Is Social Media the Final Visi(bi)lity Frontier?
I’ve spent the majority of this series discussing bisexual visibility (and lack thereof) in film and television. This isn’t an accident—I’m a filmmaker and cinephile, so my passions and cultural points of reference tend to fall within the realm of audio-visual media. But these types of media have some significant flaws, the biggest one being that they tend to create isolating viewing experiences. Unless you’re a media producer yourself (which usually involves some degree of economic, racial, or cultural privilege), it’s entirely possible that you will rarely see images which reflect your experiences. If you’re watching something on the big or small screen, you have to accept the reality being presented to you, even if such a reality is counter to what you know to be true. It’s also difficult to interact with this kind of media—if a TV show makes you angry, yelling at the set or throwing popcorn may feel cathartic, but it doesn't usually result in concrete change.
But this is where newer forms of media, like social media, come in. Now that platforms exist for the sharing of ideas and experiences, bi folks are having an easier time building community and countering the negative images they see in traditional forms of media. I thought about this earlier this week, when I read an article that bisexual high school student Anna Detmer wrote for the Huffington Post. Detmer credits online spaces for supporting her while she struggles for acceptance at school:
Tumblr has been wonderful to me. I have yet to receive homophobic hate of any kind, although I know those kinds of people are out there. I'm not really bothered by homophobes to be honest. So long as you can look past my sexuality, tolerate it, and don't think it defines me, I don't care if you disagree with it. Just accept that I can't change it and it won't go away.
Detmer also created this image, which went viral on Tumblr:
Detmer’s experience is unique to her generation. When I was in high school, only ten years ago, I didn’t have an online community in which to discuss these issues. I watched television shows and movies with LGBT characters, certainly, and I depended on my high school GSA for support, but the number of other bi people I knew was small. Having a community like Tumblr (or any other similar social network) allows young people to take control of their own representations. It’s now easier than ever to find people who have had similar experiences, discuss problems, and, in the case of Detmer, share this conversation with millions of people. Like many who read Detmer’s article, I was moved and impressed by her ability to talk about her experiences in such candid terms, but more than anything, I was thrilled that she lives in a time when she’s able to find the community that she needs on the Internet, a community which was much harder to find a decade ago.
The rise of social networking and safe spaces online for bisexual people has also led to the creation of bi-specific social networks. Founded by activist Adrienne Williams in 2008, the appropriately-named Bi Social Network is a space for people to connect through blogs and other writing, podcasts, radio, and classifieds. My favorite BSN effort is their “I am Visible” campaign, which aims to stop biphobia and bi-erasure through writing, photo, and video campaigns. Celebrities like Alan Cumming and ordinary people have participated, sharing their images and experiences to demystify the reality of bisexuality. It is a powerful campaign that I hope receives wider recognition and support.
Of course, the existence of social media outlets where bi people can connect and mobilize is not, in itself, enough to change the ways in which bisexuality is discussed in mainstream media outlets. What’s most important, though, is that conversations are now happening in unprecedented ways. Through social networks and online advocacy campaigns, people are becoming more comfortable in discussing their experiences and identities, which in turn empowers them to become more visible and active in their local bi and LGBT communities. Though this visibility does not have a direct impact on traditional media images, it does create a culture of people who are more comfortable with the realities of bisexuality than ever before, and the first step toward changing traditional media is changing the culture that creates it. Social media isn’t the final step toward honest bi visibility, but it’s certainly a major step in the right direction.
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