Today marks the fourth year that Bi Visibility Day has been recognised and celebrated in the UK.
However, in the lead-up to this international day which aims to bring bisexual and non-monosexual (being attracted to more than one gender) identities into the public eye and celebrate them, I found myself explaining the concept of the day to many people – this itself being the exact reason we need days like this.
These sexual identities have taken a back seat time and time again as the LGBT movement has progressed in recent years, and it is due to cultural attitudes from both inside and out of the LGBT community that so many still have trouble around the concept of having more than one sexual preference.
I’ve spoken to two Stirling students – fourth year history student, Joe Davies, and international third year journalism student, Charlene Faye – about their relationship to sexuality in the hope that their stories will provide an insight into the reality of living as out non-monosexual people in 2017.
Joe, having only identified as bisexual for a matter of months, describes his sexuality as “being attracted to people regardless of gender”.
When questioned about his first inclination of possibly being bisexual, he went on to say that “Despite identifying as heterosexual for nearly all of my life, I’ve always found males attractive. Having my current group of friends around me has helped me explore this a lot more than I could have previously”.
He continued, explaining his early suspicions, saying that it was “crushes on celebrities at first. I think my first man crush was Ricky Martin, which says a lot about how long I’ve been attracted to men”.
For Joe it was exploring an attraction to men that led him to identifying with a less polar sexual identity, realising the feelings he had for women were still there but weren’t the only stirring he was having.
Charlene is a little different than Joe when it comes to labels, explaining her sexuality saying “I’ve been using the term pansexual to describe myself since about January. Prior to that, I basically refused to identify at all. I 100% knew I wasn’t straight ,but bi didn’t seem right either, so I kind of left it open ended for ages.”
Charlene then went on to talk about how she gets people to understand her sexual identity, commenting “Normally when the topic of sexuality comes up I just tell people I’m bi. It’s easier for them to digest”.
She went on to say that when she feels that people do understand bisexuality she will then explain pansexuality a bit more. This seems common for a lot of people I have met who feel like they need to use a simplified vocabulary to explain their identity to others.
We seem to live in a society in which you must fit into one of the three boxes of straight, gay or bi. Yet more often than not I find myself hearing others talk about their sexual identity with so much more complexity than one of these simplistic words.
Charlene reinforces this by explaining her use of the word pansexuality as “a broader, more inclusive term.”
Continuing, “that [it] means it isn’t just men and women, it’s people who are trans, non-binary. More so the person, not the gender, is what I am attracted to.”
Yet in my experience young people in 2017 seem to be more open minded with this less clear-cut sexual expression.
Talking about how those around her reacted to her as she began to express an un-gendered attraction to people, Charlene went on, “I didn’t have a formal coming out. I sort of developed a bit of a reputation as kind of this free spirit sort of hippy.
“So when I started hooking up with girls my friends weren’t surprised and then when I started to be more open about my attraction for both they were really accepting.”
Even older generations seem to be becoming a more progressive with accepting these less fixed sexual identities.
Joe had quite the unique experience of officially coming out to his parents during a Edinburgh Fringe show. He describes the story, “The show was hosted by a gay comedienne [Chloe Green], and she asked if there were any members of the audience who were a part of the LGBT community, I cheered. She came over and asked if I was gay. I said a little bit, she asked what I meant and I said I was bi. Cue shock from my mother sat next to me and awe from the comedienne”.
Joe went on to tell me about how after the show, Chloe Green came back to find him, get his name, a photo [above] and email because she felt had to tell this story.
Joe went on to talk about the aftermath within his family after this spectacular mid-show announcement, “Mum was surprised, despite the fact I’d been dropping hints and discussing gay culture with her all week. Dad was quiet for a bit and we still haven’t discussed it at length.”
He humorously added that “My brother claimed he knew already”.
This is maybe enforcing the idea that young people are getting more used to the fact that people can be more than one thing or another.
I then began to question both of them about what exactly bi visibility meant to them, and why they thought it was important in 2017 that we still had days like this.
Stating how important she felt this kind of visibility was, Charlene makes the point that “it can help a lot of people who are confused about their attractions.”
Adding, “There isn’t a lot of exposure regarding bi/pan people. So when I’ve talked to people who identify similarly they share similar sentiments about backlash from all sides. Some straight people think we’re confused and some people in the LGBT community have an issue with it.”
This idea of misconceptions and bi-phobia coming from LGBT people themselves is something that seems too common. Too often in my experience gay men fail to accept bi male identities and claim it is just an extension of the closet for many. Although bisexuality can be, and has been, a stepping stone for many gay-identifying people, it is a damaging perception that there is no in-between for attraction to male and females and one can happily identify as sitting in this middle ground.
I then wanted to find out about the representation of bisexuality on screen, asking Joe who his favourite bi character on screen.
He responded, “I can’t say I’ve ever noticed or considered whether someone on screen is bi or not, it’s never something I’ve been made aware of.”
When I asked if he thought more bisexual role models on our big and small screens would have been beneficial, he noted than “If they had helped me understand bisexuality more, then yes. It wasn’t until uni that I fully understood what it meant. But given where I grew up it would have been unlikely that any person I knew had identified themselves as bi”.
He went on discussing role models and bisexual celebrities, or the lack thereof, and eluded to the fact that more on screen bisexuality would have maybe helped him reach this sexual identity sooner.
He concluded stating the lack of representation “is a problem that goes beyond just sexuality,” saying that what Bi Visibility means to him is “accepting and then celebrating bisexuality and bisexual culture […] that you’re not what the majority of society considers to be “normal”.
After echoing that she also knows of no prominent on-screen bisexual characters, Charlene questioned “How are you supposed to normalise something if no one is exposed to it?”
She adds, “I need to see more bi characters on the screen. It’s like people like me don’t exist outside of poorly written fan fictions or Tumblr. It would have been so helpful if I had more exposure to it when I was younger – it might have saved me a lot of heartache, self hate, and confusion.”
I, too, feel like a more diverse range of on-screen sexuality would have benefited me greatly while figuring out exactly where I found myself on the beautiful spectrum of rainbow identities that now exists.
For years I was settled in the label of gay, with my attraction to mainly males making me think this was the only piece of vocabulary I could use to articulate my sexual preference. Yet recently, when I have found myself attracted to non-cis male people, I struggled in having the understanding, vocabulary and experience from screen representation to know exactly what this meant for my sexuality.
If there was more figures in the public eye with these less polarised sexual identities, I feel like a lot more people would approach the subject of multiple gendered attraction with much greater comfort and with less stigma.
As we go forward, a more diverse range of non-monosexual depictions could lead to a positive rise in more people finding a place they feel comfortable on the spectrum outside of the rigid archaic binary boxes.
A stand-out quote from Charlene seems fitting in rounding up all these ideas about visibility and representation of these identities,
“I want more bi visibility. I want people to know that this is a real identification and I love who I love the same as them. People need to be exposed to it so they have a better understanding of their own sexuality.”
HAPPY BI VISIBILITY FROM BRIG NEWSPAPER!
(P.S. Hats off to Stirling University LGBT society for creating the pun Bi-conic, well played)