Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2018


Bisexual Awareness Week

8:57 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This week is international Bisexual Awareness Week, or Bi Week as it's known. It's an important week for the LGBTIQ+ community and for me personally, as a proud bisexual woman and a member of this parliament. I am proud to wear the colours of the bi flag as a scarf tonight.

Bi Week is an opportunity for us to recognise the diversity of bi+ people within Australia and to celebrate them. It's time to take stock of the incredible contributions that bisexual role models and activists have made to the broader LGBTIQ+ community. It's a time to listen to bi+ Australians and to elevate their stories. And it's time to pay heed to the specific challenges faced by bi+ people that we must, as a wider community, acknowledge and address. And although bisexuality is commonly represented as an attraction towards cisgender men and women, the term encompasses a broad spectrum of identities and attractions that are trans and gender diverse inclusive.

As bi+ advocate Robyn Ochs states, bisexuality is:

… the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.

For many of us, me included, bisexuality expresses our capability to love and be attracted to people of many or all genders. However we label ourselves—bisexual, bicurious, pansexual, polysexual, sexuality fluid or queer—we should be proud of this.

There's no one way to experience bisexuality or to be bi+, and I can assure you my own journey as a bisexual person is a reflection of this. For a large part of my adult life I thought of myself as heterosexual, but, yes, a heterosexual who every so often found women attractive too. But I was happily married, and so that attraction was irrelevant. I loved my spouse, and that was that. It wasn't until my wife, Penny, transitioned, and I had to reflect on my sexuality in that context, that I realised I wasn't a straight woman. I was a bisexual one. I remember one pivotal moment of that realisation. Penny and I were out dancing. It was before her social transition, when she was only presenting as Penny part time—or Halfpenny, as our children called her. Penny was still worried that if she transitioned it would destroy our relationship. That was what she wanted to avoid at all costs. She told me if that were the case she would put her gender identity back in the box and repress it, as she had done for most of her life. As we were dancing that night, however, I realised that not only did I still love Penny, but I loved her as Penny as a woman. I found her attractive as Penny as a woman. I realised that I was bisexual.

While I was fortunate enough to be able to embrace my sexuality smoothly, seamlessly and proudly, this is not always the case for all bi+ people. Although we have made great strides in the acceptance and rights of LGBTIQ+ people, in particular with marriage equality finally having been achieved last year, harmful stereotypes persist. There are deep prejudices against people who identify within the bi+ umbrella. Bisexual erasure or invisibility is downright pervasive in our society. For example, we are continually made to refute claims that our identities and sexualities are a phase or that we're indecisive. Bisexuality is not a rest stop on the road to becoming gay or lesbian. It is its own complete identity.

After Penny transitioned and we reaffirmed our loving relationship to the world by happily staying together, one of my friends described me as the accidental lesbian. Although humorous and well-meaning, it's not accurate. I'm bisexual. I think her labelling me as such is typical of the ignorance about and the invisibility of bisexual people. I reflect on my own lack of awareness of bisexuality. I identified as heterosexual right up until Penny's transition, despite experiences of being attracted to women as well as men. But being bisexual wasn't in my field of view then. I was in a monogamous, seemingly heterosexual relationship; therefore I was heterosexual. The heteronormativity of our society certainly helped that along. I was able to fit myself into the heterosexual box, which is where normal, ordinary, socially acceptable people were; so why go any further than that?

Bisexuals are much less visible than our gay and lesbian counterparts. There are far fewer visible role models for young people exploring their sexuality. When we're in a monogamous relationship, it can be wrongly assumed that we have chosen a side. This is diminutive of our identities and amounts to an erasing of our sexuality, sometimes by ignorance, sometimes derisively and dismissively.

It is also important to acknowledge that bi phobia is experienced more acutely by some bi+ people than others. In particular, trans people and cisgender men cop more abuse for expressing bisexuality, affecting their ability to lead an openly bisexual life. This is particularly worrying for younger LGBTIQ+ people. In a survey this year of their under-18 listeners, Triple J found that young gay men were twice as likely to come out as bisexual men, and that young women were twice as likely to identify as bisexual as young men. These stats reflect a wider trend in our society. Not only does bisexuality have minimal representation in mainstream media, when it is represented it is often through depictions of bi+ women. Bi+, trans people and cis men barely get a mention.

We need more representation in mainstream media of the full array of bisexuality so that bi+ people can feel accepted and supported to come out, live openly and not feel pressure to suppress our sexuality in any way. We greatly need this because we know that bi invisibility and bi phobia take a huge toll on our health and wellbeing. Research has shown again and again that the mental health of bi+ people is significantly poorer than that of heterosexual, gay or lesbian people. We also know that biphobia and bi-erasure lead to discrimination against bisexual people from both heterosexual communities and from gay and lesbian communities. This is not okay, and it needs to change. We must continue to challenge the restrictive, narrow ideas of sex and gender rife in our society that prevent us from living openly.

Bisexual Awareness Week is a chance to assert our presence in the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia and in the world and to demand the rights, respect and services that we need in order for our community to feel safe and included. I encourage my colleagues across the parliament to make time for and to listen to the bi+ people in your communities. Take the opportunity to understand our experiences and to use your platforms to amplify our voices.

Finally, to my bi+ community, I'd like to take the opportunity to say: 'I see you. I see you even where others don't. I will continue to share our stories and advocate for our rights inside and outside the parliament. You are amazing, resilient and beautiful.'

Senate adjourned at 21:06