‘Cake or pizza?”
“You’ve got to have a favourite…”
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“I like both.”
“Bull. Which is it?”
“I really like both.”
“Ha. Call me when you’ve made up your mind.”
She’d laughed at me. And it wasn’t about cake or pizza. Until that moment, I’d been enraptured. Everything from her upturned jeans and the way she held herself, to the way her nose crinkled when she laughed.
I’d spent the entire evening dodging her gaze. When our pupils clumsily locked, lightning jolted down to my toes. She completely undid me. I was seventeen, out with a group of uni friends, in a gay bar, far enough away from my small town home to indulge my Sapphic cravings. Things had been going pretty well until I was casually outed by a pal.
I’d never claim to have been bullied because of my bisexuality – mostly, because it’s not apparent to the man in the street. Homophobia is a word burned into our lexicon through a lifetime of injustices, painfully etched into our collective social conscience. Biphobia, though, is a word most have never encountered.
It’s not built on a lifetime of mass persecution, so it’s easier to miss. It’s so casually insidious that it barely registers as tiptoeing out past the boundaries of PC. What’s worse, it comes from both the gay and straight communities. Even though most people know the word bisexual, its meaning is so distorted – and even feared – it erases the identity of a significant percentage of the population.
This week is bisexual awareness week. If you haven’t seen us before – hi. (We even have our own bold pink and blue flag, though you’d never know it.) We’re the hidden members of the LGBTQI community. The introverts at the big, gay rainbow party. Yet 0.3 million people – 10 per cent of Scottish people publicly identify this way. But that’s far from accurate. Recent studies have shown that as many as 28 per cent of bi people aren’t out. It’s 2015, and same sex marriage is now celebrated in the developed world, yet so many of us choose to live our lives in the closet. Why? Do we opt for a life of invisibility, or is it foisted upon us through society’s warped perceptions?
Despite bisexuality being commonly accepted, the scientific community is still on a quest to prove it. Until recently, there was no definitive proof that bi men even exist. When a perpetual question mark looms over you it does little for your self-esteem – even to the point that you may even begin to doubt yourself. Add to this the glaring absence of the bisexual community in the media, lesbian and gay communities, sex research, psychology, policy and legislation and you have rickety foundations for a robust sense of self.
On top of that, you can add the “just a phase” kicker. The seemingly innocuous phrase haunts us. What seems like a harmless comment denies our reality. Something that has often caused significant inner turmoil, and distress when it hasn’t been grown out of. Then there’s the fact that we’re forced to chameleon dependent on who we’re with. To the outside world, if a bi man is with a gay man, he becomes gay to the outside world – like Freddie Mercury, for example. Similarly, if a bi woman dates a straight guy, she cedes her identity to him. Where external denial meets invisibility, you erase all traces from the public conscience.
Bisexual women also have the honour of fuelling male fantasy. From the girl who kisses other girls at parties, to porn, to the easy bet for a three-way, our identity instantly sexualises us in the eyes of many. Rather than being an intrinsic part of who we are, it becomes opportunity to and for others. Factor in the double discrimination of being presumed promiscuous or more likely to pass on sexual diseases, and it’s a pretty hostile environment to step out into.
Then of course, there’s intersectionality – race, gender, religion, background, class, age and more shape the vignette of your sexual experience. With so much to control for, can you blame anyone for keeping quiet?
But living in a world where your sexuality is subject to constant doubt has consequences. It erodes who you are. And when that’s gone, you’re removed from the conversation. You become an afterthought. That’s no way to live, and the research proves it. Of all the non-heterosexual community, bisexuals suffer the worst mental health problems, with high rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide. All of these have been linked to biphobia and bi-invisibility. Bi people are also less likely to get best healthcare available to them due to a reluctance to honestly divulge sexual preference.
While we may not be at the forefront of identity oppression, it’s not healthy to spend your life in hiding. In a world that is beginning to understand the importance of embracing the full spectrum and colour of human gender and sexuality, we need to remember why that B has a place in that famous acronym and speak up. It’s our pride too, and we must embrace it.
So for the rest of this week and beyond, I will wave my little flag. Not only for myself, but for everybody else who has yet to find their voice.