For bi visibility day (Sept 23rd) this year I wanted to share a piece I wrote a couple of years back imagining what the world would be like if bi people were treated like gay/lesbian people are now, and vice versa to illuminate the strange place we find ourselves in with bi invisibility. I hope you find it helpful…
There’s also a podcast and blog post all about bi visibility over on megjohnandjustin.com.
Imagine a world where bi people were treated like gay & lesbian people, and vice versa…
You wake up in the morning and smile, remembering it’s Pride day. You’re going to get to march with all your lesbian and gay mates. Then your heart sinks a little remembering previous Prides. You’ll probably be relegated to the back of the march again after all the hundreds of bi charities and groups and organisations. Sure some of them have finally added LG to their names these days, but BTLG is mostly about the B and everyone knows it. It’s crazy-making when we know that LG people make up around half of all LGB people. Where are they all?
You know you’ll also be lucky this afternoon if there’s even one gay or lesbian identified person up on the stage at the end of Pride. Last year one gay activist got about a minute up there before the next bi band came on. It’s like the Purple List of influential BTLG people: Published in a major national newspaper every year and almost everyone on it is bi. A small gay magazine published a ‘rainbow list’, to make the point that there are lots of influential LG people too, but people didn’t pay much attention to that. It’s so frustrating because you know for a fact that many of the famous bi actors, sportspeople, and pop stars only ever have same-sex relationships, but they still call themselves ‘bi’ because being gay is so stigmatised. When that swimmer came out a couple of years back the bi press immediately called him bi even though he deliberately only said that he was attracted to people of the same-sex. There’s so few gay role-models or gay storylines on TV programmes. It only makes lesbian and gay people more invisible.
You sigh. It’s hard being gay in a world where everyone’s divided into heterosexual or bisexual. They’ve even done research now to try to prove that same-sex-only attraction doesn’t exist: that you’re either ‘straight, bi, or lying’. People can wrap their head around attraction to the opposite gender, or to people of any gender, but not to only being attracted to the same gender only. When you try to point out that Kinsey found that sexuality was a spectrum: there were people at the far end who were just attracted to the same gender, they just dismiss you saying that research is outdated.
Over breakfast you flick through the latest report from a major BTLG mental health charity. It’s great work they’re doing and you try to support them, but the gay invisibility really gets on your nerves. Several places in the document talk about ‘biphobia and transphobia’ and don’t mention homophobia at all. You’ve brought that up with them in the past and they just claim that homophobia is a subset of biphobia. It’s the same kind of argument as people who use ‘bi’ as an umbrella term for everyone with same-sex attraction whether they’re also attracted to the opposite sex or not. You’ve tried to point out that the word ‘bisexual’ doesn’t accurately capture your sexual orientation but they just look at you like you’re making a big deal over nothing. It’s all ‘bi people’, ‘bi relationships’, ‘bi parents’, ‘the bi community’ etc. etc. etc.
The report talks about the fact that BLG people have worse mental health than straight people, but it just lumps all BLG people together. You find that annoying because you know that it’s the lesbian and gay people who actually have the highest rates of depression, self-harm and suicide. Research like this means that the money and resources go to BLG people as a whole rather than to LG people in particular. And that mostly means the big commercial ‘bi scene’ which very few LG people actually access. So the help isn’t going to the people who need it most, and the bis are the ones who get all the funding.
Again you’ve tried to point this out, but the bi activists you’ve spoken to argue that it’s important to get everyone accepting bisexuality fully as the first step to BTLG rights. Once that’s happened they can work on the more ‘complicated’ identities like gay and lesbian. That’s why so many people’s energy went into the multiple marriage campaign. Now polyamorous bisexual and straight people can marry more than one partner, or one opposite-sex partner. But there’s still no allowance for gay people – and monogamous bisexuals – who want to marry one same-sex partner only. Even during the campaign loads of people were saying that there was a danger that multiple marriage would open the floodgates to same-sex-only marriage, comparing it to incest and bestiality. They call multiple marriage ‘equal marriage’ now, but it’s not truly equal. When you point that out people just accuse you of sour grapes.
Last BTLG history month you tried to get your organisation’s BTLG group to do an exhibition of famous LG people through history, but the other people on the committee (all bi of course) said that most of the people you suggested were ‘probably bi really’. And they’re always going on about Stonewall as this big event in BT history, dismissing all the gay people who were also involved at the forefront of what happened back then. The committee ended up putting a bunch of the Stonewall posters up round the organisation: ‘Some people are bi, get over it’ and ‘One is bi. If that bothers people, our work continues.’ You pointed out that there were actually ‘gay’ posters available as well but they just gave you a look and said ‘the campaign’s about eradicating biphobia in the workplace, alright.’ You hear that Stonewall have consulted with lesbian and gay people to try to improve inclusion, but you feel so jaded after all this time that you’ll believe that when you see it.
You check your phone. Looks like a bunch of your mates are going out to a bi bar after the Pride event. You’re not tempted. Last time you did that everyone assumed you’d be attracted to multiple genders and it was really uncomfortable when you came out as gay. Like at work and with your family they also kept forgetting and assuming you were bi, so you had to come out again and again. And you’re so sick of the stereotypes. Some bi people won’t date you for fear that you’ll leave them for another gay person. Others treat you with suspicion: ‘are you sure you’re really gay?’
The double discrimination is probably the worst thing. You kind of expect homophobia from the straight world, but getting it from bi people as well is really hard. Like when you finally left the football team you were on because of the homophobic discrimination there, and joined a BTLG football team only to find that they called you ‘gold star’ like it was a big joke, and kept going on about your sexuality and how you must be ‘picky’ or ‘confused’.
You remember back to last year’s Pride. Double discrimination there too. Your group marching past a bunch of bi people and they all started singing some old Eurovision song ‘loosen you mind up’ which you know was a homophobic joke. Mostly though the crowd just went quiet when your group walked past and then started cheering for the next bi group.
When you told your bi friends about it in the pub afterwards they said you were probably just exaggerating or being over-sensitive. They think you’re crazy to be so bothered by it, but you think the world is crazy for not being able to see gay invisibility when it’s right in their face.
Maybe you’ll just stay at home.
This story is based on all based on research on bisexuality reviewed in The Bisexuality Report (with the sexualities reversed of course!)
With many thanks to Catherine Butler and colleagues for their inspiration with the Homoworld story and short film, as well as this US version.