainbows (albeit some of them with corporate logos attached). So we read books with different queer narratives. We talk about how I used to date men before I met mommy. And I try to hang out with other parents to normalize my experiences (is it normal for him to scream in that way?). But the chance to be around other bi+* folx remains a unicorn of a dream. In the context of the pandemic, the health and wellbeing of bi+ parents may be ragged.
Bi+ parents make up the largest proportion of sexual minority parents, at about 64% (Bartelt et al., 2017; Goldberg et al., 2014). Bi+ women are four times as likely to be caregivers of minors compared to lesbian women (Mirza, 2018). So there are a lot of us. But we actually don’t know all that much about bi+ parents experiences in general, as research focused on this group is only trickling in. Studies on the experiences of bi+ parents in the COVID-19 pandemic are even more scant—and not only in the academic literature. A google search on bisexual parent brings up resources about how people are talking to their kids (many published in the last five years), but nothing related to the pandemic. This is especially true for those who aren’t cisgender women and identify as bi+.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, parenthood carries additional challenges. Many bi+ parents are taking care of children who may be in and out of school or childcare, affecting their employment (Alon et al., 2020). This is especially true for women with younger children (Feyman et al., 2021). This isn’t unique to bi+ parents; many people with caretaking responsibilities in the pandemic are staggering. However, if you add in the context that many bi+ individuals face, or that people in their network who are also bi+ are facing, it looks a bit more stark.
A quick nod to the rundown of rough stuff happening in bi+ parents’ lives based on the statistics: bi+ parents are more likely than gay/lesbian parents to report emotional and mental health difficulties, likely due to stigma (Calzo et al., 2019). This follows trends of bi+ individuals generally experiencing higher levels of psychosocial symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, suicidality (Dodge & Sandfort, 2007). It is worth noting that bi+ individuals face stigma in relation to custody and adoption along their parenting journey (Marcus, 2015). Bi+ parents, like other bi+ adults, also face additional hardship such as unemployment or financial hardship (Mirza, 2018).
In the “beforetimes,” bi+ folx already felt on the outskirts of some queer communities. Research has documented that bi+ individuals are more likely to be isolated from LGBTQ community (Callis, 2013; Friedman et al., 2014; Israel & Mohr, 2004) or not feeling a part of LGBTQ communities (Bartelt et al., 2017). However, bi+ parents are also working around these barriers. One study points to previous LGBTQ+ marginalization and isolation as enhancing resilience during the pandemic by way of previously established online support communities (Gonzalez et al., 2021). However, older bi+ parents may not feel as connected through virtual communities, so other mechanisms may be additionally needed.
I also acknowledge the changing nature of the pandemic—things are now different. The isolation may have been more acute in the early phases of the pandemic because of quarantine. For those in polyamorous relationships, their relationships outside of a primary partner may have been limited (Montanaro et al., in press). And bi+ parents may also be in a state of further exhaustion, especially salient for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) parents. Another layer for bi+ BIPOC parents may include high rates of distrust of the medical community (Cahill, 2021).
Some bi+ parents are considering ways to be “seen” as bi+ by their kids. Many bi+ parents are interested in their children’s awareness, and, ideally, acceptance of their bi+ identity (Bartelt et al., 2017). Pride events were one tactic to maintain an ongoing dialogue with children about these identities (Bartelt et al., 2017). Bi+ parents may be navigating new ways to share their sexual identity with their children in the virtual realm.
As we continue to evolve socially in these later stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding ourselves and our communities, I am hopeful of what may come for bi+ folx. I hope we document the pandemic hardships we faced, and the resilience and creativity we have used to navigate it, especially as bi+ parents. If you have kids and identify as bi+, and you think some days, “I’m not all right,” you aren’t alone. My wish for us is that the hardship be just a phase (unlike our identities).
Jessamyn Bowling is an Assistant Professor in Public Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research focuses on sexual health and resilience among marginalized populations.
*I use bi+ to refer to those attracted sexually and/or romantically to more than one gender, including bisexual, pansexual, fluid, omnisexual, queer, and questioning (Davila et al., 2019).
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Cahill, S. R. (2021). Still in the Dark Regarding the Public Health Impact of Covid-19 on Sexual and Gender Minorities. American Journal of Public Health, 111(9), 1606-1609. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2021.306397
Callis, A. S. (2013). The Black Sheep of the Pink Flock: Labels, Stigma, and Bisexual Identity. Journal of Bisexuality, 13(1), 82-105.
Calzo, J. P., Mays, V. M., Björkenstam, C., Björkenstam, E., Kosidou, K., & Cochran, S. D. (2019, 2019/07/01). Parental Sexual Orientation and Children’s Psychological Well-Being: 2013–2015 National Health Interview Survey [https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12989]. Child development, 90(4), 1097-1108. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12989
Davila, J., Jabbour, J., Dyar, C., & Feinstein, B. A. (2019). Bi+ Visibility: Characteristics of Those Who Attempt to Make Their Bisexual+ Identity Visible and the Strategies They Use. Archives of sexual behavior, 48(1), 199-211.
Dodge, B., & Sandfort, T. G. (2007). A Review of Mental Health Research on Bisexual Individuals When Compared to Homosexual and Heterosexual Individuals. In B. Firestein (Ed.), Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals across the Lifespan (pp. 28-51).
Feyman, Y., Fener, N. E., & Griffith, K. N. (2021). Association of Childcare Facility Closures with Employment Status of Us Women Vs Men During the Covid-19 Pandemic. JAMA Health Forum, 2(6), e211297-e211297. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamahealthforum.2021.1297
Friedman, M. R., Dodge, B., Schick, V., Herbenick, D., Hubach, R., Bowling, J., Goncalves, G., Krier, S., & Reece, M. (2014, 2014-12). From Bias to Bisexual Health Disparities: Attitudes toward Bisexual Men and Women in the United States. LGBT health, 1, 309-318. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4283842/pdf/nihms573942.pdf
Goldberg, A. E., Gartrell, N. K., & Gates, G. J. (2014). Research Report on Lgb-Parent Families. UCLA, The Williams Institute. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/7gr4970w
Gonzalez, K. A., Abreu, R. L., Arora, S., Lockett, G. M., & Sostre, J. (2021). “Previous Resilience Has Taught Me That I Can Survive Anything:” Lgbtq Resilience During the Covid-19 Pandemic. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 8(2), 133.
Israel, T., & Mohr, J. J. (2004). Attitudes toward Bisexual Women and Men: Current Research, Future Directions. Journal of Bisexuality, 4(1-2), 117-134.
Marcus, N. C. (2015). Bridging Bisexual Erasure in Lgbt-Rights Discourse and Litigation. Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, 22(2), 291-344.
Mirza, S. A. (2018). Disaggregating the Data for Bisexual People. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/article/disaggregating-data-bisexual-people/
Montanaro, E., Bowling, J., Gioia, D., & Guerrero Ordonez, S. (in press). Closeness and Distance: Relationships and Sexuality During the Covid-19 Pandemic in the United States. Psychology and Sexuality.