Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues
This blog post is part of an ongoing conversation between two bisexual activists. A.J. Walkley and Sarah Smith* are both monogamous, bisexual, cisgender females who are in long-term relationships. A.J. is in a relationship with a cisgender male, and Sarah is in a relationship with a cisgender female. Both A.J. and Sarah are committed to remaining visible as bisexuals in spite of society's tendency to want to label A.J. as heterosexual and Sarah as a lesbian. Together they came up with the idea for "Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues" as a way to help eliminate stereotypes and bias against people in the bisexual community.
Question: "Are closeted bisexuals the main reason for bisexual invisibility?"
Sarah: I recently read an old article from Dan Savage, in which he instructed bisexual activists to focus on convincing closeted bisexuals to come out of the closet. He wrote:
More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about. If more bisexuals were out, more straight people would know they actually know and love sexual minorities, which would lead to less anti-LGBT bigotry generally, which would be better for everyone. But people get to make their own choices, and lots of bisexuals choose not to be out. While I'm willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.
His words got me wondering whether closeted bisexuals are the main reason for bisexual invisibility. Bisexual invisibility is what happens when people either don't believe that bisexuality is real, or when they have misinformation about what bisexuality is.
People tend to fear what they don't understand. If bisexuals want to be seen and understood, it is up to us to make ourselves visible and understood. The main reason for bisexual invisibility is ignorance. Those who have knowledge have a responsibility to share it.
I believe that some people are in the closet because they don't have the necessary resources to be out and proud in the face of discrimination. Those resources could be economic, emotional or intellectual. I don't want to victim blame and say that people in the closet are the main reason for bisexual invisibility. They may well be there because they are vulnerable, and I don't want to contribute to their vulnerability by blaming them.
I would say that the responsibility for sharing information about bisexuality and putting an end to bisexual invisibility rests on those who have knowledge and some basic level of economic, emotional and intellectual resources. Whether those people are bisexual or not, if they understand bisexuality, then they have a responsibility to work to make sure that information is passed along. Knowledge is power, and with power comes responsibility.
What do you think, A.J.?
A.J.: It is a slippery slope when you begin to blame bias and discrimination against any group on the group itself. Of course, bisexuality is not as visible a trait, so to speak, as race might be, for instance, but would anyone ever blame racism on African Americans? I don't think so.
While I can see the perspective that bisexuals have a responsibility to come out and be visible to dispel some of the stereotypes that plague our community, to say that being in the closet as bi is "a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face," in Savage's words, is not something I could see him saying to any other part of the LGBT community. In fact, if his words were changed and the term "bisexual" became "gay men" or "lesbians" or "transgender people," I think he would get a lot of heat for that stance. Even just the first line of his quote alone -- "More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about." -- is highly offensive, making bisexuals out to be whining about something that is easy to fix, when public opinion is anything but. What if he had said, "More out gay men would mean less of that gay invisibility that gay men are always complaining about." Instead of putting the onus on society to be more accepting of more sexualities, he's putting it on the discriminated group. Because bisexuals continue to receive significantly more bias within the LGBT community than the L and the G components, Savage can get away with this stance on bisexuals, but I guarantee that if that same quotation had been directed to the L and the G components, the reaction would have been much more vitriolic.
However, I would be remiss to fail to acknowledge the fact that, on some level, Savage has a point. I do believe that bisexual people make up a significant part of the global population, and we are most likely the majority of the LGB population. You would never know it, though, because most of us are still closeted for, as you acknowledged, Sarah, a whole slew of reasons. It's almost a "chicken or the egg" question: Does society and the LGBT community at large need to become more accepting before bisexuals come out en masse, or do bisexuals need to come out before more acceptance is possible?
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Readers, it's your turn! How would you answer this question?
If you have any questions that you'd like Sarah and A.J. to discuss as part of this series, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.