On Friday last week, the 2021 Census data revealed the number of LGBTQIA+ people in England and Wales. This report showed that 1.54% of people who completed the Census were lesbian or gay. It also showed that 1.28% identified as bisexual and 0.23% identified as pansexual. This means a total of 1.51% of people identify as bisexual, pansexual or m-spec (multi-gendered attracted spectrum). With asexual people making up 0.06%, queer people at 0.03%, and people with other sexual orientations at 0.02%, this gives us a total of 3.16% of people being sexual minorities. And of that, m-spec people make up nearly half.
So what does all of this tell us? Nothing we don’t already know. We have seen countless surveys and estimates over the years that have told us again and again that m-spec people make up half of the sexual minorities, even outside England & Wales. Bi, Pan, and m-spec activists have been screaming about this for ages. Yet we are constantly fighting for visibility, to have our voices heard, to have our issues understood and to receive the care and attention we so desperately need.
According to GLAAD’s where we are on TV report for 2021-2022, m-spec people only make up between a fifth and a third of characters on TV. There has been an increase in raw numbers as the number of LGBTQIA+ characters has increased, but the percentage of m-spec characters has remained stagnant at around 20% for the last decade. If we make up half of sexual minorities, and this has been known for the last decade, why isn’t this being translated to our screens?
This lack of representation has an impact. When combined with a historic, and even current, lack of education on LGBTQIA+ identities, the result is a lack of knowledge and understanding of m-spec identities. This means that those who may be experiencing attraction to more than one gender are unable to make sense of this, which can lead to reduced coming out rates. In fact, I dealt with this myself. The lack of representation on screens, along with poor education, meant that I wasn’t aware of the existence of bisexuality. And when I was, I couldn’t find the validity in it. This kept me in the closet for over a decade!
Stonewall reported in 2020 that only 36% of bi people are out to all of their friends and 20% of bi people are out to all of their family. This is compared to 74% and 63% respectively for gay and lesbian people. M-spec people are one of the largest sexual minorities and yet the vast majority of them are in the closet. This is a huge problem. We all know the hugely detrimental effect the closet can have on one’s mental health, in fact, Stonewall showed that bi people are more likely to experience depression and suicidal ideation and more likely to self-harm than gay and lesbian people.
Why isn’t this being talked about? We have a mental health crisis on our hands and nothing is being done to tackle it. Whilst we have a lot of resources, networks and more for the whole LGBTQIA+ community, these aren’t always accessible for m-spec people. In fact, Stonewall showed that 18% of bi-men and 27% of bi-women experienced discrimination from others in the community . This is compared to 4% of gay men and 9% of lesbians. Unsurprisingly, 43% of bi people said they had never attended an LGBTQIA+ event or space. Discrimination, such as m-spec phobia and erasure, likely plays a big part in this.
I am no stranger to this bigotry myself. I have been told that I myself am “more gay”, been asked “which I prefer, men or women?”, questioned on how I know I’m actually bisexual, been informed that most bi men are actually gay, that there are very few people who are truly bi and been assumed to be down-low and closeted. Whilst this bigotry hasn’t come solely from within the LGBTQIA+ community, it hurts a lot more when the one place you think you’d be safe actually isn’t safe at all.
Whilst m-spec people have created their own spaces, they are drastically underfunded. Statistics from the US showed that in 2009 and 2010, the total amount of bi-specific grants was $0. Whilst I do not have hard data from the UK, I can almost guarantee that the situation is similar, even in the present day. Whilst there are a handful of bi-specific organisations that get funding, the vast majority are grassroots organisations run on a shoestring.
And they’re doing everything. Creating visibility. Publishing articles. Providing support to survivors of domestic violence. Creating events for people to meet one another. Everything. On no money. I know this because I’ve seen it. These people are my friends, my colleagues, my partners in crime (not literally). And they have no funding.
Stonewall says that the census is important. That the statistics, the data, will show just how numerous we are. That it will help guide researchers, policymakers, community organisations and service providers. The ONS says that the data from the census helps the Government and Local Authorities plan and fund services. I hope all of this is true.
Because as it currently stands, m-spec phobia and erasure run rampant throughout society, even within the LGBTQIA+ community. People continue to deny our existence, ignore our specific issues, exclude us from spaces and refuse to give us funding. We are working with very few resources to support one of the largest sexual minorities through their incredibly important issues.
Nothing we’ve learned in this survey is new. But here’s hoping it becomes the catalyst for change.
Pre-order Vaneet’s new book, Bisexual Men Exist: A Handbook for Bisexual, Pansexual and M-Spec Men