Talking About It

Back in the Spring I was asked to participate as a living book at my local council’s “living library” for IDAHOBIT. We had to give a book name for ourselves so people would know what we would be talking about; mine was “What Does A Bisexual Look Like?”. Attendees were encouraged to choose the three “books” they wanted to listen to and were given 15 minute slots for each. I was very nervous that no one would be interesting in listening to me as the bisexual book but was really pleased that I had a full table for each time with people engaging well and asking questions politely. This is my story:

“I chose “What Does A Bisexual Look Like?” for my book title as there have been several times in the past when I have come out to friends and their response has been “oh, but you don’t look like a bisexual!”, to which my response has generally been, “what does one look like?”. Today I am clearly identified as a bisexual by my pink, purple and blue bi flag tshirt – for those who know what a bi flag looks like. Generally though, being bisexual can feel fairly invisible. If I’m walking down the street holding hands with my partner, people are most likely to make an assumption that I am either straight or gay based on the gender they perceive my partner to be.

“When I started a new job last year, I made the decision to be out to my. I had spent too much time previously selfediting by life, saying things like that I was going to visit friends for the weekend instead of talking about the bisexual convention I was actually attending. Being able to be my true self at work is a great feeling, but there is always some nervousness and fear as to what people’s reactions are going to be.

“A few weeks ago, a new member of staff joined us and again the game of how to come out started. It never seems right to introduce myself as “hi, I’m Emily and I’m bisexual!”, But finding a natural place in conversation to come out can, in my experience, be difficult, in addition to the stress of uncertainty about how they will react. This time, I half staged a conversation with another colleague about my plans for IDAHOBIT, helped by having not realised I’d ended up with purple paint all over my elbow from poster making the night before. The new member of staff seemed to take it in their stride and then waited until the end of the day when everyone else had left to ask me about the event and “how that came about”.

“Long story short, I ended up giving a half hour Bi 101 session with a little gender identity for beginners thrown in. I don’t really mind this, since coming out I try to encourage people to ask (respectful) questions as I’d rather educate them if I can. I feel that a lot of the negative stereotypes that people have about bi people comes from ignorance and poor representation in the media. However, it does make me a little sad that this is necessary; that I have to explain what my sexual orientation is instead of it just being accepted. That I have to explain that I don’t have to have had sex with people of different genders to identify as bi. That I don’t have to have “a boyfriend and a girlfriend” at the same time to be bi. That the sexual orientation of my partner is also questioned. And whether I ever want to get married, or have children.

“Since coming out, I have been privileged to work in environments where people have tended to be open and understanding about having a different romantic/sexual attraction to them, though it might not be something they understand or have come across before. However, I am aware of bi people who have been refused promotions because they are seen as flaky or outright been fired due to their orientation.”

“Today I drove past the local police training centre where they were flying, among others, a bi flag for IDAHOBIT. I had previously had a discussion with them where they asked if the rainbow flag still covered bi and trans people. I explained that it did however, just as LGBT* often gets shortened to “gay”, it is also great when the B and T get recognised separately in their own right as they can sometimes be lost. It was nice that they were receptive and they borrowed my flag to fly today. When I saw their video of the bi flag being raised, it gave me goose bumps. To have my orientation so publicly acknowledged and supported was an amazing feeling. They have also pledged to buy proper bi and trans flags for future events such as Bi Visibility Day and Trans Day of Remembrance. Unfortunately, displays like this are, in my experience, few and far between. Indeed, even today, the day we publicly stand together against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, hashtags and memes are often for IDAHOT; even the international page though covering biphobia in their full name still insists on erasing bi’s experiences by promoting IDAHOT.

“Sometime, it’s hard being the lone bisexual voice. As a bisexual activist, it often falls to me to stand up and insist that people use the whole LGBT* acronym instead of just shortening it to “gay”. When I’ve approached LGBT groups or organisations in the past to do bi specific events, their response is often that they don’t think there are any bi people in their group/organisation. Is it any wonder that people don’t feel comfortable being out as bi with such attitudes? It’s nice to know I’ve had some impact though, when an ally is the one to stand up, or to tackle a biphobe on social media.”

Emily