Source: Canva Pro design by Allegra Morgado | Description: a graphic with text and an image in a circle frame in the middle. The text is slightly rounded around the top of the frame and reads “Bi Visibility Day”. The image is of a white hand in a peace sign with the rainbow Pride flag painted on their wrist. The graphic also features two sets of “cloud”-type graphics in the bisexual flag colours (blue, purple, pink) in the bottom left and top right of the image, 3 sets of stars around the photo in the bisexual flag colours around the frame. The background is a mix of pastel yellow, pink, and blue.
Allegra Morgado, 2SLGBTQ+ Special Projects Coordinator
Happy (belated) bisexual visibility day/celebrate bisexuality day! Although this day (and week!) go by different names depending on the person you’re talking to (similar to non-monosexual sexualities—more on this in a bit), overall this time is intended to celebrate the bisexual and biromantic people in your life and greater communities!
In celebrating bisexual visibility day we’d like to talk about a specific area where bisexual folks tend to face a lot of invisibility—health care.
But first off—what is bisexuality?
Bisexuality can be a confusing identity for those who don’t have bisexual folks in their life or are not bisexual themselves. Bisexuality can also be defined in multiple ways, depending on the person defining it and whether we are talking about the umbrella term vs. the individual term.
First, let’s start with the individual term. One of my favourite definitions, which is pretty all-encompassing, comes from bisexual activist and speaker Robyn Ochs. Here is a quote from her defining bisexuality:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted–romantically and/or sexually–to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.”
If you’re asking what the difference is between this and pansexuality—good question! According to an article from Teen Vogue on pansexuality, “[p]ansexuality means being attracted to all people regardless of gender identity or sex. The prefix pan is the Greek word for all.”
GLAAD also defines the word similarly, noting that pansexuality is part of the bisexual umbrella, including all sexualities that are not monosexual, which means “to be sexually and/or romantically attracted to only one sex or gender,” including heterosexual and homosexual folks.
The difference between pansexuality and bisexuality, simply put, can be that “[w]hile being bisexual means being attracted to more than one gender, being pansexual means being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender”; however, it’s important to allow and respect people’s ability to describe and define their own identity in the way that feels best to them, even if it doesn’t perfectly match the definition you’re most familiar with.
Bisexual exclusion, erasure & biphobia
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario, “[b]isexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians” (Source: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Queer identified People and Mental Health, CMHA Ontario). Research in The Journal of Sex Research and Women & Health has also shown us that bisexual people “often have poorer health outcomes compared to both lesbian and gay populations and heterosexual populations” especially bisexual women (Source: Bisexual Community, Re:searching for LGBTQ2S+ Health).
As a bisexual person, I have seen this in my own community. Folks who don’t identify with the L or the G in our beautiful acronym often face different forms of discrimination, including from the 2SLGBTQ+ community at large. Although heterosexism and homophobia from cisgender heterosexual communities hurts, the discrimination and exclusion can feel even more damaging when it comes from your own community of other 2SLGBTQ+ folks.
What support do bisexual folks need?
In 2015, Planned Parenthood Toronto and research partners conducted research on the sexual and reproductive health needs of young bisexual women in Toronto. This study spoke to 35 participants on their needs and put together helpful information for healthcare providers and bisexual women in providing and getting the care they needed.
From bi-erasure to cissexism, those who answered the survey identified the many ways in which their healthcare providers, as well as healthcare information in general (e.g. pamphlets, sexual education, etc.) often centers monosexual individuals and erases bisexual identities.
Sexual health is also an area where bisexual men face unique challenges, including higher sexually transmitted infection rates than their straight and gay counterparts. Similar to those from the Planned Parenthood study, bisexual men involved in a study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also identified biphobia as a reason why bisexual folks have poorer health outcomes. This study also looked at the ways in which other forms of marginalization such as racism, can further contribute to these unmet sexual health needs.
Both of these studies*, indicate a need to close the significant bisexual knowledge gap and offer more bi-inclusive sexual health (and other health) information that allows bisexual folks to feel more comfortable in their identities.
Saying bye to biphobia
Although we have made great strides as a larger community on inclusion, bisexual folks continue to face biphobia that prevents them from feeling fully comfortable in themselves or in the larger 2SLGBTQ+ community. As we enter October, which is 2SLGBTQ+ History Month in Canada, it’s important to remember that bisexual folks have always been here and will continue to be here.
From historic bisexuals like Frida Kahlo and Freddie Mercury to modern bisexual and pansexual heros like Cheri DiNovo, former Canadian politician and the only woman to sign the “We Demand” document in 1971, and Janelle Monáe, bisexual people are strong, beautiful, artistic, resilient, and loving. It is time to do away with the biphobic notions of the past and celebrate the beauty of the fluid identities in the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
Now, to end us off, let’s check out this music video from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend of the bisexual song “Gettin’ Bi” (please note: this song is a bit binary but bisexuality is and should be inclusive of all genders, including non-binary identities!).
*We recognize that only the Planned Parenthood study was explicitly inclusive of trans and non-binary individuals and that people of all genders can and do identify as bisexual