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Friendships Across Sexual Orientations: Experiences of Bisexual Women in Early Adulthood
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SUMMARY. This research investigated women’s friendships across sexual orientations as they relate to bisexual identity. Interviews were conducted with 28 female participants in close friendship pairs. Participants included 7 lesbian and 7 bisexual women, along with their heterosexual friends (n = 14). Participants ranged in age from 18-34, with a friendship duration of 1-12 years. Results of this study suggest that while cross-sexual orientation friendships serve a similar function as other friendships, sexual orientation does factor into the friendship dynamic. Analyses focused on the ways in which the difference in sexual orientation identity influenced friendship structure between bisexual-heterosexual pairs. Comparison with lesbian-heterosexual friendships allowed for an understanding of how bisexual friendship experience is unique. Heterosexual women perceived their bisexual women friends as less different from themselves when compared to lesbian friends. In addition, friends in bisexual-heterosexual friendship pairs perceived a shift in the friendship dynamic based on the sex of the bisexual friend’s partner. [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800HAWORTH. E-mail address: <docdelivery@haworthpress.com> Website: <http://www.HaworthPress.com> © 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

KEYWORDS. Bisexuality, identity, friendship, sexual orientation, lesbianism, bisexual identity

Much of the research placing bisexuality in a social context has focused on understanding bisexual experiences in relation to a larger community. Because of the dichotomous conceptualization of sexual orientation (Fox, 1995; Rust 2000), bisexual experience is often narrowly defined in relation to both heterosexual and lesbian/gay experience, and bisexuality is not perceived by others as a valid and stable sexual identity. The personal consequences for individuals who identify as bisexual include a unique brand of discrimination or “bi-phobia” on the part of lesbian, gay and heterosexual individuals (Eliason, 1997; Fox, 1996; Herek, 2002; Ochs, 1996; Rust, 1995; Spalding & Peplau, 1997). Other research on community has identified the changing connections of bisexual women and men to a visible bisexual community (Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor; 1994, 2001).