Today (23 September) is Bivisibility Day. The existence of bisexuality raises issues that are relevant to people of all sexual orientations. In some ways, it challenges modern approaches to sexuality as much as traditional ones.
In Britain, public attitudes towards homosexuality have shifted enormously just in the last ten years. This is a cause for celebration. But there is still a long way to go.
This is not only in regard to legal matters, such as marriage equality, but in terms of social attitudes. Gay and lesbian people are often tolerated only as an exception to the norm. People are often assumed to be straight until they say otherwise. Within Christian churches, we still have much further to go than much of society, whereas we should be leading from the front.
And – perhaps surprisingly – acceptance of homosexuality does not always lead to acceptance of bisexuality.
The language in which sexuality is discussed largely excludes bisexuality. The term 'gay marriage' is often used to mean 'same-sex marriage'. But a bisexual woman who marries a woman does not become gay by doing so, any more than she would become straight by marrying a man.
Misconceptions and prejudices about bisexuality abound. Some assume that anyone who is bisexual must want relationships with both men and women simultaneously. This makes no more sense than assuming that a woman who finds both tall men and short men attractive must want relationships with both at the same time.
It is not only homophobes who are prejudiced against bisexuals. A friend of mine who recently staffed a bisexual stall at a Pride march was told by several people that “no-one's really bisexual”. I'm sorry to say that some of those who said this were gay and lesbian people who had just finished marching for Pride.
In a cafe a few months ago, I overheard a conversation amongst a group of women who were concerned about a friend of theirs who had a new boyfriend. He was bisexual. One of them said, disapprovingly, “Although he's going out with her now, he's admitted that he finds men attractive and he's had boyfriends in the past”.
I would not expect to hear her saying, “Although he's going out with her now, and she's blonde, he's admitted that he also finds brown-haired women attractive and he's had brunette girlfriends in the past”. But this would make as much sense.
The hair colour we find attractive is seen as a triviality, while the gender or genders we find attractive is assumed to determine an essential part of our identity
This is a reminder that a binary approach to gender underpins sexism, homophobia, opposition to bisexuality and a long list of other prejudices.
A belief in binary gender is unsustainable both ethically and biologically. One in every 2,500 babies is born with ambiguous biological sex. Many others find as they grow up that their gender does not seem to be the one they have been assigned. Binary gender should also be theologically unsustainable for Christians, if we are serious about believing that there is “no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3, 28).
So here's to Bivisibility Day. But more importantly, here's to the day when we celebrate all healthy, ethical, Godly expressions of sexuality, with no need to classify them on the basis of the gender of those involved.
For more on Bivisibility Day, see http://www.bisexualindex.org.uk/index.php/BiVisibilityDay2010.