An interview with Kate Harrad, who wrote the first handbook to bisexuality in the UK.
Today is Bi Visibility Day, which is exactly what it sounds like: an annual celebration of bisexuality. The idea is that by putting it in the spotlight every September the 23rd, bisexuality – and the issues bisexual people face – becomes more visible.
While participation in Bi Visibility Day has increased over the years, there's still a lack of resources on bisexuality – mostly because bi issues are often lumped together with LGBT ones as a sub-category, or ignored all together. Luckily, bi activist and author Kate Harrad has written the first handbook to bisexuality in the UK. Purple Prose: Bisexuality in Britain documents people's personal experiences of being bisexual and discusses intersectional topics like race and disability.
I sat down with Kate to ask her about the book and the importance of Bi Visibility Day.
VICE: How did Bi Visibility Day begin?
Kate Harrad: It started in America about 17 years ago, but it now takes place around the world. It was created by activists who were sitting around trying to work out some way of increasing the profile of bisexuality. They chose the 23rd of September because it was one of their birthdays. It's also the month of Freddie Mercury's birthday, who's one of the most famous bisexual people.
There are quite a few LGBTQIA awareness days throughout the year – why is it important to have a day dedicated to bisexuality?
I think it's important because we're not always visible. The problem that bisexual people face is that we can be invisible in straight and gay and lesbian communities. It sometimes leaves people feeling like they've got nowhere to go.
What challenges do bi people face within the LGBTQIA community?
Biphobia is not homophobia. We share a lot of the same issues, but we can get rejected by lesbian and gay communities. I've heard so many bisexual people talking about how they come out to gay and lesbian friends, and the response has been that they can't hang out any more. I've also heard stories of bisexual people calling up gay switchboards and they've been told "you're going through a phase". To get rejected from somewhere you were hoping to find acceptance is particularly worse in some ways. You'll get rejected from a lot of the straight communities, but at least you're prepared for it.
In terms of the day itself, what's involved?
The bi community is a very grassroots community. It tends to be local events where bi groups get together. There are book launches, poetry readings, discussion groups and workshops. There are events happening across the UK.
You've written the UK's first guidebook to bisexuality, what motivated you to do this?
I woke up a few years ago and thought, 'Why isn't there a book about the bi community?' The only books available for the bi community were either published 25 years ago or focused on the American experience. There's also a lot of academic writing, but nothing current, accessible and British-based. The title Purple Prose came to me because purple is the bi colour. I knew all these people who had experiences of being bisexual in Britain and I just wanted to document it.
A lot of the book is about dispelling the myths and stigmas surrounding bisexuality. Which are the most pervasive?
One of the chapters in Purple Prose is called "Greedy, confused and invisible". These are three of the main myths about bisexuality. Firstly, there is this idea that bisexual people are never satisfied or that we are promiscuous. The presumption is that we need a lot of partners and will cheat. It's misunderstanding bisexuality and treating it as a personality type. Secondly, people think bisexuals are confused or that we should "pick a team" – something Christopher Biggins recently said on Big Brother. It also happens from the gay and lesbian side at Pride, where people shout "make your mind up". And lastly, it's about bi people being invisible. People assume all bi issues are subsumed in lesbian and gay issues. People tend to use the words bi, gay and lesbian interchangeably. In the media especially, newspapers tend to refer to people as gay when they have actually come out as bi.
The book features stories from people's lives about what it's like to be bisexual in the UK – why did you decide to produce the book in this way?
Well, there's not a lot of research on bi issues. They're caught up in LGBT issues and they don't tease out the bi stuff. But a lot of it comes down to people's lived experience of being bi and how that also relates to intersectional issues such as being disabled, black or ethnic minority, as well as religion. The book also covers sex, politics and coming out as bi in the work place – something we know bi people are less likely to do because of pressure directed from straight and gay communities. Reading about people's lived experience is also much more interesting.
Which stories had the greatest impact on you?
One of the chapters in the book is written by my friend who writes about the experience of being black in the bi community. He went to a bi event to seek sanctuary but was ignored. Within the bi community, one of our biggest problems is that we're very white and middle class. That leads to a lot of people being ignorant and racist in that very middle class way, where you haven't thought about the issues. This is an extreme version of being rejected by both groups. If you go to black groups as bi you can be rejected, and if you go to bi groups as a black person you can get racism and ignorance. You end up feeling like there really is nowhere safe for you to go at all. It's incredibly damaging to your mental health.
Are there experiences from your own life that have particularly motivated you to get involved in bi activism?
I've actually been very lucky. I haven't faced a huge amount of biphobia, and that's partly because I haven't come out that much. I've had stuff like bottles thrown at me when I've been walking down the street holding hands with another woman. A few years ago a group of us were in a gay pub and a boy and girl couple were snogging and we got thrown out. A lot of people I know have had worse experiences. It does really get to you.
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