By Rhys Wright and Rosie Green
Bisexual Awareness Week may be just a single week out of every year, but bi-erasure and biphobia are issues we ought to be aware of year round, and the book trade hasn’t been immune to bi-erasure and a lack of bisexual spaces. For instance, the Lambda Literary Awards, founded in 1989, only introduced bisexual categories in 2006. Now, they have bi categories in fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
In fiction, bi representation is flourishing, with more and more books featuring bi characters being published each year, and the more well-known biphobic tropes (greedy, faking-it, it’s-just-a-phase) are finally falling by the wayside. But non-fiction has surprisingly fewer titles focused primarily on bisexuality and the bi community. Here are some of those non-fiction hidden gems for anyone looking to learn more about the bi community.
Bi: The Hidden Culture, History and Science of Bisexuality by Julia Shaw
While bisexuality itself has always existed, it didn’t become the subject of study and scholarship until the late nineteenth century. With more than a century of research to draw on, you’d think that public awareness of bisexuality wouldn’t be so rife with stereotypes and misconceptions. What Julia Shaw’s Bi aims to do is take the scholarship that’s hidden behind the paywalls of academic journals and present it in an accessible book that anyone can understand.
Shaw uses her background as an academic and founder of the Bisexual Research Group to construct a thorough account of the history, science and culture of bisexuality. It’s this intersection of history, science and culture that makes Bi such an engaging read. You get a full course of fascinating topics that’s only bolstered by Shaw’s knack for storytelling. With plenty of interesting stories rendered in simple, digestible prose, she’s able to take scientific experiments and studies and make them intelligible to people of all backgrounds.
By tracing bisexual history from its establishment as an academic concept by sexologists to the present day, Bi can give any reader a better understanding of the issues currently facing the bisexual community and the historical roots these issues have. Whether it’s scientific studies using unethical methods to reach conclusions about sexuality, or “no promo homo” laws banning public expressions of queer sexuality, Bi demonstrates that history really does repeat itself.
Claiming the B in LGBT: Illuminating the Bisexual Narrative edited by Kate Harrad
Bisexuality is a very broad spectrum for which there’s no universal experience or uncontested definition, which means any broad generalisations are potentially exclusionary. So, then, how do you write a guidebook on the history and future of the bisexual movement that provides representation to bisexuals of all different shapes and sizes?
In Claiming the B in LGBT, Harrad and her co-editors’ solution is to provide quotes and testimonials from a multitude of different bisexuals for every topic the book examines, which is quite a lot: self-identifying as bi, how to come out, non-monogamy, religion, race and disability, just to name a few.
Each chapter is structured around the responses of the interviewees, allowing the perspectives of people of different backgrounds and identities and every part of the Kinsey scale to be represented. The testimonials are often placed in dialogue with one another to show the contrasting ways in which different people see and experience the same topics.
This anthology of bi writing underscores the fact that anyone has the right to identify as bi, regardless of what their sexual and romantic history consists of. It also dispels notions of bisexuality that assume a gender binary. Instead, Claiming the B in LGBT encourages you to rethink how we define bisexuality and open up to greater inclusion of non-binary, genderqueer and genderfluid identities.
Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution by Shiri Eisner
Published in 2013, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution is both an analysis of the specific issues bisexual people face and a manifesto for a more radical and explicitly bisexual movement in LGBTQIA+ activism.
It highlights oppression faced specifically by bisexuals – monosexism – separate to that against lesbians and gay people, pointing out that oppression and biphobic attitudes can come from within the queer community as well as outside it, and presents a compelling argument that the community needs its own movement to avoid bi issues getting ignored.
Eisner's study is wide-ranging and looks at diversity within the bi community, examining its relationship with the trans community through the perspective of someone who is a part of both, devoting a chapter to the intersection between bisexuality and race, and calling for more inclusivity within the bi community as well as criticising the alienation many bi people feel in lesbian and gay circles.
In-depth and based in detailed academic research, yet personal and accessible, Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution is a great choice for people wanting to understand the particular issues bisexuals face and the structures they are rooted in. Ten years later, many of Eisner's ideas about the importance of challenging the structures of oppression, rather than trying to assimilate into them, are still radical and relevant as ever, not just to bisexuals but to the whole queer community.