Christina Dyar, Ph.D., is a Research Assistant Professor at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH). Dyar’s research focuses on understanding and reducing health disparities affecting sexual and gender minority populations, especially sexual minority women and bisexual individuals. In this Q&A, Dyar discusses the limited amount of research on bisexual health, how stigma impacts health, and the importance of utilizing intersectional research approaches to evaluate bi+ health.
How did you first get involved in bisexual health?
Although bisexuals make up at least 40% of the SGM population, they had received extremely limited research attention when I began conducting research in 2012. At that time, the vast majority of the literature on SGM health focused on gay men, with a relatively small number of additional studies focused on lesbian women. There were only a handful of research studies that had specifically examined bisexual individuals’ experiences. This limited scientific attention on bi+ health made me want to help shed light on the experiences of this population. Bisexual individuals experience unique stigma from both straight and lesbian and gay populations, and bisexual individuals are at substantially increased risk for poor health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, substance use problems, and poor physical health. My research and others’ research is increasingly pointing to the stigma that bisexual individuals experience as the cause of these disparities.
How have you uplifted and empowered bisexual researchers, participants, and communities in your career?
In my work on bisexual health, I’ve incorporated community and participant perspectives and feedback. My collaborators and I ask participants for their feedback when we create new measures and begin to assess constructs that haven’t previously been examined. We then incorporate that feedback into our research. I work with a number of other bi+ identified researchers and collaborators and actively mentor people who are interested in being involved in studying bi+ health, including individuals who identify as both bi+ and allies.
Is there anything we can be doing better to empower and uplift the bi+ community?
There has been a historical tendency in SGM health research to assume that the experiences of all sexual and gender minorities are similar, and thus that studying gay men’s experiences tells us about what all SGM experience. But that is just not the case. It’s important to take a more precise and intersectional perspective in studying SGM health and examine the unique experiences of sexual minority women, of gender minorities, of queer people of color, and of diverse bi+ individuals. The more we learn about the health disparities affecting specific groups of SGM individuals and their unique experiences of stigma, the more we learn about how to best intervene to achieve health equity.
What should the next generation of leaders in bi+ health focus on moving forward?
There’s so much work to be done. We have really just gotten started. It’s only been about 10 years that we’ve been intensively looking at the unique experiences of bi+ people. Most of this research has focused on identifying health disparities affecting bi+ people, but little of it has examined the causes of those disparities. We need to know more about the stigma experiences of bi+ people and the mechanisms through which stigma impacts health in order to develop interventions specifically tailored for the needs of bi+ people. We need to move toward taking a more intersectional approach to understanding the experiences of diverse individuals in the bi+ population and we need to begin to develop interventions that address the health disparities affecting this population.
What are the most pressing health issues facing the bi+ community? How can we address those issues?
The high rates of anxiety, depression, suicidality, substance use disorders, and poor physical health experienced by bi+ individuals are all critical problems facing the community. Bi+ women are also as much as nine times more likely to experience sexual assault compared to heterosexual women. Yet, very little research has examined why bi+ women are at such high risk. Thus far, research has tended to focus on bi+ people in general rather than examining the experiences of specific groups of bi+ individuals. For example, we need to examine the diverse experiences of bi people of color, gender minority people with bi+ identities, and other intersections of bi+ and other marginalized identities. As dramatic as the disparities affecting bi+ people are, it’s likely that, by examining the diversity of experiences within the bi+ community, we will find that some groups of bi+ individuals are at even higher risk for poor health outcomes. Our work on bi+ health is just getting started, and we have a long way to go before we fully understand the processes leading to these health disparities.
Read more of Dyar’s research on bi+ populations below: