Originally published as part of my ‘In Defence of…’ column in the Glasgow Guardian, April 2015.
I have one very specific memory of being a young teen, watching Skins, seeing Naomi and texting my older friend to ask when she knew she was a lesbian. I remember berating myself for being silly – I had never come close to being romantic with a girl – before realising that I wasn’t old enough to have been romantic with a boy either, yet no one questioned the posters of various successful men adorning my walls. In fact, no one told me I wasn’t old enough to know what I wanted when I was five years old and decided I wanted Ronan Keating to be my husband. (An offer which still stands.)
My question was not ‘how did you know?’ but came from a place of seeking validation – and wanting to know when I would be considered experienced enough to give myself that validation with total credibility. Nearly a decade later, it turns out that those studded belts and fingerless gloves really were just a phase, but this wasn’t – yet still any casual mention of my bisexuality catches in my throat.
The battle to be taken seriously is one that the bisexual community must confront on all sides, as they can often be marginalised just as severely in LGBT spaces – including, but certainly not limited to, accusations of straight-passing benefits directed at those in heterosexual relationships and the consequent implication that their sexuality is defined by who they are dating at that moment rather than by who they say they are. The LGBT community is permeated by the attitude that bi people just aren’t enough of one thing for their identity to be authentic, resulting in alienation and difficulties integrating with a population which should serve as a sphere of emotional refuge. If I had a pound for every time an outspokenly bisexual friend of mine in a relationship with another woman is referred to as a lesbian, I would have enough money to found a service dedicated to eradicating those worryingly high bisexual suicide rates. Research has shown that both in the UK and internationally, bi people are significantly more likely than other sexualities to suffer poor mental and physical health, live in poverty, or become victims of domestic violence. It’s important to note, however, that this is no case of competitive discrimination – what is crucial is that we understand that our struggles differ, affected by unique intersections of prejudice.
Stereotypes related to promiscuity fuel epidemic levels of hypersexualisation, plaguing bisexuality’s attempt to find its footing in a society which refuses to acknowledge it as anything beyond a grey area. Visibility in both the media and in legislation plays a vital role in the legitimisation of bisexuality, but also proves to be something of a catch-22; bisexual representation will increase as it finds greater society-wide acceptance, but that’s a tough thing to do without the helping hand of visibility along the way. The very definition of bisexuality faces controversy (in this column it assumes that of ‘attraction to ones own gender and other genders’), while there is pressure for all genders to fill equal percentages in a person’s attraction quota before they are entitled to the label. Even the process of ‘coming out’ can be an area of difficulty for bisexual people in a way that varies from the experiences of others: the lack of acceptance of bisexuality as a standalone orientation can lead to questions regarding whether it is something they should do at all. If someone does make the decision to announce themselves as bisexual, ensure they feel that they are enough no matter where they fall on any spectrum.