A few days ago on 23 September, it was Bi Visibility Day. I’m a bit late with this, which I could pretend is because I’m trying to make the message resound on all days of the year, but is actually because time ran away with me. I can’t lie to you.
This is a really simple, almost stream-of-consciousness post, in which I’ll be listing some things that would be awesome for increasing the visibility of bi people. Some of them are things that can be done by anybody, some are for bi people, and some would require huge cultural shifts. They don’t come in any particular order. Take your pick, really.
Please note though that I’m only focussing on visibility. There are other important steps and actions to be taken to challenge biphobia; the fact that bisexuality is so seldom seriously discussed or presented is an important barrier to acceptance and harmony, but comes alongside plenty of others. I’m sure I’ll talk about some of those in the future.
But for now, let the list begin…
It would be great to have more people in the public eye who are openly bi. I’m particularly thinking of people like politicians and sporting professionals, where it feels like there is a particular dearth of bi role models (though some do exist!).
Alongside this, a media that doesn’t label people who haven’t labelled themselves would go a long way. That goes both ways – at the moment, pretty much anybody who hasn’t made a statement on their sexual orientation or been seen in a same sex pairing is assumed to be entirely straight (although stereotyping on factors normally relating to expected gender roles often leads to the opposite assumption). But if someone famous is seen with somebody of the same sex, then they are portrayed as gay or lesbian. Bisexuality almost never factors into these discussions.
In much the same way, historical figures who are known or suspected to have had same sex relationships are almost always described as gay or lesbian, even though we normally have no idea how they would have self-identified. It’s incredibly hard to know people who had sex or relationships with both women and men in a much more oppressive time were doing so because they were attracted to both or because they were keeping up appearances and had no attraction to the opposite sex. I don’t think we should label everybody who this applies to as bisexual either – but I think discussions about them, particularly in historical textbooks and educational resources, should acknowledge how much we don’t know. In fact, for almost every historical figure we can’t be sure how they would have considered themselves and are projecting our assumptions onto them!
Let’s have more novels, films and TV shows featuring bi characters! And for bonus points, characters who happen to be bi without it being their only feature, and without it being used to demonstrate their promiscuity/ sexiness/ alternative-ness.
For those of us who are bi and who are able to do so, being out is a really great step for increasing visibility in general. Of course that’s true among friends, but even more so in the more challenging environments – for example, being out at work or with family. Coming out stories often focus on telling your parents, but what about telling your children? Not everybody will feel safe or comfortable with being out in all areas of their life – but for those of us who do, it can really positively impact wider impressions of bisexuality.
For all of us, when talking about relationships, use inclusive language that doesn’t assume people are only interested in either women or men. For a lot of people you talk to, this will be the case – but using open language means you’ve got them thinking about it too, which might spread the bivisibility love!
Organisations that champion LGBT+ interests need to acknowledge bisexuality explicitly in their campaigns and communications and guard against making bi people feel excluded or unwelcome by a lack of attention.
There must be loads more but that’s a quick list. What else do you think could be done to make bisexuality more visible?
The image is by Nancy Magnusson and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a bottlenose dolphin in clear blue water, with some others visible just at the edge of the shot.
Now, I would be hopelessly anthropomorphising if I suggested that just because bottlenose dolphins have frequently been documented as engaging in sexual activity with both females and males, they would consider themselves bisexual, but who doesn’t love a dolphin photo?