Before Julia A., a student who chose not to use their last name because of personal circumstances, became a graduate assistant at the University of Connecticut’s Rainbow Center, she attended training at another institution that broke down the LGBT acronym like this: “L” is for lesbian, “G” is for gay, “B” is for bi now, gay later and “T” is for transgender.
This casual dismissal of bi and pansexual people is characteristic of a society that doesn’t deal well with gray areas, Julia said Friday Afternoon at the Rainbow Center’s Bisexuality/Pansexuality/Fluid Attraction Awareness Day panel. Even people who claim to support the LGBT community as a whole sometimes struggle to understand how someone could be attracted to more than one gender.
“L and G are easy boxes, it’s clear, we can anticipate what you are going to do as a society,” Julia said. “With bisexuals I think there’s a moral component attached where people think you’re disloyal or cheat on people.”
The disconnect comes down to a lack of education, Julia said. Many people are introduced to the concept of bisexuality as an identity that exists halfway between straight and gay on the Kinsey Scale. That’s not the way it is in reality, however.
Bi and pansexuality are distinct identities, not phases, and people often relate to different genders on multiple romantic and sexual dimensions, panelist Jess M., who also chose not to share their last name, a seventh semester English major and Rainbow Center staff member, said.
“Identities are always evolving and our language is always evolving, so I think any education involving LGBT issues will also therefore need to keep progressing,” Jess said.
Education isn’t just about teaching straight people to be better allies, though, Julia said, it’s about helping people figure out their own identities.
“I don’t think a lot of people are told about the capacity to like more than one gender,” Julia said. “It would be a systemic change that would need to happen in order for that education to come into play so that people who identify would not have to constantly advocate for their safety and rights.”
One important thing for allies and LGBT people alike to remember, Julia said, is the importance of privacy. Just because someone is out to a few people, they may not want everyone to know how they identify.
“I would put into practice really being aware, like keenly aware, about whether people want that information shared about them,” Julia said. “Everyone is on their own path and I’ve had many people in my life who have come out to me after sitting on their gender or sexual orientation for a very long time, knowing full well that I’d be okay with it.”
Bisexual Awareness Week, spanning from Sept. 19 to 26, is designed to celebrate the successes of the bi community while bringing visibility to the need for further political and cultural change.
Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.