CW: Mental illness, sexual assault and suicide.
Welcome to 2019, commonly known as 20 bi-teen, the year of bisexual visibility.
One year following 40th celebration of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, and the passing of the same-gender marriage equality, Sydney Mardi Gras will see a bi+ float. This is not only big for Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ history, but for bisexual+ history globally.
First things first, the understanding of "bisexual" as being supportive of gender binary is one that is from outside the bisexual community. Bisexuality is romantic or sexual attraction to the gender the same as your own, and to other genders. Some people use it to mean attraction to two or more genders. It is not attraction to only men and women. (Melbourne Bisexual Network.) The lack of meaningful representation of bi+ people in Sydney Mardi Gras is only a tiny reflection of a broader issue: bi-erasure & biphobia. According to the Sydney Bi+ Network, launched this year, “bi-erasure is the act of ignoring, or denying, the existence or legitimacy of bisexuality. Biphobia is an aversion towards bisexuality, which can take many forms such as denial (internalised biphobia) or negative stereotypes.”
As much as I would like to be there, I won’t be marching this year. I am mourning the death of a friend of mine, a fellow bi+ woman who was a victim of sexual and domestic violence and died by suicide – an often-inevitable ending for bi+ folks who don’t have the access to a mental health care system or LGBTQIA+ organisation that understands or caters to the specific health disparities and needs of bi+ folks. The death of my friend has exacerbated my own mental health symptoms and trauma, causing an array of emerging issues including chronic pain and increased anxiety. I know that I am not alone in not being well enough to engage in such a large celebration. Bisexuality is the only sexual orientation that presented a long-term risk for increased anxiety, while 57 per cent of bi+ women and 63 per cent of bi+ non-binary people in Australia were diagnosed with a lifetime mental health disorder (compared to 41 per cent of lesbian women and 25 per cent of heterosexual women). These statistics are compounded by gender, race, cultural ancestry, disability, and many other factors.
While I may not be marching on Saturday, my contribution is amplifying the voices and visibility of the bi+ folks who are fiercely representing us this year. Here is what some of those marching with the bi+ float have to say about why they are marching:
“I’m matching in the bi+ float this year because I’m proud as fuck to be bisexual. And because I want other bi, pan and queer people who love more than one gender to feel included and represented at Mardi Gras! Bi+ people are often excluded by both queer and straight communities, so it is essential that we come together and create our own community, and that we show each other that we are valid in our queerness.”
- Natalie, bisexual, they/them
“I only just came out last year on Bi-Visibility Day but have wanted to march in the parade for many years. I turned 40 last year when the Mardi Gras had its 40th anniversary so it made me feel even more motivated to get myself on a float to march this year. I want to show my friends and family that I am proud of who I am, and I do not want to be invisible anymore as a bisexual person. My son is 9 and autistic and can't wait to see me in the parade so I guess I'm doing this for myself and my kids (I have a 4-year-old daughter too).”
- Sel, bisexual, she/her
“I'm so pleased that there is a bisexual+ contingent in the Sydney Mardi Gras this year, and I'm very excited to be able to march with you all! I am one of the coordinators for Bisexual+ Community Perth - we have been marching in our parade for two years now, and it's been so wonderful to see our contingent grow to over 100 people in that time. I hope the same will happen in Sydney and other states. I march because I am proud of who I am. I march so people can celebrate that along with me. And I march to be visible for all those people who need to see that they are not alone.”
- Misty, bisexual, they/them
“Ongoing bi-erasure is one of our community's biggest challenges. There is a significant amount of stigma around bisexuality even within the LGBTQIA+ community. This has serious consequences on our mental health. I'm marching because visibility matters. Meaningful representation matters. I want other bi+ folks to see that they aren't alone, and I want to remind people that we are here.”
- Amber, bisexual, they/them
“I’m marching in the parade for the third time. Interestingly enough, I only intended to be in the parade once to ‘tick it off the bucket list’ but I’m joining once again this year because finally there is a float with which I can identify with! Plus, I got to learn a choreography routine led by a drag queen so how could I say anything other than YASSS!?”
- Natalie, bi+, she/her
“I march this year with my children, a pan mum with three bi children! I lived in the closet for years until my eldest came out to me at 14 and I decided I did not want that life for her. I want to change the community's view on bisexuality, I don't want my children growing up never quite fitting in anywhere and being dismissed and hated for their sexuality as I have been. It's time, visibility is the way forward! We're here, we're queer enough, get used to it!!!"
- Kylie, pansexual, she/her
“When I attended a panel on bisexuality at age 22, I felt fully understood for the first time without having to explain or justify myself. Being in this room that was full of bi+ people, allowed me to feel a sense of community and connection that overpowered many years of self-doubt about what I deserved as a bi woman. I’d now like people to know that being bi is not being half queer; it is a full queer identity. Bi+ people deserve to feel safe and valued in queer spaces, communities and support services. Statistically, bi+ people face drastic health disparities, particularly when it comes to poor mental health. I am marching because when we march together as a collective, we can affect action that will improve the wellbeing of all bi+ people.”
- Elly, bisexual & pansexual, she/her & they/them
Witnessing the increasing bi+ visibility in Sydney Mardi Gras makes me hopeful and excited for what’s to come in future years. I never quite realised how much community I was missing out on until I found it this past January at the Better Together LGBTQI+ Conference. I was extremely unaware of what I was about to experience when I stepped into the room for the Bisexual Caucus. I felt immediately understood which resulted in a type comfort & relief I never knew existed. Individually, bi+ people often carry around this weight of doubt while simultaneously performing a balancing act of an unwillingly separated identity.
We do our very best to navigate communities, both heterosexual and queer, that don’t make much space for us. In this room full of other bi+ folks, I could take up space. We understood each other’s pain as much as we understood each other’s capacity for love - it was nothing short of healing.
I never knew how much I needed that space until it was given to me. Having bi+ visibility in this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras will show a lot of people that they are not alone and that there is a bi+ community out there waiting for them with open arms.
Counselling Support for Bi+ Folks:
Tel: 1300 664 238
QLife (3pm - 12 am)
Tel: 1800 184 527
Tel: 13 11 14
You can watch On Demand's Thinking Queer collection here, a collection of programs that explore all manner of social, political and cultural issues facing the LGBTIQ+ community.
A live stream of the parade will be available on SBS On Demand, the SBS Twitter account and Facebook page on Saturday 2 March. SBS Arabic 24 will report live from the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade to Arabic-speaking audiences around Australia.
You can watch the SBS parade coverage on Sunday March 3 at 8.30pm.