March is Bisexual Health Awareness Month. It’s very possible you didn’t know that! Which is one of the reasons this designated month is so important. Bisexuals are without a doubt the least visible and considered “letter” within LGBTQ, and their specific issues are often even more ignored. This apathy towards bisexual lives contributes to a suite of health problems, including a higher rate of substance use and abuse, higher incidences of mental health issues, and even higher rates of cancer and heart problems. Bisexuals are more able than gays and lesbians to be in socially accepted relationships, but they face the same closeting pressure to suppress their sexual identity and deny a part of themselves. And thanks to heteronormativity, their heterosexual activity is used as an excuse to erase their bisexual identity. To that end, it’s crucial to raise awareness not simply of bisexual health, but of bisexuality itself.
As individuals who sometimes conform to the sexual norm, bi people are in a position where they have much less assurance that their identity will be respected or acknowledged. It’s easy for people who would prefer everyone stick to one “team” to declare bisexuals as just confused or experimenting. When a bisexual person is in a hetero relationship, they’re often treated as if they stopped being bi. Celebrities, especially female celebrities, who profess homosexual relationships are labeled flat-out “gay” or “lesbian” unless they insist on identifying “bi.” Orientations which sit outside the false dichotomy between “straight” and “gay” are often erased. Notice how Djuan Trent, 2011’s Miss Kentucky, who came out as queer, is lauded for being “the first openly lesbian Miss America contestant.” Her word choice is even noted, and the article insists on calling her a lesbian anyway.
To be in this position is to be invisible. As we’ve said before, representation is essential. Stories are an integral part of how people learn and develop empathy. More importantly, they help develop a sense of self and belonging. Seeing yourself in media, seeing that somebody understands your experience, is huge. What message does it send for so few stories to have bisexual protagonists? Especially given the situation, where bi people are so easily and eagerly placed into groups that don’t reflect them? And what message does it send to remove bisexuality where it exists?
Anne Frank’s diary, published as The Diary of a Young Girl, is a seminal favorite of Holocaust literature. A story of survival and the horrors of discrimination and persecution. Kind of funny, then, that the book was originally scrubbed of certain homoerotic material and edited to accentuate Anne’s relationship with fellow hideaway Peter van Pels.
“Once when I was spending the night at Jacque’s, I could no longer restrain my curiosity about her body, which she’d always hidden from me and which I’d never seen. I asked her whether, as proof of our friendship, we could touch each other’s breasts. Jacque refused. I also had a terrible desire to kiss her, which I did. Every time I see a female nude, such as the Venus in my art history book, I go into ecstasy. Sometimes I find them so exquisite I have to struggle to hold back my tears. If only I had a girlfriend!”
–The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
There’s no acknowledgment of taboo, no trace of shame in this passage. It’s simply a fact of her life. Anne is joyful at the beauty of the female body, yearns to learn and explore, to be closer with her friend. It’s open, and quite clear in how she feels. It’s crazy. This story is from seventy years ago, when doctors considered homosexuality a disease, and it’s had a hidden section all along where the hero pines for her best girl friend. It’s striking how casual it is, that she’s talking about things which, even today, people feel totally alone in. For this, it feels all the more wrong that it was cut out.
Anne never chose a label, but the excision of her feelings for women in the original publishing comes from the same impulse that denies bi people. Nobody wants to deal with the idea that a young person could have same-sex desires, and an even bigger nobody wants to deal with the idea of them not limiting themselves to one. Confronted with this passage, many people say that she was just confused, because “Look at how she gets in a relationship with that boy later! Lots of girls get confused around that time,” they say. And sure, we don’t know that Anne Frank was bi. Even with this “evidence,” it’s not right to claim her as bisexual. But neither is it right to cut out her thoughts on same-sex attraction for the sake of propriety or a cleaner story.
This is the importance of representation, and the slow death of erasure. Feeling that there’s no place for someone like you is dehumanizing, and this feeling is exactly the product of systematically cutting out “confusion” and behavior people find unbefitting of a moral hero. Nearly all of the health issues facing bisexuals have to do with depression, anxiety, self-medication. Symptoms of being unwelcome in their society.
What would happen if for every time someone was “confused,” we left it in anyway? If instead of glossing over the part where the protagonist lovingly describes their best friend, we talk about it? Suppose a young reader was assigned this book, the full version. They see the strength and bravery of Anne Frank under the crushing oppression of the Nazi regime, they see everything that makes her a hero to so many people. And suppose they see themselves reflected here, in this honest and unafraid passage.
March is the month of Anne Frank’s death in 1945, in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As she’s remembered, one hopes we remember her for her desire to be herself, to write down and document who she was. Anne Frank’s story has been a source of inspiration to so many, and with this fuller telling, she means that much more to people who really need it.