Self Care for Bi People: Acknowledging the Barriers

Note: This post talks about biphobia and bierasure. Please ensure that if this may be triggering for you, you have a support system in place. If you are an LGBTQ youth in need of support or crisis intervention, the Trevor Project is available 24/7 at 866-488-7386.

It’s revolutionary for us to love ourselves without conditions, to take care of ourselves without guilt. And there shouldn’t be any guilt in self care. Taking care of ourselves is something that we need to do. It doesn’t exclude others from the same. In fact, in taking care of ourselves we have more to give. It is drinking from the well and in that action also replenishing the source of water. So, dear Bi+ community member, what is stopping you? Sometimes it probably feels like everything. And there are very valid reasons and causes for that.

Individuals in the Bi+ community are subjected to racism, sexism, religious discrimination, transphobia, and biphobia. These are among a litany of other -isms and –phobias inflicted upon us. We are responsible for our children, we are caretakers for our parents. Some of us live lives of isolation; some of us have too little time for ourselves. Self care is a concept that often comes into play well after we initially need it.

As an undergraduate psychology major, I wasn’t taught about self care while I was studying how to best care for others. I completed many trainings during my years in social work. The few self care workshops offered didn’t come close to giving me the knowledge and skills to tend to my needs. As a woman, I was certainly not taught to put myself first. More often than not, it was too little, too late, and exclusive in nature—rarely doing any good. In reality, self care should be the first thing we are taught, its importance recognized and our well-being allowed for.

As any successful project manager will tell you, taking the time to plan before starting enhances the efficiency of any project. Planning allows for clearer communications, less redundancies, and enhanced change management. Project managers will also tell you it is the part of the process most often skipped. The time we have is finite. Whenever we can, let’s be efficient with our most precious resource. If we don’t know what our needs are, how can we meet them? In acknowledging the barriers we can encounter, we are able to recognize the impact of what is out of our control. With that knowledge, we can be more forgiving to ourselves. This is a very caring action in itself.

Image 2: Background of stars in the Bi Pride colors of pink, purple, and blue; Foreground states “The Stars are bi. You are just as bright, beautiful, and shining as they are.”

Image via SB Swartz

As Bri Carter, Non-Binary Femme Black Woman and community organizer and activist shares, “Self care needs to be a long term practice instead of ‘Oh man, my check engine light is on, better pay attention now.’ Self care should be done before, during, and after we go out into the world and contribute our magic to it.” Dear member or loved one of the Bi+ Community, there is no time like the present. Whether or not your check engine light is on, it’s time to figure out what you need to keep running. And with that, potential barriers to meeting those needs.

Much of self care advice is crafted for straight, white, middle-aged, cisgender, neurotypical, financially well-off folks with citizenship and without disabilities. Every one of these circumstances is often treated like the “norm” we all branch out from. They are actually just one of many. And all of these put together create our whole self. They intersect along the way, impacting and crafting our life experiences. They are at the forefront of what self care looks like for each of us as well as our ability to access it. As Bri Carter shares, “Getting massages, practicing yoga, therapy all are great…for those that can afford them and have time to do them. Yes, I’m sure someone is reading this and thinking, ‘Well you can do yoga at home!’ and yes I could but as a beginner the poses are hard, you can hardly EVER find videos by yogis of color, and I’d rather not pull twelve muscles while ‘self caring.’”

Seeing reflections of ourselves is very important. It makes a huge difference in our likelihood to access a resource. In addition, how those reflections are presented can influence our comfort level and capacity for performing self care. Nonbinary and trans people are told they don’t exist, women are told they don’t matter, and men are told that they shouldn’t have feelings. Many of us are impacted by more than one of these messages. The ways society views us and the microaggressions we face both increase our need for self care and add hurdles we have to overcome to access it.

Our mental health is another consideration for self care. As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety my whole life, I have absolutely had times when my internal processes made it close to impossible to take care of myself. Bri Carter notes: “[self care] advice can be even more difficult to put into practice when you’ve found yourself in a state of depression.”

Image 2: Background of stars in the Bi Pride colors of pink, purple, and blue; Foreground states “The Stars are bi. You are just as bright, beautiful, and shining as they are.”

Image via theyreallbi.tumblr.com.

It’s important to know when to get outside help. Also important is identifying the barriers to that, as mental health can be in the first place. Local organizations may provide supportive services on a sliding scale. Places like Chicago Women’s Health Center (CWHC) provide health care ranging from screenings to acupuncture to counseling all with consideration to income. There aren’t many queer friendly comprehensive health care providers like CWHC or other Chicago-based LGBTQ health and social service provider Howard Brown Health Center. This is especially true outside of larger cities.

Beyond that, care specific to the Bi+ community is so rare. This includes within LGBT organizations. How often have you looked at the website for an organization that says that it serves the LGBT population only to find it light or absent on the B? How many times have you looked within LGBT organizations for bisexual services only to see bisexuality erased? Bi focused causes receive relatively little funding. So much of what we do have is the result of the advocates, activists, and organizations that volunteer time and energy. That services are not funded, or at times not available at all, is a major barrier to self care. Finding appropriate, comprehensive, bi-inclusive care takes time to research, money to afford, and makes us vulnerable to biphobia and bierasure. But dear bi friends, you are not alone. Two resources that will hopefully help you with these barriers are the Bisexuality-Aware Providers Listing and GLMA (Health Providers Advancing LGBT Equality.

Over and over, the way our society sets itself up causes us to have additional barriers to getting what we need. It flippantly tells us to just work harder to achieve the same goal as someone with privilege. Society often frames what makes it easier for us to care for ourselves as waste (Linked article via fellow Bi.org writer Lynnette McFadzen.)

Advice that populates typical self care articles such as “just eat healthy” or “take a bath” doesn’t apply as easy 1-2 steps to a healthier you. Sure, many of us would love to eat healthier. But that requires either spending money we may not have, the energy and accessibility to cook and do a lot more dishes, or both. Many of us pull double shifts. For a relaxing bath you’ll need a space with a tub and dedicated time. These, as well as consideration for whether or not getting in and out of the bath is something you can easily do on your own. I also don’t need to try to access self care and be told I’m doing it wrong as evidenced by my weight—listen, that’s not why I’m here.

In a recent video, Rebelwheels NYC host Michele Kaplan talks about “balancing disability [and] queerness.” She shares a story about attending a social support group. At that time it was her “only social connection to the disability community.” A member of the mixed orientation group made a homophobic remark. This, for Michele “as a person who is bisexual, made [her] feel uncomfortable and kind of unwelcome in that group.” Michele was also then faced with the dual energy suck of either letting homophobia go by unchallenged, as no one else in the group responded, or confronting it. The act of connecting with community—something we need—has additional layers for many of us.

When self care advice and practice is made with a false “norm” in mind and without prioritizing intersectionality, it excludes most of us. This creates barriers in accessing self care which is both unhelpful and at times harmful. Sharing space with like community is essential to our well-being. These spaces are much more available to, and often focused on, those with privilege. As Bri Carter states, “I think when it comes to the Bi+ community, particularly those of us who are black or NBPOC [non black people of color], it is very difficult to practice self-care because we are missing a huge and fundamental piece which is community.” Bri notes that “many of the self defined groups and spaces [are often] dominated by white people.” She encourages “building intentional bi+ communities of color,” sharing “to be able to even talk about my lived experiences as a black person AND as a bi person with no censorship and fear of anti-blackness or biphobia, while triggering sometimes, feels SO DAMN GOOD.”

Dear treasured community member: the barriers we talked about today are real and your experience with them is valid. Also real and valid are the enormous benefits we reap from being in spaces with people with similar lived experiences. But as as Michele Kaplan asked at one time, and a question many of us have found ourselves pondering—“Where is everybody?!”

Join me in finding our community in the next installment: Self Care for Bi People: How to Take the Care You Need. And until then, remember:

Image 3: Purple, pink, and blue Bi Pride color sunset background; foreground states “We are more than our orientation but our orientation is pretty darn great.”

Image via sorrynotsorrybi.tumlr.com.

A NOTE ON COMMUNITY:  Bi.org is a proud partner of amBi: your bi social community.  With chapters in multiple cities, amBi is the largest bi social club in the world.  And it is coming to a city near you.  Visit amBi.org to join the community.  You can even start one in your own town if there isn’t one yet.  🙂

SB Swartz
SB Swartz is an author covering inclusive wellness, lgbt family, and reflections of our world as seen on tv. She’s a proud member of the #StillBisexual campaign, working to dispel the myth that bisexuals don't stay bisexual. Her home is filled with Battlestar Galactica posters, her husband, and their troublemaking cats. She adores them all.

Follow SB Swartz on Twitter @cosmostep and check out her workshop at sbswartz.tumblr.com.