Bisexual Visibility Day
The 23rd of September is Bisexual Visibility Day
Started in 1999 by Wendy Curry, Michael Page, and Gigi Raven Wilbur – three American bisexual activists – Bisexual Visibility Day, or Celebrate Bisexuality Day, is celebrated annually on the 23rd of September. Originally created to bring visibility to the long ignored bisexual community, Bisexual Visibility Day now also provides an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and misconceptions that bisexuals experience within both homosexual and heterosexual communities.
Despite constituting the largest group within the LGBTQIA+ community, bisexuality is still viewed as a new, or ‘fashionable,’ identity. Likely, this is because the community suffered from limited visibility until the beginning of the 1990s. However, even without a formal label, bisexuality has existed for thousands of years. In Ancient Greece and Rome, it was socially acceptable, and even encouraged, for men to engage in same-sex relationships that enabled the sharing of wisdom and experience, before marrying women. Such was exemplified in the lives of Alexander the Great and Emperor Hadrian. Similarly, in Ancient Japan, bisexuality was common in Samurai warriors, who would engage in ‘shudo’ relationships – those between older and younger male warriors – prior to marriage. The term bisexuality, meaning attraction to both men and women, did not emerge until 1892 however, following the publication of Charles Gilbert Chaddock’s translation of Krafft-Ebing‘s Psychopathia Sexualis. Prior to this, bisexuality was instead used to describe those who possessed both ‘male’ and ‘female’ sexual organs. Alfred Kinsey strengthened this idea of sexuality with his scale of human sexual behaviour – the Kinsey Scale – published in the 1960s. The scale highlighted that sexuality was not limited to the binaries of heterosexuality and homosexuality, but was instead a spectrum which ranged from complete heterosexuality (0) to complete homosexuality (6).
As a consequence of these definitions, however, bisexuality has come under increasing scrutiny in recent times because of the idea that it upholds the gender binary. Bisexuality does this by excluding sexual and romantic attraction to those who do not adhere to ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender identities. As such, ‘bi+’ sexualities, including pansexuality, polysexuality, and omnisexuality, have gained traction in recent years because they encompass the sexual and romantic attraction felt towards those of any sex or gender identity. Such an image of bisexuality is a falsehood however as it has always included attraction to those outside of the gender binary. This is clear from the 1990 Bisexual Manifesto, a document published by San Francisco Bay Area bisexuals who were ‘tired of being analyzed, defined and represented by people other than ourselves.’ The manifesto highlighted that,
Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have “two” sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders.
The manifesto not only indicated that the idea of bisexuality endorsing the gender binary is false but went so far as to also disprove the concept of a gender binary entirely. Yet this misconception, and others, continue to be used to stigmatise bisexuality.
One such misconception is that bisexuals ultimately ‘settle’ for one gender, thus proving that bisexuality is simply a phase. A 2019 i News article recorded personal accounts from various bisexual individuals on this issue, including that of Nick Batley, who stated he is often asked whether he has ‘a preference’ about his partner’s gender, and that of Sam Glover, who believed that ‘a lot of people think that if a guy tells people he’s bi then he’s actually gay and just isn’t comfortable admitting that yet.’ The opposite of true for bisexual women – they are seen to be simply ‘experimenting’ with homosexuality before settling into a heterosexual relationship. As Alice Broster writes in her article ‘Why Bi Visibility Day Is Still So Important in the Fight Against Erasure,’ ‘I’ve had lesbians tell me that they can’t date me because I’m probably testing the water and will just go back to dating men.’ Similarly, Marianne Eloise, as recorded in the aforementioned i article, recalls being told by a gay male housemate that she was ‘straight really’ because she had yet to have a relationship with a woman. Eloise’s comment highlights an experience many bisexuals suffer – having to ‘prove’ their bisexuality by recounting their various experiences to show they possess enough ‘queer credentials.’ This combination of ideas about bisexuality – that it is simultaneously a stepping stone to homosexuality and a brief phase before settling into heterosexuality – highlights how bisexuals quickly become alienated from the LGBTQIA+ community, and how many are left with a feeling of not being ‘queer enough.’
This combination of ideas about bisexuality – that it is simultaneously a stepping stone to homosexuality and a brief phase before settling into heterosexuality – highlights how bisexuals quickly become alienated from the LGBTQIA+ community, and how many are left with a feeling of not being ‘queer enough.’
As such, while bisexuals who do not partake in monogamous relationships can skirt these issue, those who do find their sexual identity subject to erasure. This erasure does not provide protection from further scrutiny though, as bisexuality is seen as inherently linked to infidelity; a consequence of the idea that bisexuals are unsatisfied by monogamy. Batley speaks to this when stating that he ‘did once have a girlfriend who … felt threatened by the fact I was attracted to guys too, like I wasn’t that trustworthy because of it.’ Similarly, Lewis Oakley comments that the hardest part of being in a monogamous relationship as a bisexual is that his girlfriend ‘had been told I’ll cheat, that she’ll never be enough for me.’ This perception is a long-standing one, despite being rebutted by the Bisexual Manifesto nearly thirty years ago.
Do not mistake our fluidity for confusion, irresponsibility, or an inability to commit. Do not equate promiscuity, infidelity, or unsafe sexual behavior with bisexuality. Those are human traits that cross all sexual orientations.
Consequently, bisexuals increasingly find themselves in a uniquely lonely position – seen as ‘too queer’ for heteronormative society, but ‘not queer enough’ for the LGBTQIA+ community. And this has a knock-on effect – in a 2018 study by the UK LGBTQIA+ organisation Stonewall, it was found that 46% of bisexual men and 26% of bisexual women have not come out to their families, compared to 10% of gay men and 5% of lesbians. Moreover, according to the UK Office for National Statistics, bisexuals are more likely to suffer from high levels of anxiety than those of other sexual orientations, and are ultimately 40% more likely to describe themselves as unhappy. While this is only representative of one nation, it is a microcosm of a much larger issue – the experience of ‘othering’ and ostracization that bisexuals face from the queer community.
In a 2018 study by the UK LGBTQIA+ organisation Stonewall, it was found that 46% of bisexual men and 26% of bisexual women have not come out to their families, compared to 10% of gay men and 5% of lesbians.
This feeling of not being ‘queer enough’ is one which I have increasingly struggled with myself. Despite being immersed in the community – from involvement in activism, to being surrounded by a group of wonderful friends from a cross section of the community – I find myself feeling like ‘the straightest one in the room’ more often than I would like. While part of this comes from my internal feelings that I have only been a bisexual ‘in theory’ – as I am yet to have a relationship with a woman – a much larger part has resulted from how I have been treated by other members of the community. From being told by a lesbian friend that her ‘preference’ was to not date bisexuals because they were more likely to cheat – something which she assured me was not rooted in biphobia – to being excluded from events with other queer women because I am bisexual, this has culminated in a feeling of imposter syndrome whenever I enter LGBTQIA+ spaces. While I cannot speak to the experiences of bisexual men, anecdotally I know many of the experiences are the same. As a result, while writing this blog post I am angry. Bisexuals have always been an important part of the LGBTQIA+ community, going back to early pioneers like Brenda Howard, who was integral to organising the first Pride march in 1969, and Donny the Punk, who started the first on-campus university LGBTQIA+ student group in 1966. We are not less than – we are ‘queer enough’ and we deserve to be treated as such. We continue to give our all to our community, and to not have this energy reciprocated is not only alienating, but downright hurtful, something which the Bisexual Manifesto commented on over thirty years ago, ‘We are angered by those who refuse to accept our existence; our issues; our contributions; our alliances; our voice.’
So, this Bisexual Visibility Day, I want to take the time to remind myself, and any other bisexuals that need to hear it, that we are a wonderfully important part of this community. Our voices and our contributions are necessary, and we deserve to take up space. Take the time to remind yourself of the importance of the bisexual community to the LGBTQIA+ movement. Make us feel welcomed, and not ostracised. We deserve to be celebrated, to be loved, and ultimately to be happy. As the Bisexual Manifesto demands, ‘It is time for the bisexual voice to be heard.’
Bisexuals have always been an important part of the LGBTQIA+ community … We are not less than – we are ‘queer enough’ and we deserve to be treated as such.
For a full list of Bisexual Visibility Day events happening globally, see https://bivisibilityday.com/.
Information taken from:
- Jasmine Anderson, ‘Bi Visibility Day 2019: The myths around bisexuality that people face every day’ https://inews.co.uk/news/bi-visibility-day-2019-the-myths-around-bisexuality-that-people-face-every-day-342056
- Artie Bergren, ‘Bisexual Visibility’ https://outrightinternational.org/content/bisexual-visibility
- Stonewall Staff, ‘11 people share their bi icons on Bi Visibility Day’ https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/11-people-share-their-bi-icons-bi-visibility-day
- ‘When Is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day 2020?’ https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/world/celebrate-bisexuality-day
- Alice Broster, ‘Why Bi Visibility Day Is Still So Important In The Fight Against Erasure’ https://www.bustle.com/p/why-bi-visibility-day-is-so-crucial-for-fighting-stigma-erasure-18794176
- ‘The Bi Visibility Day story’ https://bivisibilityday.com/
- JR Thorpe, ‘A Brief History Of Bisexuality, From Ancient Greece and The Kinsey Scale To Lindsay Lohan’ https://www.bustle.com/articles/40282-a-brief-history-of-bisexuality-from-ancient-greece-and-the-kinsey-scale-to-lindsay-lohan
- ‘A Brief History of Bisexuality’ https://www.mygwork.com/en/my-g-news/a-brief-history-of-bisexuality
- Camille Holthaus, ‘The Future of Bisexual Activism’ https://muse.jhu.edu/article/575374/summary