16th September 2021

Bi the way

By Charlie Hart (she/they), HR Analyst, September 2021

I have decided to write about some my personal experiences as a bisexual woman, highlighting some of the bi-phobic attitudes that I have encountered over the years. This may not be an easy read, it was certainly not easy to write, but I hope it may be relatable to others and a helpful insight for LGBTQIA+ allies.

Definitions

“Bisexual” or “bi” means we experience both heterosexual attraction and homosexual attraction.

“Pansexual” or “pan” means we experience attraction to an individual, and their gender is not important.

Some bi or pan people may also identify as “queer”, which is less clearly defined, more flexible term.

Personally, I use all three of these terms to describe myself.

 

Why?

“Why talk about your sexuality at work?”, you may be wondering.

“How is this professional / appropriate / relevant”, are questions I have seen asked of LGBTQIA+ role models.

Let me be clear - this is not a blog about sex. It is not inappropriate.

This is about my experiences as a member of staff from a sexual orientation minority group, which is part of my authentic identity, the “whole self” I expect to bring to work, unmasked.

Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and we should be able to talk freely about sexuality without fear of discrimination. I am autistic as well, another protected characteristic, an intersection which is very common indeed, but particularly challenging in some ways.

Not everybody with a protected characteristic feels safe and comfortable to “step up” as a role model in the workplace or in their community, but positive visible role models can help foster a culture of inclusion and belonging, which matters to me.

Bisexuality is far more common than people realise. You all have colleagues, friends, and possibly family members, who are bi. However, they may not be visible or “out” about their sexuality - especially if they are in a “straight-passing” relationship, and especially if they are from a background where their true sexuality would not be accepted by some and “straight” is the societal expectation.

 

Coming out story

I was sixteen when I first concluded that I was bi. I was open about this with my best friend, but not with my family or wider social circle. However, the truth came out during a sixth form residential trip over a boozy game of truth or dare. I was naïve, a socially awkward undiagnosed bullied autistic teenager, desperate for validation and acceptance. Bisexuality seemed so normal to me, I had hoped that among the reactions from other kids would be some nonchalant “so what, me too” or something. Instead, all I got was a barrage of intrusive questions. When it dawned on me that I had over-shared, I got anxious and had a meltdown. In the days following the school trip, another friend was hostile towards me because I had gone camping with her the previous year without telling her about my sexuality. That was in the mid-90s. I believe, I hope, that teenagers today are more open-minded and accepting. Things got easier at university, in this respect anyway, because at least there I was able to join an LGBT society and make some like-minded friends.

 

Bi-phobia

My coming out story mentioned two bi-phobic microaggressions, and here are some more of the bi-phobic attitudes and microaggressions that I have personally encountered:

Men (including some long-term boyfriends) who assume I cannot be in a monogamous relationship for long, and that I will inevitably cheat on them or leave them for a woman. We do not have to “pick a side”, we fall in love with a person. We are just as capable of monogamy as anybody else.

The jokes. Okay, so I like a giggle and personally I would chuckle if somebody said, “well I suppose it doubles your chances of a date on a Saturday night”. Some of the bi jokes are offensive, and some bisexual people are more easily upset about the jokes than others. Sexuality is a sensitive subject to many, and we have a right to our dignity and not to be the subject of bullying jokes and banter. If in doubt about how your joke may be received, please resist making it.

People who think bisexuals are not a valid part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and that we should not be at Pride, especially if we are in a straight-passing relationship. Firstly, the B stands for Bisexual, we are still a minority group. Secondly, please do not assume our gender, nor the genders of our partners.

Women who assume I fancy them, just because I am friendly towards them. This is a particular issue for autistic bisexuals, as we may struggle with the nuances of communication, particularly non-verbal communication such as body language, when communicating with our neurotypical peers.

 

Stepping up

That last issue caused me real problems at work, many years ago now, but as a result for several years I stopped being open about my sexuality and even stopped disclosing it on the HR system (and I work in HR).

That all changed when I read an article by Stonewall about why LGBTQIA+ role models are important, with their top ten tips about how to be a positive visible role model. That was just the gentle push I needed to put my difficult past behind me and “step up”, especially after losing my eldest child (Iggy was autistic, gay and gender questioning, and had few positive visible role models at his school).

For as long as I remain comfortable disclosing my authentic identity, I will carry on talking about it and writing about it to help others. I hope to inspire others to do likewise. Thanks for reading.