I did some public speaking recently, at a Man Met Uni polyamory conference: here's what I said...
My name is Jen Yockney, I’m not an academic, I’m here because of my
work with the bisexual project BiPhoria. My pronouns are she/her or
ze/hir – I’m easy either way, and beware there’s going to be a lot of
bad bisexual punning like that to come.
BiPhoria is 21 and a half
years old – the oldest extant bisexual community project in the UK –
the previous group to hold that title closed down when it was 21 so this
might be a crunch year. I’m also involved with Bi Community News
magazine and have organised a number of events like today’s but about
bisexuality, called BiFests, and longer things lasting a few days to a
week called BiCon.
And I want to start with BiCon because one of
the things we do there is an annual survey of who attends, which about a
third of attendees return. In 2004 the survey found 40% of attendees
described their relationships as poly; in 2014, 42% - and that’s current
status, so there are likely more people who might be poly minded but
single at the time or what have you.
So you might get the impression that bisexuals are all poly.
And in the other direction that the bis you notice are in multiple relationships, or open to them.
don’t think that equivalence is quite the case, but I think there are
some overlaps between the challenges of bi and poly invisibility and
that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
Bisexual invisibility –
the way that we are trained to assume people to be gay or straight – is
a handy phrase growing in currency. It’s something all of us do – even
after 20 odd years of bi activism and volunteering I do. You see two
people holding hands in front of you in the street, you make a best
guess as to their gender, and a bit of your brain puts them in a box as
gay or straight accordingly. No ill intent, just how we're programmed,
most of us. Two boxes.
Let’s think about that invisibility's
effects. In 2012 the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency published
research including looking at how many people felt they could be out at
work. For gay men and lesbians 50% now say this is the case. I grew up
back when you could be summarily dismissed from work because your
employer didn’t like gays or didn’t like bisexuals, so this is a
brilliant figure and sign of change. Except once you think that if 50%
feel they can be out, another 50% don’t feel they can. For bi women in
the work place that sinks to 27% feeling they can be out, and for bi
men, 14%. Seven out of eight men in my community can’t be honest about
who they are at work for fear of social and career repercussions. Ten
years after the law supposedly prevented discrimination on grounds of
sexual orientation at work, that’s a frightening figure.
just at work. Last year’s “Beyond Babies” research from LGBT Foundation
noted that 4% of straight women experience mental health issues; 12% of
lesbians, yet 21% of bi women. When I was growing up we talked about
bisexuality as being kind of “gay lite”, that you experienced half the
problems and discrimination, when you were queerbashed you were only
beaten up down the left hand side of your body. Turns out, it’s not like
that at all.
And the root of these problems is bisexual
invisibility. If we aren’t telling one other, we don’t spot each other.
Because we only see the tip of the iceberg of who is bi, and of who is
poly, we don’t have secret signals like haircuts or dress codes. We have
to speak to be seen and then fight being policed down in our identity.
told as bisexuals we are sexually greedy. Which is bad, apparently.
Perhaps there’s only so much sex to go around, and we are hogging it.
Whenever this one starts people seem to go for the same line too –
“Woody Allen says”, they declare as if it were new, “that being bisexual
doubles your chance of a date on a Friday night”. I have a few problems
with that. The first is the maths doesn’t work. For a date on Friday
night as well as you being attracted to them, they have to be attracted
to you. We don’t – and I am outraged at this – we don't get twice as
many Friday nights as non bi people. And there have been times in my
life where the chance of a date on a Friday night was zero, and double
that is – well, I can tell you’re ahead of me on that bit of maths.
told we are sexually voracious; a couple of years back there was
scientific research, and it must have been true because I read it in the
Daily Mail, showing the reason women are bisexual is they just have far
too much sex hormone sloshing around in them and it makes them prepared
to have sex with absolutely anything. Um. No.
We are – and
unusually in modern use this is a bad thing – indiscriminate. At my old
job, as the token bisexual I would be called on to adjudicate in
discussions of how attractive members of pop bands were. The people who
fancied men would agree this one was the cutest, those who fancied women
would agree this one was the hottest, but I would be called on as the
bisexual to rule which was the hottest of all. Because of course I have
no personal biases, tastes or preference.
And we are suffering from two mental problems – indecision or confusion, and the delusion that you really can be bisexual at all
these remind me a lot of what they tell me about being poly. I hope
I’ve layered them on with a thick enough trowel for it to be clear
already. Greedy. Sexually voracious. At some point this whole delusional
state of many attractions, many loves, is going to resolve itself down
to a decision and understanding of the real truth, which gender we
actually fancied all along, which one we were really in love with.
How do we develop ways to challenge these and the issues of invisibility?
language. Poly seems to do quite well on this – useful words like
metamour or compersion. A positive, even if not universal, language.
Bisexuals are doing much worse: we don’t have a good word without the
“sexual” in it akin to gay or lesbian, and Yougov’s recent research
showed that while anything up to 43% of the population are attracted to
more than one gender, only two percent would own the B word as a label.
there’s symbols. We used, going back to BiCon which I spoke about
earlier, it’s been going for some 30 years and for a long time there was
a new logo, new symbol, new slogan every year. Even if you saw someone
who was at a BiCon five years earlier in their BiCon teeshirt you might
not recognise its symbol. Then in 1998 Michael Page helped us hugely by
inventing a flag. I know flags have, let us call it a mixed record when
it comes to colonialism, but thanks to the bi flag there is now on ebay a
wide range of pink, purple and blue - bisexual flag coloured - tat that
you can buy to subtly communicate that you’re bisexual to others in the
And third, connecting regardless through the web and
finding one another that way. The web is wonderful but there are
problems with self-policing ourselves on facebook and whether your
profile can identify your sexuality and partners without causing issues
for them: information spreading easily can be good and bad.
conclusion, bisexual and polyamory: we are not the same set of people
as the visible section of the bi community might make you think, but I
think we do have a significant set of shared challenges and stereotypes
and a common need to challenge our invisibility in everyday life.