So if the image of the triad isn’t a representation that bisexuals themselves much like or use, then what do bisexuals do to achieve cultural visibility?
Okay, this one’s going to be a little longer. Bear with me because I want to start by acknowledging two very important caveats to this idea of desiring visibility before I get to the actual practices of trying to achieve said visibility.
First: we all have many social roles that shape our identities and sometimes the central focus of an interaction may not be to have one’s bisexuality recognized. For example, in addition to being a bisexual I also identify as a cisgender woman, a partner, a parent, a professor, and a fine cook, for starters. My bisexuality is a core element of who I am all the time, but sometimes when I am asking my teenage son how his day at school was I am not necessarily intent on being “visible” (and by visible, I mean recognized by others as a bisexual.) Similarly, while identifying as a bisexual has fundamentally shaped the very person I am – including who I am as a professor – when I am teaching Weaver’s model of communication, for example, my primary goal is conveying information in a way my students can comprehend. My desire to be visible as a bisexual person is not really on my mind in that moment. So the desire for visibility in any given moment is based on context.
Second: LGBT people sometimes very much do not want to be “seen” or recognized as a LGBT person. It may, for instance, put them in danger or make them uncomfortable. In those instances a person should absolutely do what they think is best for their safety, their health, and their peace of mind.
So I want to be clear that I’m going to be talking about what bisexuals do to intentionally achieve visibility, which is a very specific goal and shouldn’t be mistaken with being “outed” by others, choosing not to disclose, or instances when disclosing isn’t a primary goal.
I think of bisexuals’ efforts to be visible as “inscribing” their bisexuality. To inscribe something is to write or carve on its surface. I use this notion of writing on a surface as a metaphor for the ways individuals (and groups) mark their physical and digital selves. So inscribing bisexuality is the practices individuals use to encode themselves with information that they hope will help them be recognized by others as a bisexual.
The difference between technologies of visibility and inscribing is that ToV focuses on the technologies involved and inscribing focuses on the daily activities, choices, and practices that people engage in within a particular culture in order to achieve visibility. These practices of inscribing bisexuality are very connected to specific cultural notions of bisexuality. While an individual can try to encode themselves in any fashion they feel serves their personal idea of their bisexuality, inscribing happens within a cultural context that directly effects how successfully others will be able to correctly interpret the activities and practices. Correctly interpreting cultural codes is a vital part of being recognized and therefore visible.
So by now you just want to know what bisexuals have done – and currently do – to achieve visibility. Well, if you’re a bisexual most of this will seem pretty obvious to you.
- Participating in bisexual specific spaces. Just being there and being part of the group helps you be seen as a bisexual, as well as creates support networks for all the challenges you may face. And if you tell other people about the group/s you are a part of, that also contributes to your visibility.
- Using symbols. The bi pride flag is probably the most popular, and is even gaining some cultural recognition. The bi triangles, the double crescent moon, and the “bisexuwhale” are all bisexual-specific symbols that bisexuals use to achieve visibility, especially among other bisexuals. For examples of how individuals incorporate bisexual symbols into their clothing, hair, tattoos, decor, etc., read Chapter 5 of the full dissertation.
- Claiming celebrities. In my research, bisexuals were very keen to identify the advocacy and legitimacy potential celebrities can provide, especially in a culture that values popular media. They often discussed the positive effects celebrities can provide not only for ordinary bisexuals to look up to, but as an influence on mainstream society’s views of bisexuality. And bisexuals in my study were also very sensitive to the ways media outlets and celebrities used — or eschewed — bisexual identities. It is this regular practice of claiming celebrities as bisexual — both contemporary and historical figures, and sometimes regardless of how the celebrities themselves identify — that contributes to a larger effect of creating a culturally visible bisexual identity.
- Watchdogs, and Social Media Campaigns. I will discuss both of these in more details on Saturday when I blog about (spoiler alert!)… Everyday Activism and bisexuality. It’s maybe the best part of my whole dissertation.
- Inscribing 2.0. These are all the ways that bisexuals inscribe bisexuality in digital spaces – through constructing online profiles using bisexual symbols, by creating bisexual specific content, by reposting and hyperlinking to others’ bisexual specific material. All the bisexual interneting. All of it. And while “Inscribing 2.0” is clearly connected to Technologies of Visibility (which I explained above), it is still fundamentally different (it’s that culture component!)
And here’s where I’ll add that the ability to archive (and therefore search) content on the internet means that inscribing bisexuality in digital spaces offers bisexuals the ability to be more visible online than offline. What?? How?
Well that’s the topic of tomorrow’s post for #BiVisibilityDay!