Pride Month 2023
29 Jun 2023 - Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
What is ‘bi’ or ‘bisexual’?
The term bisexual is part of the western tradition of viewing sexuality through the eyes of a scientist. The terms homosexual and heterosexual were created in the late 19th century to classify people as either mainly attracted to the same gender (homo) or the opposite gender (hetero). By the early 20th century, a third label became required for those people who held no strong preference and ‘bisexual’ was born. Over time the definitions of homosexual and heterosexual have become stricter and more absolute (‘only’ attracted to, rather than ‘mainly’ attracted to) and in parallel our concept of sexuality has become more rigid and fixed.
The term ‘bi’ is an inclusive umbrella term that encompasses all identities that hold a sexual or romantic attraction to more than one gender, including bisexuality.
Being bi defies the common understanding of sexuality and gender. It challenges the idea that sexuality is unchanging or that people can only be attracted to one or the other. This challenge is met by a society which often erases bi identities from our culture, our history and our media. This erasure leads to bi identities being ignored, or dismissed, or re-explained as something else and some argue that bi identities don’t exist at all.
The history of the term ‘bi' and 'bisexual’
There are countless examples in history of bi individuals who are viewed as ‘close friends’ or ‘best buddies’ and identity can be dismissed a hundred ways: ‘you know how close women can be…’. Many famous individuals had relationships with both sexes, from Lord Byron to Eleanor Roosevelt. It is something that has flown under the radar of many, due to homophobia or lack of awareness.
The Lovers of Modena were discovered in an archaeological dig in 2009, two skeletons buried with their hands interlocked lying side by side. They were buried sometime during the 5th century and, as the name “Lovers of Modena” suggests, they were seen as a beautiful example of the bonds of love existing throughout time. After a bit of investigation though they found out the two skeletons were both male and revised their lover status, now saying they were likely to just be siblings, or cousins, or close friends, or soldiers who had died together in battle…
The way society discusses and speculates on the sexuality of cultural figures often erases bi identity. Often straight people are speculated to be gay or lesbian, without any consideration of bisexuality. To many, bisexuality is often seen as a ‘cover’ for being gay or lesbian which leads to the identity being dismissed as illegitimate. These attitudes are seen in the stats, with 36% of bi people comfortable telling their friends about their sexuality, compared to 74% of gay and lesbian people, and 20% of bi people comfortable telling their family, compared to 63% of gay and lesbian people.
From both the straight and LGBTQ+ communities, bi individuals are often vilified as promiscuous, greedy, confused, or noncommittal. Within the LGBTQ+ community bi people are often made to feel unwelcome or gatekept out. The effect of this is much higher rates of depression and self-harm in bi people than their gay and lesbian counterparts, and lower rates of social and community engagement.
Promoting bi-visibility is an important counter to this. It reminds us that bi people exist, that their identities are real and that they suffer because of the stereotypes we still allow to permeate our society.
How can people create an inclusive environment for Bi friends, family and colleagues?
“To reveal my sexuality to someone is special. One thing that strikes me as problematic is someone saying, “oh that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care, I see everyone as the same.” I know this response is meant to make me feel at ease, but what it actually does is take away how much of myself I’ve given to that person. A better response would be “thank you for trusting me enough to tell me that”.
“I realise no one wants to think they treat people differently because of their identity, race, gender etc, but the fact of the matter is we do. We all have our own biases that we are trying to unlearn. Know that when someone comes out to you, especially if they take you aside to tell you, know that what they are doing is revealing something deeply personal about themselves that even their family may not know.”