Cartoonist Tara Madison Avery doesn’t mince words when she describes being part of the bisexual community: “We are still considered the unloved child of the LGBTQ.”
“We are behind the curve in the LGBTQ community in terms of legitimacy and status and having access to resources that other groups have acquired,” Avery said during the History of the Bi+ Movement panel at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre.
The Center’s Brandon Burciaga and Geri-Lynn Cesar moderated a discussion on September 11 that touched on biphobia, bi-erasure, binaries, terminologies, and the bi+ movement. Avery was joined on the panel by psychologist and author Dr. Mimi Hoang and film critic and author Mike Szymanski.
“We are kind of in this gray area and, to some people, it has to be black and white,” Burciaga pointed out. “It’s this constant process of trying to prove who you are all the time. There is “identity maintenance” during every single conversation.”
Avery, who is also transgender, has always felt pressure from both straight and gay people because of her attraction to both males and females.
“Although there’s less resistance now, the gay community was not very open to bisexuals,” Avery shared. “There was always the pressure of, ‘This isn’t really true. You’re really on the fence. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.’”
As for Szymanski, he came out publicly as bisexual on The Phil Donahue Show in 1990 but still finds his attraction to women being called into question after all these years because he’s married to a man.
“Even now, I have friends who say, ‘You’ve been with John now for 23 years. When was the last time you were with a woman? Are you still bisexual?’” he said. “Really? Do I still need to explain this?”
Hoang also weighed in on the continued lack of understanding: “Even though I’m super out, I still get sort of an awkward shuffling of feet reaction sometimes because people just might not be exposed to bisexuals and don’t quite know what to say.”
When Hoang was a student at UCLA, she started the university’s first-ever bisexual student group nearly two decades ago. She said it was especially important then to create a community around her that accepted her and didn’t question her.
“With social media there’s a lot more awareness now,” she said. “I think young people are able to access YouTube videos with people talking about their coming out. I didn’t have that growing up. I probably would have come out a lot sooner if YouTube had been around in my day.”
Bisexual vs. Pansexual
It seems a lot more in vogue these days for someone to come out as pansexual as such celebrities as Miley Cyrus, Bella Thorne, Brandon Urie and Amandla Stenberg have in recent years.
“I understand the younger generation isn’t going to want to be associated with us older folks,” Szymanski said. “But I think we also embrace what pansexual means.”
‘Pansexual’ is considered by some to be a more inclusive term than ‘bisexual’ because pansexuals are open to relationships with people who do not strictly identify as male or female.
Avery complained that this kind of debate can create hostility within a group of people who should be allies.
“They refer to the same group of people, but they mean slightly different things because they are emphasizing different aspects of the orientation,” she said. “In 20 years there’s going to be another set of labels that people will be arguing over, and they will be insisting that it’s a life and death matter—and all you pansexuals are so retrograde.”
“You have to let them know that you’re there”
The panelists agreed that visibility is key to bisexual acceptance.
“You have to let them know you’re there. People have pre-conceived notions, and they don’t revise them until they know someone who is bi,” said Avery. “If you engage with someone, and they know you are bi, you are basically doing the public relations work for your own orientation.”
Avery doesn’t always need to have a conversation to identify herself. She wears several shirts fairly regularly with prominently displayed bisexual blurbs or catchphrases.
“The idea is to get people to see you,” she explained. ”Whatever they think of you, they can take that into consideration when forming opinions about the bi community.”