The night before the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I went to sleep praying my friends Lisa and Mandy would be married once more. They married six years ago on a grassy knoll with an abundance of joy over their union. We had so much fun that day with two beautiful brides, one a bi woman and the other a lesbian.
As a fellow bi activist, I took the time during my toast to remind all in attendance, “This is what a bisexual wedding looks like.” So often, when a bi person jumps the broom, so does his or her identity. Mandy thanked me for “outing” her, because even though she had a bi flag on her car and was the president of a bi organization in college, she was “mis-oriented” as a lesbian at her own wedding simply because she loved one.
Bisexuals working towards LGBT equality are often faced with this conundrum: Do we speak our truth even if it complicates the messaging of the fight for change? Last year, Williams Institute Fellow Michael Boucai wrote that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional in part "because they channel people, particularly bisexuals, into heterosexual relations and relationships." At the cost of a strong, active LGBT community many gay and lesbians still believe “bisexuals could be straight if they wanted to, and most do.” The recent PEW study on the LGBT community found:
a) At least 40 percent of the LGBT is bisexual identified (other estimates put it closer to 51 percent).
b) A majority of these bisexuals are not out to family, friends or their workplace.
c) A majority of these bisexuals are in opposite sex relationships.
Quick causality would suggest that the reason we’re not out is due to our relationships with opposite sex people. If that were the case, why would so many people check a “bisexual” box at all? Shouldn’t they be so deep in the closet that they’d say “heterosexual” or “gay” when asked their identity? These are the questions no one asks us or takes time to study; preferring instead to rely on misinformation that directly silences a community with needs far beyond marriage licenses.
Sixty-one percent of bisexual women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Bi men and women are at least one-third less likely to disclose their bisexual identities to their doctors than gay men or lesbians, which helps explain why we also have poorer health outcomes than gays or straights. Bi men and women are significantly more likely to think about suicide than heterosexuals, gay men or lesbian women. Bisexual youth are more likely to be bullied than gay and lesbian youth. Despite decades of studies indicating the dire need for bisexual specific work, no national LGBT organization has a single bisexual project.
I have heard over and over that my needs don’t matter because I’m married to a man and have the luxury of blending in with normative culture. So the sexual harassment I’ve received at work for being an out bisexual must not matter. The multiple instances of sexual violence I survived as a bisexual teen must not be important and my likelihood for increased risks of heart disease and breast cancer seem to become inconsequential. I’ve seen bisexuals fight for custody of their kids, be dishonorably discharged, or face deportation as bi-national bisexuals. I’ve said goodbye to friends who held on as long as they could before they let go; they still wait for a day bisexual men and women will be worthy of the basic respect that comes with being counted.
Too often bi folks have been denied even the right to ask for an equality that includes them. Even so, I’ve asked, and I will continue to ask for us all. I’ve been part of this fight for more than half my life, standing on street corners with a bullhorn and a rainbow flag. I’ve fought for all of us to have a voice; and, as a black bisexual woman, I’ve had plenty of opportunity! Do I not have a right and a need to be correctly named and included in national narratives for LGBT equality? In 2008, Linda Susan Ulrich, a bisexual advocate and writer based in San Francisco, wrote:
“Words matter. Not just some of them, and not just some of the time. Just as marriage is not the same as domestic partnership, bringing the entire queer community along is not the same as throwing some of us under the bus.”
Words mattered to Mandy during her wedding, just like they matter to millions of other bisexual people who feel more disenfranchised from the LGBT community today than they did five years ago. Many bi people including myself are working hard to change that. We draw attention to seriously relevant bisexual data while we advocate for inclusion in state and federal policy discussions. We’re working to change how flippantly disrespectful gay and straight media are of our youth, our men, and our sexuality. We’re building more community spaces so bisexuals can more easily find helping hands to keep their hope alive.
DOMA died yesterday. I hope the need for bisexual erasure did, too.