To mark this year's Bi Visibility Day, our Youth Worker - Martin Innes - blogs about a session that resonated with the young people in his Glasgow youth group.
As a group leader for the Glasgow-based youth group, Standout, I invited the Scottish Bi+ Network to visit us and deliver an information workshop. The group is for 18 to 25 year old LGBT+ young people and, as part of our three-month programmes, we had rarely devoted entire sessions to the topic of bisexual identities within the LGBT+ community. A few young people felt there was still a stigma about bisexual identities in some LGBT+ spaces, leading to marginalisation.
I was surprised to hear this because, over my years of working with young people, I noticed increasing numbers describe their sexual orientation as bisexual. I knew, however, that the stigma I heard when I was young in the 1990s was still present; for example, that bisexual identities were only a “halfway house” to coming out as gay or lesbian. Or, that bisexuality was but a “phase” of youth.
With this in mind, I invited the Scottish Bi+ Network and they dropped by the group in October 2019. We began with our usual icebreaker: a way to let everyone introduce themselves with their name, age, pronoun, and something funny or interesting. It is a great way to get a group interacting with each other. I remember one group where a lot of shy young people found a common theme in Sherlock Holmes. We lost the night to that, but those young people bonded over a shared love of Sherlock Holmes.
For the icebreaker, a young person suggested that we include our sexual orientations. The group member reckoned it would be interesting to see if many young people identified as bisexual. I gave them that option: if you feel comfortable with it, share with the group how you choose to describe your sexual orientation. As a notoriously bad provider of topics for icebreakers (having failed my New Year’s resolution to provide 47 weeks’ worth of icebreaker topics), this suited me. Out of the 15 young people attending that night, approximately 6 said they were bisexual, three pansexual and the rest gay or lesbian.
Looking to the bigger picture, the results from that quick straw poll reflected a 2019 YouGov survey that found that, in the respondents from the 18 – 24 age bracket, 16% (1 in 6) described their sexual orientation as bisexual. Back in 2015, just 2% (1 in 50) of respondents to a similar YouGov survey defined themselves as bisexual. Therefore, we can conclude that there has been a vast increase in young people identifying their sexual orientation as bisexual.
While this survey highlights the number of young people identifying as bisexual there is another shift in the definition of sexual orientations that may eclipse the term bisexual. In an article in The Guardian newspaper on the subject of pansexuality, Gaby Hinsliff wrote that young people, often the shapers and drivers of coming cultural change, found that identifying as bisexual can be too restricting for some, with many young people taking a more open approach to who they love or fall in love with.
I feel it is important not to see bisexual as an older generation’s term, but one that represents a shifting attitude to the language of sexual orientation among young people. Hence why the Scottish Bi+ Network welcomes “anyone attracted to multiple genders”, acknowledging an era where bisexuality can be an “umbrella term” for a generation whose use of language is constantly evolving.
Visibility reduces stigma. We can only hope that young people will feel able to be more open about their bisexuality as perceptions change, both outside and inside the LGBT+ community. As the YouGov report proves, it is often young people who most drive societal change.