20th Bi Visibility Day still a double-edged challenge for bisexuals

We’ve come a long way since the first Bi Visibility Day in 1999, as signified by the recent coming out of NFL player Ryan Russell. From music icon Janelle Monae to beloved Grey’s Anatomy character Callie Torres (bi actress Sara Ramirez), the representation of bisexuality in popular culture is better than ever. 

Unfortunately, bisexual people still face pressure every day to perform and justify their identity regardless of the gender of their partner. As brave individuals from every walk of life step forward and take up space as their authentic selves, iIt’s up to all LGBTQ+ people to shore up the progress we’ve made by being fiercely supportive of our bi loved ones and acknowledging the unique challenges that bi folks face. 

Bisexual people are more likely than their LGT peers to be closeted.

Bisexual people are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and STIs.

Bisexual people face stigma from without and within the LGBTQ+ community.

There is a popular perception that bisexual people have it easy: We can retreat into hetero-normative culture whenever we want. But there is nothing easy about having to justify your existence to pretty much everyone in your life. There’s nothing easy about explaining to your doctor that you have diverse risk factors that you need help managing. There’s nothing easy about having to come out again every time you start a new relationship. 

Yes, bi people do have some privilege, just as all of us in the community experience varying degrees of privilege and oppression throughout our lives. There is no reason that we should respond to that privilege with stigma, erasure or biphobia. 

Within the LGBTQ+ population, almost everyone experiences identity shifts over time. It’s what makes us human. In other groups, this growth is celebrated as an individual gets to know themselves better and continues to seek and live their truth in the moment. 

For bisexual people, it is seen as a defect. So often, bi people face the stereotype that we are experimenting, going through a phase, or just can’t make up our minds. Skipping past the fact that these are all untrue, let’s look at the hostility towards the personal journey that underpins such myths. 

If a man comes out as bi and later decides he only wants to date men, the perception is often that he was always gay and bisexuality was just a pitstop for him. This ignores the fact that he might still identify as bi while trivializing his personal journey and coming out story as “just a phase.” If a bi woman expresses her sexual attraction to the same gender, many perceive her as simply performing for the male gaze. 

Both of these scenarios operate on the patriarchal assumption that bi people are more attracted to men, and it will only be a matter of time before they settle down with one. Maybe they will settle down with a masculine person. But if they do, that doesn’t mean they aren’t bi — it just means they fell in love with a man.

Orientation is defined by what is in your heart, not by who you date. So if you want to support your bisexual loved ones this September, take some time to celebrate their identity. 

If you have a bi friend in a hetero-presenting relationship, send them a card on Sept. 23.

If you have a family member that is intimate with a variety of genders, help them find a bi-supportive medical provider or therapist. 

If you hear a friend make a disparaging remark about bi people (“Never date a bi person,” “They’re just greedy,” “Bi people can’t commit,” “They’ll just cheat on you,” “So when’s the threesome?”, etc.), remind them that stigma and phobia have no place in our community. 

You never know who in your circle is bi and too scared to come out. Take some time this month to remind your friends and family that you support bisexual people, that you see them, and that you celebrate who they are every day - especially on Bi Visibility Day.

Shannon Clawson is Statewide Outreach Organizer with Georgia Equality. [email protected]

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue online here:

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