Being an ally to bisexuals

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“I’ll never understand how he has a girlfriend,” my friend remarked in reference to our classmate one day. “He’s obviously gay.”

Gay — the instinctive assumption to be made when a person doesn’t act like your typical straight. People never deserve to be assumed to be anything other than what they choose to reveal. But a reason to hold your theories, aside from not being an asshole, is that there’s a good chance the person your gaydar beeps for is neither gay nor straight. Yes, those individuals do exist. In fact, adults who identify as bisexuals slightly outnumber those who identify as gay or lesbian, according to a 2011 report by the Williams Institute.

Recognizing this statistic is important with the approach of Sept. 23, which is Berkeley’s official Bisexual Pride and Bi Visibility Day. Reflecting on what makes this particular day unique from broader LGBT holidays, I felt compelled to understand what it meant to be a good ally and how to apply the basic principles of inclusivity to commonly overlooked monosexual groups. Although I was initially hesitant to feign authority on the subject of allyship, the intimidation I felt about approaching the topic faded when I discovered how easy it is to make simple adjustments — whether in microaggressive behaviors or ideas — to make shared, diverse spaces more comfortable and a lot less unsafe.

Bisexuality visibility is needed to address the dangers of homogenizing LGBT individuals and experiences. Independent but not entirely exclusive from the gay rights movement as a whole, bisexuals (and other non-monosexuals, such as pan- and omnisexuals) require their own day to counter the stigma they face not only in the general public but among the lesbian and gay communities as well.

As a UC Berkeley student, I feel entrusted with a responsibility to use this day as a platform for awareness. For my fellow peers with other means of influence, it is vital to address the bi-erasure and biphobia that occur unchecked in your social and academic spheres. Simple alterations in perspective, such as not making assumptions about people’s sexuality based on the gender of their partner, can minimize the invisibility of the various existing sexual orientations other than gay and straight.

Bisexuals face hostility and ostracism when coming out, as they are thought of as being either indecisive or dishonest about their sexuality. They are often labeled either as straight people “just going through a phase” or as gay people “in denial of their true feelings,” invalidating their lived realities. They are also often at a higher risk for health problems and mental illnesses — such as depression and anxiety — than are straight and gay individuals, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Bisexual or otherwise queer students at UC Berkeley have access to an abundance of resources on campus, such as the Gender Equity Resource Center and countless LGBT organizations and clubs. As supportive as UC Berkeley’s institutional network is, interpersonal understanding is also a vital component of building a healthy foundation of tolerance. So let your bi-identifying loved ones know that you care and are willing to educate yourself on such issues.

Awareness is just one of the many ways to honor the meaning of Bisexual Pride and Bi-Visibility Day. Show support by donating to community organizations, such as the Bay Area Bisexual Network, dedicated to promoting understanding of bi issues. Consider volunteering for a local support group or a program catered to queer or questioning youth. Or perhaps a lonelier way to celebrate is to guiltily indulge in some binge-watching of TV shows containing bi themes, such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “Orphan Black,” which — although they aren’t completely inoffensive and nonproblematic — are surprisingly exceptional at portraying the complexities of human desire.

Celebrating bisexuality draws attention to the notion that sexuality exists on a spectrum rather than a binary. While Berkeley’s Bisexual Pride and Bi-Visibility Day is the perfect opportunity to honor the minority, encourage fluidity in your everyday actions even when Sept. 23 is over, because bi existence is deserving of more than just 24 hours of recognition. Allyship is a permanent contract of mutuality and respect, so you’re in this for life, pal.

Contact Valerie Khau at [email protected].