Growing Up Bisexual (B Visibility Day '19)

[Image description: Blue, pink and purple digital bubble writing on a white background, reading: “to every kid who is GROWING UP BISEXUAL, you are valid. you are seen. you are loved.”]

Article by Amelia A. J. Foy

Happy Bisexual Visibility Day! On this day, we celebrate ourselves as bisexual people in a world that often overlooks our community in both a heteronormative sense and as a part queer culture. Despite the B in LGBTQ+ standing for bisexual and our long history in the fight for queer liberation, we are often left out of narratives surrounding LGBTQ+ issues and experiences. For example, you’ve probably never seen a coming-of-age story where the character is discovering their bisexual identity in the same way you have movies like Love, Simon or the plethora of other straight films about young romance. This is because bisexuality is often framed as being both gay and straight; however, the issues our community faces are unique to bisexual+ people (those who are multi-gender attracted) and, whilst I definitely saw myself in Love, Simon and cried my eyes out, it did not wholly encapsulate my experience.

Seeing actual bisexual representation in the media now warms my heart, but it is few and far between: actually getting it right is even rarer. Sure, Glee had a bisexual character when I grew up watching it, but her ex-girlfriend then gets with a lesbian and says, “now I don’t have to worry about my girlfriend straying for penis”, so it didn’t really do much for me. Especially as a young, confused teenager.

This is why we need visibility. Now, visibility is not the be-all-end-all of our liberation or acceptance into culture. Visibility can often come at the price of facing more danger and being hypervigilant, and places the onus of acceptance on marginalised people not “putting themselves out there” more. Many bisexual people also aren’t visible for many reasons, one of which being for their own safety, and another being that we are often read as either gay or straight based on our partnering at the time. It erases a massive part of our experience.

However, this is why visibility is particularly important to the bisexual community. Bi-erasure and invisibility is linked to the rates of poor mental health within our community specifically, because it is a unique challenge we face. Then, if we come out, we face exclusion from queer and heterosexual spaces alike, and social exclusion is also correlated with worse mental health. In fact, bisexual people face higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidality than not just heterosexual people, but lesbian and gay people, too. We also encounter higher rates of sexual assault/harassment, which is particularly problematic considering many of our stereotypes centre on our “greediness” and “promiscuity”. Yet, despite a plethora of research showing us to be the most vulnerable sexual minority community, our issues are neglected, belittled and written off. Most people don’t even know how much we are suffering.

Growing up bisexual was a big confusing mess as a result. I came out seven years ago, aged 14, to the immediate reaction of “it’s a phase” from my family, meaning that I had to navigate this self-discovery on my own, quietly. Throughout the next few years, I encountered a slew of biphobic remarks and experiences:

  1. “I turned you bisexual.” Ah, yes, I couldn’t have liked girls for ages and repressed it due to compulsory heterosexuality. That would be ridiculous. It must be your godlike attraction.
  2. “I wouldn’t marry a bisexual because what if they wake up and want a man?” I was definitely about to propose to you in the middle of history class, so thanks for letting me down gently.
  3. “But you’ve never dated girls before.” My nerdy ass hadn’t dated anyone before. Thinking back on this one, how weird is it to demand a 14- or 15-year-old to have a dating history to idenitify as bisexual?
  4. “You’re too young to know.” Cool, but all the straight kids know they’re heterosexual from the jump, right?
  5. Being in a queer toxic relationship and having no idea where to go because there were no resources for LGBTQ+ students and I had no adult support network because I was bisexual in a queer relationship… Can I get a yikes?
  6. “Is the correct term bisexual or desperate?” Men get so mad when you’re bisexual and not into them, don’t they?
  7. “Bisexuals are just confused.” Yes! We are! Coming out as a sexuality that is severely underrepresented and misrepresented, even in LGBTQ+ spaces, and being told by these same spaces all the ways in which you don’t belong, really sucks! It makes you doubt yourself! I was confused, and I couldn’t express it out of fear of validating this stereotype!
  8. “I don’t think you’re really bisexual.” Well, we’ve been lipsing for months so that sounds more like a you problem to me.
  9. “Want a threesome?” If I wanted disappointing sex I’m sure I could find it somewhere else, thanks.

Right at the start, these kind of things sent me way down into existential crisis and had me questioning my identity. I was alone, scared and confused. I felt an overwhelming pressure to just know my identity and an overwhelming pressure to fit in, and I had no resources to help me. 

Bisexual teens are less likely to have access to safe spaces and supportive adults than lesbian or gay people, and that was definitely my experience. If I had just one adult to talk to at school - a counsellor or someone who ran an LGBTQ+ club, anyone - I could have avoided a lot of toxic situations and had more confidence in who I was. 

Now that I have a social support network and I’m an out and proud adult, it doesn’t bother me too much. But I know how badly these kind of things can impact you, especially as a young person, and so does the research. If you are a young bisexual person, please know that you are not wrong, not indecisive, not greedy and you do not deserve any level of abuse or belittlement. I support you and there are places and spaces that will support you, too. Here’s a few online places (sorry for the UK focus!):