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I had the delight of being among the speakers on the main stage at Leeds Pride yesterday. Here's what I had to say to the crowd:
"Hello Leeds! Are you having a good Pride?
"My first Pride was in London in 1993, and in those days it was called Lesbian and Gay Pride. I thought: I'm not a lesbian, I'm not gay, I'm bisexual and genderqueer, am I wanted and included in this? I went along and hoped bisexual would be "gay enough". I didn't know it back then but Pride was invented by a bisexual woman, Brenda Howard, so if you're still in any doubt about the bisexuals being here - at this party, we're definitely on the guest list.
"I'm delighted to be here on behalf of Leeds Bi Group, which celebrates its first birthday this month having been formed at the national bisexual festival BiCon a year ago. If you're bi and in or around Leeds join us at Mesmac, 7pm the second Wednesday of every month. They say bisexuals want to have their cake and eat it, which is a strange slur, but if you want to bring us cake we're good with that.
"Pride can be an exhilarating event, and I remember the tears I cried at my first one just being surrounded by so many other queer people for the first time. But it's just one day.
"The rest of the year there are groups all across the country like Leeds Bi Group making a space where it's OK to be bisexual - in a world that still wants us to fit a simple box of gay or straight.
"And we sadly need it. Half of gay and lesbian people think they can't be out about their sexuality at work. Bi women are only half as likely as lesbians to feel they can be out at work. For Bi men that falls to just one in eight.
"We may have nearly-equal marriage but in mental health, in experience of violence and more, we have so much still to do. Bisexual, transgender, lesbian or gay, we still die younger than our heterosexual cisgender friends, and that has to change.
"But that's the fight for tomorrow and the rest of the year. Be proud and have a wonderful Pride today."
Stage 2* of the Bi’s of Colour History Project is underway. I aim to interview bisexual people of colour on their lives and on the common themes that arose in the Bi’s of Colour survey report. I also want to include photographs of the interviewees, alongside ephemera relating to bi/pan/fluid people of colour.
I am based in London, but I am able to travel to carry out interviews in the following places: Brighton, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin and Belfast. For interviewees outside of these cities, I can email a list of questions.
This is where your help is needed. I’ve set up a Go Fund Me page where you can donate for this campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/bochistory
Individuals: I know money is tight for all of us, but if you can donate even a small amount, it will help this campaign.
LGBTIQA organisations, you can help me to complete this work. If you’ve read the Bi’s of Colour Report, you will know how vital this is. Your assistance will be added to the Stage 3 exhibition/display. You’ll get publicity for supporting a very marginalised group of people.
Your donations will help to pay for travel, and to reimburse participants for their time. I need to pay for photography and printing. I cannot do this without your help. There is currently nothing like this out there. It doesn’t have to be like that.
If anyone wants to contact me to discuss how to get involved with this project, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stage 1: Bi’s of Colour survey and report
Stage 2: Oral history interviews
Stage 3: Travelling exhibition/display of Bi’s of Colour History
Stage 4: A published book of the project!
Whichever stance you decide to take, remember to consider your partner's feelings too and your personal safety. A spouse might feel incredibly insecure about you being more open and declaring your bisexuality and they might need extra time to adjust. It could lead to feelings of anxiety and issues with self worth with a partner who still believes in the bisexual myths and biphobia. The partner who has finally accepted their own bisexuality might suddenly feel a big sense of relief to finally understand and accept themselves. However their partner might feel, incorrectly, but not unreasonably, like their whole marriage has been a sham. Remember, marriage is a partnership. Respect where your partner is on their journey to acceptance and understanding. Don't make them feel unworthy or uncomfortable. Again, communication is the key.
At the other end of the spectrum, a spouse might what to keep their bisexuality private. That is totally their choice and must be respected. It doesn't mean you can discuss it with your friends, as it isn't appropriate to out someone who has asked for your discretion, however keen you are to talk about it to someone outside the relationship. Try and support each other. Talk through your feelings. If you still feel you must talk to someone outside your marriage, even though your
partner wants privacy, consider getting some couples counseling. Working through your feelings in a safe environment might be a helpful experience, although beware of therapists who promote promiscuity or promote breaking your existing relationship boundaries.
We have decided to take the middle ground. We have decided to tell people only if an appropriate place in a conversation comes up, and only with people we feel comfortable telling. We aren't planning to just go ahead and tell people without any sort of conversational opening. We have been married nearly two decades so we don't want to confuse people as to why we are suddenly telling people now. We are keen to minimise any confusion too. If one of us comes out to another person, we have permission to out our spouse too, in fact we agreed that we have to do so. Also given the awful stereotyping around bisexuality, we will also make it clear that nothing else about our relationship has changed: we are staying monogamous and committed.
Someone just starting out dating will have very different experiences to our own, but we are primarily aiming, with this blog, to reassure the already married about what they can expect from their spouse and those around them. We feel good communication is the most important thing, coupled with a united front. You and your spouse are a team, they should be the person that always has your back, and you for them. If you are struggling with your spouse's bisexuality, talk to them and not about them to others. We understand not everyone has the luxury of having a spouse who is also bisexual too, and if that applies to you, you might have to make a leap of faith to understand what your spouse is feeling. Talk to them, not about them with others, unless you have express permission to out them.
Many of the bisexuals in opposite gender relationships feel that their sexual orientation is being erased, as people assume they are straight. This may or may not be the case, but it seems that a lot of the erasure is coming from the gay and lesbian community as well as from the straight community. While we have no personal experience here to offer, it does seem that there is a view that bisexuality doesn't exist or isn't valid as a long term sexual orientation. We find this rather baffling. We know who we are and we know we exist and we both know we've always been this way, I won't go as far as to saying born this way, because that's a whole other argument. We will tell people as and when it's appropriate to do so because bi-erasure is not helpful to anyone. One way we are educating people is by this blog. We aim to be the boring non-titillating voice of monogamous bisexuality.
So no surprise that our monthly email bulletin for August has quite a Pride theme.
Nicole is a hugely positive and inspirational voice in the world of bisexual activism. The Still Bisexual campaign is doing an amazing job of challenging the myths and stereotypes about bisexuality that remain so widespread in our society.
Her reflections below on bisexual wellbeing are really insightful, and I hope you find them useful. As Nicole says, ‘Trust yourself. Don’t let the world define your attractions.’
How did you come to identify as bisexual?
Nicole Kristal: I always kind of had crushes on my best friends in high school. I was interested in male classmates, too, but I wasn’t really on their radar. Eventually, I fell in love with a woman in 11th grade and we had a secret relationship. I came out my freshman year of college as bisexual and dated men and women throughout college.
What are the main factors that have contributed to your sense of wellbeing as a bisexual person?
Coming out constantly. Being as out as I can be, no matter how hard it is. The world wants to see you as straight or gay, so it takes a lot of energy to remind people there’s something in between. If you are bi, but you’re moving through the world not being seen as a bisexual person, you can quite quickly start to feel like an outcast in most scenes and accrue some shame. We are outnumbered in most social situations so it’s important to be visible and live your truth.
Can you share a coming out story?
I came out to my mother the summer after my first year of college. She told me she was bisexual, too. It just goes to show that coming out as bisexual, you can never predict the response.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they might be bisexual and are unsure what to do?
My main advice would be TRUST YOURSELF. Don’t let the world define your attractions. Deep down, you know what you’re attracted to. I would definitely start to follow BiNet and StillBisexual on Facebook and Twitter. Introduce yourself and let people know your situation and fears. You will be surprised at the amount of support you will get. Most of us came out without the online support that is available now, and it’s such a safe way to get the support you need before you feel brave enough to go to a bi or gay social event, which I recommend once you feel ready to come out.
Last year at the Nottinghamshire Pride Parade me and Kate were interviewed by Notts TV and I remember thinking afterwards that I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t say anything useful or get any good points across. I hadn’t even thought about speaking to the media, let alone prepare any messages that I wanted people to hear. However Kate came up with a cracking phrase; “We’re here to put the B back in the LGBT.”
This year I was a little bit more prepared. With help from Jennifer I made a large sign to carry, and this was a big pull for reporters and those with cameras whilst I was stood waiting for BiTopia members to join me for the parade. I was photographed a lot and interviewed by a reporter from the Notts Post. The same man from Notts TV in the photo above also stopped to speak to me and another group member. I was able to speak a bit more eloquently this time and convey some messages and facts.
The thing that disappoints and frustrates me every time I’ve been filmed at Pride is that it never seems to actually get shown! (I use the word seem here because it is possible its been shown or put up somewhere I’ve not found.) I suppose the media are looking at any event from a certain angle in order to make a story out of it. For example one question I was asked by Notts TV this year was what I thought about the council’s decision to cut funding for Pride. So with their story already planned, they are hardly looking to include anything from a small local bi or LGBT group.
Journalists collect a lot of footage and interview a lot of people, but only have a very short slot to fill on screen so I know most of what’s been recorded will never be shown anywhere. However in the age of the Internet it’s disappointing that a local TV station can’t put a bit more online than two short clips of the secretary for Pride and the actor who plays the official Robin Hood! What gets me even more is that the title for this page is “Pride event highlights Nottingham’s diversity”!
I suppose we can only keep trying, and if we give interviews we are at least making one or two journalists aware of bi issues. Who knows, maybe you can get their email addresses and contact them for Bi Visibility Day or BiCon or something?
Tips for Being Interviewed at Pride
- You can give a reporter a fake name if you don’t want to give your own, but think up one in advance so you don’t hesitate when you’re asked who you are!
- You don’t have to tell them what you do for a living. Just say you’d rather not share that information with them if you don’t want to.
- Only be on camera if you want to be. Don’t let anyone pressure you into speaking with them or getting a few shots of you if you are not comfortable with it. You never know who might end up seeing you on TV/the Internet.
- See if there are any news stories relating to Pride/LGBT+ issues in your area in case you get asked your opinion on them.
- Think of a few sentences to say with regards to who you are, why you are taking part in the parade, why you think Pride is important, and your bi group if you run one or are a member of one.
- Being on camera is nerve-racking and scary. It makes you forget everything you wanted to say and your voice goes all wibbly wobbly! Practising your sentences out loud the day before helps combat this.
- Ask reporters for their business card in case you want to contact them again in the future.
- If you are involved with a local group, print or write down the group’s contact details so you can hand them out to anyone who interviews you.
- Tell reporters you’d love to receive an email from them if your footage makes the final cut/photos of you are used. (Though to be honest, they probably won’t contact you even if they do.)
- Don’t be afraid to ask any technical questions such as whether to look straight into the camera or at the reporter, or whether you in standing in the right light etc. They should be able to work with you to get the best results. You won’t look foolish, as they are used to working with the general public so don’t expect people to know these things already.
If you have any other advice please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.
The longer answer is that having one or more identifying bisexuals in your marriage is a learning curve and greater communication between you both is vital. My husband told me he was bisexual and assumed that would be it, and things would carry on as normal. He also pointed out that I wasn't straight either. And while things are settling down now, it is a new normal, achieved after lots of honest and open talking. You know something extra about your spouse that they have shared with you, an important aspect of their personality.
One of the reasons we started this blog is to counter some of the myths about bisexuality that seem rampant on the net. I made the mistake of googling bisexuality to try and learn more. There were many sites out there trying to be helpful, but in the end I just dissolved into tears reading about what I could expect in my life now.
Apparently, as bisexuals, we'd never be satisfied with our one partner, and taking another lover on the side would be inevitable, as bisexuals could only ever be happy with a partner of each gender to play with. That is such rubbish. If your partner tells you they need to explore then that is cheating and it certainly isn't in the marriage contract. Having multiple partners is not inevitable and it certainly isn't the result of being bisexual. It is taking advantage of your monogamous partner. If your partner spins you this line, seriously consider where your relationship is going as it's possible they've already been cheating, or are about to. Think about it, you might like white men. You might also like Afro-Caribbean men, Japanese men, and Maori men. You are not going to have relations with one of each example of your attraction. It isn't about collecting a set. A marriage is about working at and sustaining a great relationship with one partner and only one.
Another page, that was thrown up near the top of my google search, started off helpful, suggesting compassion and honesty towards your husband, but then went on to suggest that I might like to try sticking things up my husband's bottom, as he was sure to like it being as he's bisexual. I kid you not. By this point I was very unhappy, but on checking with my husband I was relieved to hear that he didn't want things stuck up him. He was trying not to actually laugh that I'd believe such rubbish. Sadly, when shit like this is thrown up by a quick basic Google search, no one is helped. I wonder how many others have read this and not been able to talk to their partners about it and therefore believed it.
The net also told me that all bisexuals were cheaters. No, cheaters are cheaters, and they come in all varieties. If your partner has never cheated before, then it's our belief that they are unlikely to now. Even more so if they are being open and honest about their sexuality. That means you have a relationship with good communication and trust. And people in good relationships are less likely to do anything to hurt their partners. I see my husband as my best friend, my lover, my life partner, my soul mate, my biggest supporter. I cannot imagine ever doing anything to hurt him or our relationship and he feels the same about me. I am bisexual and I am not a cheater and I hope I never will be. He is a bisexual and is not a cheater. I will do everything I can to never become one and so will he. The key here is communication. Make sure you discuss what your limits and boundaries are. This is the key for any committed monogamous relationship of any persuasion. We have discussed how to avoid becoming inappropriately close to others, how to avoid situations where temptations might be present, how wearing your wedding ring daily helps clarify your status. These are good things to discuss whatever your orientation. Basically cheating is a choice. Loving someone and staying faithful is also a choice. It's up to you to uphold your wedding vows and make cheating a choice that neither you nor your spouse ever want to make. I'll make it very clear again: being bisexual has nothing to do with cheating or having multiple partners.
The next stupid idea the Google search throws at me is that people have to physically experiment to confirm their bisexual feelings are real. Men saying they had told their wives that they needed to go and explore with other men to be sure. Women saying they need to be intimate with other women. Okay, let's think about this. Think back to when you were a virgin. You knew what turned you on, right? You knew what genders you wanted to sleep with? Sleeping with people didn't confirm those feelings, you already knew them to be true. A bisexual is a bisexual whether or not they have ever had physical contact with more than one gender. Indeed, many bisexuals will never have physical relations with the opposite gender. It doesn't make them straight. It doesn't make them less of a bisexual. Being bisexual is nothing to do with who you have slept with. And a married person does not need to have physical relations with the opposite gender just to confirm they are bisexual. They already know it.
The biggest change is realising that you are no longer in a straight marriage. The adjustment may be harder if only one of you is identifying as non-straight. Having a bisexual husband does not make you less of a woman and it does not make you less attractive. He is with you because he wanted to be with you and you wanted to be with him. Which leads me to the next piece of nonsense the net turned up: being bisexual is a halfway house on the journey to coming out as gay. This is not true. While some people do find their sexual orientation changes over the years, in general being bisexual is not a stop on the journey to becoming gay. It is not the inevitable outcome. Being bixesual is a destination in itself. Try looking at it this way. He picked you and you had more competition than you realised. However, when you start to work the odds out, if you are mixing in general society, then a bisexual male with still more likely end up with a female partner and a bisexual female end up with a man. For a bisexual person the extra percentage of people open to them is only a few percent more, as the majority of the opposite gender is straight, and so unavailable. This means that the bulk of the bisexual population is likely to be in mixed gender relationships. They can blend in and on the face of it pass as a straight couple, which seems to cause some annoyance to the gay community, as they feel this somehow makes the couple privileged in society. It also causes concern to bisexuals in an opposite gender relationship as they might feel that they are wrongly being counted as straight. More on that in a later post.
However, the main point we want to make is that being bisexual means for your marriage whatever you want it to mean. Remember, that being bisexual means that your partner is attracted to your gender, as well as other genders. It does not mean they will turn gay. They are not gay. I will say it again: they are not gay! They are bisexual. They are attracted to you. They married you. The key to retaining a strong marriage is to talk openly, to set boundaries, to strengthen up the perimeters of your relationship, and remember why you got married in the first place. Hopefully that was because you found your best friend, your soulmate, the person you want to grow old with. Your bisexual spouse being attracted to other genders shouldn't be a big issue. Attraction doesn't have to be acted upon and bisexuality is not an excuse for cheating or having extra relationships. Keep the bigger picture of your marriage and life together in mind as you work through this change in your identity
Identifying as bisexual can bring many benefits, but it’s not the only identity available to people who experience attraction to more than one gender. Terms such as bicurious, heteroflexible, homoflexible, ‘mostly straight’ and ‘mostly gay’ all create spaces for people to develop new understandings and ways of expressing their sexual desires. They can all be tools to help us interact effectively and happily in the world, used alone or even in combination.
Which identity you prefer depends, in part, on what your sexual attractions mean to you. My attractions to women and men have been significant to me, so it makes sense to me to identify as bisexual. It feels integral to my sense of who I am. No other term but bisexual would do justice to my experience. Calling myself bisexual also functions as a simple descriptor of who I can be attracted to. It’s a way of being honest and clear with myself and other people.
Some people who experience attraction to both men and women find that the term bisexual doesn’t fit them so well. A 2013 review of multiple studies on sexual attraction found that up to 23% of women and 9% of men identified as ‘mostly heterosexual’. Mostly heterosexuals (MHs) were found to have greater same sex attraction than heterosexuals, but less than those who identified as bisexual. MHs reported experiencing minor same-sex attractions which were purely sexual in nature, and lacking any romantic element. The review also found that MH is an enduring sexual orientation, and not a temporary or one-off experience.
The MH label was provided as an option on the surveys that informed the studies, so it’s unlikely that many people actually use this term to describe themselves in real life. MHs probably identify as heterosexual, but they might also use identifiers like bicurious or heteroflexible in certain contexts such as dating sites.
An MH could also choose to identify as bisexual. Bisexual identity includes people with almost any degree of attraction to more than one gender. So, if you’ve been attracted to 500 women in your life and only 1 man, then it’s entirely legitimate to identify as bisexual, if that’s what feels right to you. Alternatively, if your attraction is heavily weighted to one gender, you might decide to choose a label like bicurious or hetero/homoflexible, or even a monosexual label such as straight or gay.
There’s no obligation to adopt any sexual identity at all, if you don’t want to. It can, though, be advantageous if you do. Labels and identities can help us find communities of like-minded people, so that we can build supportive relationships with others. They’re also tools which enable us to understand ourselves and our desires. They help other people understand us better, too.
But sexual identities are not prisons. We are free to adopt different labels at different times of our lives, should our understanding of our desires change. Sexual labels are not fixed, scientific descriptors of some absolute reality. In fact, sexual identities were invented in the 19th century by the pioneering academic sexologists seeking to study and categorise sexual behavior.
The work of Alfred Kinsey and subsequent sex researchers has since shown that sexuality is complex and can’t always be expressed in simple categories. As LGBT activist Peter Tatchell has argued, if a post-homophobic, post-biphobic society ever develops, then sexual identities could even become redundant. Until that time, however, sexual identities will remain essential tools of understanding and activism.
There is no one right way for any person to identify. The important thing is that we feel comfortable with the identity we choose.
So, bisexual or bicurious? It doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve found an identity that works for you.