Celebrity

The Party’s on BiTok and You’re All Invited

It was a Tuesday night like any other. I’d just popped a melatonin gummy and buried myself into bed, ready to scroll through TikTok and enjoy my blissful cocoon of content, when I saw it: a video of a woman dancing to one of those wacky trending sounds, the caption on top reading, “going through the trouble of coming out as bisexual to realize I will never date women because I found my soulmate and he’s a man.”

As a bisexual person in a serious relationship with a straight partner, I suddenly felt very seen. Though I’d spent my late teens and early twenties flirting and (if I was lucky) hooking up with women, it took me much longer to fully admit my queerness. I grew up in a fairly conservative southern suburb, where there were approximately three (known) gay kids, all of whom had been ostracized, stereotyped, and terrified to come out to their parents. It was the early 2000s: Butterfly clips were in, gay was bad, and bisexuality was nonexistent.

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In fact, almost every queer person I knew presented as purely homosexual. The only time I’d ever heard of a person liking more than one gender was on television as the butt of a joke. In one episode of Sex and the City, Carrie (a self-proclaimed sex expert) dismissed a potential partner because of his bisexuality, quipping to her friends that the man was probably confused, as bisexualty was merely “a layover on the way to Gaytown.” Miranda nodded her head in solidarity, and my inner queer child lodged herself deep into the closet.

While I’m sure Carrie’s comment got a few misguided laughs, it’s a prime example of bi erasure, or the tendency to disregard, ignore, or falsify the existence of bisexuality. Mocking or invalidating bisexuality leads bi folks to question their attraction toward genders beyond the opposite sex, or label desire as something else entirely. The phrase “girl crush” is a great example of this. It’s like, maybe you… just have a crush on a girl?

I was the queen of finding fake justifications for my same-sex attraction, rationalizing that my attraction to girls was simply an intense desire for female friendship. My obsession with Mary Kate Olsen was because I wanted to be like her—obvi not because I wanted to kiss her. All straight girls spent hours on Tumblr looking at paparazzi pictures of Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson. Everyone, regardless of gender, had a sexual awakening after watching Britney’s “If U Seek Amy” music video… right?!

After all, it wasn’t that I didn’t like boys—I was obsessed with them. Had the boy from the live-action Peter Pan proposed to me at 13 years old, I would have lost my damn mind. But the attraction I felt toward guys made it way easier for me to write off my feelings toward girls. It was acceptable for me to publicly crush on boys, and so I did. (If there was one thing my teenage self wanted more than to kiss a girl, it was to be liked.) Through conversations, I realized that other bi folks experienced similar dilemmas. Remember: There was little to no proof of our existence.

Unfortunately, the wrinkles of my bisexuality didn’t necessarily smooth themselves out as I got older. Like most closeted bi girls who are super into musical theatre, I sashayed my way into a group of queer friends, thinking I’d finally found ~*my people*~. But even the LGBTQ+ community, as wonderful as it can be, contributes to bi erasure. Media is still riddled with internalized biphobia. And bi erasure isn’t just found on television: it also lives deep within the shiny trenches of social media.

For example: The popular digital publication THEM, an authority on LGBTQ+ culture that publishes content about queer pop culture and politics, got called out by readers in their Instagram comments for a post featuring Wanda Sykes, Niecy Nash, and Kristin Stewart that read, “Lesbians Were the Real Winners at Last Nights’s Oscars,” even though Kristin Stewart has stated multiple times that she is bi. (THEM later changed the caption and the article on their website, but the Instagram post still reflects the original headline.) The misstep wasn’t purposeful—THEM does great work for the LGBTQ+ community. But biphobia is so pervasive, that even well-intentioned queers can unknowingly contribute to it.

Furthermore, in a recap of season 2, episode 4 of Euphoria, the Instagram account @impact shared a post that described Cal Jacobs’ storyline as an example of “the stigmatization of gay males” or “wounds from years of internalized homophobia.” And while I agree that we absolutely must draw awareness to the issues faced by gay men, Cal had articulated how he loves going down on women (who doesn’t?) and that he’d fooled around with people across the gender spectrum. Impact’s post, while also well-intentioned, perpetuates the stereotype that all men who aren’t straight are gay—there’s no in between, no fluidity.

The content on bisexual TikTok, or BiTok, as it’s lovingly known, is a refreshing and necessary change of pace. The video of the woman dancing and sharing her plight of being bi and partnered with a man was one of the many that wiggled their way into my algorithm; there was another where comedian Mary Beth Barone shared how bisexuality is fun because gay people hate you and straight people don’t believe you. (Punchline: “Life’s all about balance.”) A trend called “bi wife energy” circulated where cishet men shared the love and pride they feel for their bisexual wives, demonstrating how a person’s queerness can be validated, even when they’re in a hetero-facing relationship.

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These videos go beyond simply stating the existence of bisexuality—they reveal actual bisexual issues, interests, experiences, and truths, like how internalized biphobia leads to a confusing slew of contradicting thoughts. But it can also simply highlight and celebrate common interests ostensibly held by bisexual people, like identifying the celebrity responsible for our bisexual awakening, and our proclivity for crystals, beanies, and a good tote bag.

I’m not saying that Instagram is void of bisexual content. @shegothepink and @bi_astrology are both great accounts that validate bisexuality in fun and educational ways. But TikTok takes it a step further. It brings viewers into the bedrooms and inner monologues of bisexuals, making it possible for us to see ourselves in mainstream content. And unlike on Instagram, you don’t need to be following a specific creator to see their videos. TikTok’s For You page (FYP) serves up content that matches your interests automatically. You don’t need to look for the bi content—the bi content finds you.

And TBH, we need bi content to find us. A 2018 study from The Journal of Sex Research found that bisexuals have among the highest rates of poor mental health when compared to gay, lesbian, and heterosexual people. The same was found for teens; a 2019 research brief from The Trevor Project found that bisexual high school students reported more feelings of sadness and hopelessness and more thoughts of suicide than those who identified as heterosexual or gay.

Researchers attribute a few different interrelated factors to these mental health disparities: bi erasure, a lack of bi-affirmative support, and sexual orientation-based discrimination. The combination of these factors often lead to feelings of isolation and inadequacy. And because of the ease with which we use social media, its messaging becomes incredibly pervasive, and that only increases our feelings of invalidation. It doesn’t just happen when we’re denied an invitation to Pride Brunch because we’re not “gay enough”—bi erasure follows us through our everyday lives.

But on TikTok and in other safe bi spaces (like, for example, a Phoebe Bridgers concert), I feel a surge of euphoria, acceptance, and comfort. I fell in love with BiTok because it gave me what I was deprived of for so long: real, talking, colorful, diverse examples of bisexuality. Suddenly we have access to our people! We see videos and content that remind us of bi icons like Janelle Monaé, Aubrey Plaza, David Bowie, and so many more! We have oat milk, overalls, and lemon bars!

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I know it’s cliché, but social media is a lot like art—it imitates life. And when art imitates life, life imitates art right back. In other words, accurate portrayals of bisexuality are reflected (and gain traction) on TikTok because they find a way to make an individual’s personal bisexual experience universal. And when we feel seen, we feel validated and we’re further encouraged to show up as the brightest versions of our bisexual selves IRL.

Of course, there is still work to be done. Most of the bisexual content I’m referring to is created for women and nonbinary folks; there’s still a glaring lack of bisexual visibility for men. (Thanks, toxic masculinity.) I also live in Los Angeles, where queerness is mostly accepted, and I know that even being the *tiniest* bit gay in other areas can be dangerous.

Still, I’m hopeful, and I know I’m not the only one discovering this kind of content. My straight and gay friends have started sending me BiToks that appear on their feeds—meaning they’re being served up bi content too. We’re inching our way into the cultural zeitgeist one beanie at a time, and even if it’s a 15-second video of a queer woman dancing while she shares her bi woes, that visibility makes a difference.

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