I have one very specific memory of being a young teenager, watching Skins, seeing Naomi and texting my older friend to ask when she knew she was a lesbian. I remember berating myself for being silly – I had never come close to being romantic with a girl – before realising that I wasn’t old enough to have been romantic with a boy either. In fact, no one told me I wasn’t old enough to know what I wanted when I was five years old and decided I wanted Ronan Keating to be my husband (an offer which still stands).
My question came from a place of seeking validation – and wanting to know when I would be considered experienced enough to give myself that validation with total credibility. Nearly a decade later, it turns out that those studded belts and fingerless gloves really were just a phase, but this wasn’t. But any casual mention of my bisexuality still catches in my throat.
The battle to be taken seriously is one that the bisexual community must confront on all sides, as they can often be marginalised in LGBT spaces as well as the heteronormative world. This marginalisation ranges from accusations of straight-passing benefits directed at those in heterosexual relationships to the consequent implication that their sexuality is defined by who they are dating at that moment rather than by who they are. The LGBT community is permeated by the attitude that bisexual people just aren’t enough of one thing for their identity to be authentic, resulting in alienation and difficulties integrating with a population which should serve as a sphere of emotional refuge.
If I had a pound for every time an openly bisexual friend of mine in a relationship with another woman is referred to as a lesbian, I would have enough money to found a service dedicated to eradicating worryingly high bisexual suicide rates. Research has shown that worldwide, bisexual people are significantly more likely than people of other sexualities to suffer poor mental and physical health, live in poverty, or become victims of domestic violence. It’s important to note, however, that this is not a case of competitive discrimination – what is crucial is that we understand that our struggles differ, affected by unique intersections of prejudice.
Stereotypes related to promiscuity fuel epidemic levels of hypersexualisation, plaguing bisexuality’s attempt to find its footing in a society which refuses to acknowledge it as anything but a sexual grey area. Mainstream cultural visibility plays a vital role in the legitimisation of bisexuality, but it’s also something of a catch-22; bisexual visibility and representation will improve as it finds greater society-wide acceptance, but that’s a tough thing to do without the helping hand of visibility along the way.
There is widespread pressure for bisexuals to declare their equal attraction to all genders before they are entitled to the label ‘bisexual’, when in reality, the spectrum of attraction is a wildly varying thing. Even the process of ‘coming out’ can be an area of difficulty for bisexual people in a way that varies from the experiences of others. The lack of acceptance of bisexuality as a standalone orientation can lead to questions regarding whether it is something they declare themselves to be at all.
One of the first steps towards bisexuality’s acceptance as a sexual orientation in and of itself is of course, acceptance. If someone does make the decision to announce themselves as bisexual, ensure they feel that they are enough no matter where they fall on any spectrum.