Bi Visibility Day: “We are not half gay and half straight”

“Much like gender, there is a forced binarism on sexual orientation,” writes Bella Fitzpatrick, Executive Director at Shout Out. “The only antidote is visibility, community and pride.” Read Bella’s moving journey in this blog and celebrate with us Bi Visibility Day!

Bella Fitzpatrick and Anna Robinson at ILGA-Europe’s Annual Conference in Prague, 2019.

I am not entirely sure how I had the vocabulary when I was 9 years old to declare I was bisexual. If I heard it on TV, or some adults talking, I’m not sure, but I knew the word and I knew what it meant, and I knew it described me.

Many people are surprised when I say I came out at 9 years old and even more surprise to hear I came out as bi, not gay.

And yet, if you ask any straight person about their first little crush they’ll often tell you about their babysitter when they were 10, or the boy in their class when they were 8.

Well, it was the same for me. For the first half of the school year my heart was all a-flutter for jokester Tim, but he was old news when Sue joined our class from abroad. I didn’t struggle with this. Maybe due to the combination of my assured sense of self from a young age, or my very groovy mom, or her gaggle of gay friends who were a permanent fixture in my childhood.

Recently, the community was heartbroken to hear of the nine-year-old boy in Colorado who died by suicide after coming out and being mercilessly bullied. Our hearts broke for this sweet kid, and our hearts broke for ourselves. We all have survivor guilt, and we are all recovering from what we had to do to survive.

What added salt to the wound was all the comments (I know, don’t read the comments) saying he was too young to know he was gay. Somehow though, his classmates weren’t too young to know to be hateful. This is why I run ShoutOut, a charity committed to ending LGBTQIA+ exclusion in schools on the island of Ireland. In 2017 we reached 10,000 students face to face, to talk to them about LGBTQIA+ identities and to let young people know that there is a community there for them.

We are one community, stronger together, fighting for one another. But we are also individual communities, with different experiences and different struggles. It’s important to be united while still creating space (physical space in our communities, and space within our minds) to care about other letters in this alphabet community.

Bi Visibility Day is a space; it exists through the events held and this day and it takes up space in the narrative about the LGBTQIA+ movement. I don’t generally need any reason to talk, at length, about my identity. But on this day, I make an extra effort to talk about the hard parts of being bi: the double standards that bi+ people are held to by monosexuals. The continuing debate of our existence, both within the queer community and outside it, and the rampant erasing of bisexual experiences as they get gobbled up by a monolith of “gay”.

Bi Visibility Day is about clarity. It’s about specificity. It’s about history, and it’s about the future. Remember Brenda Howard, the mother of Pride, a bisexual woman in a long-term relationship with a man, fighting her whole life for liberation.

There are more bisexual people than gay people (check out the UCLA Williams Institute report) and yet the visibility is way less. You’ll hear of school principals coming out as gay, politicians, CEOs, but rare is the feel-good coming out story of bi+ people. Why? Why does it feel like we must have less pride? Like it’s less of a statement? Like we are just less than?

Much like gender, there is a forced binarism on sexual orientation, on bisexuality, and what it means to be bisexual. While we know individually we are not half gay and half straight. Purple isn’t half blue and half red. It is its own colour. Still, you cannot stop this binary ideology from taken hold. It seeps in from the world around us, and the only antidote is visibility, community and pride.

It may feel like there is no escape from the dichotomy. Especially if you’re in a relationship which is, unfortunately, always going to be perceived by the world as a hetero-appearing or homo-appearing. Practically, are there some privileges associated with being in a hetero-appearing relationship? Sure, the price of those privileges is a denial of yourself, a purposeful hiding in plain sight, and you are still in as much danger if you are honest about who you are, as any other sexual and romantic minority.

Bi Visibility Day allows us to do the work in ourselves to undo social conditioning, to stop apologising for being ourselves, and be unmistakably, completely, and utterly Bi.

Bella Fitzpatrick is Executive Director at Shout Out in Ireland. You can read here the original blog published on ILGA-Europe’s website in 2018.

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