This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Navdeep Sharma. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

This Bi Visibility Day, Choose To Be An Ally, And Here’s How

Imagine you are among a group of people, some known to you and others you are meeting for the first time. At some point you find yourself in a conversation with two people, one of whom says something that suggests or indicates they are bi. The third person makes an offhand comment to the effect that oh, that’s not a real thing, and further expects you to join them in sniggering along because they think they are being witty and funny. What will you do and how will you choose to react? — Will you choose to laugh along because you are unsure if what they just said is true or not, or will you take the bi person’s word for it, and refuse to be part of this victimising behaviour?

This scenario could play out anywhere, whether you are among predominantly straight folks or queer folks, whether you count yourself among one group or the other. September 23 is celebrated worldwide as Bi Visibility Day. There are few truly affirming and inclusive spaces for bi people. And we need allies to help build those spaces. To be an ally is to stand up for someone or at the very least, to stand with someone. The smallest act of empathy you can perform will go a long way in building confidence and solidarities. Example: to say, Yes I hear you, and Yes, I believe what you say.

We Need You To Act

Allies (and potential allies) please understand that bi people need you just as much as anybody else in a marginalised position does. You would recognise from your own life experiences that you are the best source of information on how you think, how you feel, what you believe, what issues you have — not your siblings, parents, friends or partner. If you would not like somebody else to speak on your behalf, don’t let others speak on our behalf by way of making casually biphobic comments like, for instance, “oh that’s actually just gay”, or “bi people just can’t make up their minds”. The first statement is an act of bi erasure, that is, erasing the existence of bisexuality and bi people’s identity. (Remember, erasing someone’s history or identity is an act of violence.) You can be an ally by saying, “I’m sorry but that is actually biphobic and to say that is to disrespect a person.” It is disrespectful because it means that you are invalidating something that they have spent a chunk of their life coming to terms with, not to mention having the courage to share with you. It is an act of trust for anyone to share something of this nature with someone else, so let us respect that trust.

A Culture Of Biphobia

At times bi people feel alone, without anybody to reach out to—just as other queer people do in the course of their lives. This isolation is felt as acutely and has as much of an impact on our psychological and social selves as it does for anyone who feels isolated. Studies done in some countries have shown that bi people suffer worse than straight and lesbian/gay peers on every count of physical, mental, social and economic well-being including behaviours like substance abuse and attempts at self-harm. Bi people are also as likely as other queer individuals to suffer sexual harassment at the workplace. Part of the reason for all of this is a prevalent culture of biphobia, bi-erasure and monosexism (the idea that a person can only truly be attracted to people of one gender). Through childhood, adolescence and adulthood we are indoctrinated with the harmful idea that bisexuality is a myth, leading to a high degree of self-doubt and low self esteem. So when we do reach out to the larger queer community to be part of something bigger than ourselves, imagine what it does if we are made to feel less-than, or that we are fence-sitters (between straight and not-straight). The truth is closer to how one bi-identified person put it: bisexuality is a place in its own right. We decidedly and consciously occupy that space.

Bi Does Not Equal Binary

The “Bi” (Latin for “two”) in bisexual, bi identity, bi politics, bi visibility, bi erasure and biphobia does not imply any sort of surrender to or endorsement of a gender binary. The bi community has — for a long time now — in its definition of bisexuality and the discourse around it, understood the bi as standing for potential or actual attraction to genders ‘similar to and different from oneself’. So, if someone describes themselves or the community using the term bi, they are in no way excluding any person no matter where this person stands off or on the gender spectrum. We also welcome anyone who wishes to come under the bi umbrella to do so, because the bi community is about so much more than just bisexual behaviour (i.e. being involved physically with people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time). It is a way of seeing the world, our place in it, the role of gender in it and a way of doing politics. A way that recognises the fluid or stable desire many of us feel for people of more than one gender identity or expression and the implications this has for sexual freedom and diversity, gender justice, and human rights.

If you are still not convinced and look at it as an in-between space, then here’s some good news: it is a space with a great deal of creative and political potential. Brenda Howard, sometimes described as the “mother of pride”, was a bi person (as were many other fine people throughout history). According to some theorists and activists, being bi is an inherently radical category that resists cooptation into the normative. You can have the possibility of normative “gay marriage”. But what does “bi marriage” look like? In fact, statistically we are more likely than not to be in mixed-orientation relationships (in which one person is bi and the other is not). Bi erasure leads most people to conclude a person’s orientation based on the perceived gender of their partner(s), succumbing to the binary of gay or straight. Another couple of ways to be bi-inclusive: don’t do it. Keep the possibility of a person being bi open in your mind, regardless of the gender of their partner. Also, do not automatically assume a bi person is polyamorous. There are no studies at this point to indicate that bi people practising polyamory are any greater a percentage of their population than straight or gay people who practise polyamory are of theirs, though we do count polyamorous folks among both members as well as strong allies of our community.

Many Ways Of Being Bi

All of this is to suggest the many ways there are of being bi and how these are all valid, but have an underlying commonality. Some people are bi only for a segment of their lives and after a point no longer identify as that. It does not mean that the period when they were bi was a lie, nor does it discount the fact that many of us are able to come into the identity only later in life, and then choose to stick to the bi label for life because it feels like home. Many pansexual folks (desiring people of all or no genders) do consider themselves to be part of the bi and bi+ community, and others  don’t—both are valid. This idea of desire is something we recognise and articulate within ourselves in different ways, but recognising that potential sets us free of many of the pigeon-holes we might otherwise slot ourselves into. It empowers us in different ways. Either not to assign primacy or centrality to other people’s gender if that feels most natural to us, or if gender is integral to how we live and desire and see the world, to recognise and celebrate the essence of what makes you you or me, me.

So, this Bi Visibility Day/Week/Month, make yourself a promise to act in ways that support and empower bi people rather than discriminate against us or put us on the defensive. Maybe here’s something you can do: get to know a bi person and listen to what they have to say. While you’re at it, share your own story with them — we could all do with learning more about each other’s lives.

Note: Many in the community prefer to use “bi” over “bisexual”, as it is a more inclusive term, and identifying as bi is independent of one’s sexual behaviour. Ace (asexual) people for example may identify as bi, or someone could be bi-romantic and not necessarily bisexual.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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