As many of you may have seen on Facebook/Twitter/etc. yesterday, September 23rd, was Bisexual Visibility Day. Now while most people are familiar with Gay Pride celebrations, some may wonder why we have a day for making bisexual people more "visible." After all, shouldn't Gay Pride include bisexuals the same way it includes lesbians and trans* people (obviously not perfectly)?
From my perspective, we have Bisexual Visibility Day because many people (obviously not you, dear reader) think that bisexuals don't exist. Let's take a read of this scene from Sex and the City which was a wonderfully sex-positive show in many ways:
Carrie: He’s a bisexual.
Samantha: Well I could have told you that, sweetie. He took you ice skating for God’s sake.
Carrie: The weird thing is, he was so open about it. You know, “hi, I’m a bisexual” like “hi, I’m from Colorado” or something.
Miranda: I don’t think you’re allowed to be bisexual in Colorado.
Carrie: “Is that a problem?” What kind of question is that, “is that a problem?”
Miranda: Of course it’s a problem.
Charlotte: What did you say?
Carrie: I said it wasn’t a problem. I panicked; he’s such a good kisser.
Samantha: You know that generation is all about sexual experimentation. All the kids are going bi.
Carrie: So what, if all the bi kids are jumpin’ off a bridge you’re gonna do that too?
Samantha: I’m a trisexual, I’ll try anything once.
Carrie: When did this happen? When did the sexes get all confused?
Miranda: Somewhere between Gen X and Gen Y they blended and made XY.
Carrie: You know I did the date-the-bisexual-guy thing in college, but in the end they all ended up with men.
Samantha: So did the bisexual women.
Charlotte: Which explains why there are no available men left for us.
Carrie: Oh geez, maybe I do have a problem with this. I’m an old fart.
Samantha: Correction, a hot old fart.
Carrie: I’m not even sure bisexuality exists; I think it’s just a layover on the way to Gaytown.
Miranda: Isn’t that right next to RickyMartinville?
Samantha: You know, I think it’s great. He’s open to all sexual experiences, he’s evolved. It’s hot.
Miranda: It’s not hot, it’s greedy. He’s double dipping.
Samantha: You’re not marrying the guy, you’re making out with him. Enjoy it and don’t ruin it with labels.
A layover on the way to Gaytown. Yeesh. Or take a gander at the question posed in this article titled "Is Anna Paquin's bisexuality 'past tense' now that she's married to Stephen Moyer?"
Dear Civilities: Recently, I was watching Larry King interview Anna Paquin, who has said repeatedly that she’s bisexual, and wondered what you thought of it. Now that she’s married to a man (“happily, monogamously,” she added), King asked if that means she’s a “non-practicing bisexual.” She answered, “I don’t think it’s a past-tense thing.” I’m a straight married guy and I think pretty broad-minded about this stuff, but I’m confused because I thought the definition of bisexual was someone who slept with partners of either sex. So what does that even mean, to be a monogamous, married bisexual? If she’s married to a man and never sleeps with women, doesn’t that make her straight?
— Confused straight man
Yet another article looked at how this kind of erasure of bisexuality affects youth. The title really says it all, explaining "Bisexual Youth Mostly Female, Worse Off Than Lesbian or Gay Peers"
The report is based on a study of 10,000 respondents between the ages of 13 and 17. According to the HRC, the study reveals that most youth who identify as bisexual (and other orientations such as "fluid," "heteroflexible," "queer," and "pansexual," and even "omnisexual," which I first discovered in the works of David Feintuch, who wrote queer characters with depth and compassion) find it far more difficult to come out and to access what support and resources are available. In a statement quoted by the HRC, Ellen Kahn, director of the HRC Foundation's Children, Youth & Families Program, drew the conclusion the bisexual youth are not being validated by peers or family members . . . The study further revealed individuals who identified themselves as bisexual or not exclusively heterosexual/homosexual were overwhelmingly female. It details levels of harassment and bullying at much higher levels than lesbian or straight peers. Frankly, this isn't surprising, as often times bisexuality is seen as "proof" of promiscuity, and when applied to women, as "evidence" of "sexual availability."
You can also check out this great video of people talking about what they, as bisexuals, are tired of hearing.
Then there's this article where 30 women talk about their experience being bisexual in a long-term relationship. One of the most poignant statements to me was
“I was in a new city, needed a doctor, so filled out my health history, my partners, etc. I’ve only ever been with my boyfriend and one woman, so it was a big deal when I wrote down that I was bisexual on that form. (At least for me; it was the first time I had identified myself in that way.) A year or so later, when I got pregnant, we went back in to the doctor to confirm and after we had heard our baby’s heartbeat for the first time, seen that it was a real being, that our lives were about to change, the nurse comes in to do my examination (my boyfriend had left at this point) and tells me in a sly voice, ‘I guess we can cross the bisexual off your chart, can’t we? That was just a phase.’”
And that from a healthcare provider! As sad and as strange as it may sound, for many people bisexuality is viewed as something temporary or something that ceases to exist the moment you are in a monogamous relationship.
I asked some of my own friends for their thoughts on the topic. Here is what they had to say:
The thing that strikes me the most with my experience is how when I was mono and with a male partner, everyone just assumed that meant I was straight. Now that I'm poly and I'm actually expressing interest in women verbally, the people that have known me for years (that haven't had a direct "coming out" talk from me) all react with surprise. Like they never even considered that might be the case. I also had someone that I've known for almost ten years come out to me as bi when he found out that I was poly. I'd never in a million years have guessed it because he'd been married to a woman for over a decade. Even bi folks don't see other bi folks apparently.
Both my husband and I are bi as you know. He works for a big consulting firm in San Francisco that is very gay friendly which is awesome. However one of the gay employees was very loudly slut shaming bi people much to the entertainment of the group around him. John (who had pretty serious social anxiety) had had enough and stood up for bi people which involved him coming out to that large group of fellow employees. It shut them up in a hurry and got him an apology later on. They were completely surprised because he was married to me, a sis gendered woman. Even though we have a letter in LGBT, Bi people don't have very good representation because it's easy for us to be miscategorized as either hetero or homosexual. And it's not like we have a well known symbol just for us that we could wear.
As a teenager I was told that my relationships with other women "didn't count" or that because I had only a few female partners that I was just "going through a phase". Now that I'm in a monogamous relationship with a man, the only way anyone "knows" is if I consistently refer to my past relationships/crushes/whatever. My favorite is when anyone meets either of my best friends (a male and a female) and the assumption is made that I've slept with/am attracted to both.
My biggest problem is that people tell me I'm not *really* bisexual because I am in a committed relationship with a man. I am told that my dating women in the past was only a phase, and I only find women attractive now because "all women think other women are pretty." If I were dating a woman, I would be called not bi, but lesbian. As it is, I have been called "greedy." I've also experienced prejudice from other LGBTQ people, as though my identity is lesser than theirs because my idea of attractive is broader. Then, of course, there's the opposite side of bisexuality where people think that because you like both you want both ALL TIME MUST HAVE THE SEXY TIMES WITH BOTH GENDERS NOW MUST HAVE PEOPLE WATCH ME HAVE THE SEXY TIMES WITH ALL THE PEOPLE ALWAYS Which is almost as bad.
Just now, I put my pansexual pride flag back up and my Dad wrote "Call me" in the comments. He's known since I was 11, and we recently had a conversation where he asked me if I remembered the phase I went through where I thought I was bisexual. I didn't think, I knew, and 10 years later I still know...
Every time I'm with a guy my mom thinks I'm straight. Big issue is I feel like I have to hide it from men for a while because their brain goes strait to promiscuity and threesomes. Bi is associated with lack of commitment and casual relating. My ex told me later in my relationship that when I told him I was bi and asked permission (dominant) to be with a female friend from time to time he wrote me off for wife potential. I was very honest and upfront and he could have said no. Bi to him was slut and not relationship material. So I was invisible in terms of being taken seriously as a love interest. So I'm on okcupid as bi looking for girls only and getting intensely harassed by guys for sex. I'm on pof as straight looking for guys and nothing but gentlemanly behavior. Odd huh... Bi = slut still...
There are so many misconceptions about bisexuality and so many assumptions that you're "confused," "greedy," "a slut," or "looking for attention" that many people stop trying to remind people of their bisexuality. When you're bisexual, it's not just a singular coming out to each person, it's a constant need to say "yes, I'm still bi" in a way that other LGT people don't necessarily need to do.
For people who are bisexual, the lack of understanding and myths about bisexuality can lead to being rejected by gay/lesbian partners and expected to have threesomes with heterosexual partners. I know that most of the women I talked to about bisexuality commented that most lesbians refuse to date a bisexual woman. These pressures, as well as slut shaming and the general hassle of having to come out over and over and over again, may lead many bisexual people to stop forcing the issue and just let people make their own assumptions.
So then what can anyone/everyone do to fight Bisexual Erasure? Positively Smitten has a great article which includes these ideas:
- Fight against stereotypes that bisexuals don’t exist; that being monosexual is “proper”; that bisexuals are “greedy” or “indecisive”; and bisexuals are promiscuous.
- Remember one relationship doesn’t erase or rewrite how a person identifies.
- When discussing bisexuality, nix the qualifiers. It’s not necessary to say something like, “Angelina Jolie is bisexual BUT she’s with a man right now.” Who Jolie is now doesn’t negate how she identifies.
- Don’t assume you know how someone identifies. They decide.
- Increase your support for the bisexual community by acknowledging that bisexuality exists, both in fiction and in real life.
For those of us who are bisexual, the best way to fight bisexual erasure is to come out and keep coming out. While choosing to stop reminding people that, yes, you are still bi is a completely reasonable choice for any individual, the tendency of many bisexuals to do this increases bisexual erasure. If people assume Anna Paquin is straight now that she's monogamously married to a man and she doesn't say anything about it it feeds into the perception that bisexuality is "a phase" or "not real." This is not to say that coming out is the right choice for any one person, but my plea to all the bisexual folks out there is to come out if it's safe and reasonable for you. Until more of us do, this will continue to be a struggle.
Want to celebrate bisexuality? Check out 28 Bisexual Celebrities and 22 Reasons why Huffington Post is celebrating Bisexual Visibility Day. You can also post the Bisexual Flag on your page or write a little bit about what being bisexual has been like for you and ways in which you may have felt your bisexuality was negated.
If you've been struggling with these issues and feel like you need more support or an objective outside person to help you decide how much coming out is right for you, feel free to contact me and we can set up a time to talk about how to help you find your own balance.