Bisexual activism... So what now?
By Sandy Downs on Wednesday, 8 June 2022
On Tuesday 7th June I went to the book launch of Bi: The hidden culture, history, and science of bisexuality. The launch was at the British Library, and consisted of Dr Shaw ‘in conversation with’ Ben Hunte, senior report at VICE and previously the BBC’s first ever LGBT correspondent.
It was a truly excellent event. We spoke about everything from bi icons, bi science, the history of the word bisexual (the two in bi is homo & hetero, and has been for more than a century), and the bi gene (queer sheep, anyone?). A crucial focus was put on the plight of asylum seekers, more critical than ever given the the Rwanda situation, and the burden of proof for being LGBTQ, and specifically bi - how does one prove that, and how do we counter the assumption that bi people can just choose to hide their homo side and ‘be hetero’ in dangerous situations?
Not only was the talk interesting, it was genuinely different. It avoided the 'what's biphobia and let's run through all the biphobic tropes and hurtful myths' approach which is all too common at bi events (and arguably not overly useful in rooms which are 80% bisexual and 20% ally - preaching to the converted really). Julia and Ben spoke candidly about their experiences, and also about the science and research into our culture and history, globally and closer to home.
Over my post-event Pizza Express though, my mind kept circulating around the question I asked in the Q&A. It's a question I've thought about a lot - what's the 'bisexual ask'? What are we fighting for?
I ask this as someone championing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, who has in turn been asked this question by people trying to do the right thing. With gay and lesbian employees, the asks are relatively clear - an inclusive health policy including fair parental leave, freedom of expression especially when talking about partners and social lives, not being sent to homophobic countries without adequate protection. And even for the trans community, the fight against transphobic is a mammoth task but there are some clear asks for businesses and organisations; gender neutral loos, pronoun use, healthcare coverage for trans-related health needs as a start.
So what's the bisexual ask? Some, but not all, of us will benefit from the gay & lesbian policies. And some, but not all, will benefit from the trans ones. But it seems we are lacking policy structures and a clarity of ask which is specific to us – while there is no shortage of community-specific problems. Bi people have unique health issues (both in terms of mental health and physical health – source, source again), a glaring lack of accessible communities (though things have improved some in recent years), and ultimately lower life expectancies; almost half of all bi women have considered or attempted suicide (source).
When I asked Dr Shaw my ‘bisexual ask’ question, she spoke about visibility. She advocated for using the word bisexual in press releases and messaging (especially during pride or when talking about LGBTQ issues). She was clear about having bisexuals on your 'LGBT' panels, and inviting bi employees to share their stories.
This is vital, but there's a huge burden on bisexual people - it necessitates a grassroots approach which other groups don't suffer from. This is especially hard when 80% of bi people aren't out, and of those that are out, a further 40% go back in the closet at work (source).
I think we need more research, thought, and activist time to go into finding solutions to these problems. Part of this ties to funding, or the lack thereof – bi groups are almost always run by unpaid volunteers, and a tiny proportion of LGBTQ funding goes to bi-specific causes. It’s incredibly hard to fight for intangible solutions, and in the move to increased DE&I work at a corporate, policy, and societal level, the bi community needs to have its asks to hand.
This is no mean feat. We also cannot simply do nothing until it happens. So in the meantime. here are my calls to action for those looking to improve the experience of bi people in the UK and beyond.
Fight the gay fight – the LGBTQ community is small, and there is strength in numbers. Don’t divide the community; bi people have always fought the LGBTQ fight (shout out to the ‘Mother of Pride’ Brenda Howard, a bisexual activist) and we benefit from inclusive LGBTQ spaces.
B with the T, always. Non-conformity is the enemy of fascism, and we are seeing that play out in the far right’s move to blatant transphobic. We have a duty to fight transphobia in its own right, but it's also an act of self-protection – bi people and trans people are allies, and must protect each other at every turn.
Show up. While the burden of visibility is a weighty one, it is a necessary element of inclusion. For bi people that means coming out and staying out. For everyone else, it means an active and thoughtful use of language. It means finding bisexual speakers (and paying them!), using the bi flag, and collecting bi data. It means putting bisexuals into the conversation when there's nobody there to do it themselves.
Donate - the funding problem is solved by cold hard cash. Here are my top recommendations for bi groups worth your money this pride season:
And to end, thank you Julia Shaw, for your bi encyclopaedia. It is a radical act to take up space on the bookshelf with something about, and for, bisexuals. I can't wait to read it, shove it at other people to read, and keep on fighting the good fight.