Writers A.J. Walkley and Lauren Michelle Kinsey both answered a reader question: “Are closeted bisexuals the main reason for bisexual invisibility?” Unfortunately, to better frame their argument, they excerpted an old Dan Savage column:
More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about. [...] While I’m willing to recognize that the reluctance of many bisexuals to be out may be a reaction to the hostility they face from non-bisexuals, gay and straight, bisexuals need to recognize that their being closeted is a huge contributing factor to the hostility they face.
Holy Goddamn Victim-Blaming, Batman. While I respect what Dan Savage has done as far as bringing more sexual issues to the cultural forefront, and his founding of the It Gets Better project, I still find his oft-dismissive attitude irritating. I’m not saying he’s dismissive of bisexual people in general (though statements like “[...]are always complaining about” do not win my favor), but rather that he’s dismissive of anyone who does not think the way he does. And I kind of wish we’d quit using him as the automatic go-to source for sex questions without considering other voices.
However, my main complaint here isn’t so much with Savage, but more with the way in which the HuffPo writers handle the question.
Walkley and Kinsey have somewhat diverging opinions on Savage’s take. Kinsey (what an apropos name!) feels sympathetic to Savage’s argument that bisexual people have a “responsibility” to come out:
I would say that the responsibility for sharing information about bisexuality and putting an end to bisexual invisibility rests on those who have knowledge and some basic level of economic, emotional and intellectual resources. Whether those people are bisexual or not, if they understand bisexuality, then they have a responsibility to work to make sure that information is passed along. Knowledge is power, and with power comes responsibility.
Walkley takes a more compassionate view to those who might feel vulnerable one way or another about coming out as bi:
What if he had said, “More out gay men would mean less of that gay invisibility that gay men are always complaining about.” Instead of putting the onus on society to be more accepting of more sexualities, he’s putting it on the discriminated group. Because bisexuals continue to receive significantly more bias within the LGBT community than the L and the G components, Savage can get away with this stance on bisexuals, but I guarantee that if that same quotation had been directed to the L and the G components, the reaction would have been much more vitriolic.
Still, she acknowledges that Savage has a point, that coming out could lead to greater acceptance and less invisibility. I agree that, yes, it does help decrease invisibility when someone like Anna Paquin comes out (and does not shy away from the “but you’re married to a man!” comments that came after), but the idea that bi individuals should just buck up and quit feeling so vulnerable is insensitive. Yes, it would be great if we all felt strong enough to be exactly who we are, no matter who is asking, but I think that until being bisexual isn’t something that is treated with a dismissive attitude, it is going to be harder for people to feel comfortable doing so.
My problem with the “Bi the Bi” column answer is that they don’t really answer the person’s question. Instead they discuss what Dan Savage thinks is the answer to the question. Also, statements like, “I do believe that bisexual people make up a significant part of the global population, and we are most likely the majority of the LGB population” are conjecture. Maybe it’s true, and maybe it isn’t, but without facts, stop it. You’re not helping. (Also, can we stop with the puns on so many bi-related things? It’s laziness masquerading as cleverness.) Basically, they tell the question asker, “We don’t know, but here’s what Dan Savage thinks.”
Could you have thought about it for a minute, maybe?
Look, I love it when someone comes out as bisexual because I feel like that’s one more person in my corner, another person who gets it. I want to high-five them because I’m a bi gal who has been married to a bi man for the past ten years. Throughout my fancying-people-history, I’ve been head over heels for both men and women, but because I wouldn’t say I’m 100% out (talking about it on the Internet notwithstanding), I recognize how complicated the issue is. Every little bit of visibility helps, but I’m not about to demand that all not-straight people do the same. Instead, I would ask people who are considering coming out to examine why coming out scares them. Consider what personal strength you might have. Weigh everything. Don’t lie, especially to yourself. Do what feels right for you and your specific situation, and remember, no one has permission to dictate your feelings but you. Vulnerability does not make you less of a person.
So let’s talk about it: What do you think contributes to bisexual invisibility? Do you think there’s one thing that is the majority of the reason, or do you think lots of smaller reasons all contribute? How do you think these columnists handled the original question?