Office of the President and Provost (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion)


Bi Visibility Day 2021

23 September 2021

The words September 23rd Bisexual Day of Visibility appear in white against a background of a wavey pink, purple and blue the standard colours of the bisexual flag.

Bi Visibility Day 2021

Marked each year since 1999, Bi Visibility Day attempts to raise bi awareness and challenge preconceived stereotypes of bisexual individuals and an opportunity to celebrate diversity.

With such a diverse set of people within the LGBTQ+ community it can often feel like a hustle for visibility, with the B often considered an afterthought in comparison to the gay and lesbian communities. This specific celebration was conceived as a response to what was considered the prejudice and marginalisation of bisexual people by some in both the straight and greater LGBTQ+ communities.

Members of Out@UCL shared their stories on what it is like navigating life in general and the LGBTQ+ community as a bi person. There will be a larger piece in the coming weeks, however we wanted to share a couple with you to mark this important day.

Somehow both really bad at being straight and really bad at being gay

I’m someone who has identified as bisexual since I was about 15, and while I was extremely lucky to have an accepting family it has taken me decades to really accept myself. At a very young age I internalised the idea that my sexuality was half of one thing and half of another, or a transitional phase that I would eventually mature out of. That I was somehow both really bad at being straight and really bad at being gay.

Media representations from when I was growing up certainly didn’t help—when it was on the air the L Word was one of my favourite shows, and its message about bisexuality was that it’s just a way for queer women to maintain “straight privilege,” and ultimately a betrayal of their queer sisters. That left me feeling very anxious about taking up space in queer communities, afraid that I would be viewed as a straight wolf in queer sheep’s clothing.

It took a lot of work for me to unlearn that lesson, to recognize that no matter who I am in a relationship with I am and always will be queer—there are many ways to be queer! I think as bi people, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with every member of the queer community, and I think that as a queer community we should always be moving in the direction of more inclusivity and more openness. 

I grew up in Malaysia and I didn't know being bisexual was possible

I'm a late bloomer. I didn't realise I was bisexual until I was 22, when I asked my then boyfriend if he was ever curious about having sex with men, and his answer was a very strong 'no'. When he directed the question back to me, I discovered my answer wasn't a no. Not only that, it was a very very strong 'yes’.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I didn’t feel attraction to women. I did, from a very young age. However, I grew up in Malaysia and I didn't know being bisexual was possible, and I did feel some attraction to men, so I didn't identify my attraction to women as sexual as much as "I like her a lot and I would like to hang out with her more". I assumed I was straight and never entertained the possibility that I experience same AND different gender attraction until I was far far away from Malaysia, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. I know that the opposite happens too. Often bi people identify as gay first only to discover later that they’re actually bi.

Today, in London, the discrimination and assumptions aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago in Malaysia, but there is still some. In spite of how many rainbows I wear, people still assume I’m straight. If I go to a LGBTQ+ event and have a different gender person with me, I get questioned at the door. There is still stigma surrounding being bisexual. People think you’re undecided, or greedy, like you want to have your cake and eat it too. We experience discrimination, misrepresentation, and erasure from both straight and queer communities, and all I can say to that is: Sexuality is fluid and fluidity is human. After all, we are 60% water.

You don’t grow up queer in the 90s in Scotland, when Section 28 was a thing, and not struggle with internalised homophobia

I suspected I wasn’t straight when I was a teenager, and my first relationship was with someone of the same sex. My partner at the time had known that they were gay from a young age and had a supportive parent who really encouraged them to come out. I didn’t know what my identity was exactly at the time, although I didn’t think I was gay, and so the idea of coming out then, when I didn’t really know who I was, seemed deeply uncomfortable to me. On top of that, I had parents who seemed to actively choose to ignore the fact I was probably in a queer relationship and to this day (some 20 odd year later), I’m still not out to them. My former partner (who remains a good friend) recently said to me, “You don’t grow up queer in the 90s in Scotland, when Section 28 was a thing, and not struggle with internalised homophobia”. That was a lightbulb moment for me.

For a long time, I would reluctantly describe myself as straight in surveys and official documents. Sometimes this was because I didn’t “feel gay enough” to say I was bisexual, believing (hugely incorrectly) at the time that that meant being 50% gay and 50% straight; and sometimes because bi wasn’t an option on a survey at all.  I remember being particularly annoyed at being asked to complete an audience survey at a screening of 9 to 5 at the BFI in 2018, and there only being tick boxes for identifying as gay or straight.  

It’s only been in the last 5 years or so that I’ve come to identify semi-comfortably as bi, and I still massively struggle with feeling fraudulent because my relationships have mostly looked straight, and because I’m not out to many people. It can feel quite lonely sometimes, and I’m often conflicted in feeling that, while I outwardly benefit from straight privilege a lot of the time, I’m also largely invisible and have never really felt like I should take up space within the LGBTQ+ community. Only coming to identify as bi relatively late in life has been bittersweet, as I am finally starting to feel at ease with myself, but I also feel like I’ve missed out on a lot.

My identity is also something that doesn’t come up in conversation often, particularly as I’m a woman currently in a relationship with a man. It would feel awkward for me to announce to people (particularly at work) that I am bisexual, and I also worry that such an announcement would be taken as attention seeking behaviour (a classic biphobic assumption).

On the other hand, I feel that if I was more visible, it would help to show that there are more LGBTQ+ folks around than some people think. In fact, I recently noticed that a friend of mine had liked a post about bisexuality on Instagram during Bi Awareness Week, and I very tentatively reached out to her to see if she (like me) was bi. She’d also noticed that I’d liked the post and had wondered the exact same thing! It was genuinely delightful to find out that I had a bi friend I didn’t know I had.

I’m not sure I feel completely embraced by the LGBTQ+ community

I first noticed I had feelings for women as well as men when I was about 11. I was at an all-girls school and was having feelings for my friend and I didn’t understand it at the time, I thought I was imagining things. Then we reached year 9, other girls started exploring their sexuality especially as we started drinking alcohol. I had my first girlfriend at 14 and finally things made sense, but I also knew I still liked men. I was made fun of by my friends for saying I was bisexual, even as we got older, like the default would be straight or gay, but I really didn’t fit into that category, and it felt quite lonely. When I came out to my family years later, I was told not to tell certain older members as they wouldn’t understand, that they would understand if I was a lesbian, but not if I liked both. Even in recently, 8 years after coming out, my Dad has asked if I couldn’t just choose to only like one gender.

I’m not sure I feel completely embraced by the LGBTQ+ community, I get nervous or feel like I’m not queer enough, or I don’t belong in queer spaces because I have straight passing privilege depending on who I’m in a relationship with.  

I recently watched The Cocoa Butter Club Burlesque review, and they were really encouraging that you can come as you are and be who you are and that everyone queer is welcome in queer spaces and I think I really needed to hear those affirmations, but I think I’m getting over my own preconceptions of assumed rejection, and that will take some more time.

Foreword written by Noël Caliste (Co-Chair of Out@UCL). With very special thanks to the members of the Out@UCL network for their willingness, openness, and honesty.