Is Bisexuality Increasingly in the Public Consciousness?
Bisexuality has been largely ignored by the media… until very recently. Even when journalists discuss LGBT issues, far too often the “B” is present only in the abbreviation. Same sex marriage is called “gay marriage,” as if bi people never marry people of the same sex. Bisexual characters in fiction are inaccurately categorized as “gay” or “lesbian.” Married bi individuals are written off as heterosexual or homosexual, solely based upon the gender of their partner. This pervasive problem, often called “bi invisibility” or “bi erasure” is all too familiar to many of us. I almost take it for granted that the media will ignore or even actively erase our existence at every opportunity.
Fortunately, in recent years, there seems to have been gradual progress on this. Recent scientific studies have proven that bisexuality is a real sexual orientation, making it a lot harder for informed people to ignore the B in LGBT. Sociologists are beginning to include bisexuality in their studies. More and more characters in movies, television shows, and novels are finally being portrayed as bi. Celebrities, in describing their real life relationships, are themselves embracing the B word. Recent polls suggest that a far larger percentage of the population are bisexual than previously thought. Bisexual identity is especially common among millennials, which shows that the trend toward embracing bisexuality is growing, not regressing.
All these positive social changes have resulted in increased visibility for bi people and bisexuality. The result has been a paradigm shift in public consciousness. Of course, it’s always good when journalists include bisexuality and bisexual people in relevant discussions. However, the real tipping point comes when bisexuality is such a part of their worldview that it seeps casually into a story while discussing otherwise unrelated topics. And that point may have finally arrived.
In the most recent Sunday Edition of the New York Times, bisexuality was referenced in at least three separate articles. One story, about the Robert Mapelthorpe exhibit at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles casually referenced the late artist’s romantic relationships with men and women. No big deal was made out of it, a tell-tale sign that bisexuality is increasingly being recognized as a normal variation in human sexuality (which it is).
In another story, recounting Warren Buffet‘s take on the politics surrounding the current economy, the article’s author quotes a recent letter written by the billionaire philanthropist: “Woody Allen once explained that the advantage of being bisexual is that it doubles your chance of finding a date on Saturday night. In like manner — well, not exactly like manner — our appetite for either operating businesses or passive investments doubles our chances for finding sensible uses for Berkshire’s endless gusher of cash.”
The “date” quotation (which Buffett attributed to Woody Allen but which is often attributed to Rodney Dangerfield) is somewhat problematic, of course. My Bi.org colleague Mike Szymanksi may have said this best: “Rodney Dangerfield is credited with saying it doubles your chances of having a date. I always thought that it halved your chances, because whether you told straight or gay people that you were bi, they both ran.” (Incidentally, or perhaps not, Szimanski’s comment was itself quoted in a New York Times cover story not long ago.) Regardless, the fact that Warren Buffett chose to use the quotation as a colorful example in a letter about the state of the economy (and that the Times picked it up) is a sign that bisexuality is indeed increasingly in the public consciousness.
Another article titled “Who are the Gay Evangelicals” explored the phenomenon of anti-LGBT Evangelical Christians who openly admit to being LGBT themselves. Despite the apparent bi-erasure in the title, the author quotes one woman as saying: “I’m still mentally, emotionally and spiritually attracted to women… bisexual with celibate same-sex attraction.” The author adds, “despite coming to terms with her bisexuality, Ms. Postell hopes for a heterosexual marriage one day.”
The last example is particularly note-worthy, because it dispels a pervasive biphobic myth: that bisexuality is “a phase” that is ultimately resolved when someone “chooses a side.” Here, we are presented with a person who acknowledges the permanence of her bisexual attraction. While religious beliefs may motivate her to refrain from acting upon her same sex attractions, she acknowledges that they nevertheless exist. And most significantly, that she expects them to persist through her future marriage to a man.
In all three articles, bisexuality was not the primary subject of the piece, yet bisexuality was referenced for color, as an example, casually and without prejudice. This is a very positive sign. It means that bisexuality is better understood and is becoming more accepted (at least among some). For these journalists, the existence of bisexuality is now a permanent part of their worldview, so much so that reference to it it has entered their literary lexicon. The orientation (and the people who represent it) have gone from being ignored and actively erased by the media to being part of society’s grand narrative. There’s much work still to be done, but let’s hope the trend continues!