Exclusive extract: happy Bi Visibility Day!
Friday, 22 September 2017
It's Christina Neuwirth here, one of the authors contributing essays to this book. I thought I'd take this opportunity to share with you an extract of my essay for this collection. Today, 23 September, is Bi Visibility Day; what better day to release a sneak peek at my essay on bisexuality?
JUST A PHASE - BISEXUALITY AND MILLENNIALS
I’ve always said that the best way to come out to your dad is to contribute an essay to a crowdfunded anthology about millennials.
The stereotype goes: bisexuals are greedy, promiscuous, indecisive, and incapable of long-term relationships. Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index questionnaire in 2009 found that gay and lesbian employees were much more comfortable being out at work than bisexual employees. Bisexual people tend to come out later in life than gay and lesbian people do. Which makes sense because I’m always late! With all this in mind, I wanted to add a story to the tapestry out there, to help make our sexuality more visible.
I always knew I liked girls. I grew up in a progressive – if very religious – family, and my friend group was very open and liberal. When I was fourteen, one of my friends told me she was gay; growing up, I knew from TV that this was it, that one gay friend is all you’re allowed, so I stayed quiet.
Still, I remember thinking that maybe people could tell I liked girls. My friend had two mums and I always worried they would see the secret gay spark in me and would tell everyone. I remember being quite an angry, difficult, shouty teenager, and hoping that if my parents eventually sent me to counselling maybe the counsellor would finally tell me what I was. I remember thinking, fervently, please don’t let me be a lesbian please don’t let me be a lesbian. I don’t know if I can blame my Catholic upbringing for this, where guilt is a handy built-in mechanism, because my parents and my surroundings made sure I knew I was loved. My parents told me there was no such thing as the devil or purgatory. So it wasn’t the fear of hell.
I think it was just plain old self-hatred. I just wanted to be “normal.“ And I did fancy boys, with a strange vigour, probably because it came as such a relief. But it was very upsetting to me to admit to myself that if I was gay, I wasn’t very good at it. It was hard to resign myself to being bad at being gay and also being bad at being straight.
Throughout high school and university, bisexuality was never a thing. It wasn’t an option. It was a joke. Throughout my teenage years I’d received the subliminal message that being bi is a cop-out; being bi is a convenient thing one can choose to be. A common catchphrase among my friend group was Ein Bisschen bi schadet nie – it never hurts to be a little bi, we’d shout gleefully, thinking we were so empowered and open. This sort of framing belittles the real identity of bisexual people, and it also makes it out to be something you can be “a little bit“. Is the expectation that a bi person should be attracted to all genders in equal portions, and therefore if someone is mostly straight but also attracted to other genders they are only a little bit bi, rather than the full thing? This results in one of the most common reactions to coming out: prove it! It’s as if the sex life of bi people is somehow expected to be more easily accessible to those they come out to, just to prove they are indeed bi enough.
Bisexual representation in the media is thin on the ground. On paper, I don’t have a whole lot in common with Darryl Whitefeather, who runs a law firm in West Covina, California in the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Except Darryl is a bi character, so I suppose I do identify with him. When I read on Twitter that Robert Webb said he was “not a full gay”, I immediately added him to my mental bi list; I realise he didn’t actually say it, but I’m so keen to see more bi people out there I’ll make do with a vague hint. More traditional media clearly needs to catch up.
Today, online fanfiction creates spaces for reimagining and expanding characters from popular fiction, film and television. But this isn’t a millennial invention. Marjorie Garber’s book “Bisexuality and the eroticism of everyday life” discusses fanzines and slash fiction in printed counter culture movement in the 1990s (Garber 32f). She quotes an example of a “fan publication featuring Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise and his half-Vulcan friend Mr. Spock. In one example (…), Captain Kirk is saluted after an encounter with Mr. Spock with the sweeping proclamation, ‘Welcome to bisexuality, Captain Kirk, where gender has nothing to do with who you want.’” (Garber 32)
Many of the people I spoke with for this essay said that fandom communities gave them spaces to explore their bisexual identity. But it’s not enough for bi representation to happen online. If it was in the fringes in the 90s and it’s still in the fringes on the internet today, when will it translate to the mainstream media?
Garber, Marjorie. Bisexuality & the Eroticism of Everday Life. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.
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