Note: I use the term bi+ in this article to include anyone who identifies as bisexual, pansexual, multi-gender attracted etc.
Once upon a time, at a queer event not so long ago, I casually mentioned that I was in a relationship while chatting to some strangers.
“So you didn’t bring your partner tonight?”
“Oh, no. He’s not queer, so I didn’t bring him. I’m here with my friend.”
“But … are you queer?”
If you’re a bi+ person in an opposite-sex relationship, this situation may be all too familiar. You turn up to a queer event, hoping to meet some new people and fulfil a desperate need to belong, when the inevitable moment arrives: you must reveal your partner’s pronoun. If you’re a ‘she’ in a relationship with a ‘he’ (or vice versa), your queerness is immediately questioned. If you’re a cis woman with a femme appearance, or a cis man with a masc appearance, you could be treated with suspicion and even anger.
“It’s just that … you don’t look queer.”
“Are you actually telling the truth?”
“If you’re here to crash our party, please leave.”
Such comments cut deep into the old wounds of bi+ people. It’s extremely common for us to have our identities erased based on a) the perceived gender of our partner(s) and b) our individual appearance and whether it adheres to a certain queer code. To push back against this erasure, many of us are forced to come out over and over again. Whether with family, friends, work colleagues or strangers, we must fight every day to voice and validate our bi+ identities.
And it’s exhausting.
For me, coming out has been an ongoing process of educating the people in my life that no, I haven’t turned gay/straight yet and that yes, it IS important to talk about the fact that I’m a bi+ femme gal in a relationship with a hetero cis dude – and proud of it, babe! Only by proudly proclaiming the bi+ label have I begun to shield myself from the harms of biphobia: a menace that seeks to wear me down from all sides. Including from within.
Internalised biphobia is a pervasive issue for many bi+ folks. My own internalised biphobia started young, with the likes of Katy Perry’s 2008 smash hit I Kissed A Girl encouraging me to experiment with kissing girls, laugh it off and hope ‘my boyfriend don’t mind it’. At this time, performative lesbianism was common in the media (the Madonna-Britney and Madonna-Christina kisses at the 2003 MTV Awards, anyone?!). Girl-on-girl action was encouraged for the benefit of the male gaze, not as a genuine expression of bisexual or lesbian desire. A bit of drunken fun was okay, sure, but if you appeared too enthusiastic … well, you were worse than slutty. You were a ‘lezzo’ and a ‘muff-muncher’.
Such insults were hurled my way in high school. It stung my fragile sense of self, but not for the reasons you might think. I was more confronted by the implication that I was into girls and girls only, than by the callousness of these words. Were they right? Was I a lesbian? I knew I liked girls, but the labels ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ just didn’t sit right under my skin. And I sometimes felt attracted to boys, too. (Note: I had no idea what non-binary meant at that age.)
I have good ol’ MySpace to thank for the discovery of the term ‘bisexual’. There, I stumbled across young people whose bisexuality was splashed across their oh-so-arty profiles. The bisexual label felt right, and I began to whisper it into my pillow at night: “I’m bisexual. I’m bi-sexual. Attracted to multiple genders.”
Saying this to myself made it sound real at a time when I felt no one else would be able to hear me, and still love and accept me. I didn’t know any other bisexual people. I was a lonely bi in the insular world of my small coastal town. Or so I thought.
In the years after high school, I discovered that I’d had bi+ and queer friends all along. Yes, folks, the rumours are true – there are queers in the country! I genuinely feel like cosmic energy drew us all together. Although we weren’t aware of each other’s diverse sexualities, there was a shared understanding that we were unique and different to the other kids at school. As my friends gradually came out to me, I kept thinking, “It all makes sense now! There’s this piece of you I couldn’t quite place and now it fits.” I’m still close with these beautiful bi+ and queer humans today.
I’m now living in a regional area south of Sydney. When I moved here three years ago, I hardly knew anyone. I was both excited and terrified of making connections in the local queer community. As lovely and welcoming as they turned out to be, I’m ashamed to say that I avoided mentioning I had a (male) partner for fear of rejection and judgement. I’ve gradually become brave enough to mention it, and for the most part, people have been supportive and welcoming of him, too. I’ve even brought him along to some queer events and held his hand.
For me, holding my male partner’s hand in a queer space is a huge step in unpacking my internalised biphobia. It might surprise lesbian and gay people to know that bi+ folks struggle with such conflicts. You might think it’s easy for us, being bi+ and passing as straight in a heteronormative world. I acknowledge that passing as straight privileges me – but what I want more than anything is to be visible.
So, in the spirit of Bisexual Visibility Day aka Celebrate Bisexuality Day, what I want is to be celebrated and loved for all that I am; not just the parts of me that society deems acceptable. I want anyone and everyone to know that I’m the ‘B’ in LGBTIQ+ and proud of it!
I also want young people growing up today to have access to the education, advocacy and community connections they need to embrace their bisexuality, pansexuality, multi-gender attraction, or whatever their preferred term might be. And I want them to know that you don’t have to pick a side, or even a label, to belong in the bi+ community. We love people of all genders and sexualities – and you are welcome here. <3
Check out some of our awesome Bisexual t-shirt ranges here.
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