Activating our Bi-dar: a future for the bisexual community


Most of us are familiar with the term gaydar.  It is the ‘intuitive’ ability to assess if someone is not straight.  But then, there you have it.  It implies that you can only be gay or straight.  What about all of us bisexuals?  What happens to us when someone erroneously assumes we are straight or gay?  As Shiri Eisner points out in Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution: “Since our bisexuality is not ‘known’ to have any visual markers, we are routinely accused of fraudulence, perceived as invisible, and forced to deal with others’ doubts regarding our identities and our oppression.”

The terms ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ present a simplified and more palatable understanding of how the world works.  In fact, the Western, minority world has a long-standing affinity for binaries – so much so that binarist ways of thinking and acting go unquestioned.  Anthropologists have a term for this: ‘Doxa’ – the stuff that goes without saying.  Good /bad; male/female; child/adult; life/death; straight/gay: are all binarist, seldom questioned, ways of making sense of the world.  Anything in between, that doesn’t fall neatly into one or the other category, is feared and sometimes reviled.

As part of our Judeo-Christian heritage, we tend to divide everything into rigid categories of good and bad so often, we don’t give it much critical thought.  For example, the male/female binary is left unquestioned, and it is assumed to be natural and inherent.  Any person who falls outside that binary is a social outcast.  Puberty, is another example of a liminal state of existence between childhood and adulthood, and as such is often scorned.  Teenagers are depicted in Western culture as individuals who are caught between childhood and adulthood and are therefore unstable and dangerous.  Those stages between life and death are rejected as unnatural and even repulsive because they defy our strict separation between those categories: life and death.  States of being like depression and chronic illness that are between being fully alive and dead, are considered to be something to avoid at all costs.

Then there is the straight/gay binary, and again, anything that falls outside those two categories is suspect.  Bisexuals not only fall outside of the binarist view of sexual orientation, but to make matters worse (or better depending on your perspective), we pass in and out of straight and gay communities as a matter of course.  In so doing, we break down the socially constructed division between straight and gay communities.  Bisexuals, by our very existence as such, undermine a binarist label.

From the viewpoint of the monosexual world, if you are not bisexual enough (i.e. in a relationship with at least two people who are the same and a different gender than your own), then you will be relegated to one or the other – the gay or the straight community.  To be bisexual enough, in this binarist system, we are required to publicly perform our bisexuality – something not required of folks in either the straight or gay communities.  All bisexuals who are single or monogamous, barely stand a chance.  We are erased right out of existence.

One answer to bi erasure would be to fight back with our own version of gaydar.  Instead of allowing ourselves to be erased, we could reverse the trend and start connecting more often with other bisexuals.  If we can hone our bidar skills, we might start noticing things we’d never noticed before.  We might start picking up on bisexual visual cues and hearing bisexual history in the making.  We might begin to notice bisexual language, bisexual art, and paying attention to bisexual mannerisms and dress.  We might start to build community because all of those things – history, language, art, mannerisms, and dress (just to mention a few) – are some of the basic building blocks of a culture.

Queer or gay culture is a phenomenon that people recognize as such.  Straight culture, because it is seen as the default, is not thought about in those terms and yet, it is straight culture that defines queer culture because queer culture is depicted as its opposite in popular discourse.  In order to develop our very own bidar, though, we would first need to be aware of the gay/straight binary that leaves virtually no room for bisexual culture.  From that point, we could begin creating a space for ourselves by recognizing the elements of bi culture and bi people who fall outside of the gay/straight binary.  This is not an easy task because bisexuals quite often fly under the bidar.  We would need to look beyond people’s intimate relationships – something that has never defined what it means to be straight or gay – and find similar ways of speaking, acting and just being.  Being bisexual enough should never be about who we are in a relationship with.

Bisexual culture is a fairly new concept but it doesn’t have to remain that way.  If we, as bisexuals start developing our bidar and finding each other, we can build our own culture.  And what would a bisexual culture look like?  If we started with our history, or better yet – our zherstory – our culture would pay homage to forebears such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Silvia Rivera, Brenda Howard, and June Jordan.  Our anthems would be sung by the likes of Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin and Billie Joe Armstrong.  Our conversations would be filled with obscure references to Doctor Who, Star Trek, RPG’s, comic book characters and cyborgs.  Our dress and mannerisms would be colorful and unpredictable to say the least.  After all, we are all shades of pink, purple and blue.  Our culture would no doubt overlap with and celebrate transgender culture and history as well.  If we can imagine it for ourselves, bi culture could begin to take any form and shape we wish.  And when the biphobes tell us we are not bisexual enough, we can point them to our icons, symbols, history, music, art, language and everything else that makes us who we are.


Image shared under creative commons.

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One Response to Activating our Bi-dar: a future for the bisexual community

  • Kasumi says:

    What a great article! I had not thought about that binary way of thinking extending to other aspects of Western culture before. As for our musical icons, I’d add Brendon Urie (from Panic at the Disco) and Blondie 🙂

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