Celebrating Bi Visibility Day: An Interview with Jen Yockney on Bisexuality

Jen

Today is Bi Visibility Day, a day to celebrate the bisexual community. It is also Bisexual Awareness Week, co-founded by GLAAD, which “seeks to accelerate acceptance of the bi+ community.”

I recently shared with family members and friends that I’m bisexual. I admire from afar (on Twitter) people who are open about being bisexual and enjoy the few portrayals of bisexuality that I’ve seen on TV, such as on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

I feel as though I’m still new to the world of bisexuality though, so I can’t speak knowledgeably about it just yet. I reached out to Jen Yockney MBE, the editor of Bi Community News magazine, to answer my questions about the importance of Bi Visibility Day, advice on coming out, and ways to combat biphobia.

Jen is also the Convenor of BiPhoria, the UK’s longest-running bi support organization. Earlier this year, she became the first person to be named in the UK’s Queen’s Honours List for Services to the Bisexual Community as well as being the first Mx to appear on the list. She lives in Manchester, England and likes strawberry cider and the smell of fresh printing.

Why is Bi Visibility Day so important?       

One of the main challenges for bi people is our collective and individual invisibility and all the problems that flow from that, and one of the key things we need is visibility and all the benefits that come with that.

For example, if bisexuality were more widely considered – to get a bit militant, if we assumed everyone was bi until they said otherwise – then when someone got into a relationship with a person of a different gender than we were used to them dating, it would be more “and does that person make you feel good” and less “what does this mean for who you are?” If health services assumed we all need sex education about all potential partners, we would know about consent and safer sex choices for whoever we would end up taking home for the night – not relying on people to have read both the “straight” and “gay” advice materials.

It’s also telling how the day has evolved in its 18 years. It started in 1999 as a celebration for bi people of the very existence of bi spaces and organizations, because we were so often so excluded from “LGBT” stuff.  Today it’s providing a rallying point for showing support for bi people as well as being out and proudly bi yourself: if an LGBT organization wants to start doing “B” things it’s the easiest way to begin; though I might then watch carefully to see if they realize bisexuality is for the whole year, not just the 23rd of September.

Do you have any suggestions on ways to celebrate Bi Visibility Day this year, even if it’s something small like having a discussion about bisexuality?

Depending on the time, energy and money you have the sky’s the limit. I know people who are going to be wearing the bi flag colors in their choice of clothing for the day and hoping other bi people clock it. I know people who will drape the bi flag in the window of their home. Some use it as an excuse to talk to local politicians and public officials about bi issues. Others are running street stalls to raise visibility, giving talks at their work, church or community group. Some have even managed to get the town hall of the place where they live to raise the bi flag for the day.

You might not know how or where to start: try resources like Getting Bi In A Gay Straight World, the Bisexuality Report, or YouTube for videos of people talking about being bi. The BiCast podcast can give you cool listening materials too either for an event or for getting ideas about what to talk about.

Do you have any advice on coming out as bisexual, especially for people who would be coming out to family members and friends who might not understand bisexuality?

The first thing with coming out might seem counter-intuitive but: it can wait. Think about what could go well and could go badly: if for example coming out to the people you live with could mean you wound up needing a new place to live, then don’t do it til you have a “plan B” in place. When you finally have found the label for the thing you’ve been trying to understand or express for so long, it’s tempting to shout it everywhere and now: but you will still be bi tomorrow.

Test the water with seeing their attitude to high-profile queer people before you start saying “I’m like that…”

And remember that the person you’re telling may have worked it out ages ago, or may need a bit of time to get their head round it. Their first reaction should perhaps not be held against them!

If there are bi organizations or events near you they can also provide a handy device for coming out. Suddenly declaring that, “Hey, I’m bisexual” can make people feel awkward, that you have just brought your sex life into the conversation. “I was thinking of going along to the local bi support meetup” gives them other avenues to explore.

Do you have a favorite book, movie, or TV show about a character who is bisexual?

It can be a controversial choice but for me Chasing Amy is kind of the vital bi film: because, spoiler alert, that speech rams home that who we were yesterday does not dictate who we are today. Who you assume bisexuals will be – if it’s that we will be up for threesomes, kinky, experimental, wild – does not decide who we are for us. One bisexual’s experience of bisexuality does not define it for us all, and does not have to eternally define it even for them.

According to the Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations report, “an article published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that bisexuals in a community survey of young and middle-aged adults reported poorer mental health than people of any other sexual orientation in the sample.” Do you have any advice for people who are bisexual on self-care and managing anxiety/depression?

This is one of the hardest things for bis: when we talk about these awful statistics about mental health, domestic violence and so on, even about comparative poverty, these are not numbers, they are US.  Why are the bi organizations so small? Lots of reasons but one is that the people most motivated to change things for bi people have very often also had many of the bad life experiences due to biphobia that the statistics highlight.

It’s great to be out and proud and championing bi positivity, but your first duty is to looking after yourself and making sure you are safe and as well as you can be. Depending where you live in the world the institutions that you might go to for support can vary greatly, as someone in the UK I know that there might be a waiting list but most of my health needs will be treated free, if a physician recognizes those needs. I know for readers in the USA for instance that is different.

You can though seek out support from others, use the bi and LGBT services that are there – hell, if they say they are an LGBT service they should be supporting and supportive but we know sometimes that’s not the case. Bi people can be turned away by some LGBT projects because they are in a mixed gender relationship for instance, when the biphobia that is causing them distress might be coming from a straight partner. I’m not sure those kinds of organizations actually know what LGBT stands for! But if you do have that negative response, take heart, be brave and try another place.

Find bi friends. In a society that wants to box us away, others who can relate to the biphobic things that make you roll your eyes in despair are a great medicine in themselves. “Oh… It’s not just me” is one of the most powerful cheap treatments we have.

And if you’re seeking counseling also try and find out what the counselor’s attitudes on bisexuality might be. Research a few years ago showed that many gay and straight identified counselors surveyed said that if a client disclosed that they were bisexual, they would assume sexuality confusion was part of the problem. Biphobia can cause us all much distress from time to time, but you need support from someone who won’t just blame it on your ‘failure’ to ‘pick a team’.

Do you have any advice on ways to combat biphobia?

Humor, facts, and honesty!

People don’t like being corrected, it’s a common human trait, so defusing a “bisexuals can’t make their minds up” with “you’re right. No, wait, you’re wrong. Oh hang on, you’re right” may be an easier route to dialogue.

One of the problems we had 10 or 20 years ago was that while we knew about the bisexual experience anecdotally, we didn’t have figures to back us up. We couldn’t show that, for instance, bisexuals don’t get a boost from “passing privilege” – the way we are read as gay or straight. Actually a double closet hurts even more and so the figures on mental and physical health issues for bi people are even worse than for gay and lesbian people. Use things like the Bisexuality Report and the Complicated? Report to help you.

And be honest. It’s tempting when you are hit with the stereotypes and clichés to rebut them. Bisexuals aren’t greedy, bisexuals aren’t promiscuous. Actually, some of us are: perhaps those are the bisexuals people notice most because they erase other bis’ identities away. No more so than the rest of society, but in the end like gay people and straight people we are humans, individual idiosyncrasies and all.

You can follow Jen on twitter @jenyockney

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