By now you've probably seen Janelle Monáe's newest music video for "Make Me Feel", a song from her upcoming third studio album Dirty Computer.
Everything about the video is phenomenal. From her outfits, to the lighting, to the dancing, to, of course, the bi storyline which is woven through the entire video. Never have I seen a music video display such an empowering black, bi, female experience. That's why the song is correctly being hailed as a bi anthem.
The video manages to walk the fine line of a nearly impossible task. She depicts bisexuality without hyper-sexualizing it. All too often, bi women, especially bi women of color, are hypersexualized in media depictions (and in real life). Monáe was able to depict herself (or perhaps the character she played in the video) as being a sexual being, without falling into the hyper-sexualizing trope. In other words, this video is for bi women wanting to embrace their sexuality. It's not for the male gaze.
But the one thing in particular that I loved about the song and the video itself, was that it was playful. One thing I've been focusing on in my work is balancing the positive aspects of having a bi+ identity with all of the challenges bi individuals face. All too often, LGBTI activists, especially bi activists, fall into pattern of only writing about the challenges and struggles of being bi: the feelings of isolation derived from being rejected by both straight and gay communities, health disparities, biphobia, etc.
Don't get me wrong, all of these things are incredibly important. We need to discuss the issues that plague the bi community, otherwise no positive change can ever occur. However, I feel like bi activists (myself very much included) have accidentally created a brand of victimization for the bi+ identity. We only talk about the challenges and struggles we face.
This may not be helpful for many members of the bi+ community, or for those who are looking for encouragement about their identity. I could be projecting my own opinions and overthinking this, but if I was someone who was a little confused about my sexual identity — unsure if I wanted to claim a bi+ label and embrace being bi — and I Googled bi, only to find pieces like, "Stop saying these ten things to bisexuals", and Bisexual women experience nearly twice the rate of sexual violence as straight women," I would sure as hell not want to embrace a bi+ identity. I would think to myself, "Screw this." I'm not going to tell anyone I'm bi, and I'm going to live my life in the closet. I may even deny myself love with people of multiple genders out of fear of being perceived as bisexual. Or worse... I cheat on my wife with men in the locker room sauna because I'm so desperate for the male touch, but unable to embrace my bi identity.
It's a shame when a person decides not to embrace his/her/their authentic self. Sadly, this is the case for the majority of bi individuals.
2013 research from Pew revealed that only 28% of bi people said that most or all of the important people in their lives knew about their sexual orientation, compared to 71% of lesbians and 77% of gay men; the numbers were even smaller for bi men: Only 12% said they were out to that degree, compared to one-third of bi women.
This is why I've been trying to really focus on the positive aspects. The blessings and privileges that come from embracing a bi identity. All of the beautiful and special things that bi folks experience that people solely attracted to one gender do not.
Things like our ability to further empathize with others, see the world in various shades of gray, and not feel limited by heteronormative, societal standards.
This is why I think the "Make Me Feel" video is so important. It celebrates bisexuality in a way that shows that sexuality can be playful. It can be fun. It can be sexual. It's not all struggles and biphobia. It's not all experiencing rejection from gay and straight communities. Bis can be loved. We can be embraced. We can have lovers of various genders. And we can have a fun time being who we are.
Thank you Janelle Monáe for once again being freakin' incredible.