New research sheds light on bi+ identity visibility and its relationship with psychological well-being. The findings have been published in Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.
The term “bi+” is an inclusive term used to encompass various identities that fall under the bisexual spectrum. It is an expansion of the traditional label “bisexual” to recognize and include individuals who are attracted to more than one gender or who may use alternative identity labels such as pansexual, fluid, or queer.
Despite comprising the largest proportion of the U.S. LGBT population, bi+ individuals often report feeling invisible. The researchers sought to investigate whether bi+ visibility contributed to higher well-being, particularly for those who consider their bi+ identity to be central to their overall identity. They were also interested in examining relationship factors that might be related to greater bi+ visibility.
“I was interested in exploring this topic because bi+ people are often overlooked in society, including in social psychological research about relationships,” said study author Emma McGorray, a PhD candidate at Northwestern University. “I wanted to learn more about bi+ people’s experiences and what helps them to sustain feelings that their identities are visible (known, believed, and acknowledged by others) when they’re in different kinds of relationships.”
The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey with 450 bi+ participants recruited from the research platform Prolific. Participants responded to items measuring subjective bi+ identity visibility, which assessed the extent to which they felt their bi+ identity was visible and acknowledged by others.
The researchers also examined the centrality of bi+ identity, participants’ openness about their bi+ identity, and their psychological well-being, including measures of mental health, life satisfaction, and depression. Additionally, the study investigated participants’ perceptions of partner verification, exploring how partners treated, recognized, and affirmed their bi+ identities.
McGorray and her colleagues found that greater visibility of one’s bi+ identity (e.g. “In general, I feel that people acknowledge my bi+ identity”) was associated with higher levels of well-being, particularly for those who considered their bi+ identity to be central to their overall sense of self. However, visibility did not uniformly contribute to well-being. The link between visibility and well-being was influenced by the centrality of one’s bi+ identity.
The researchers also found that individuals in same-gender relationships or those with gay/lesbian or bi+ partners tended to experience a greater sense of visibility. Being in a same-gender relationship or having a non-heterosexual partner may provide additional visibility-boosting experiences beyond simply being “out” about one’s identity. On the other hand, bi+ individuals in mixed-gender relationships, especially with heterosexual partners, reported lower levels of visibility.
“The main takeaway from this study is that feeling that one’s bi+ identity is visible to others is linked to greater well-being, and the gender and sexual orientation of bi+ people’s partners is linked to these feelings of visibility,” McGorray told PsyPost.
“Bi+ people in relationships with people of their own gender tend to feel their identities are more visible than do bi+ people in relationships with people of a different gender. But partner sexual orientation also plays a role — bi+ people with partners who are gay, lesbian, or bi+ tend to feel more visible than bi+ people with partners who are heterosexual.”
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“One major caveat is that we wouldn’t expect visibility to always be a good thing,” McGorray explained. “Having a more visible identity–e.g., being viewed as LGBTQ+ by others — may put people at greater risk of things like discrimination that can have clear negative effects on well-being.”
“More research is needed to disentangle when visibility may present challenges to well-being and when it may bolster well-being, as is research that attempts to understand how bi+ people negotiate that tension.”
The study, “Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity Bi+ Identity Visibility and Well-Being in the Context of Romantic Relationships“, was authored by Emma L. McGorray, Eli J. Finkel, and Brian A. Feinstein.