Bisexual Signalling: Proud or Invisible?

Why do we need bisexual signalling? truth is, it can be hard to be loud and proud when you feel so very ‘passable’.

Four people stride down the road…largely dressed in black and leather, slight swagger in the gait, wind in the hair, neon tri-colour eye makeup and pink, purple and blue hair turning heads from pedestrians and drivers in the strange ghost town of central-east London on a Saturday evening. Are they rock stars? Are they emo vigilantes? Are they in a technicolor remake of ‘The Crow’?

Little did the world know, we were the last vestiges of the Bi Pride Makeover mission, on a hunt for a little food in the closed, booked out and private-function world that is Chancery Lane, London on a weekend.

I spend much of my life feeling invisible. Not just in terms of my bisexuality, but in general. Nobody looks at me on the tube. In the street. I am an extra in my own daily life. I’m toned down, modestly dressed, restrained and careful. I’m ‘passable’. I look more overworked, stressed and harassed asexual, than bisexual. Sometimes, it’s a delicious secret to think they’ve seen me on this blog, on the Instagram page, on the YouTube Channel, and they have no idea it’s me as they press past in the daily commute.

Much of the time, it feels like a self-betrayal and cowardice. Beauty, individuality, sexuality must be hidden away. Must be muted. Must be understated. One must take steps not to upset, offend or frighten anyone- even random strangers on public transport. Heaven forbid that our natural way of being should disturb the sensibilities of anyone who has decided to be less than okay with us, right?

This British-sort of toning-down to avoid offence is, in itself, a luxury. The avoidance of being thought rude, unmannerly or problematic is hardly, in the global scheme of things, the most dire of consequences.

sexual orientation laws globally, map of the different countries where gay and bisexual right s are protected, versus punishable as criminal acts
Sexual orientation rights around the world, from the ILGA

Yes, the option to conceal ourselves is both the gift and curse of the bisexual.

I set out, a few weeks ago, to try to learn how to ‘look bisexual’. To communicate it, to be proud, and to own a look and sense of being that seems impossible to grasp, like smoke in our hands.

I started out asking people how to communicate a ‘not quite straight’ vibe:

Ironically, if you create a mystique about yourself or sexuality, people just assume. A bit like Matt Damon said about how people should create a curtain so that the less people know, the more they are interested. If it comes up, ‘Are you straight/gay,’ I normally answer ‘I’m sexual.’ As for ‘I’m here,’: unless it’s necessary, I don’t see the point. Homosexuals and heterosexuals should all be invisible generally, because it doesn’t matter who you love or f**k as long as you’re happy and everyone is enjoying themselves. I take no pride in my hair, it’s looked after and cared for but is simply part of me that can be modified as I see fit, but never replaced.There are straight/gay stereotypes but there is a look most people can think of, but there isn’t really a Bi look.

Mr. C, 30’s

From this, the wonderful Tammi set up a Bi-Pride Makeover day, at the glorious LGBTQIA+ pub, The Apple Tree, where she worked tirelessly for three hours doing ‘invisible’ and ‘bi-pride’ makeover looks (apparently bi-people are all about the self-deprecating humour, according to Google).

Tammi is a friend to the LGBTQIA+ scene in the cosmetics industry, and also offers Trans make-overs, LGBT wedding make-up, gender non-conformist makeup consultations in addition to to standard ‘classic’ and neutral beauty looks. Oh yes, she’s bookable 😉

I ended up decked out in neon blue, purple and pink (bi flag) eyeshadow and eyebrows; others had a blue fish-scale glitter swirl, neutral (invisible) eye make up, with a smokey eye and my weekend companion had ‘guy-liner’ in three tones, from blue to neon pink. Colourful clip-in hair pieces abounded. It was possibly the campiest depiction of bisexuality since pre-gay Elton John, but what other options do we bi’s have between camp and invisible?

We were all in black leather jackets (ironically rocking the bisexual trope) and skinny jeans, the splash of colour to the eyes and hair cast against a monochrome attire as we hit the streets. The response was phenomenal. The men noticed it more, whether it’s a primal male-vigilance instinct to ward-off attacks, an unaccustomed sense of heightened visibility to others or simply an expectation of being noticed, they kept laughing as those driving past craned their necks in incomprehension.

I noticed it too. The simple, colourful hair and face decoration had passers-by looking at me: not shouting, commenting, hurling abuse – just noticing. It was strangely wonderful. Nobody was hostile. Everyone was just looking, wondering, creating stories about who and what they were seeing in their own minds.

purple drink

Answer 1: Some generic stuff you can do; Bright, bold makeup is one of mine. Other appearance-related include flannel, baggy masculine clothes, short hair, piercings and tats, Doc Martens, not wearing heels, short nails (always) and painted (often), can be super obvious and wear T-shirts with literal queer slogans. I have some of those. Then carrying yourself with strong confidence: Queer women are generally more confident. Look in the eyes, makes a difference. I feel like it’s quite obvious from how I look at a woman that I want them. Likewise, I can often tell when women are looking at me with want. That’s why I don’t really get rejected; the women I approach, I can normally tell want me already.

Answer 2: Then there’s the answer I think is more important, which is that we should be moving away from these kinds of signals altogether and only ever talking about them in jest, because any one of any demeanour, style and personality can be queer/straight/flexible. And if we start to let that idea resonate with everyone, then hopefully the whole worrying about whether we are presenting ourselves in a way that displays our sexuality won’t even be a worry or thought any more.

Fem Shep, 20’s
blue hair in braids woman with sunglasses on showing rainbow flag reflection

Were we really representing something? Or were we dressing up? Being a freak show? Trying to find a look and identity that doesn’t currently exist?

That’s something that’s hard to say. We tried something. Everything has to start somewhere. In the absence of any clear social guidance on how to ‘present’ as bi, we started an exploration. An exploration founded in laughable tropes, about lemon slices and invisibility and trying to find ‘pride’ for a subsection of society who are best known for hiding. But who are also one of the most victimised, misunderstood, and rejected variants of common human sexuality.

The hair might be some bisexual signalling

Bisexuality is largely invisible. But I love it when you find out someone is gay or bi and it isn’t obvious. I’m not a fan of people feeling like they have to look, act, talk a certain way to be their sexuality.

*Cough* Sassy gay men talking fast and like a black drag queen *cough*

Not that I have anything against that at all. It just annoys me that people feel they have to act that way. So I’m hesitant to create a cultural stereotype for bi people. Like a ‘fresh out the box’ personality people can wear in lieu of making their own. But we all want to belong, so…?

Nor do I get [people assuming straightness]. Short of Grindr or Tinder or dressing/speaking overly obviously, it isn’t easy to tell.

James, 20’s

What do we do? Where do we fit? How do we be true to ourselves? What does it mean to have a bisexual identity at all? How does one communicate it with honesty and internal cohesion to one’s own individual self?

Ironically, I tend to do my best to conceal it when I’m out in public. I have no problems coming out of the wardrobe in the kink scene (gays get closets, we get wardrobes), but outside of that I am aware of how stigmatised bisexuality still is and frankly I don’t think society is completely ready for our merry band of next-stage human evolution yet! I mean… I’ve literally been called a freak of nature by both straight and gay people. If gays that want and fight for equality for their sexual preferences aren’t then capable of even practising what they preach for us…I haven’t even come out to my family yet. They just think I’m straight and it’s easy for me to perpetuate that, as I’m with a female partner.

Mr. BP, 30’s

Maybe, with the gradual unravelling of gender roles, sexual stereotypes and assumptions, the rise of bisexuality is the quiet revolution that the future holds. In 10, 20 years, will 100% heterosexuality be the assumed norm? Will bi men be considered hiding/gay/effeminate, or will the reality of the desirable, attractive and sexy bisexual man be the norm in the hearts and minds of society? Will bi women be considered hyper-sexual nymphomaniacs, best suited for temporary addition to threesomes with your ‘nice’ girlfriend, or will they just be considered ‘women’, like any other, with sexual gender preferences being reduced to the status of hair or eye colour preference?

Will the novelty, freak-show and utilitarian attitude to bisexuality finally be over?

All the bi guys I know (and pretty much all the gay ones) dress normally and I don’t really know any camp people. Chemistry is chemistry, so if you get a certain vibe off them you can usually tell. But I’m not really attracted to camp and don’t know many bi guys that are either. Neither myself nor anyone I know really advertise. It’s easier in a swinging or dating app context. Unless someone is openly camp or aggressively sexual towards other men, bi guys don’t really advertise. Hitting on random straight-acting guys is a risky proposition. On swinging websites there’s a lot of homophobia too. I’ve had random abuse sent to me because I was simply on there as ‘curious’.

There’s no secret handshake or code ring, sadly.

John, 30’s

Maybe it is important that we find some bi pride. Maybe it’s time we had a symbol. A look, an identity. Maybe it’s time we had a big old float in Pride this summer. Maybe it’s time we told ourselves that its just fine to be who we really are, without shame or explanation. The battle of whether to conform to society’s wishes or to stand-out, stands in stark opposition to the lack of ‘stand-out’ opportunities we have. Whatever we do, we are misinterpreted. Misunderstood. At best, we are judged ‘half of each’.

In hiding, in passing, in bending, in blending, we lose our opportunity to find solidarity with each other. We are too gay to be straight and too straight to be gay. We don’t have the best of both worlds- we are kept on the fringes of both as ‘not quite enough’.

But you are enough.

Be proud, be beautiful, be bisexual.

Be yourself.