24 September 2016 by Jennifer
Yesterday was 23 September, a big day in the bi calendar.
As the day went on and I read stuff online, I was increasingly feeling & noticing how much I don’t like the rise of the name “Bi Visibility Day”. (Originally it was called Celebrate Bisexuality Day – implications of which I have also pondered, not my subject here.) Going by the media this year, evidently most people are fine with it, but I thought I would try to explain here why I’m not satisfied with that name.
We are visible all year round to ourselves, and we are visible all year round to people who aren’t erasing us.
“Invisibility” is in the eye of the beholder.
Our “invisibility” has been trained into the eye of the beholder.
Invisibility and erasure do go together. But they don’t go hand in hand on equal terms. One causes the other. One is the object, one is the shadow it casts.
If you remove a cause, its consequences stop happening too.
If you remove the object, the shadow disappears too.
I see a lot of bi people making the effort to “be visible” on that day. I’m not knocking that. It can be beautiful and joyful.
Yet I also want to see as much attention, or more, on spotlighting why we have to keep doing that work.
To me, the name “bi visibility day” shines the spotlight away from erasure. The name itself seems to me one more part of our incessant work of making ourselves visible in the face of erasure!
And it is work. It is emotional labour*. We put in time and effort, to explain ourselves to people who don’t get it, who have taken in mainstream prejudices about who we are and aren’t.
This might sound odd, but yesterday what was dawning on me was: the way this dynamic has typically been framed, it functions similar to a kind of victim-blaming.
Yes, mainstream culture (and lesbian/gay culture) is slowly giving room to the idea of bi people becoming “visible”.
That is not the same as taking responsibility for the erasure which is being perpetrated on us day after day.
This erasure did not just “naturally happen”. It was created by things that people say and do.
It continues to be replicated, choice upon choice, by things that people say and do. “Straight or gay.” “There’s no such thing.” “Pick a side.” “Just a phase.” “It’s too complicated for our audience.” Claiming that bi issues are the same as gay issues. Calling bi people gay.
I don’t ever want to hear about bi invisibility as if it were a natural consequence of simply being bi.
I don’t ever want to hear about bi invisibility without also hearing about the active choices of erasure which built it.
If we’re not calling it “Celebrate Bisexuality Day” any more, then I think a better name would be “Stop Erasing Bi People Day”.
Note, September 2018: The term “emotional labour” has been used in a lot of different ways, and if I were writing this article now, I might not use it, or might say more about what I mean exactly. However, the key point in this context is the time and effort.