Yesterday was Bisexual Visibility Day, which is a day to celebrate bisexuality, bisexuals, and bisexual history. As of last year, the week beginning on the Sunday before September 23rd has been Bisexual Awareness Week. As a bisexual myself, I wanted to honor both today with a discussion of Bisexual Visibility Day, the concept of bisexual erasure (which is part of the reason for Bi Visibility Day), and my own coming out, which has occurred several times over the years privately and which happened more publicly yesterday on Facebook. This is the first post in a new category, Bi the Way, in which I’ll discuss my own bisexuality as well as topics in bisexual history, literature, etc. in the future.
Bisexual Visibility Day
Then called (and still also known as) Celebrate Bisexuality Day, Bisexual Visibility Day was first celebrated on September 23rd, 1999. The holiday came about because of the efforts of three bisexual rights activists: Wendy Curry, Michael Page, and Gigi Raven Wilbur. They recognized that bisexuals have experienced prejudice and marginalization and were largely invisible, even within the LGBT+ community, and wanted to have a party to celebrate bisexuality. They decided on September because it was the month in which Freddie Mercury, who was bisexual and whom they all loved, had been born.
Having grown up listening to Queen, this makes me happy. But wait, Freddie was born September 5th, so you may wonder: why does the day fall on the 23rd? Well, Gigi Raven Wilbur’s birthday happened to be September 23rd, which fell on a weekend that year, so once they’d decided on the month they decided on that as the day to encourage more participation. You can find out some of the things that have happened on each Celebrate Bisexuality Day/Bi Visibility Day here.
Also called bisexual invisibility, bisexual erasure is when bisexuality is ignored, and sometimes outright denied to exist. Sometimes bisexuality is ignored or denied blatantly through manipulation or misrepresentation of information, such as this example I came across of Freddie Mercury’s bisexuality being explained away in a Rolling Stone article. In daily life, bisexuals tend to encounter this with people assuming we’re confused, just wanting attention, or that we’re actually homosexual but afraid to admit it.
Bisexual erasure also commonly happens when people assume that people in same sex partnerships are homosexual and that people in opposite sex partnerships are heterosexual. This doesn’t just happen with those outside the LGBT+ community. Even Gigi, mentioned above as one of the creators of Celebrate Bisexuality Day, said that she had been conditioned by society to label couples as either gay or straight based on the perceived gender of their partnerships. Although it may be societal conditioning to do this, being aware of it, we can then make a conscious effort not to make assumptions.
Besides not assuming the sexual orientation of people, one way we can combat bisexual erasure is through word choice. For example, when the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriages are protected under the 14th amendment, I noticed many people referring to the decision in relation to “homosexual couples”, “gay marriage” and so on. Although probably not intentional, this type of word choice left out bisexuals with same sex partners. Thus, when I wrote about it, I used phrases like “marriage equality”, “same sex couples” and so on as I wanted to be sure to be inclusive.
Coming Out as Bisexual
Due to the issue of bisexual erasure and the fact that I’ve often been assumed to be heterosexual, I’ve had to decide whether to come out and to whom several times in my life, and I’m sure that I will do so many more times. Usually I tell people I’m bisexual if they specifically ask about my sexual orientation or if there is an existing conversation in which I can mention it, if I don’t let the moment pass, which I too often have. It’s hard to pinpoint when I first came out because, when I look back, I know I have always been bisexual. I remembering discussing attraction to both men and women as early as high school, but I was slow to identify myself specifically as “bisexual”. I’ll save the process of trying to figure out how to identify and accepting bisexuality as part of my identity for another post.
Although I’ve been willing to talk about being bisexual one on one and have acknowledged being bisexual in small public ways, such as by having a Bi the Way board on Pinterest, I realized a few months ago I have not been overly open about it either and that this has been harmful. It’s been harmful to me because I have felt like I’m hiding a part of myself and letting a part of my identity to be assumed for me. And I think it’s also been a disservice to other bisexuals, especially those who are not out to anyone–apparently 72% of us are not out to all or most of the important people in our lives–or those who are just discovering their bisexuality.
So, I decided over a month ago that I would come out yesterday on Bisexual Visibility Day. Even though I already knew I wanted to publicly come out and roughly how, I was nervous all day to do so and waited until literally the last minute of the day to post a status introducing the concept of bi-erasure and myself as a bisexual with a profile picture change to a cropped version of the one you see in this post. So far, the response has been supportive, both from those for whom the announcement changes nothing, and from many who confirmed wait I had suspected: there were other bisexuals who had benefitted from knowing that I am too.