4 Historical Figures You Never Knew Were Bisexual

Over the years, society has attempted to erase LGBT historyVulnerable youth don’t often see themselves in schoolbooks. Meanwhile, adults get an inaccurate view of the past – and an excuse to discriminate.

After all, too many bigots treat LGBTQ people like a new trend, rather than a resilient population who’s been here the whole time.

And those who have had relationships with people of more than one gender face even more invisibility.

A contributing factor may be the fact that the word bisexual is relatively new – as with similar terms, like pansexual. Additionally, stigma has prevented people from being open about their sexual orientation for a long time.

But the LGBT community has always been here. In honor of Celebrate Bisexuality Day on September 23, here are a few historical figures that could be considered bisexual today.

1. Emily Dickinson

The famed poet wrote impassioned letters to writer Susan Gilbert for years. As Autostraddle notes, Gilbert’s sister later removed the evidence of same-sex attraction when she later published the correspondence.

In “Surpassing the Love of Men,” Lillian Faderman writes, “Since love between women had become in her day an abnormality, if Emily Dickinson were suspected of lesbianism, the universality and validity of her poetic sentiments might even be called into question.”

2. Billie Holiday

The celebrated jazz singer of the 1930s was openly bisexual. Billie Holiday dated a range of people, including actress Tallulah Bankhead.

She also married three men over her lifetime before she died in her 40s. Holiday’s lifetime struggles with drug addiction, abusive relationships and racism eroded her, but her art lives on.

3. Malcolm X

The black civil rights leader was likely bisexual. According to Bruce Perry’s biography, Malcolm X had relationships with men in his late teens and early 20s, as well as engaged in male sex work, before he married activist Betty Shabazz.

“Right now, there is not a single living black person who is a worldwide household name and who is also openly gay. That’s why the issue of Malcolm X’s sexuality is so important,” writes Peter Tatchell in the Guardian.

Tatchell later adds, “Despite the downsides of his anti-white rhetoric, black separatism and religious superstition, [Malcolm X] was America’s leading spokesperson for black consciousness, pride and self-help.”

4. Eleanor Roosevelt

The influential first lady to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt fought ferociously for human rights. She also maintained a number of close relationships with women — some of which may have been romantic.

Take journalist Lorena Hickok. In their correspondence, Hickok and Roosevelt wrote about their wishes to live together,  how much they loved and missed each other and a desire to be in each others’ arms.

Some may claim that we should focus on these historical figures’ accomplishments, rather than the people they loved. But sexuality — or lack thereof – is a part of everyone’s story.

After all, it impacts who people marry, love and spend time with, as well as the discrimination they face. Ignoring such a big part of these individuals’ lives does a disservice to everyone — bisexual and otherwise.

Photo Credit: Paul Simpson/Flickr

73 comments

heather g
heather gabout a month ago

Noted, thanks

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Lisa M
Lisa M1 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M1 months ago

Noted.

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H M
H M1 months ago

Nice to see so many people want bisexual erasure enough to comment on how little they care if bisexual folks have any role models. Nope, best to admit how much you needed the twenty damn points to save some precious animal rather than click on some other article.

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Carl R
Carl R1 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s1 months ago

Okay

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s1 months ago

Okay

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s1 months ago

Okay

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mmmm w
mmmm w2 months ago

well, well, there you go

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Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!

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