I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there’s been a Bisexuality Awareness (or Bi Pride) Day since 1999. Then immediately chagrined that I hadn’t known that.
You are likely familiar with the ongoing dialogue around identity and language – affectionately dubbed “the alphabet soup” debate. Is it LGBT, GLBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQI, etc? In the midst of that dialogue is a lot of other “isms” – racism, classism, sexism and more. Part of the more is our internalized homophobia which often manifests as biphobia.
I’ve heard prominent leaders in our community joke that bisexuals don’t exist in Pittsburgh. I’ve received multiple inquiries – some polite, others not so much – about covering bisexual issues, the lack of bisexual programming, the lack of visibility. I’ve had many, many long discussions about identity and language as a woman who dated men for 10 years and then came out.
I count many bisexual individuals among my friends and acquaintanced, but only one – Reverend Dr. Janet Edwards – is openly so. Being on trial in front of the entire Presbyterian Church tends to make visibility inevitable, but Janet has embraced the chance to explore how bisexual identity impacts our culture.
She recently wrote:
Sharing our identity together as bi can be comforting, but beyond that, we can have very different ideas about how to live our lives.
Bisexuals are not like the gay and straight communities, where people are naturally drawn to one another based on clear orientation identities. Within the bi community, we can feel like strangers to one another, since we could be either this or that, even to each other.
What, then, does always being the stranger mean for me?
I think she really hits the nail on the head. There’s no one bisexual identity and we have a tendency to overlook that fact – perhaps an extension of our ongoing fear of a constantly evolving identity and what that means for ourselves. We fear that bisexual men and women tap into heterosexual privilege, “passing” as it were. But I’m well aware that I myself “pass” as a heterosexual woman – just another doddering middle aged white woman. And while I don’t lie about it, I sometimes let assumptions go unchallenged. So who am I to judge on that count?
Our assumptions ripple into the general community – I know at least three teachers who identify as bisexual, but are wary of “coming out” as a community leader out of concern of how parents will react. I have several other friends who are in relationships with someone of the opposite gender and they are figuring all of that out on their own because of the “stigma” of being accused of passing or copping out or some other such stuff.
Pittsburgh is caught in a bit of a vicious cycle where our local LGBTQ culture is not very bifriendly and the bisexual folks who are searching for visbility aren’t comfortable taking that step out. We can help to change that and be better allies to the bisexual community
- Include the B. Use LGBT, not lesbian if you are describing women in the community. Yes, we know that mainstream culture is going to continue using “gay” as shorthand, but we know better and we can make the effort to include Bisexual (and Trans) identities in our language.
- Ask. Ask the bisexual people that you know how to create a more welcoming, affirming space or event or program.
- Stop the jokes/stereotypes.
- Educate ourselves. There are great resources on the interwebs.
From my volunteer work with the GLCC and as a blogger/advocate, it is clear to me that there is a desire for visible bisexual programming – a discussion group perhaps or a social group or something. But it’s not my place to organize such a thing for my bisexual sisters and brothers. So the challenge to me and to other leaders and organizations is to continue pushing back against biphobia and building a supportive culture – to create a safe space for someone to step forward to get this ball rolling.