Alexander the Great. Amy Winehouse. Eleanor Roosevelt. Cardi B. David Bowie. Drew Barrymore. Marilyn Monroe. Joan Crawford. Freddie Mercury. Frida Kahlo. James Dean. Lady Gaga. Miley Cyrus. All of these notable figures from history and popular culture have one thing in common: they all identified or identify as bisexual.
Bisexuality is defined by the American Psychological Association as “people who have the capacity to form attraction and/or relationships to more than one gender.” Gallup revealed three out of five LGBTQ+ Americans identify as bisexual in a survey conducted earlier this year, resulting in bisexuals being dubbed by many researchers the “invisible majority” within the LGBTQ+ community.
However, bisexuality has historically been overlooked, ignored and/or discounted by, not just cis, heterosexual society, but by the LGBTQ+ community itself. The San Francisco report found that bisexual people are consistently “ignored, discriminated against, demonized, or rendered invisible by both the heterosexual world and the lesbian and gay communities. Often, the entire sexual orientation is branded as invalid, immoral or irrelevant.”
In an article found in TIME magazine, many “toxic misconceptions” have surrounded bisexual people, including labeling bisexuals as promiscuous and unfaithful, confused or experimenting, lying about their orientation for attention, or simply identifying as bisexual for “the trend.”
A 2019 study showed a majority of people who identify as bisexual experience bi-negativity “from both heterosexuals and lesbian and gay individuals, as well as the LGBTQ community more broadly.”
In an interview with The Hill, V Varun Chaudhry, a cultural anthropologist at Brandeis University who studies gender and sexuality, shared her thoughts on the matter. “There’s this assumption that you’re either gay or straight and you will ultimately fall to one side or the other. People might say, ‘Oh, you’re not really committed to this relationship because your last partner was the other gender.’”
According to GLAAD and the Bisexual Resource Center, bisexual-identifying people experience greater levels of anxiety and depression, as well as a higher STI contraction rate than their heterosexual, gay and lesbian peers.
Bisexual Visibility Week is celebrated every year from September 16 through September 23, and it serves as a reminder to people in the LGBTQ+ community and its allies that bisexuality is real and valid. Qnotes has created a guide for bisexual history to honor the “invisible majority” in our community.
The psychology behind bisexuality
According to an article written in TIME magazine, one of the earliest researchers to examine bisexuality was Havelock Ellis, a psychologist from the United Kingdom who lived from 1859 until he died in 1939. His case studies, while they did contain some negative stereotypes, were among some of the first to include positive statements regarding queer people. In fact, the first edition of Ellis’s book, “Sexual Inversion,” was ruled “obscene” in an English court because he wrote about queer lives without denouncing or invalidating the queer experience. Ellis had to pitch his book multiple times before it was ultimately published in 1927.
One of the most famous researchers on the topic of sexuality was Alfred Kinsey, a biologist at Indiana University. Kinsey was one of the first researchers to hypothesize a spectrum approach to sexuality, and from this, the Kinsey Scale was born.
The Kinsey Scale is used to categorize sexuality in numbers — zero being strictly heterosexual and six being strictly homosexual. Kinsey’s research shocked the world when his studies with the scale revealed that 25 to 50 percent of people “had homosexual and heterosexual desires.” Kinsey also criticized other researchers who believed people could only be gay or straight, saying human sexuality is made up of “endless intergradations.”
Fritz Klein was another famous researcher who exclusively studied bisexuality and published the book, The Bisexual Option, in 1978. Klein was bisexual himself, and in fact, he started a support group for other bisexual men, which turned into an affirmative therapy group whose model is used by practicing psychologists and researchers to this day. Klein built on the Kinsey Scale by creating the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which according to the American Institute of Bisexuality, entails the following:
“For each person, it sets out the seven component variables of sexual orientation, listed as A through G down the left side. The three columns indicate three different points at which sexual orientation is assessed: the person’s past, their present, and their ideal. The person then receives a rating from 1 to 7 for each of the 21 resulting combinations, one rating for each empty box in the chart below. The meanings of the ratings are indicated just below the grid itself.”
Who is the ‘B’ in ‘LGBTQ+?’
Bisexual people have also been on the front lines in advocating for LGBTQ+ equality across the country, among them Lani Ka’ahumanu. Ka’ahumanu has fought for bisexual rights since 1980 and was working in the same circle as Brenda Howard, who was coined the “mother of pride” for organizing many of the Pride protests and marches following the Stonewall riots.
Ka’ahumanu founded several organizations and groups geared towards bisexual people who, at the time, were often ostracized by gay and lesbian communities. She was one of the co-founders of BiPOL, one of the first bisexual political action groups in the country, and later created the San Francisco Bay Area Bisexual Network. Ka’ahumanu’s advocacy is one of the main factors that led to the inclusion of the “B” in “LGBTQ+,” but the advocacy for bisexual people didn’t stop with that.
There are still plenty of activists working to eliminate bi-erasure and the stigma surrounding bisexual-identifying people, and there are bisexual people using their platform to promote visibility. Some of these people include, but aren’t limited to:
- Kyrsten Sinema, who was the first openly bisexual person elected to Congress in 2012.
- Drew Barrymore, who came out in 2003 saying “Do I like women sexually? Yeah, I do. Totally. I have always considered myself bisexual. I love a woman’s body. I think a woman and a woman together are beautiful, just as a man and a woman together are beautiful.”
- June Jordan, a Black, bisexual author and poet from the 1970s who wrote about the queer experience.
- Alan Cumming, the Cabaret star who said on NPR “sexuality in this country especially is seen as a very black and white thing, and I think we should encourage the gray.”
- Robyn Ochs, a bisexual-identifying activist who helped to found the Boston Bisexual Network and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Faculty and Staff Group at Harvard University.
- Rev. Lindasusan V. Ulrich, who is also nonbinary, a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Association who uses their skills as a writer, musician, and activist to support inclusion and kindness within their congregations.
- Rabbi Debra Kolodny, who serves as the executive director of Nehirim – a national Jewish LGBTQ retreat and advocacy organization.
- Sara Ramirez, a nonbinary actor who played Dr. Callie Torres, a bisexual woman and orthopedic surgeon, in 239 episodes of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ — the longest-running LGBTQ+ character in TV history.
- Kate Brown, who became the nation’s first out bisexual sitting governor in 2015 when she was sworn in as Oregon’s governor.
- Andrea Jenkins, a Black poet, playwright, writer, artist and the first person to serve as the oral historian for the Transgender Oral History Project.
- JoCasta Zamarripa, who not only became the first Latina woman elected to Wisconsin’s legislature, but continued in that position after coming out as bisexual in a local paper during her reelection campaign in 2012.
Bisexuality Visibility Week’s importance to the LGBTQ+ community is felt among its silent majority, and is shown in Ramirez’s monologue from an episode of Grey’s Anatomy:
“So I’m bisexual. So what? It’s a thing and it’s real. I mean it’s called LGBT for a reason – there’s a B in there and it doesn’t mean BADASS. Okay, it kind of does, but it also means Bi.”