If you didn't already know, September 23 is Bisexual Visibility Day. Typically, this day focuses on awareness of structural and social issues like invisibility/erasure, myths, stigma, and discrimination—which bisexual people face a lot of.
Honestly, I'm a bit tired of this. Not because it isn't important to raise awareness or try to change the ways we're failing people who are neither straight nor gay/lesbian, but because doing so has a tendency to pathologize such identities. We start thinking there's nothing good about being queer, bi, or pan, and that simply isn't true.
Then there's this: We (the non-monosexual* folk), know about the issues because we live them. So while I'm all for awareness and change, I think it's equally important to shift our focus a little from time to time, and highlight what's awesome about being bi, pan, queer, or however you might describe yourself.
Last fall, I organized a focus group for my Community Social Work class. Together, a group of amazing queer, bi and pansexual women explored the issues we faced, but also did some thinking on the positives of being a non-monosexual person.
Strength & resilience
Simply by existing, we challenge monosexism (the belief that humans can only be attracted to/romantically involved with one gender). This requires an incredible amount of resilience, which was demonstrated by everyone in the group. Many participants discussed struggling with substance use and depression in the past and present, common amongst non-monosexual people.
Despite being rejected from other communities and groups ("I feel like the 'B' in LGBT is just there;" "I always feel like I'm either not 'straight' or 'gay' enough"), and despite all the mental health-related risks of invisibility and stigma, participants were still eager to connect with likeminded people and actively seek safer spaces for themselves.
Ah fluidity, the double-edged sword. In some environments, the ability to shift and find different ways of belonging also means many ways of being excluded. The comfort found in a lesbian bar with one's same-sex girlfriend can't be recreated in a straight environment; and having a heterosexual relationship has a tendency to drive folks away from gay and lesbian spaces. Then, if you're like me, you find yourself being talked at by homophobic people at the grocery store who assume you're "one of them." (Nope.)
Even so, being able to change and move was frequently cited as a strength by participants. Having the ability to see multiple oppressions and lived experiences, to advise friends from other communities, to approach the world with a more open mind, is an incredible gift. I say this not because I think being non-monosexual people makes us all-knowing unicorns, but because we often have a varied and flexible existence that informs how we see the world.
In general, we do not trust what changes, what is mutable. To be fluid is to be a surprise, unpredictable. But such an ability offers a lot of opportunity to educate, create connection, and foster understanding across communities and social groups.
As one participant said: “While I don’t feel like I belong in particular community, I feel like I can have conversations with every community. I have something in common with everyone and can move between, even though we also get criticized for doing that.” In other words: the same lack of belonging in any one static group offers us to the ability to connect with so many more.
Interest in activism
Most participants attended to meet other bisexual, pansexual, and queer women. The desire to create this kind of community was very strong, both in terms of getting personal support and garnering representation and visibility. But most participants also wanted to be active advocates around issues affecting non-monosexual women. Some ideas included:
- addressing the many harmful stereotypes about queer, bisexual and pansexual women (hypersexualization, trivialization, non-authenticity, untrustworthiness. etc.)
- advocating for equal healthcare treatment and access
- lobbying for updated sexual education curriculum in medical schools
- supporting the new provincial sexual education curriculum
- supporting queer educators
Participants also wanted to create a more formal community that met often, which I have failed at coordinating thus far (I'm sorry! Blame my constant being in school!) Regardless, an activist orientation based on lived experience is one of the most powerful traits I think we have, and should follow through on.
Have an excellent day, fellow non-monosexuals. Be kind to yourself, you are so much more than just seen. <3
Today is a Genderqueer Dandy Day: On Fluidity - By Jade Sylvan, and one of my favourite pieces on fluidity.
LGBTQ Health (excellent researchers who have a significant focus on bisexuality and health)
Bisexual Women of Toronto - Monthly peer support meetings and social events
Bisexual Men of Toronto - Monthly peer support meetings and social events
*In my academic work, I've been using the word "non-monosexual" to refer to the more fluid sexual orientations: bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc. While there are big differences between all of them, they all speak to a wider scope of attraction and romantic opportunity, and I needed a way to address this collectively.