The work of visiBIlity

It’s been awhile since I’ve added much in the way of original content, as opposed to reblogging items of interest (mostly so I can find them again later!), but it seemed like Bisexual Awareness Week was really nudging at me for a post, so here it is.

It’s interesting to have come into this week after just having attended the annual GLMA Conference and Nursing Summit.  It was a great week for meeting with and hearing presentations by people in various aspects of health care working specifically on LGBT health issues, both for patients and providers.  We got lots done at the Nursing Summit in particular, and are looking to keep that work going between now and next year’s meeting, which is exciting.  It’s so easy to come home from a conference fired up with ideas … only to have that fire sputter in the wind generated by day-to-day responsibilities.  Having a plan to keep fueling that fire, however, so far does seem to be a recipe for Getting Things Done.

Throughout much of the week, as great as it was, I did often find myself feeling invisible.  This is not at all unusual.  As with many bisexuals, particularly those who are married or otherwise partnered, I tend to be invisible until and unless I a) say something or b) paint myself pink, purple, and blue, and neither of those is guaranteed to be effective.  Being married to a man means I’m assumed to be straight, just as if I were married to a woman I’d be assumed to be a lesbian.  The fact that I’ve developed a fondness for makeup over the past year probably increases the likelihood that I’m assumed to be either straight or a “lipstick lesbian.”  (Tangential note to self: you went to the trouble to figure out how to do rainbow and bi flag eyes for Pride, how’s about doing the same for the GLMA Gala instead of being boring, silly? Next year!)

It’s also, unfortunately, not unusual to experience biphobia in what are meant to be LGBT-inclusive spaces.  It’s generally unintentional, but that doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens.  I’m frustrated with myself in that, while I did say something to someone about the fact I was bothered by a particular aspect of one event, I didn’t explicitly address the biphobia (and ace-phobia, though that doesn’t impact me directly but still bugged me) that had gotten under my skin, but rather talked about the overall tone of that particular aspect of the event.  It’s not that concerns I brought up about the overall tone were untrue, because they were true.  What frustrates me is that I let my own internalized biphobia stop me from voicing the particulars of why I was not comfortable with this one aspect of this one event.  (ETA: Clearly either the leadership recognized the issue independently or others were more able than I to speak to these specifics, as a follow-up email both apologized for this having been an issue and laid out how this will be prevented from happening in the future.)  In other situations, that same internalized biphobia had me being very cautious about mentioning the gender of my spouse, lest I be shunted into the “not really one of us” category.

This is one of the reasons that doing something visible for Bisexual Awareness Week feels important, even if that just means making a long and rambly blog post.  I think of myself as out, but it is actually quite a bit of work to be visibly out as bi.  And that’s work I need to do if for no other reason than to challenge my own internal biphobia.  Of course, there is no stereotypical way to appear bi, short of walking down the street holding hands with people of more than one gender at the same time.  I suppose that wearing hiking boots with everything from jeans to evening wear can be seen as some kind of statement, though the reality of that statement is, “I have awful feet and ankles.”

One of the things we tackled at the Nursing Summit was what it means to queer nursing research.  I’m still wrestling with what it means to queer anything or to be queer, even though this is a term I apply to myself alongside “bisexual.”  One conclusion, though, was definitely that there is no one answer to what those things mean.  That makes the work of visibility harder, too.  Not only are there no commonly accepted visual cues for being bi, the ones that tend to go with “queer” are generally more closely associated with being monosexually gay, and ultimately have more to do with gender presentation or performativity than sexual orientation.

Tomorrow is Celebrate Bisexuality Day, which would seem to be a day to find some way to be as visibly bi as possible.  Of course, I’m working at my clinical job, which limits my options on personal appearance.  In the plus column, the uniform is purple, so I’ll have at least one stripe of the flag covered … but so will all my coworkers who would continue in blissful oblivion as to why that would be any different tomorrow than any other day.  I’ve always got my rainbow caduceus on my badge lanyard, but I’ve yet to find any specifically bi-themed jewelry that I’m happy with.  And again, most wouldn’t get it.  I’m certainly not going to wish everybody I meet a “Happy Celebrate Bisexuality Day”!  Patients, in particular, would probably find that a bit confusing, and they have other things to be concerned with.  Except some of them are likely bi too, or if not them, then perhaps one or more of their family members or friends, and I feel like being somehow quietly visible for them is as important (if not more so) as any other reason.

Perhaps I’ll find an answer.  Perhaps it’ll be effective.  Perhaps neither of those things will be true.  But thinking about these things and at least striving for answers is, I think, part of the work of visiBIlity.  Doing some of that thinking “out loud” on the internet is, I suppose, another component.

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2 thoughts on “The work of visiBIlity

    • Thanks! And I see from the email that was sent out that someone was more able than I to articulate what was problematic about that one element of the conference. While I remain frustrated with myself at the way I responded to that internal barrier to speaking up effectively, I’m trying to focus on that as an opportunity for growth.

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