Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar
Illustration by @worthdrawingwell
Unsurprisingly, most of the authors in The Bi-ble wrote of feeling silenced and isolated around their bisexuality, convinced that their struggles were unique to them. In fact, similar feelings are what led me to find the anthology — and tear through it at breakneck speed. The Bi-ble discusses the authors’ experiences of bisexuality in Britain: of marginalisation, exploring their sexuality, and reclaiming their identity — finding power and joy in the process. The collection is an extremely valuable academic resource and one of very few books about bisexuality in Britain — bisexuality, here, being romantic or sexual attraction to multiple genders.
One article in The Bi-ble particularly stayed with me. In “Jigsaw: On Bisexual Representation in LGBTQ+ History,” Reeve discussed bisexual erasure, where academics often omit historic figures’ romantic and sexual involvement with multiple genders from their life stories, and even their actual works. Whether it be Shakespeare, Sappho, Alice Walker, Eleanor Roosevelt, Alexander the Great or Freddie Mercury (Bi.org), people who loved multiple genders have contributed outstandingly to their respective fields, and as a result feature in a wide range of curricula. However, Reeve highlights how academics take the contributions of bisexual people, whilst simultaneously creating toxic invisibility, where their sexuality is ‘‘hidden away” (135) as straight or, sometimes, gay. This erasure is faced by bisexuals in pop culture and even LGBTQ+ histories, too (Reeve 91, 133). When bisexuals’ scholarly contributions are not straight-washed, they are often siloed into feminist or queer studies modules.
Reeve’s infuriating experience of erasure in academia was all too familiar to me. My lecturers would often warn against “forcing” modern labels of sexuality onto historical figures, too. But, rather than encouraging nuanced historical understandings, this ultimately “seemed to result in silencing any discussion or exploration” of our LGBTQ+ heritage at all (Reeve 129). Throughout university, I challenged lecturers’ queerphobic assumptions. This included using terms like ‘pederasty’ to problematise age gaps in historical relationships only when they were queer, as well as bumbling, unsubstantiated descriptions of queerness as ‘homoerotic not homosexual’ (the academic equivalent of ‘no homo’). Just like wider straight and LGBTQ+ spaces, academics specifically erased the existence of bisexual people — implying we are new, abnormal phenomena, or attention-seeking outliers (Reeve 135). Beyond biasing curricula, this erasure also denies LGBTQ+ people the liberating joy of seeing that our love has existed, and persisted, for centuries.
Unfortunately, these biases also extended to wider university policies. For example, my questions about biphobia before my year abroad and available support were dismissed by staff. They expressed that, despite our destination being one of the many countries where queerness is criminalised, it was unlikely I’d be arrested for being queer, and (because I was not gay) I could hide it: therefore, I had nothing significant to be concerned about. In reality, no country has uprooted queerphobia and bisexual invisibility is, in fact, not simply a protective shield, but an additional, painful erasure. So, when bisexuals faced discrimination, we did so with little support. Despite the university’s obligations under the 2010 Equality Act, it consistently failed to design its services to include most of those with protected characteristics, leaving marginalised groups disproportionately struggling to access services they had paid handsomely for. Reeve’s essay made me realise how dismissive and damaging biphobic microaggressions had been… I had just become so used to it. It is so impactful, then, to see British biphobia recognised in The Bi-ble.
Not only are queerphobic biases and discrimination commonplace within academia, as The Bi-ble documents, they compound the discrimination bisexuals face from childhood — throughout education, social situations and work. This greatly impacts bisexuals’ wellbeing: we have the lowest mental health outcomes of any sexuality, struggling to understand our sexualities more than gays or lesbians (Nickodemus and Desmond, xx). Beyond redressing our academic curricula and legacy, we must dismantle biphobic bias to disrupt this everyday discrimination against bisexuals.
Nevertheless, The Bi-ble does not simply highlight our trauma and erasure — a common problem in pop culture (Carilli et al. 49) — but our power, too. Many writers reclaimed the liminality of bisexuality as a strength and power, Ramaswamy calling it a “shape-shifting [racial, social, political and personal] identity” that “right now, means freedom” (7). Moreover, throughout the collection, bisexual people share our own languages, representations, spaces and movements where we uplift ourselves and others. One writer added notes highlighting terminology that encapsulated their childhood sexuality, which they just did not have access to at the time (Lesko 50). Others shared the liberating power of speaking up, whether ticking ‘bisexual’ on forms or rereading popular fictional characters as bisexual in online forums, to create vital representation they could not otherwise find (Ferla 13, Barnard 87). Thus, The Bi-ble is an important source of empowerment for bisexuals, and wider LGBTQ+ audiences, too.
Yet, The Bi-ble goes beyond simply remedying discrimination, making its own large contribution to scholarship about identity politics over the past half a century. In “On Being Black and Bi-furious”, Tavarez outlines a list of potential original research areas within bisexuality, noting that existing research is dominated by white women (117). Throughout the collection, authors also draw intersectional (Crenshaw 1243) parallels with their experiences of liminality, discrimination and erasure being both bisexual and trans, or Black or third-generation Brits (Carroll 83, Ramaswamy 6, Tavarez 116). What other book discusses bisexuality, race, at least four genders, religion, chronic disability, activism, fiction and more? Wider discourse about LGBTQ+ identity in Britain is yet to catch up: gender is considered binary even in the biggest LGBTQ+ surveys (Pew Research Center 82) and we often see other countries as homophobic (Hartal, Gilly, and Sasson-Levy 3), conveniently forgetting that they began to outlaw homosexuality (Han and O’Mahoney 268) and persecute previously-celebrated gender diversity, while under British colonial rule (Roen 1). Rather than predominantly valuing straight, white British knowledge of the marginalised, The Bi-ble demonstrates the power of centering marginalised peoples’ expertise in their own “standpoint”, i.e. uplifting their lived experience (Harding 4). This approach is critical if we are to uproot queerphobic bias and avoid assuming straight/Western/white superiority.
Ultimately, whether one likes it or not, history was and is still made by bisexuals, too. If we want accurate scholarship, we must remove this bias and stop leaving the jigsaw of British history “up to [bisexuals] to put together ourselves” (Reeve 135). The Bi-ble should be required reading for academic staff and students across fields, particularly on reading lists for humanities courses and in discussing a field’s history. Reading The Bi-ble can empower us to re-evaluate straight-washed histories, lead original research and better understand gender and sexuality, including the oppression of contemporary white, cis, heteropatriarchy and, crucially, marginalised people’s resistance against it. We must actively reshape a culture that only allows queer people to exist when it is convenient: perpetuating queerphobia across campuses and embedding it in curricula as if it is a neutral academic choice. We must unlearn our British biphobic bias.
Primary Works Cited:
- Nickodemus, Lauren and Ellen Desmond eds.. The Bi-ble: personal narratives and essays about bisexuality. Monstrous Regiment Publishing Ltd, 2017.
- Barnard, Sarah. “Five Times I Felt Invisible as a Bisexual Fan (And One Time I Didn’t).” pp. 85–96.
- Carroll, Naomi J. “However it Came to Be: On Being Both Trans and Bisexual.” pp. 82–83.
- Ferla, Lisa-Marie. “Decline to Answer: Why I’m Making My ‘Invisible’ Bisexuality Your Business.” pp. 9–14.
- Lesko, Kathryn. “Defining Terms: How I Finally Started Listening to My Brain and Body.” pp. 49–56.
- Ramaswamy, Chitra. “Going Either Way.” pp. 1–8.
- Reeve, Mel. “Jigsaw: On Bisexual Representation in LGBTQ+ History.” pp. 127–136.
- Tavarez, Jayna. “On Being Black and Bi-furious.” pp. 113–120.
Secondary Works Cited:
- Bi.Org. “Famous Bi People.” Bi.Org, http://bi.org/en/famous/. Accessed 24 September 2020.
- Carilli, T., J. Campbell, K. Akita, R.D. Besel, K. Comeforo, B.E. Drushel, J. Guthrie, et al. Queer Media Images: LGBT Perspectives. Lexington Books, 2013.
- Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.” Stan. L. Rev. 43, 1990, pp. 1241–1299.
- Han, Enze, and Joseph O’Mahoney. “British Colonialism and the Criminalization of Homosexuality.” Cambridge Review of International Affairs, vol. 27, no. 2, 2014, pp. 268–88. doi:10.1080/09557571.2013.867298.
- Harding, Sandra G., ed. The feminist standpoint theory reader: Intellectual and political controversies. Psychology Press, 2004.
- Hartal, Gilly, and Orna Sasson-Levy. “The progressive orient: Gay tourism to Tel Aviv and Israeli ethnicities.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2019, pp. 1–19. doi:10.1177/2399654419862819.OR.
- Pew Research Center. A Survey of LGBT Americans: Attitudes, Experiences and Values in Changing Times. Pew Research Center, 13 June 2013. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13.
- Roen, Katrina. “Gender Variance.” The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies, American Cancer Society, 2016, pp. 1–3. doi:10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss156.
Gemma Avens (@gemmaavens) is a writer and First-class Edinburgh graduate who often explores innovative uses of contemporary media, including representations of women and marginalised groups in her work. Having learned more about intersectional feminisms from Instagram than traditional spaces, she is passionate about critically analysing knowledge production and uplifting lived expertise.