When I first came out as bisexual at age 16, I was on my own personal journey toward understanding the fluidity of sexuality and gender. I realized early on that I felt passionately and wanted to work toward LGBTQ equality as my career, and I am one of the lucky people able to make a living doing exactly what I’d hoped. For the past three years at Freedom for All Americans, I’ve worked in communications to help build a media narrative about the importance of passing nondiscrimination protections and policies that improve the lived experiences of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. For four years prior to that, I worked for a national organization dedicated to winning marriage for same-sex couples. Every day, I am surrounded by beautiful, brilliant queer people who inspire me personally and professionally.
Angela Dallara, 2nd from L.
But the truth is, even in queer communities, bisexual-specific studies, stories, data, research, and general cultural inclusion are lacking. It’s a common assumption that winning the freedom to marry, winning LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, passing anti-bullying laws, and ending the harmful practice of so-called conversion therapy are all victories that automatically include bisexuals, so bi-specific spaces or causes are superfluous and there is no pressing need to invest in or provide funding for organizations or programs that cater specifically to bi+ communities.
The irony of a movement in which “gay” has become a default umbrella term is that many studies show that a greater percentage of LGBTQ people identify as bisexual than gay, yet there is little semblance of a visible bisexual community in America. The negative impact of that is difficult to ascertain. For decades, there were rampant stereotypes about bisexuality, both universally and gendered, that are only beginning to be overcome: Bisexual women are lying because they want to be more attractive to straight men. Bisexual men are lying because they’re afraid to come out as gay. Women who actually are bisexual are promiscuous. Men who actually are bisexual are not only promiscuous — they’re responsible for the spread of AIDS. Bisexuals of all genders are polyamorous by definition and can’t commit. Bisexuals are transphobic by nature of their identity.
We all know the anecdotal positive impacts of community spaces and visibly seeing and knowing others who have things in common with ourselves, and who are like us. There is a unique loneliness in being in queer spaces for so much of my life, and rarely having any of those spaces be bisexual-specific — a space where by default, I know that the overwhelming majority of people are like me. Where I don’t have to make a big show of coming out or interrupt myself to explain myself or wait to be asked or assumed. Those spaces and representation in American culture matters.
Indeed, despite notions and stereotypes that bisexuals enjoy straight privilege half the time or don’t suffer the hardships that gay and transgender people face, there are concrete harms and unique types of discrimination associated with being bi+ — which is a modern term for describing people who are bisexual, pansexual, fluid, or are romantically, physically, or emotionally attracted to people of more than one gender, in behavior or identity. Bisexual people are the least likely in the LGBTQ population to be out to our doctors. We suffer higher rates of anxiety, mood disorders, and mental health illnesses. Our rates of attempted suicide are comparable to those in the transgender community. And bisexual women are at greater risk of rape and sexual violence than non-bisexual women. These truths don’t live in a vacuum. When bisexual people are at higher risk than non-bisexual people for violence or negative health outcomes, we cannot fail to make a correlation to the lack of visibility, history, community, and spaces that we have been able to create in order to take care of ourselves and live confident, authentic lives.
All of us who work on LGBTQ issues have an obligation to provide a place for bisexual inclusion in our professional work if our goal is truly to advance our movement forward. We must highlight bisexual-specific voices and perspectives in support of LGBT policy priorities. But it doesn’t end there. National LGBTQ organizations should actively push bisexual people forward to give testimony in front of legislatures and courts. We should do research and testing on the best messages to effectively increase support and understanding of what bisexuality means. And we should make a proactive effort to hire more bisexual people and ensure bisexual representation. To fully value bisexual identities and issues, we need to open our minds to a greater understanding and consideration of what it means to be LGBTQ as a whole. For those who desire an even greater dose of bisexual support, BiNet USA, Bisexual Resource Center out of Boston, and the Bisexual Organizing Project out of Minneapolis are incredible resources year-round. The BECAUSE conference is a bisexual-specific conference that provides some of the only workshops and networking opportunities of its kind. The Movement Advancement Project has also released a compelling study on the Bi+ community as “the invisible majority,” which you can read here.
Celebrations like BiWeek offer the visibility that I believe bisexuals don’t often realize we are aching for and which we struggle to articulate. They give us the opportunity to feel a stronger sense of the shared community, pride, and knowledge and understanding of our history and experience that we see many of our loved ones in the gay and transgender communities carry with them. I’m encouraged and inspired by the more inclusive, open, welcoming ways that the LGBTQ movement has grown and embraced bi+ people in recent years. I hope and believe that we can only grow in our support for each other as LGBTQ+ people, and that we’ll always embrace what we have in common over the ways we are different.