Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article was published anonymously on Sept. 28, 2021 for fear of professional retaliation and to resist the heteronormative culture of ‘coming-out.’ In accordance with our ethics policy (which can be found in full in our bylaws), the 2021 Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editors of Michigan in Color are aware of the author’s identity. On Jan. 30, 2022, the author decided to update the article with the author’s name under the approval of the 2022 Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editors of Michigan in Color.
Since its inauguration in 1999, Sept. 23 concludes a week of pride and awareness for those of us who, you know, see on both sides as Frank Ocean put it in his groundbreaking track “Chanel.” But to be honest, this year’s Bisexual Visibility Day passed by quite ordinarily — in fact, I may have completely missed it. The month of June never really held any specific importance to me apart from exercising my eager allyship to the larger LGBTQ+ community because I didn’t quite know where I fit in. That and the rampant commercialization of Pride deepened my hesitation in participating in any form of liberating celebration. Nevertheless, this past Thursday felt eerily quiet. The first tri-colored post appeared on my Twitter feed as I was getting ready to go to bed, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss in letting Bi Visibility Day slip away from me.
Bi Visibility Day was founded by activists Wendy Curry, Michael Page and Gigi Raven Wilbur to address marginalization faced by the bisexual community and to celebrate bi experiences. In addition to providing an opportunity to uplift and recognize members of the bi community, this day of pride is particularly important because of bi-erasure, the questioning and invalidating of one’s bisexuality to the point of de-legitimizing their existence. This normalized tendency is perpetuated by people within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community, and its impact has led to detrimental effects for individuals who are bisexual. It is a key factor in the higher rates of anxiety and depression present in bi people as compared to gay and lesbian people due to isolation from the community at large. Moreover, bi-erasure threatens the livelihoods of bi people when they are excluded from policies that are meant to protect people on the basis of their sexual identity. In combating bi-erasure, bisexual political activism has come a long way in not only promoting the LGBTQ+ movement as a whole, but also making headway on legislative positions and focused support systems for the community. Working towards bi-visibility within mainstream society is an arduous journey, and at the individual level, it comes with its own unique set of baggage.
LGBTQ+ discourse in the mainstream forces the larger community into the narrative of a sexual binary: homosexual or heterosexual orientation. Bisexual identities, as well as trans identities, threaten what is accepted as legitimate or appropriate queerness. When seeking visibility, bisexual people are accused of taking up too much queer space. Visibility seems like an inappropriate demand from a group of people who generally have “straight-passing privilege.” But as Hannah McCann eloquently puts it in her piece for Archer Magazine, “Visibility is not about attention, it is about the possibility to exist, and to have one’s existence recognised.” It’s about not feeling the need to neglect, or even hide, a part of one’s identity.
Visibility is complex for those who are bisexual, and oftentimes, it entails the pressure of constantly having to prove our identities to others and to ourselves. While some feel burdened with the societal expectation to come out, others prefer to never explicitly label themselves. Regardless of one’s preference to be out, visibility is about the possibility to exist, and that requires a recognition of bisexuality as a valid identity. When that recognition doesn’t exist, it’s easy to internalize the societal discomfort that usually accompanies any orientation that is not monosexual. And at that point, discomfort and all, I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to be celebrating.
Am I celebrating the confusion? The severe internalized biphobia? The isolation? Being bisexual is nuanced in every way, and everyone has a different journey of discovering — and celebrating — who they are.
For me, Bi Pride is a chance to reflect on my own personal growth and draw inspiration from those who came before me. I wouldn’t be the person I say I am if I didn’t take the time to learn about individuals like Lani Ka’ahumanu. Ka’ahumanu is a feminist writer and activist whose work on the bisexual movement was published in a national lesbian and gay publication for the very first time in 1987. Her affirmative words encourage me to question why I accept invisibility in my own life. For Ka’ahumanu, coming out as bisexual simply means “I am drawn to particular people regardless of gender. It doesn’t make me wishy-washy, confused, untrustworthy, or more sexually liberated. It makes me a bisexual.” Similarly, I take pride in Freddie Mercury’s ambiguous sexuality despite facing heavy public scrutiny. His lifelong commitment to avoiding labels entirely and doing exactly what he wanted liberates my own confusion with self-definition. Diverse in their lived experiences, these trailblazers give me possibility — I see a tiny part of my identity within them, and I salute their authenticity.
In retrospect, maybe I do have something to celebrate, sitting tucked away in my little glass closet. And maybe you do, too. The beauty of bisexuality comes from its fluidity, and however you choose to live that truth is entirely up to you. So happy bi pride — whatever that may mean to you.
MiC Columnist Easheta Shah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.