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Seeking Community to Strengthen My Bisexual Identity

This week is Bisexual Awareness Week and I am honored to be a contributor to the SpeakOUT blog this month. When first asked to write for the blog I began reflecting on why I made the decision to join the SpeakOUT family in the first place. The simplest answer to this question is that I was in need of a community. Although I have long identified as bisexual, and have other friends who identify within the LGBTQ spectrum, I had never before consciously sought out a community of like-minded individuals within the queer community. The topic of community seems to be the perfect blog topic, especially for a week that is intended to bring our bi (and other non-monosexually identified) community together.

It is difficult for me to pinpoint precisely when I realized I needed the support of a community. I have always identified as bisexual. I have never doubted or questioned this identity, and for a long time I thought that this assuredness precluded me from the need for community support. It took a long time for me to realize that I do, in fact, need others who understand my identity, who know how I feel when other people in my life don’t know how to relate. I think I began to capture a glimpse of how validating a support system can be shortly after I moved to Boston. A friend of mine came out to me as bi and began to confide in me about his thoughts and feelings on the matter. The conversations we had were some of the first in a very long time to get me to open up about my own experiences, and I was almost surprised at how relieved I felt to have someone to talk to.

Another signifying event on my road to seek out a community was my marriage to my husband. This, of course, was a wonderful event and I have no doubt in my mind that I love him deeply. However, I now unintentionally give the impression of being monosexual, and heterosexual at that. It’s not an unusual experience for bisexuals to be presumed to hold a certain identity based upon the relationship that they are in. I’m not particularly comfortable with being mistaken for either of those identities – not that there’s anything wrong with being either of those descriptors, but there’s not much comfort being caught in a perpetual state of mistaken identity – and so needed a way to show my involvement with the community in an attempt to validate my own identity.

I know that validity is a question that comes up for many bisexual individuals – we talk a lot about bi erasure and invisibility. We are tired of being told that we don’t exist, that we’re either standing half in the closet or that we’re just experimenting with our sexualities. A personal favorite from my own life experience is the time I was accused of trying to be trendy – a moment of bi erasure that I choose to find more humorous than offensive. Due to the mere prevalence of these topics I did not want to make them the focus of this particular post, but it is difficult to ignore them completely when talking about the importance of community. By banding together and discussing these issues we are able to educate, and to hopefully eradicate, the stereotypes held against our community.

There are two recent occurrences in recent memory of the bi community banding together. The first of these is the recent Twitter campaign started by @HuffPostGay around the hashtag #WhatBiLooksLike. This launched an immediate virtual community within the Twittersphere of bisexually-identified individuals, providing a lookbook of sorts sampling the variety of people who identify somewhere under the non-monosexual umbrella. A quick search of the hashtag today shows that the community is reappropriating its use for Bi Awareness Week. If you’re not familiar with the campaign I recommend you run a search for it, even if you’re not on Twitter. It’s a great way to find others who are openly celebrating their identities, and if you are on Twitter you may find a handful of new interesting people and organizations to follow.

A second occurrence of the bi community coming together is currently happening right here in the Boston area. By extension of my involvement with SpeakOUT, I currently have the pleasure of sitting on a planning committee for a panel discussion called “Stories from the B Side: Bisexual Voices” that intends to raise awareness on bi experiences for anyone kind enough to listen. Yes, this is partially a shameless plug for the event, but that’s not why I’m bringing this up (though if you would like more information take a look at the event page here). While sitting in one of our meetings, I found myself for the first time knowingly in a room filled (almost) entirely with bisexually-identified individuals. It was admittedly both humbling and terrifying at the same time. Humbling, I think, because I felt honored to be sitting on a committee of people working toward a common goal for our community. Terrifying, perhaps for the same reason.

So why, you ask, did I choose to become involved specifically with SpeakOUT? That is, why did I involve myself with an organization that is geared toward the entire LGBTQ spectrum rather than in a bi-specific group such as Boston’s own Bisexual Resource Center? I definitely believe in the importance of sticking together as a unified bi community and am glad organizations such as the BRC are out there, I also believe in the importance of remaining connected to the diversity of the wider queer community. The more people within the LGBTQ spectrum who understand the perspectives of the non-monosexual community, the more allies we will have and the more visible we will be. We must stand together as a unified bisexual community, and we must also situate ourselves within the wider queer community and our allies in order to truly have a voice.

Jennifer Guneratne is a board member of SpeakOUT Boston and assists with event planning and social media for the organization.