Ain’t no lie, baby (I’m) bi bi bi

As a bisexual (bi) woman and an ally to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, I’m looking forward to 23rd September - Bisexual Visibility Day.

Content Warning: This article discusses biphobia and homophobia

Also known as International Celebrate Bisexuality Day, this worldwide event has happened every year since 1999, to challenge biphobia (prejudice or discrimination against bisexual folk), celebrate the work of bi organisations, and give bisexual people a chance to be visible and celebrate their identity. In the spirit of this day, I thought I’d reflect on some experiences of being visibly bi for over 30 years.

I identify as female and had my first relationship with a woman over 30 years ago at the age of 26. It took some time to process my new experiences and feelings. I didn’t think I was a lesbian, but I didn’t even know that I could identify as bisexual, or that plenty of other bisexuals existed.

After finding out about bisexuality and coming out, I experienced the usual gamut of comments and opinions from the queer community. ‘Why can’t you make your mind up?’ ‘You shouldn’t be in queer space!’ Of course, plenty of misunderstanding and judgement came from the straight community too. Questions like, ‘do you want a threesome?’ were common. Dismissive and derogatory comments ranged from ‘it’s just a phase’ to ‘you’re disgusting’. 

Faced with rhetoric like this, it was a challenge to shape and hold on to my bi identity. I often felt like an impostor in queer spaces, and a misfit in straight spaces. So I set about trying to find, join and shape a bisexual community with the potential to address this.

My first experience of a bi community came from going on a bi women’s residential at a women’s holiday centre, where I met a group of other bi women, and was able to share experiences and challenges. Women came from all over the UK and Europe, and I felt that I had found the solidarity and community I’d been craving. After this I found myself part of planning, organising and publicising subsequent bi gatherings. Today, the bisexual community has colours to represent our sexuality, a flag, badges, stickers and more – all  things to make us more visible. But back when I was first out, none of this existed. So in those workshops we developed a bi symbol, and printed our own t-shirts.

A leaflet from a 1996 Bisexual Women’s Weekend – with the bi logo we developed on the right

Eager to connect with others in the community, in 1986, I attended my first Bi Conference. That and subsequent conferences have been part of my journey of owning and celebrating this marginal identity whilst being in the mainstream in many other ways. My movement into the political side of visibility came when I seconded a motion at the Labour Party Conference in 1986 on Lesbian and Gay Rights. At the end of the speeches we pushed noisily and hard for a vote to make the motion be published in the Labour Party Manifesto.

Over the years my bi activism has taken smaller, less visible steps, just by being open and out in different spaces, which I am lucky enough to do with comfort. I live proudly as a bi parent, as well as at work, and in my different volunteering and activist roles. This week, I was proud to be out with the LGBTQ+ group of people seeking asylum I met as part of the Everyday Activism programme. In my training sessions with them, I will be using my experience of being in one minority group  to strengthen my ability to facilitate the sharing of their experience of being on the margins. But there are places I choose not to be out. Recently, whilst leafleting for the new co-op being set up in Bradford, I was asked by a random stranger why I wasn’t married. In that moment, I wasn’t sure why he was asking, so I just brushed the question aside. Sometimes I have to prioritise my safety over being out and visible.

This year, I also had the pleasure of attending Pride in Leeds, an experience that was so different from my first Pride back in the early ’80s. Back then, it wasn’t in the centre of town, but on a small side road outside of town. It wasn’t just the location that changed, but the attitudes, too. During my first Pride experience, I was handing out leaflets to spectators when a woman spat at my feet and told me I shouldn’t be alive.

This year it was a huge event, with many different groups marching, and much of the town centre given over to the celebration. Multiple shops and stalls sported Pride banners, meaning that LGBTQ+ pride was present and visible throughout the city (although my cynical side felt that many businesses are merely capitalising on the event, wanting to cash in on the ‘pink pound’).

I joined the march with the Leeds Bi Group, and quite unlike the first Pride I experienced, I found myself marching in a street lined with supportive spectators. It felt like a royal parade, the way people cheered at our Leeds Bi group banner, and I saw many people waving bisexual flags from the sidelines. I had a tear in my eye, seeing so many bi people being out and visible.

Many people will still make comments that question my identity. Things like, ‘oh, I thought you would identify as a lesbian by now.’ That’s why I love the hashtag and website #StillBisexual, where people like me share their stories about having their bisexuality doubted or challenged. I’m hopeful that I won’t have to wait another 30 years before my identity and sexuality is accepted by everyone.

Leeds Bi group at Pride in Leeds 2018

 

 

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Jake is an activist from Brighton who has been involved in a range of campaigns, from housing and renters rights activism to campaigning for Palestinian solidarity.