“The Bi-Cycle”: Bi Representation In The US From The 70s To Today

lou-reed-walk-on-the-wild-side-andar-por-el-c

“The glam rock era brought with it ‘bisexual chic’…”

As I’ve lived my own story, bisexuality has run through cycles of acceptance and denial. I was a kid when Walk on the Wild Side and glam rock were mainstream. The 1970s was a time of “bisexual chic”. Swinging, key parties, and the rest were a direct result of the sexual liberation movement started at Stonewall. Stephen Donaldson actually pushed the Gay Liberation Front to take the cause to the suburbs and middle America. Some did. Newsweek also reported on this bisexual moment. The sexual revolution gave space to gender and sexual minorities. That revolution would all come crashing down, and bisexual visibility with it, when AIDS hit.

In the early 1980s, I found my gay ghetto as I became an adult. We had bars, parties, districts where we were safe. Then AIDS hit. Safe space was hard to find for any LGBT people. The Plague was killing our friends and neighbors, and bisexuals were blamed for infecting straights.The bisexual community that I needed as a young adult was dying just at the point I needed it most. The Gay community, Gay politics were all under siege. Identity became the core. Those of us lucky enough to escape the Plague could only ‘help.’ I worked on the big Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. I read the marginalized the call for inclusion from bisexual community but was personally still too “confused” to find my place in it.

The 1990s was a good decade for bisexual visibility. In 1993, Lani Ka’ahumanu became the first bisexual to speak at a national LGBT march on Washington. Gay and lesbian organizations began including bisexuals and trans people. In the summer of 1995, Newsweek’s cover story “Bisexuality: Not Gay. Not Straight. A New Sexual Identity Emerges” acknowledged our existence, citing The Bisexual Resource Guide listing of over 1,400 bisexual groups. In DC, there were multiple groups for bisexual people; it made my coming out easier.

hiv-218541_1280

“The ‘Plague’ brought everything crashing down”

Then as we came into the 21st Century, Gay Inc moved away from the critical work around the AIDS crisis, discrimination and violence, and devalued trans and bi inclusion in LGBT community diversity. Marriage equality and a move toward “respectability politics,” led by HRC, excluded us and our friends. Then 911 hit. Bisexual people found each other at meetings, protests, and otherwise opposing the war. In 2007, we struggled against a Federal ENDA bill which excluded transgender people.The internet allowed us to push for local and state LGBT rights while connecting to bisexuals around the world. But a viable bisexual community was yet again in formation.

By 2005, the New York Times was wondering if bisexual males were “Gay, Straight, or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited.”  Many bisexual activists, including me, loudly challenged the paper, Dan Savage, the gay press, anyone who used this “study” to deny our existence. Nine years later, one of the biggest retractions ever to make it to the NYT Magazine came with “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists.” What happened over that decade? And will we be fighting the same battles in 2025 seen in earlier generations?

Fast-forward to 2011: the San Francisco HRC released “Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations”: a wake up call for the LGBT community to take our issues seriously. More and more funding is slowly going to study and understand bisexual issues. LGBT organizations are beginning to address our needs. The recent YouGov poll showed that young people are freer to identify as bisexual. Of course there is still lots to do. A Pew study showed that only 28% of bisexual people are out, and only 12% of bi males. Until we become more visible, our health disparities will continue at higher rates than among gays.

The current decade has been, thus far, a good one for bisexuality in much of the developed world. New organizations have formed, bisexuals publish in the media. So many young stars are coming out that gay gatekeepers are yelling “bisexual chic” once again. It’s a good time to be rich, gay, and married.  Declaring victory, some gay civil rights organizations have disbanded. We know there is still much to do. Hopefully, post marriage equality, bi+ and trans* activists, who have always been in the backbone of the LGBT movement, will have the freedom to create a broad and inclusive agenda that truly lifts all boats.

woman-216988_1280

“In recent times, so-called ‘arousal studies’ have controversially concluded that both everyone and nobody is bisexual”

Of course there are still those who deny some or all of us our very existence. Money is still being spent on proving by arousal studies.  “Why straight women and bisexual men may not really exist” from Gay Star News or “Women are either bisexual or gay but ‘never straight‘” from the Telegraph are examples of how this flows to the media. If everyone is bisexual then no one is. The idea that only women are fluid caused division last decade. And,the need to prove our bisexuality within our community instead of accepting us as we are leads always to bad outcomes.

While it is currently getting better for us, history shows the ups and downs of bisexual visibility and how quickly the tides can turn.  HERO, increasing numbers of hate crimes, right wing politics, and the repression of LGBT people in many parts of the world call us to continue to organize and be visible.

The level of activism within our community today is pushing society and the LGBT community to respect us. Youth are more willing to identify outside of the strict gay/straight binary. Celebrate Bisexuality Day has become a weeklong recognized event. And the LGBT media is giving us space and there is even an emerging bisexual media. Bisexuals represent an incredible diversity among sexual and gender minorities showing the world we are everywhere. It’s great that some of us can live well and be out, but we must avoid respectability politics. Bisexuals are monogamous, poly, non-binary, rich, poor. We come in every colour, with all kinds of abilities. We come in all genders. Some of us really like sex, others of us fall in the ACE spectrum. Bisexuals throughout history have led many a sexual revolution. Celebrating and building on our diversity is our only hope for progress, rather than cycling back, for the next generation.

As a youth, John Clark became a Golden Globes champion and an activist fighting a toxic waste dump in his community. He moved to the DC Gay Ghetto in 1982 as the Plague was just beginning. He was always bisexual but told he had to choose. He did. A going-on 30-year domestic partnership with a cishet woman named Jane who he met a an anti-Contra aid rally in DC gave him two boys. One is now 21 and the other 16. The 16-year-old gave his brother life five years ago with his bone marrow. John has fought for gender and sexual minority rights since he learned to box, from the 1987 Gay & Lesbian March on Washington to a Leelah Alcorn March last year. For going on two decades, the bisexual community has given him strength. Currently, he’s active with CenterBi here in DC. For twenty one years, he’s lived in the rainbow hippy ghetto co-op just across the border of DC in PG County, Maryland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *