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NSM Focus | First PhD thesis researching bisexuality in the Netherlands

Social geographer Emiel Maliepaard researched the situation of bisexual people in the Netherlands for his PhD thesis. Maliepaard interviewed bisexual people about when they choose or do not choose to stand up for their bisexuality. He will be awarded his PhD at Radboud University on 28 August for this first thesis in the Netherlands that exclusively focuses on the daily experiences of bisexual people. Below are two conclusions from his thesis.

  1. Bisexual people have a very low profile in the Netherlands

Maliepaard explains, "There are quite a few prejudices about bisexual people, most significantly that they are promiscuous, unfaithful and polyamorous. About 4% of Dutch people identify as bisexual, and over 15% of men and women have bisexual feelings, fantasies or experiences. However, they retain a very low profile in Dutch society. This is predominantly due to the fact that, for the bisexual people in my research, talking about their bisexuality is rarely ever relevant: it simply serves no purpose to do so. There is also often no reason to talk about sexuality and relationships in everyday activities, and talking about your bisexuality unprompted is seen as odd and inappropriate. This results in people often being seen as heterosexual or, in a few cases, as gay or lesbian.

The bisexual people in my research also indicate that they do not need a bisexual community: they already have enough support in their own social environment and do not participate in the efforts of bisexual rights activists and organisations to increase the visibility of bisexual people in society. It is therefore not surprising that the Dutch bisexual rights organisation Landelijk Netwerk Biseksualiteit (LNBi) consists of only a few dozen people.

As a social geographer, I looked at how bisexual people express their orientation in public and private spaces. To what extent can people be themselves in certain spaces, and when can they not? This includes spaces such as their home, school, night life, the internet, family and their romantic relationships. There is one distinct sphere that is missing: as far as I know, there are no specific bars for bisexuals in the Netherlands or any places that can distinctly be identified as being for bisexuals for an extended period of time."

  1. We need to move beyond the concept of ‘coming out the closet’

Maliepaard says, "coming out of the closet is often considered to be the final step for a gay or bisexual individual to be able to live a healthy and prosperous life. This makes it an important event for people who are not heterosexual. However, many gay and bisexual people look at this in a different way and question why they should have to explain themselves. They feel that they shouldn't have to make a statement about who they are attracted to; they should be able to talk about it naturally.

The participants in my research also struggle with the concept of coming out of the closet. It is seen as an unnatural confession of being non-heterosexual (‘mum, dad, I need to tell you something...’), as being forced to talk about your personal sex life and as making their sexual identity far more important than it actually is. They would prefer a spontaneous or more natural expression of their sexuality when it is suitable and relevant for them and for certain everyday activities."

This article was also published on Radboud Recharge.