Why Bisexual Visibility Is Important

Across the U.S., bisexuals are celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week, and today is Bi Visibility Day—the moment bisexuals everywhere lift their invisibility cloaks. While this isn’t Harry Potter, the invisibility of bisexual people is a very real issue, as these members of the LGBQT community tend to occupy a space along the margins that’s difficult to understand, even for their queer peers. People take advantage of the day to reach out with education and resources for the heterosexual and LGQT communities alike; and they get especially sassy on Twitter!

Bisexual people identify themselves in a variety of ways, but most would say that they’re attracted to two (or more) genders, pursuing both men and women. When it comes to bisexual visibility, people face a number of problems that tend to push their sexuality into the background, or that contribute to misconceptions about them. Bisexual Awareness Week provides an opportunity to help people understand what it means to be bisexual, and to counter biphobia—a lack of understanding about bisexuality that can contribute to dangerous social attitudes.

Some people think that bisexuality means that people date multiple partners at once. There actually is a term for this: Polyamory or nonmonogamy (not to be confused with polygamy, which involves multiple spouses). While some bi people do identify as poly, many don’t; but unfortunately, the myth that bisexual people aren’t monogamous and aren’t faithful persists, suggesting that bi people are promiscuous and incapable of commitment. Some partners may react badly when their counterparts come out as bi, assuming that by coming out, their partners are admitting to cheating.

At any given time, most bisexual people are dating only one partner, which tends to contribute to their invisibility. If a woman is dating a man, for example, people usually assume that she’s heterosexual, even if she’s actually bi—whether or not she has a history of dating women, she finds herself attracted to them along with men. Likewise, a man dating a man might be thought of as gay, but he may actually be bisexual. This is an even bigger problem with married couples, as onlookers may assume that both members of the couple are straight, erasing the sexuality and experience of one (or both!) partners.

Bisexuality is also sometimes treated as a “phase,” a particular issue in the gay and lesbian community. Some people argue that bisexual people who date within their own gender are just experimenting or going through a momentary period of adventurousness before returning to heterosexual dating, even when that’s not the case. These beliefs are reinforced when bisexual people enter heterosexual relationships, as though this is evidence that they’ve abandoned their bisexuality. The slang term “lesbian until graduation” (LUG) may be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s an accurate description of the way some people view bisexual adults. Conversely, bisexual men in particular are sometimes told that bisexuality is just a cover for really being gay.

One of the frustrating components of being bi, say many members of the bi community, is that they’re left on an island in the middle of the road. Heterosexual people say they’re not straight enough—and some homophobic partners refuse to date them due to their sexual history and orientation. Meanwhile, lesbian and gay people say they’re not lesbian and gay enough because they’ve dated people of the opposite gender. This leaves them without support networks in either community, and with a sense that their sexuality isn’t authentic. That can be stressful when coming out or seeking support from their communities.

Biphobia and invisibilization aren’t just terrible for bisexual people on a cultural level. They also have serious ramifications for things like health care, where many bi people report discrimination and harassment, and similar discrimination can spill over into housing and employment as well. Because many people aren’t familiar with bisexual issues, even those who are getting comfortable with the gay and lesbian community are still struggling with embracing the bi people among them.

Here are just a few notable people who have come out as bi: Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown; actress Gillian Anderson; musician Lady Gaga; athlete Nicola Adams; poet Edna St. Vincent Millay; and noted sexologist Edward Kinsey (who developed the Kinsey Scale commonly used to express sexual orientation). Many other people are living out and proud as members of the bisexual community.

Additionally, some members of the media and unfortunately the LGBQT community itself speculate about whether current and historical figures are or were bisexual—this retroactive or forced labeling, however, is not recommended. Even if someone (like Sappho) dated both men and women, she may not necessarily have identified as bisexual, and bisexual orientation hasn’t necessarily been a concept at all points in history and in all regions of the world. In other words, unless someone says she’s bi, don’t assume…but don’t assume she’s straight if you’ve only ever seen her dating boys, either!

Photo credit: Caitlin Childs

35 comments

Joy S
Joy S28 days ago

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Jessica K.
Jessica Kabout a year ago

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Anne B.
Anne Bell1 years ago

Awesome article. Thanks for share this and I enjoy reading. I recommend a resource may help you www.top10bisexualdatingsites.com and www.bipeoplemeet.com

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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jan b.
jan b2 years ago

I don't know why people's religious beliefs or sexual orientation or reproduction has become a govt or the public's business.

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Sue H.
Sue H2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jennifer Manzi
Jennifer Manzi2 years ago

Seems like every teenager thinks they're bi

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Miles F.
Miles Foster2 years ago

Jan N. asks 'What difference does it make if bisexuals are more visible, especially to onlookers?'

Surely the issue is the same as for gay people who for centuries had to be invisible to survive, the same issue as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Invisibility sends the message that your sexuality - a key element of your core identity - is unacceptable, ugly, offensive and that society requires you to keep it hidden. This has serious psychological consequences.

What does it matter if bisexual people DO announce it to everyone they meet?

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Christine Ko
.2 years ago

Cheers!

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Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau2 years ago

TFS :)

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