Happy bi visibility day! It’s a day which has been officially observed since 1999 to shine a spotlight on the bisexual community, its history, people and culture.
As sexuality exists on a spectrum and identities are complex and diverse one person’s bisexuality may differ from another’s. However a good standard definition which captures most bisexual people is: ‘The romantic and/or sexual attraction towards more than one sex or gender (including non-binary identities).’
So why is there a need for a specific day of visibility?
Whilst it is true that awareness and acceptance of LGBT+ identities is increasing there are still pervasive stereotypes and misinformation about bisexual people that range from nuisance misunderstandings to biphobia and harassment.
A Stonewall study on LGBT+ identities in the workplace found that bisexual workers were less likely to be out to their co-workers than their gay and lesbian counterparts. A significant contributing factor to this was the fear of negative reactions from co-workers often stemming from pervasive stereotypes.
So let’s look at some, these are all quite common assumptions that either myself or fellow bisexuals have had to deal with:
“Bi people are responsible for spreading AIDS through to the straight population.”
During the height HIV/AIDS epidemic bisexual people were one group scapegoated for spreading HIV to the straight population, but this has had a lasting impact. With hindsight and research of course it is obvious that a public health crisis is much more complicated than ‘it was the bisexuals that did it’.
“Bi people are just being greedy.”
“Bi people are cheaters/ will leave you for a partner of a different gender.”
These stereotypes centre around the idea that because bisexual folk are attracted to multiple genders they must be promiscuous or never settled and happy with the relationship they’re in. On a private level it can make trust building difficult in relationships and outside the home it can invite many unwarranted advances and sexual harassment.
“Bi people are only bi until they are with a partner then they are straight or gay.”
“Bi is just a coming-out-strategy for gay when you don’t want to commit all the way yet.”
“Bi people can’t make their minds up/ It’s a phase”
Connecting many of these stereotypes is the concept of Bi Erasure where the identities of bisexual people are ignored, forgotten or dismissed because they’re assumed to have the orientation of their partner or that it’s false and being done for attention, or ‘just a phase’.
Bi erasure can be damaging because it is denying someone their identity and authenticity. It is also damaging to the community as a whole when the identities of historical figures who we know were bisexual, or may have been bisexual, are erased and the community loses a figure to look up to.
Freddie Mercury, for example, is popularly remembered by history as a closeted gay man but he was in fact openly bisexual to those close to him. Frida Kahlo’s identity is often compartmentalised, she remembered by some as a feminist icon, by others as a disabled icon, or by others as a bisexual icon and as a result the intersectionality of her entire identity is lost.
There is also evidence to suggest that figures including Tove Jansson, King James VI and I, and Winston Churchill may have all been bisexual having had relationships with both men and women throughout their lives.
The debates that surround the sexuality of historical figures are often binary ‘they were closeted and wanted to protect their image’ or ‘they was straight it’s all hearsay’. But perhaps the actual sexuality of historical figures is not as important as the tone of the debate itself. There is often fierce will to conclude whether historical figures were either gay or straight, but this again just shows how frequently Bi identities are dismissed.
So this bi-visibility day remember to look past stereotypes and that there is often more to someone’s sexuality than meets the eye.
Does your department network have a blog post to share on our website celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week or Day? Email the Civil Service LGBT+ Network with your contribution.