World Bi Visibility Day, on 23 September, was set up to draw attention to the harassment and invalidation that bisexual individuals receive. Here, bisexual women tell us first hand…
In 2021, biphobia continues to be a very real threat to the lives of bisexuals. 31% of bi people have experienced a hate crime on the grounds of their sexuality, according to an in depth study by Stonewall. Of those, three quarters did not report it to the police, with many citing concerns that it would not be taken seriously.
Bi Visibility Day, on the 23rd September, was set up to draw attention to the harassment and invalidation that bisexual individuals receive. Key biphobic tropes include the assumption that bisexuality makes one inherently more promiscuous, that it’s just a phase, or that it is a stepping stone for those unwilling or unable to turn their backs completely on heterosexuality.
Crucial to biphobia is its ability to come from multiple directions, whether from the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, or from outside of it. According to Stonewall, 43% of bisexual people have never attended an LGBTQ+ space, demonstrating a clear need for greater inclusion. Battling biphobia, then, needs to be a collective effort from all sides of the community.
Jahanara, 26, London
Jahanara is a Pakistani Muslim woman. She has known of her sexuality since being at secondary school.
“I was on the back of a double decker bus in west London, texting a girl I liked on BBM,” she says. “I was like, ‘What is this? Why am I so obsessed with this girl?’, and my friend said, ‘Yeah, that’s called being bi…’, which was incredible to hear at 15 but being South Asian and Muslim, you can’t really come out until you’re away from the family situation having moved out,” she explains.
Initial reactions were varied. With marriage being an important focal point in Pakistani culture, that was where many minds jumped to. “I told my friends, and they asked me, ‘Are you going to marry a woman, then?’”, she laughs.
“I also had a few exes who responded negatively. One, I remember, distinctly told me not to tell the next person I date that I’m bi, because they wouldn’t like it. I was 16, I’d lost my virginity to this guy, and he was quite new to everything too.”
“It did make me more hesitant to come out,” she explains. “It was only when I got with my most recent serious ex, who I was with for four and a half years, that we discussed it and were open. Honestly, I thank him so much for being so cool because he helped me understand my sexuality as an adult so much more than anyone else ever did in my life.”
Celestina, 33, is a Nigerian born-again Christian who lives in London. Like Jahanara, she found that her cultural and religious backgrounds shaped people’s reactions to her coming out.
“I told my closest friend about 10 years ago,” she recounts. “And really, I told them not because I intended to live a bisexual lifestyle, but it was more of a cry for help. I thought… that as a Christian, I can’t be gay or bisexual, but this is how I feel, and how I’ve been feeling for many years.”
“I said, ‘Look, I know that I fancy women, and I’ve been going through fasting and praying, doing everything I can as a Christian to pray it out.’” He said, “More than anything, the fact that you’re choosing not to live that lifestyle is a very difficult decision to make. And whatever decision you make, I support you.”
Concerned by potential responses to her sexuality, Celestina remained mostly in the closet until she was outed to her family against her will.
“My mum called me on Christmas Day. It was very Eastenders! I had two options: I could lie or I could sit down and talk to her, and I went for the latter,” she says.
Although reactions were mixed and her family members are still learning to adjust, she expresses relief at her newfound ability to be so open about her identity, and is emphatic about the work she has put in to work towards acceptance within her community.
“So when somebody tells me that this is a phase, I feel like…” she pauses and takes a breath, audibly frustrated. “This isn’t a joke, it isn’t a new thing that I’m studying or a qualification that I’m trying to gain. You’re actually talking about my life, and I find that so disrespectful.”
Carenza, 19, West Midlands
Now a university student, Carenza first came out while at school. Like Jahanara and Celestina, she explains that many of the accusations flung at her on the basis of her sexuality were founded on a fundamental misconception of bisexuality as a phase or stepping stone.
“The main thing is not being believed, but not in the way that most bi-identifying folks are. Everyone sort of assumed that I was a lesbian because I’m quite short and quite masc-presenting, so it’s a fair assumption to make. I sort of expected it initially when I came out.”
“I knew that I was bi from quite an early age, but I waited until I was 16 very specifically because I knew I wouldn’t be believed because of my age. I didn’t expect this level of disbelief. There was an assumption that I was bi now, gay later,” she says, referring to the biphobic trope that bisexuality is a sort of queer purgatory for those unwilling to relinquish heterosexuality and fully embrace homosexuality.
“That’s the other thing – one way or another, everybody thinks that you’re in denial. I’m quite lucky in that as I was starting to come out, I was in a friendship group that was starting to come out as various kinds of LGBTQ+.”
“So my immediate friendship group was quite a supportive environment. I did have that to fall back on, but the wider world[‘s questioning], it absolutely makes you doubt yourself, especially when you’re being perceived as a lesbian in a very traditional sense. It’s like, yes, I do all of these things, and if I was to be a lesbian, I’d be a very stereotypical one.”
In the face of constant questioning of her sexuality, having to battle the preconceptions of strangers, she notes that the role played by her friends in ensuring a safe space to return to has been pivotal, particularly coming from a small town.
“It was everything,” she says. “That was our escape and how we managed to navigate the world. We didn’t have a wider community to keep in touch with and look to for support – we only had ourselves.”