Is anyone else out there? My experiences as an older bi woman Sue George At 64, I am proud and happy to say that I identify as bisexual. This is something that has been a part of my life for such a long time (almost 50 years) that, to me, it goes without saying. Except that I have said it, over and over again, to reiterate to anyone who’d care to listen that I was bi. I used to tell people I was bisexual as soon as I met them because I didn’t want them to get the “wrong idea”. Most people read me as straight, and I very much did not want them to do that. For much of my life, bisexuality and bi people were invisible, and I was determined not to be. So it feels ironic that, at a time when there seems to be so much more bi visibility, I myself have become less visible. Why? Because I am old. I first identified as bisexual to myself when I was in my mid-teens, but told very few people about it. I made up for that from my mid-20s onwards, when I wrote about bisexuality, went to conferences, told my family, my bosses and workmates, my neighbours: everyone with whom I had more than a passing conversation. There’s no question that I was privileged to be able to do this: I was a freelance journalist, and did not rely on the goodwill of any particular employer. Yet between leaving university in 1981, and about 2005, I never met anyone – outside of organised bi groups – who identified publically as bisexual, though plenty came and “confessed” their bisexuality to me. When bisexuality was mentioned in lesbian or gay communities, it was as a transitional identity (something you did between identifying as heterosexual and proudly coming out as gay or lesbian). Or it was a moral failure, cowardice, greed, an inability to make up your mind. Mainstream society perceived bisexuality as a joke, bi men a health risk, bi women a turn-on for men. Bi groups were vital in supporting bi people and fighting against these misconceptions. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly when, how, or why bisexuality gradually became more visible. But there are certainly more people out as bi. According to a YouGov poll from 2019, the number of 18-24 year-olds identifying as bisexual was eight times higher than in 2015. Yet even that was so much higher than it had been. In 2015, 43% of 18-24 year-olds identified as bi (compared to 16% of 40-59 year olds, and 7% of over 60s). A side-effect of this increase is the supposition that only a tiny number of older people are bi, or have ever had significant attraction to, or sexual experience with, more than one gender. With all the prejudice that used to exist, it is not surprising that so few older people identify as bi. But what happened to all the people who went to bi groups from the 80s onwards? I know some feel that, because they aren’t seeking partners of more than one gender, or any partners at all, that they don’t count as bi. But my feeling is that sexuality is about your past as well as your present, the people you are drawn to, and your sense of community. Invisibility operates a bit differently for bi cis men, and for bi trans people and non-binary, but as a cis woman I think there are several contributing factors. The first is the much-discussed invisibility of older women. Cis women (especially straight women) talk – and write – about this a lot, whether they feel good, bad or indifferent about the withdrawal of the male gaze and the sense from society that they are no longer desirable, or sexual beings at all. For me, it feels very strange that no one cares any longer whether I am bisexual. As a younger woman, I felt my sexuality was policed, or at the very least monitored, by everyone. This came particularly – though not exclusively – from the lesbians I knew, who had strong views about how I should be living and what my attitude towards men should be. Heterosexual friends and casual acquaintances felt free to pass all kinds of comments about bisexuality in general, and about me personally, about what they imagined I did and who I did it with. At some point, this stopped. At a slightly later point, people I met no longer asked about my relationships at all and, when I didn’t mention a spouse or partner, assumed I was single and not looking. In my case, this is correct. While many of my friends (of various genders) are in established relationships, I have a strong desire not to be in a conventional couple ever again. No one seems to care who I might have been in relationships with in the past. I’m sure many people assume they were heterosexual, but not all think that. Still, they don’t ask and often I don’t say. When I have, people tend to act bemused or indifferent. This feels harder to tackle than hostility, because at least I can fight against that. This feeling of invisibility has probably been made more noticeable by the pandemic. The LGBT scene has contracted, like everything else. Attending an event isn’t the same on Zoom, where you can turn your camera off, and there’s no talking over a drink afterwards, discovering you have things in common that you hadn’t realised. Invisibility is also why it’s so important, as a bi person, to have other bi people in your life. When I went to the first-ever Bi Pride in 2019, I was profoundly moved. There were so many people from a range of ages, races, backgrounds, disabilities, opinions, appearances and genders. It felt like the first time the B was a central part of the LGBT acronym. Yet the bi community itself does feel “young” and while older and younger bi people definitely have things in common, there are others that they don’t. Getting to know bisexuals of our own generation is important for many of us. While it may be easier than it was, bi people are still, too often, hidden from view. Yet we exist, and knowing there are others we can relate to remains as significant as ever. Sue George is a writer and editor, who has been in and around the bi community since 1984. The Opening Doors Bi The Way Group, for bisexual people over 50, will relaunch next month! Email [email protected] for more information.