Bi Visibility Day is September 22 this year. To mark the event my local community LGBTQ+ Center is hosting a panel discussion on the topic of why visibility matters.
All indicators point to persons identifying as bi/pan being about 50% of the LGBTQ+ population, why are so few visible in mainstream spaces?
Part of the reason that I think the bisexual portion of the population is largely unseen is monogamy. A bisexual can be attracted to another person regardless of genitalia. We can and do commit and settle down into monogamous relationships. From the “outside” that relationship will look strictly heterosexual or gay, depending on the sexes of partners and assumptions made.
People will look at a committed couple of a male-presenting person and a female-presenting person and assume that means both partners are straight. If people view two women together, or two men together, the assumption automatically categorizes both partners as lesbian/gay.
However, to be clear being bisexual is just like being lesbian or gay. It is an identity. An identity is self-identifying, a label chosen by the individual to describe themselves. Identity is within, as unique for each person as handwriting is when someone is signing their name.
People have been forced, by society’s misconceptions and a belligerent penchant for labeling others, to declare a label outwardly, as a way to basically say, “Look, this is me, stop trying to shoehorn me into YOUR categories.” A gay or lesbian person is telling others “stop pushing a certain vision (heterosexual) of who I am, who I could/do love, or even what a relationship is or can be.”
As social creatures, however, we also choose labels to be able to find “like for like.” This is why there are teens who, in trying on identities, pick certain clothing, or body language, or affectations, because they have been told or shown through popular culture or media that these are the ways in which to present as “gay,” “lesbian,” “heterosexual,” etc. It applies to all things. You wanna fit in whatever group identity you’re trying on, you gotta “walk the walk, and talk the talk.” If there wasn’t a “walk” or a “talk” to copy, how would you know, right? Step outside that walk and the community that once welcomed you will shed you faster than water off a duck’s back.
Most people are individuals, especially as they grow past the teen “I need to find mine” years. But consistencies in communities persist. However, the spectrum of humanity that claims the labels bisexual or pansexual cannot be shoehorned into one look or one way of behaving. Therefore we receive push back from people who have spent their lives conforming to a “standard” in order to find acceptance in their community, as well as acceptance from others: “You want a label, then there must be a standard to apply that label.” But bisexuals can outwardly appear as a member of any group, all groups, or no group at all. They’ll be monogamous with an opposite sex partner. They’ll be monogamous, but swing. They’ll be non-monogamous. They’ll be involved with asexuals, transexual individuals, gender-non-comforming, and everything else.
The biggest takeaway about life and love from a bisexual? That the L-word comes in all forms and all shapes and sizes, and it’s nobody’s business but those in the relationship. For people who like to judge, or have always been judged by the sex of their partners, this can feel very “in your face” defiant and be off-putting.
This leads to a big reason many bi/pan people don’t come out. Derision can come from any direction: “A bisexual man must just be a gay who doesn’t want to come out of the closet” or “a bisexual woman is going back to the penis the first chance she gets.” Or opponents of bi/pan identity insist “because you’re a woman now with a woman, you must have always been a lesbian, just denying it to keep heterosexual privilege.” Or the heterosexuals deriding a relationship as a “phase.” Ugh.
So… on this day of bisexual visibility, I claim the label proudly. I may appear straight to most people: a woman married to a man. I have had relationships with women in the past. Not a single one was “a phase.” Each partner I have had has been valuable to my growth as a person.
Furthermore, Bi Visibility is important because everyone should be able to find others like them in a welcoming community. That can’t happen without some of us labeling ourselves to stand out and be seen. I had the chance a couple weeks ago to hang out and socialize exclusively with women who identified as bi/pan. The coffee shop meet up was freeing, a chance to listen to other stories similar to my own, and feel heard and supported in my identity in return.
This idea that bi/pan people don’t have a common “look”? Definitely borne out by this meet up. No two people at that gathering could have been described as dressed similarly or conforming to the same gender presentation choices. But we were definitely all comfortable in our skins, some clearly for the first time ever.
So, seriously, if you can, be visible, my fellow bisexual and pansexual folx. Help others find the same freedom to be totally themselves.
Happy Bi Visibility Day, Everyone!