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Bye Bi: The Case of the Missing Bisexuals

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A recent news story has been about the actor Anna Paquin, who has said that despite being married to a man and pregnant with his child, she still identifies as bisexual and will not deny her sexuality or her attraction to women. She has been praised for her commitment to the bisexual movement.

Why someone's sexuality needs to be public knowledge is not a question that will be taken up here, but what is relevant is that more celebrities and other public figures feel confident coming out as bisexual these days. Besides Paquin, singers Jessie J and Brett Anderson, actors Drew Barrymore and Angelina Jolie, comedian Margaret Cho, and writers Rebecca Walker and Bret Easton Ellis are just a few of the many openly bisexual people in contemporary society. Although some might be claiming a bisexual identity in order to capitalise on its trendiness, in general, it seems that most of these people are genuine bisexuals who are hoping to promote visibility for this previously ignored or underrated sexual identity.

Important political organisations such as Stonewall also are more likely to include bisexuals than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

All this seems like positive progress, because it implies that we no longer see sexuality as a strict gay or straight binary and also that we are more accepting of a variety of sexualities.

However, based on literature for children and young adults, young people don't seem to view bisexuality as an acceptable option. I didn't find any openly bisexual characters in picture books, although there were some characters who could be read as bisexual. For example, if it was a parent who had previously been married heterosexually and now was in a same-sex relationship; often such people aren't defined, so whether they are bisexual or else they came out as gay later in life isn't clear.

I found one bisexual main character in a young adult novel, in Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (2003). Kyle is portrayed as unhappy because of having a divided sexuality:

"I'm so confused."
"Why?"
"I still like girls."
"So?"
"And I also like guys."
I touch his knee. "It doesn't sound like you're confused, then."
"But I wanted to be one or the other. With you, I wanted just to like you. Then, after you, I wanted to just like the girls. But every time I'm with one, I think the other's possible."
"So you're bisexual."
Kyle's face flushes. "I hate that word," he tells me, slumping back in his chair. "It makes it sound like I'm divided." (2003:85)

Here, then, Kyle is "divided," which he clearly views as a negative word and a negative situation. Although Kyle's ex-boyfriend, with whom he is speaking, does not chastise or criticise Kyle for being bisexual, Kyle seems to have internalised societal biphobia; he does not want to be seen as someone who wants anyone and everyone, or as someone who doesn't know what he wants.

Kyle is struggling with whether to identify - publicly or privately - as bisexual; his isolation and unhappiness are evident from his usage of the word "divided" and his unwillingness to accept the label that best seems to describe him.

In another book, The Year They Burned the Books by Nancy Garden (1999), Jamie and Terry call themselves 'maybes', because they are not certain about their sexuality yet. They talk about shades of meaning and "probably maybes" or "maybe probablys", but they do not see bisexuality as a possibility. They must go one way or another. So bisexuality is shown as a state of confusion, one that a person will "come out" of, so to speak, by going one way or the other, i.e. gay or straight.

Sex advice columnist Dan Savage writes, "Yes, lots of people judge and condemn and fear bisexuals. If those were good reasons to stay closeted, no gay or lesbian person would ever come out. And if bisexuals did come out in greater numbers, they could rule... well, not the world, but they could rule the parallel LGBT universe."

What we need is for more bisexuals in literature to come out and to be recognised for who they are. If they are more accepted in society in general today, as seems to be the case from all the celebrities who proudly claim the bi label, then we need to assure young people that bisexuality is welcomed in our society.

It's time to say "hello" and not "bye" to bi.

Around the Web

Bisexuality - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited - New York Times

Bisexual Resource Center

The American Institute Of Bisexuality

'True Blood' Star Anna Paquin Defends Her Bisexuality

Bisexual in a Gay/Straight World

Bisexuality proved: Scientists reveal why some people are happy swinging both ways

20 Years of Bisexual Conferencing with BECAUSE

Jessie J. Denies Lesbian Rumors: Bisexual Singer Shoots Down Biography Claims