The comments made on Celebrity Big Brother about bisexuality come as no surprise; being told to ‘pick a team’ is a throw-away comment and I’m sure that like most banter it feels harmless to say, but it’s hurtful to hear.
It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t being inauthentic or misleading when I noticed I was attracted to more than one gender.
In truth, I dismissed it because I couldn’t see enough people who were out as bi and owning it. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Even if you’re out as bi the rhetoric around you implies that you’ve chosen a team. It can take years to figure out that who you are is enough.
Stereotypes about being secretly gay or straight follow us in every setting, and end up shaping our behavior: who do you come out to? Who will believe you? Who will remember even when you’ve been with your partner for three years?
It’s so frustrating to have to correct the assumptions constantly with the world at large and even more so when it comes from someone within the LGBTI umbrella with a platform. I can feel like a broken record pointing out that I exist and have a partner and am happy, then with one comment on national television it can feel like we need to start all over again.
Perhaps what’s most disappointing is that Christopher Biggins should have learnt this two years ago when he made similar comments. It is essential that we stick together and support one another, that we learn from another in a way that doesn’t deny my right to exist.
Today I am out as bi and defiantly so. We’re not the worst type of anything, but it’s understandable that misconceptions are relied on when 89% of LGBTI young people learn nothing about bisexuality in school, and we spend most of our time learning about relationships between men and women (Metro Youth Chances Report, 2014).
We now know that the world is not as binary as it seems in terms of gender identity or sexual orientation, and that’s something to be celebrated. It might be easier for some people to fit us all into boxes of straight/gay, man/woman, but we owe it to ourselves and others to acknowledge, respect and appreciate the greater diversity and fluidity around us.
While great strides have been taken in aspects of LGBTI equality, there is still lots to do, which is why at Stonewall we work towards acceptance without exception for all. Bi role models play a huge part in combating our bi-erasure, and in providing an opportunity to stand up and be recognized. It’s not easy, but it’s important. Seeing as we’re busting misconceptions, the standard one about being a role model is that you have to be perfect. In truth, nobody is, so the emphasis should be on the courage to be visible as you are. So if you’re bi and reading this, why not apply?
And if you’re not bi, have a think about the kinds of comments you make or you hear around you. Question your assumptions, and work hard to be an ally. Think about who’s been #ByYourSide, and endeavor to do the same for the people around you. Of course you can make mistakes along the way, as long as when someone points out that you’re in the wrong, you admit it, apologize and move on. If there’s one thing you take away from today, let it be that.
Sidonie Bertrand Shelton is Programmes Manager in the Empowerment Programmes team at Stonewall.