Bisexual Awareness Week Series: Day 6 – Previous Posts: Introduction to Bisexual Awareness Week Series – Bisexuality in YA – On Failing to Recognize Ourselves in Mirrors – The “B” Word – There Once Was a Girl – It’s Not Just a Phase
by Sarah Kettles
If you’re reading this, there’s no way you don’t know what a ridiculous and problematic and wonderful and frightening and enormously influential thing social media is, particularly in the lives of teenagers, and even more so in the lives of marginalized teenagers. Sites like Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram and my once-beloved LiveJournal have been bringing kids together for years, and it’s now easier than ever to find people who share your interests or who love to snark about the same things you do or who society has shoved into the same tiny box as you.
Looking for female-presenting humans who love superheroes (or villains)? #PrettyHeros
Wanting to know who else is banging their heads against their desks after hours of sitting in front of a blank page? #amwriting
Trying to find someone else who feels the same way you do about boys and girls? #bisexual
Now, there’s no denying that the Internet as a whole is not always safe – even its tiny corners that masquerade as safe spaces can be invaded by trolls. Most if not all hashtags, even the ones that seem truly non-contentious, have been hit by them. But choosing to dwell on the jerks and ignoring everyone else means you may be missing out on something amazing, something into which a lot of teens are charging head-first.
As of the moment I wrote this sentence, there were 2,777,298 posts on Instagram using #bisexual. Just searching ‘bisexual’ on Twitter brings up dozens of accounts for organizations seeking in some way to support the bisexual community. Obviously you need to be careful – there are plenty of sleazy accounts and people using the hashtag for bigotry*. But there are also plenty of respectful and/or confused and/or proud and/or kind and compassionate people out there looking for solidarity and community and someone else to shout ‘ME TOO’.
That’s an amazing thing about social media: it’s so easy to find other people who feel the way you do, because so many of them are shouting about it! Social media can help teens to realize that they’re not alone, no matter how lonely they may be in the ‘real world’. It allows people to realize that there really are safe spaces out there for them, whether the Internet happens to be that safe space or not.
This kind of acceptance and recognition that you’re not the only one is important for all teenagers, for everyone, but especially for those who don’t get that acceptance and recognition from the people around them. It’s tough being a member of a marginalized group.** It’s especially tough when some members of that group refuse – just like some people outside the group – to accept that your identity is real, as can be the case when people who identify as bisexual (or a number of other non-binary identities) spend time in groups that say they include the whole LGBTQ+ spectrum, but don’t really mean the ‘B’ part.
That kind of exclusion happened to me repeatedly when I was first coming out, to the point that I started saying I was gay even though I knew I wasn’t and felt horrible about saying it. I even started to convince myself that I might actually be gay and not bisexual, because hey – I’m attracted to more women than men (and yes, I AM married to a man), and being gay meant these groups would accept me.
Knowing that there were spaces in which my identity wouldn’t be erased, that there were other people struggling with this erasure, and that things like #bisexual and #BiVisibility existed would have made a huge difference for me at that stage in my life. They did exist – the spaces and the people and the hashtags – but I wasn’t social media-savvy enough at the time to understand how to access/use them. The thing about teenagers now, though, is that most are social media-savvy enough to use them, and if the ones they need/want/feel best represent them don’t exist, they create them.
This is, in part, why the lack of social media in many YA books rings so false with me (and why I love books like Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for more than just their plotlines). The Internet is HUGE. Teens connect in real time with people from all over the planet. They’re funny and brilliant and vulnerable, sharing pictures of adorable animals and horrifying newscasts and their own true stories with people they know and people they don’t. And they’re constantly seeking others like themselves.
So what’s my point? Bisexuality is visible if you know where to look. It’s splashed all over the timelines of awesome bi-advocates both outside and within the YA community. It’s claimed loudly and proudly by teens and young adults all over Instagram and Tumblr. Yes, so is bi-erasure, but those of us who are bisexual (and those who aren’t but who are good allies) can and do shout over the biphobes.
And like Steve Berman said, we need to see more of that, of the way in which social media affects teens and young adults, particularly those who are made to feel ‘other’ by the people around them. Of the way in which the Internet, which can be horrible and dangerous and scary, can also be welcoming and comforting and full of other people screaming ‘ME TOO’.
Because yeah, ME TOO. #bisexual
*Protect yourself. I’m at a point mentally where I can flick past or report offensive/hurtful stuff without it affecting me too much, and offensive/hurtful stuff does NOT account for the bulk of posts tagged #bisexual (or most variations of this hashtag), but if you’re triggered by biphobia, I would consider reaching out to the online bisexual community in different ways. You can start with following other Gay YA guest bloggers on their various social media account, and also check out some of the great non-social media resources out there, including BiResource.net.
**Understatement of the century.