invisibility woven into the digital fabric of our banner
January 29, 2019 9:45 AM   Subscribe

But until 1998, when Michael Page designed the flag that would become a global shorthand for bisexuality, there was no universal symbol under which the movement could unite. Many bisexual people did not feel a connection to the already iconic rainbow flag, which seemed to belong only to lesbian and gay people. But the rainbow flag had been undeniably effective. In 1998 it was just 20 years old but already an icon, a utensil of mass visibility and a banner under which to rally. The right flag, clearly, could be a potent tool. “We wanted to let the larger world know that we were here, we’re proud, and we demanded respect.”
posted by sciatrix (40 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh wow, I was just looking for a bi flag pin a couple of hours ago.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 9:52 AM on January 29


Honestly, my orientation is probably more accurately described as pansexual (though bisexuality does not mean only attracted to people within the gender binary), but I prefer bisexual because it's easier to explain to people... and because the bisexual pride flag colors are way better than the pansexual pride flag colors.
posted by SansPoint at 9:58 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


Heh. And at least half the reason I consider myself pansexual is because I prefer that flag's colors instead. (Also because it makes things simpler to think about, since I have partners of diverse genders and have no internal gender compass myself.)
posted by NMcCoy at 11:01 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


At the risk of opening the can of worms too much:

The "bi" in bisexual is "both" in the context of "hetero" and "homo," not "both genders."

It's reeeeeally frustrating and uncomfortable for people to keep insisting that "bisexual" has gender binary implications, because it doesn't, and never has. "Pansexual" and "bisexual" are synonyms, and I'm fine with people choosing whichever they like to describe themselves, as long as it's not "I consider myself pansexual because I don't believe in the gender binary."

I personally use "bi" simply because there's little enough representation that we don't really need an internal fracture within the community.
posted by explosion at 11:36 AM on January 29 [27 favorites]


Yes, I understand the impulse to fight the gender binary, but it's always frustrating to hear people claiming an exclusionary side to bi identity that I have never seen bi activists actually ascribe to. Unnecessary internal fracture indeed. I do like the pan flag colors better, though, and I have no problem with people describing themselves (or me) as "pan" if that suits them.
posted by col_pogo at 11:41 AM on January 29 [4 favorites]


I am quite partial to the flag and its color-blend effect (as covered in TFA). I am leery of flying/wearing it, though, since my spouse and I are, uh... I don't know the term of art for "attracted to various genders but, to this point, only have lived experience with those different from our own." Invisible + theoretical.

If that got a flag, I'd wear it without feeling like I'm stomping on people who don't have my level of privilege.

Unless, heyyyyy, the flag is invisible too. Hah.
posted by cage and aquarium at 11:50 AM on January 29 [5 favorites]


I'm totes bi
posted by nikaspark at 11:50 AM on January 29 [6 favorites]


My Nonbinary Soapbox: Historic American and likely Western European views of homosexuality and bisexuality can't be separated from over a century of inversion theory which is still living history and folk-wisdom for many of us. So it's not a surprise that the early advocates for nonbinary and genderqueer identity were part of gay, lesbian, and bi communities, and that advocacy was for better language beyond the anti-gay and anti-lesbian slurs we were known by. As a historic and cultural reality, nonbinary people have always been a part of LGB culture, often done more than our share of work building that culture, and typically gotten more than our share of violence.

My Bi Soapbox: One of the things we're finding specifically regarding bi people is that invisibility is not a refuge. Nearly 50% of bi women are survivors of relationship violence, and that's been replicated in the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia. Bi minority stress contributes to some of the highest levels of major mental illness and drug abuse within LGBTQ communities, with corresponding effects on health. Complicating this is active erasure and prejudice from healthcare professionals. Demonization of bi men was a big factor behind criminal transmission of HIV laws, in spite of the fact that NONE of the agencies responsible for researching or tracking HIV bothered to study MSMW separate from MSM, or female partners of MSMW.

So just because one is in a "straight-passing" relationship doesn't mean one is "safe." You deserve to have supportive and affirming community, workplaces, and health care regardless.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:15 PM on January 29 [29 favorites]


I am quite partial to the flag and its color-blend effect (as covered in TFA). I am leery of flying/wearing it, though, since my spouse and I are, uh... I don't know the term of art for "attracted to various genders but, to this point, only have lived experience with those different from our own." Invisible + theoretical.

If that got a flag, I'd wear it without feeling like I'm stomping on people who don't have my level of privilege.


Seconding what GenderNullPointerException said and just adding that, as an out bi person, I absolutely would not feel like you'd be stomping on me. In fact, it would help me feel welcomed and supported. "Theoretically bi" is still bi and we need all the visibility we can get.
posted by treepour at 1:08 PM on January 29 [17 favorites]


When I was growing up in South Carolina in the 90's, there was no room for nuance. Bi didn't exist. You were either a f***** or not. I tried to use the word a couple times and it...did not go well for me.

I'm 35 now and I've never been able to shake it off. I use queer to describe myself instead of bi, and probably always will.
posted by lazaruslong at 1:11 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


In fact, it would help me feel welcomed and supported.

I take you at your word, but... I'm still leery to get on the "yay, my first world problems mean I've suffered exactly as much as you* have" train. I mean, I don't know your* pain. Pretending I do is itself an insult, IMO.

The queer world has a specific, snappy name for every niche and style, even if they don't all have flags yet. I figure I'll find mine someday, and until then I won't borrow others' if their lives don't match mine.

* people with partners of varied genders, either simultaneously or serially. y'all are awesome, by the way
posted by cage and aquarium at 1:24 PM on January 29


Being bi isn’t about pain. Being queer isn’t about pain. Getting to call yourself and name yourself for *who you are* isn’t about pain. You aren’t appropriating anything when you show up authentically as yourself. Stories about how you get to be happy and bi are sorely needed. Changing the narrative that diverse sexualities/genders = pain is super important.

That’s not all any of us are. It’s not what we boil down to. It’s not what makes us valid or real.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:29 PM on January 29 [34 favorites]


Shifting the narrative is something that helps everyone. Someday I really hope that people can stop feeling invalid if they haven’t suffered enough.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:32 PM on January 29 [11 favorites]


Bi invisibility is partially propagated by those of us who live in hetero-seeming relationships not being out and proud. By looking like a "straight couple" and letting folks assume that we are one.

Being queer isn't about how much you've suffered. There isn't a minimum threshold of suffering one must have had to be queer. If you're gay, bi, ace, or trans, and you got nothing but acceptance and love, you're still queer. If you're bi, but for one reason or another, only ever had partners of one type (or even just one partner!), you're bi, you're queer enough.

It's wonderful if you can find a label that fits you like a well-tailored garment. But a lot of us never find it, and that's okay. I didn't really feel comfortable saying I was bi til 36, because it didn't quite feel right. It still doesn't feel natural, but it's better than letting the world assume my wife and I are a "straight couple."
posted by explosion at 1:32 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


My personal misgiving about "bi" as it pertains to myself, independent of whether or not it centralizes binary genders, is that "both 'hetero' and 'homo'" frames attraction in comparison to one's own gender, and I can't really make that comparison. I very much relate to GenderNullPointerException's username, but I'm apathetic enough about gender matters to not bother disputing what society has arbitrarily assigned me, ending up as "defaulting to cis" instead. I describe myself as "gendershrug" sometimes.

"Pansexual", interpreted as "attracted to all genders", isn't really ideal for me either, since genders aren't really a factor in my attraction, due to my inability to grok them in the first place. Nor am I "attracted to everyone". The flag is nice, though.
posted by NMcCoy at 1:37 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


I was myself pretty delighted by this post when I found it, because I was involved in the community discussion that eventually became the asexuality flag and I see all these resonances from my experience with that one in this piece. (It's been ten years on now. Wow. There's an asexuality flag at Stonewall now.)

It's wonderful if you can find a label that fits you like a well-tailored garment. But a lot of us never find it, and that's okay.

Quoted for deep truth. Also, as with garments, sometimes the shape of ourselves and our experiences changes over time, such that the label that fit like a snugly tailored coat now billows hollowly around our waists or squeezes uncomfortably at our shoulders. It is always okay to exchange your label for something that fits you better.

I'm an ace person, my partner is nonbinary, I'm gender non-conforming, I pass as lesbian, fine--and when I show up somewhere and I find someone with a black ring on the right finger or a flag tucked in a corner, I perk up and recognize and find joy, no matter what exactly their experience is. It's enough to know that it resonates with mine, and to hell with weighing pain.

I usually think of labels as being like responses to "Where are you from?" in the sense that how granular you get about them depends on the context of your audience and what you're trying to communicate. It's okay if a person from Alpharetta explains they're from Atlanta, even if it's not strictly true; it's close enough to give the listener a general idea of the neighborhood with respect to a reference marker they will recognize.
posted by sciatrix at 1:41 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


For those of you wanting happy bi stories, I'm bi and happy with it 😘
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:13 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


Happy LGBTQ people are valid, and if that's how you do it, go for it.

But, I'm very much a "fuck you" queer, since I'm a survivor of violence and abuse engendered because of anti-bisexual prejudices held by straight people. The bi label for me isn't hat, a coat, or a fuzzy blanket, it's a spear for skewing those prejudices. Maybe someday I'll plant that spear in a garden of "it's complicated, let's talk about it over a pot of tea," and grow tomatoes, but not today.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:31 PM on January 29 [11 favorites]


I wear identity labels like I do women's clothing, with an understanding that they don't perfectly fit and they just need to be good enough to get the job done without getting me killed.
posted by nikaspark at 2:42 PM on January 29 [15 favorites]


Bi invisibility is partially propagated by those of us who live in hetero-seeming relationships not being out and proud. By looking like a "straight couple" and letting folks assume that we are one.

This is a really not cool thing to say. Neither me nor my queer wife need any excuse (though we sure as shit have plenty) to not broadcast our preferences to the world. We are not propagating invisibility by choosing how and if we share ourselves with the world, and we aren’t responsible for a goddamn thing any straight people assume about us.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:46 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


So cool and pretty! I feel a bit silly for never having heard of it before.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:54 PM on January 29


So just because one is in a "straight-passing" relationship doesn't mean one is "safe."

Recently I was talking with someone about this and they pointed out that "passing privilege" is not the same as "hetero privilege" and I think that is so right. I'm someone who came out as queer (with a big old fluid shrug) relatively late, and while I did benefit from a lot of passing privilege because of it (though not always, I was still the target of homophobic bullying as a kid), all that time not being comfortable living in or expressing my own sexuality really hurt me in a lot of ways I am only unpacking now.

I mean, hell, I'm still using my sockpuppet to post this comment!
posted by the sockening at 3:15 PM on January 29 [13 favorites]


See also: bisexual lighting
posted by ITheCosmos at 3:54 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


So vaporwave is bisexual this makes sense to me a lot actually.
posted by nikaspark at 4:25 PM on January 29 [7 favorites]


As an amateur Vexist, I think everyone should have their own flag if they want.
posted by ovvl at 4:37 PM on January 29


I’m a recently-aware/out bi/pan* person and was surprised and delighted when I found out I had a flag(s). Thanks for this post, and for folk who are sharing their “am bi but my relationship doesn’t look like it” stories, since that’s where I’ve found myself.


*(realizing “hey I’m bi” and then immediately finding myself in weird “okay but bi is exclusionary why aren’t you this other thing” conversations was not awesome)
posted by curious nu at 5:24 PM on January 29 [12 favorites]


Bi person here. I got an awesome bi flag refrigerator magnet from the Bisexual Resource Center a few years ago. So far, no guest in my house has ever commented on it.

It took me many, many years to come to self-acceptance of my bisexuality. Looking back, I started becoming aware of my queerness in middle school. I grew up in (what was) a country exurb in the early 90's. There were no resources for LGBTQ kids. I even did musical theatre in high school and nobody was out. Nobody!

I was (and still am) strongly affected by the so-called bi-cycle, where my interests and attractions shift around on a weekly or monthly basis, seemingly at random. I had no idea what was going on. I couldn't figure myself out. I imagine my life would have turned out differently if I was aware that bisexuality was a real thing, and if I had some role models for how to navigate life as a bisexual person. Today I consider myself a Kinsey 3.

A few months ago there was a great Ask on What did you wish you knew in your [my age group]? The answer from Frowner resonated with me: "Beware the unlived life, part two: Come to terms with your gender identity and sexuality if you haven't. That looks different for different people - but again, unresolved bitterness is the enemy." I'm following that advice.

I'd be happy to chat if anyone's interested - memail me.
posted by Arctic Circle at 7:23 PM on January 29 [10 favorites]


The power of the horizontally striped flag of varying color combinations cannot be denied. Rainbow flag followed by many others, bear flag, leather flag, bi flag, trans flag... There are many more.

I'm always glad when a group finds itself with a symbol it can use for representation. I've had both rainbow flag and bear flag stickers on my various cars across many iterations and decades.

I hope everyone who feels like they're on the outside can discover something their group displays that lets them see others like them and realize they aren't alone.
posted by hippybear at 9:09 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


Bi invisibility is partially propagated by those of us who live in hetero-seeming relationships not being out and proud. By looking like a "straight couple" and letting folks assume that we are one.

I hear you - I beat myself up every day because I'm in a boring uncool monogamous relationship with some dude just like all the Stepford wives out there.

At the same time, though, this is pretty mean. I am not going to end my relationship because of optics. And I am not responsible for other people's crappy assumptions. How about they stop assuming? Why is it my responsibility?

I may be a wannabe, but my boring, uncool relationship does not hurt anyone else, any more than those homophobes' marriages are threatened by gay marriage. I will support The Cause till my last breath, so maybe we've just found my hard limit.

Listen, too, we all have heard about the probability issue. There are a looooot more different-gender-attracted people out there than same-. It's bound to shake out that way eventually for many.

How about don't assume, and I'll stay with someone I love. Thanks.
posted by cage and aquarium at 4:19 AM on January 30 [3 favorites]


I wasn't saying folks who are in hetero-seeming relationships should end those relationships. I was speaking to the concern that one's "theoretical and invisible" bi-ness is just as real, and that no one should feel like they can't present as bi (wear a pin, fly a flag, do what you like) just because of a lack of experiences or presentation.

Yeah, of course people shouldn't assume! But they're going to, and the way assumptions stop being made is by people being shown that their assumptions are wrong.

And with regard to lazaruslong's concerns: no, no one ever should have to out themselves. Come out when and if you're comfortable, to only whomever you like. But if people only feel like they can call themselves bi if they fit a specific mold, and the rest of us don't ever say, "hey, we're bi too," it means the mold never gets broken.
posted by explosion at 4:33 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]


Anyone with $5.99 and a jacket can wear a pin.

Again, monogamist here. I cannot appear in public with partners of different genders without ending my current relationship. I know of no other way to "come out as bi" in any concrete, meaningful sense, not just a "hey guys I'm cool too give me support and respect and community now lol" gesture.
posted by cage and aquarium at 4:43 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


But if people only feel like they can call themselves bi if they fit a specific mold, and the rest of us don't ever say, "hey, we're bi too," it means the mold never gets broken.

Well it's a good thing that this in no way resembles reality! There's plenty of people that feel comfortable being badass advocates or quietly present and out and they are awesome and great. There are plenty of people that don't feel comfortable doing so or just don't want to, and that's awesome and great too.

Saying that there's a mold that never gets broken because people outside of a specific mold don't call themselves bi to the world is bullshit. Saying that people who aren't loudly bi (and who often have really good reasons relating to abuse [again, not that they need any damn reason]) are perpetuating bi-invisibility or preserving a status quo mold is victim blamey garbage and a strawman.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:54 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


Blah. I'm checking out of this thread now. I liked the post, but some of these comments are not doing my mental health any favors.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:55 AM on January 30 [1 favorite]


I've identified as bi for a long time. And also non-binary. I never had the formulation for it. Just sorta sat in being bi despite also feeling very "end gender" about gender, at least for myself, in some ways at least. So thank you, explosion, for the words that it's about both hetero and homosexual preferences. That makes so much more sense to how I am. To something that has been insensible about me (to me) for a long time.

I am also in a straight passing relationship. Partly because while I am trans, intersex (I've even been karyotyped!), and non-binary, I also was raised masculine leaning and pass easily as a man. Partly because part of my dysphoria from the traditional masculine genders is so strong, it's difficult for me to find conventionally masculine partners that work for me, even as friends . So romantically, my partners have mostly had feminine roles, enculturation, identity.

But I talk about it and out myself when I can, when it seems like it would do some good to be visible and present.

Also: I like flags and belonging, even if I'm not (ever) typical or run of the mill.
posted by kalessin at 6:46 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]


While I don't think anyone should ever feel obligated to out themselves by, say, wearing a bi flag pin, seeing such a pin on someone can bring a lot of joy and comfort to some people who might think they're the only bi weirdos in their office, school, etc. So, if you're on the fence about wearing that pin or putting up that refrigerator magnet, maybe that's something to keep in mind. Again, I'm by no means advocating that anyone do anything they don't feel comfortable doing (or, god forbid, end their straight-appearing relationship)!
posted by treepour at 9:47 AM on January 30 [4 favorites]


Again, monogamist here. I cannot appear in public with partners of different genders without ending my current relationship. I know of no other way to "come out as bi" in any concrete, meaningful sense, not just a "hey guys I'm cool too give me support and respect and community now lol" gesture.

A bisexual person involved in a monogamous relationship is still bi, whether their partner is of their own gender or a different gender. Bisexuality is not synonymous with being polyamorous, and saying that only people who are simultaneously involved with people of both/all genders are bisexual is bisexual erasure.
posted by Lexica at 10:38 AM on January 30 [7 favorites]


Maybe somewhat related, I really like this pinned post (quoted below) from the r/bisexual subreddit. It really helped some things click for me.
I've seen a lot of posts here asking for reassurance on your bisexuality, so I just want to remind you guys: YES! You are bi, even if you don't feel attracted to boys and girls equally or in the same way, even if you haven't been with a boy/girl, even if you have been in a straight/gay relationship for a really long time, even if you haven't told anyone else about it and even if people tell you that you are not bi. If you feel bi, if the label feels right then yes, you are bi and you don't need any evidence on this. You are allowed to be different from other bi people, you don't have to be exactly one way or do anything before to call yourself bisexual. You have to go through your own process and do whatever feels right for you.
posted by treepour at 12:20 PM on January 30 [4 favorites]


and saying that only people who are simultaneously involved with people of both/all genders are bisexual is bisexual erasure.

It is, or at least a pernicious stereotype - which is why it's good that nobody said that! If you're referring to me, I said simultaneously or serially.

I think it's OK if people interpret a word differently if they are applying it or not applying it to themselves. I don't want to water down the term with myself. I don't want someone to see a pin on me or a flag on my house and think "Yay, a peer! Someone with the same life experience as me!" if it isn't the case.

Like I said, I can't personally relate when someone tells me their family rejects their similarly gendered partner when their last, differently gendered partner was A-OK. I know it sucks and I can say it sucks, but I have never lived through it, and so I'm uncomfortable saying "yes, I am exactly the same as you." I don't think I am. We are attracted in similar patterns, maybe? So what?
posted by cage and aquarium at 1:24 PM on January 30 [2 favorites]


not just a "hey guys I'm cool too give me support and respect and community now lol"

but you deserve support and respect and community! we all do. that's hard as shit to realize and I'm not trying to soft pedal that, but you do too, cage and aquarium.

I once heard someone say wondering if you're Really Legit Bi is an important part of Bi Culture and it made me laugh but also, yeah. It kind of is...anyway, I like the flag a lot. I like being bisexual a lot. Being queer is something that brings a lot of beauty and joy to my life.
posted by colorblock sock at 2:35 PM on January 30 [10 favorites]


Not gonna lie, I already kind of read your comments and think “Yay, a peer!” despite having a very different set of experiences from yours. The most beautiful thing about the queer and trans communities I’ve been in (and the communities that I’ve made a little bit queerer and more trans by being in) is the constant reminder that we contain multitudes, the conversations that leave me going “Wow, your story is completely alien to me, and also it still resonates with me on a gut level.”
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:23 PM on January 30 [6 favorites]


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