“I was first punched for being gay when I was 10 years old. I didn’t know what gay was, but after that I learned that it was bad and that you’d be punished for it.”
Kimmy grew up in a Wheatbelt country town 40 years ago, and says they first recognised they were “same-sex attracted at the same time I was aware I was heterosexually attracted.” But in this town “there was no such thing as bisexual.”
“Gay was something that happened once a year in Sydney,” Kimmy says, “and violent homophobia was the norm.”
This invisibility is sadly unsurprising.
Marking the first Bi Visibility day – officially Celebrate Bisexuality Day – in 1999, bisexual rights activist Gigi Raven Wilbur commented “Ever since the Stonewall rebellion, the gay and lesbian community has grown in strength and visibility. The bisexual community also has grown in strength, but in many ways, we are still invisible.”
Over 100 years on from when psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term bisexual, the identity endures. And yet bi visibility is still an ongoing battle more than two decades after the first celebration.
Shannon is in her 20s and moved to Australia from a small village in Northern Ireland when she was nine years old. Currently engaged to a man, Shannon feels the sting of others presuming to know all about her.
“I hate that people assume I’m hetero based on my relationship,” she says. “I always knew I liked girls from when I was really little, but it wasn’t until I had started getting attention from boys in high school that I realised I was possibly bi.”
“Lately I’ve been having a second coming out,” Alex says. Now in their 30s, Alex has been married for a decade and a half and identifying as bisexual even longer.
They describe their romantic and sexual attractions using poetic terms such as fluid and fluctuating. Their poetic second coming out, Alex says, is a gentle reminder to friends and family that they’re bisexual.
“It’s easy for them to erase the fact that I’m bi because I’m in a long-term hetero relationship, and so my bisexuality is invisible,” Alex says.
Even within the LGBTIQA+ community, the fight for visibility and recognition is ongoing.
“There are a lot of people out there in the queer community that don’t believe bisexuality is real, Alex says, “And that’s upsetting, to not feel accepted in your community.”
Agreeing, Kimmy says “My recent ex-boyfriend was always saying ‘you’re with me, so you’re Gay now,’ which was frustrating, because it erases much of my life and my identity, but he couldn’t seem to grasp it.”
“I feel like being bisexual is an act of rebellion.” - Shannon
Rib is in her 30s and describes herself as a “goth/punk Persian weirdo.” She says she feels too much like “a baby queer riding her first bicycle” to have strong and confident opinions on how relevant bisexuality is – but it’s a sign of a universal experience that her thoughts echo through the community.
“[the label bisexual] doesn’t require explanations to strangers about something that’s actually super personal to me,” Rib says.
Shannon is more defiant on why she prefers to be called bi. “I feel [identifying as bisexual] is an act of rebellion,” she says. “Bisexual is what I came out as; it’s what feels natural to me.”
Alex says it’s about fit for them. “It’s only in the last few years that I’ve become aware of other terms such as pansexual or omnisexual,” they say, “and none of those feel like the right fit for me.”
Caitlyn agrees, with a calm and matter of fact approach. “I’m a person who likes community,” she says “so I enjoy being able to talk and interact with people who identify and label themselves the same way.”
In her teens, and studying a double major of history and archaeology, Caitlyn says she looked at many different identities – including pansexual, polysexual, and bisexual.
“I felt like the definition of bisexuality – being attracted to genders the same or different to me – fit the best,” Caitlyn says – and it seems like that is all there is to it.
With labels and identities, too frequently comes the question of if bisexuality implies a strict gender binary.
Bi+ activist Robyn Ochs decisively shut down the outdated idea of bisexual being exclusionary. Ochs defined her bisexuality saying, “I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
It’s also a non-issue for Caitlyn, who – in her no-nonsense sort of way – says “I’d be fine in a relationship with someone who is transgender, non-binary, or genderfluid.”
Rib is quite comfortable identifying as bi+ and says she’s unaware of any accusations of the bi identity being Transphobic. “I haven’t read any bi history,” she says, “I just got here after a few decades of angst.”
“Most trans people I know are ok with ‘bisexual’,” she says, “and I’ve never heard a trans person say they cancelled the term.”
Shannon passionately refutes any idea that bisexual means an obsolete notion gender binaries, “I’m absolutely attracted to gender non-conforming, genderqueer, non-binary and trans folk”, she says.
“But I feel I’d be betraying a part of my identity by swapping to pansexual. I’m not pan; I’m bi!”
Almost as if with reluctance, Kimmy admits they sometimes use the descriptor pansexual -- but explain they prefer the bi flag.
“[It] represents who I am in terms of my gender identity. Masculine, feminine, and both combined into a creative awareness that’s something new or different,” Kimmy says.
Despite the challenges, for many people being bi+ is one of the best things to happen to them. The mix of emotions is almost contradictory against the feelings of erasure and invisibility.
Caitlyn measures her assessment. “[My sexuality] is a big part of who I am, and it’s helped shape me, but it’s not all I am,” she says, but agrees it’s been “a positive experience” for her.
Shannon is more enthusiastic. “I’m so glad I’m bi because I can’t even imagine how boring life would be otherwise,” she says. “It’s helped me carve out my identity, and it’s interwoven among all of my personality, interests and core beliefs.”
It’s also something she says she can cling to through her ongoing journey with an eating disorder.
“I tend to shape my entire identity around being a thin girl, but through my ED I’m working hard to remove that mindset, replacing it with parts of my personality and identity that are positive and productive,” she says. “My bisexuality has been a hugely positive focal point that I can look to through my recovery process.”
Kimmy suggests, thoughtfully, “I think of bisexuality as a blessing.”
“It makes me a better person,” they say, “I’ve got a fuller understanding of the human experience because of it. I consider it like a double-exposure that creates ways of seeing and being that aren’t possible with a single take on the world.”
“I hope I can maybe offer someone else that same feeling. That it’s ok, you don’t have to be that or that; you can be this.” - Kimmy
Over and above everything, a feeling of community helps.
Caitlyn helped found her high school’s LGBTIQA+ community and says she’s connecting with many more people now, especially through her university’s club.
“It’s nice to get to talk with other bisexual people and feel less alone,” she says. “Having other people around with similar experiences helps validate what I’m feeling as real and true.”
“It was a relief to finally find my people,” Kimmy offers.
“I hope I can maybe offer someone else that same feeling. That it’s ok, you don’t have to be that or that; you can be this.”
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