September 23rd is bi visibility day: something I’ve written about here before. This year I thought I’d post a Q&A I did recently on the topic of bi visibility to say why I think it’s still so important. You can also read a lot more on this topic over on the BiUK website and in The Bisexuality Report.
Why do you think that most research shows that bisexual people are struggling compared to lesbian, gay and straight people?
It seems highly likely that a major reason for this is bi invisibility. Bi people are marginalised in similar ways to lesbian and gay people, for their same-sex attraction, but they also experience something additional to this which is their invisibility – or erasure – in popular culture. Lesbian and gay people are rarely questioned as to whether they are really lesbian/gay. Also generally, once they have come out, people accept that their sexual identity is what they’ve said it is.
For bisexual people however, the experience of coming out is one of continued questioning, suspicion and even re-closeting (people assuming they must really be gay or straight). Bi people also experience double discrimination (from both straight and gay communities) which can lead to a sense of isolation or having no home or sense of belonging. Often bi people turn to LGBT communities when they have experienced biphobia and homophobia, only to find that they are rejected there too.
These things all tap into a couple of major elements of common mental health difficulties: self-criticism and alienation. Bi people are encouraged to doubt and criticise themselves, and they often feel very alone.
Of course the wider reasons for bi invisibility are the binary assumptions our culture has about sexuality and gender: that people are seen as gay or straight (and male or female).
What do you think the goals of bisexual activism and the bisexual movement should be?
Given the current climate, one priority is to provide supportive and welcoming spaces for bi people so that they don’t feel so isolated and so they have at least some spaces in which they feel welcome and able to be themselves. Alongside that it’s important to get resources and support to bi people to help those who are already experiencing problems: improving access to mental health services, and awareness within those services, for example.
After that a major priority is shifting biphobia and bi invisibility in the wider LGBT community so that bi people don’t experience that double discrimination, and so that LGBT communities and spaces do become safer spaces for bi people even when wider culture isn’t.
Beyond that what’s really needed is to shift wider understandings of sexuality away from a binary model. This could be done through improved sex education which incorporates the full range of gender and sexual diversity rather than being based on a heteronormative model as it currently is. It could also be achieved through better media representation of diverse sexual and gender experiences.
How can bisexual people, communities and organisers meet these goals? What activism do you think needs to happen?
Well there is a big question about whether it is down to bi people to achieve these goals or whether wider LGBT communities and organisations should be focusing on this, as well as equality and diversity groups more widely. Should it be the job of the most marginalised people to pull themselves out of marginalisation?
That said, there are a number of bi activists, community organisers, and groups who are putting a huge amount of – often unpaid – time, energy and resources into trying to address this situation (in the UK this includes The Bisexual Index, Bi Community News, Bis of Colour, BiCon, and Biscuit magazine). Particularly they are trying to create online and offline spaces where bisexual people can go and feel welcome, and to make these spaces diverse enough to include different groups of bi people rather than just appealing to a subset. There are also many bi activists who are trying to train therapists, practitioners, LGBT organisers, and others to improve their awareness. And some are engaged in developing better sex media, advice and education which is inclusive of all rather than bi-erasing.
Where would you like to see bisexual people and the bisexual community in the the future?
A large proportion of people are attracted to more than one gender – far more than the number of people who identify as bisexual. The figure for attraction is between 19% and 43% depending on age according to a recent YouGov survey. So we need to encompass this in our understanding of human sexuality. In the long term future it would be great to reach a point where people were accepted regardless of their sexual orientation, and where the gender that people were attracted to was seen as no more important than any other aspect of sexual desire (e.g. the kinds of roles you take sexually, the kind of appearance you find attractive, the kinds of sexual practices you enjoy).
In the shorter term it is really important to see a more diverse set of spaces open up so that bi people of all backgrounds, ages, and cultural groups have somewhere they are accepted and supported. Also a priority is making LGBT organisations and spaces truly bi-inclusive, such that bi people are given at least as much energy, platform, and resources as LG people.
Do you think autonomous or majority bisexual spaces are helpful for bisexual politics and activism? If so, how and why?
I think they are absolutely necessary for now given the biphobia and bi invisibility in all other spaces. Helen Bowes-Catton‘s research on bisexual spaces demonstrated that – for many of the people who access those spaces – they are the one place they can go where they can completely relax and be themselves. It’s a disturbing situation that that is the case, but it means that those spaces are still necessary – at least until the point at which LGBT spaces are bi-inclusive in more than just name.