Growing Bisexual Community Has Made Its Own Culture Online

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Growing Bisexual Community Has Made Its Own Culture Online
Many memes that began as a joke have now become a part of bisexual culture online, allowing the community to feel part of their created history.

To be bisexual is to be attracted to multiple types of people — men, women and nonbinary folks.

But if you explore enough bisexual spaces online, being bi also jokingly means ordering your coffee with oat milk, wearing combat boots and denim jackets and for some reason not being able to sit in a chair... straight.

"Clearly, the fundamental nature of bisexuality is cuffed jeans and a beanie," said Sarah Pappalardo, co-founder and editor of the satirical news site Reductress. "You know, it's just these little things, and really just pointing out the nuances of identity that are fun and relatable, and let people laugh at themselves and their own culture."

Pappalardo credits Reductress' bisexual contributors for the site's most popular posts about bisexuality, and they note that several other memes are born out of social media. The hashtag #bisexual has more than 16 billion views on TikTok, more than 11 million posts on Instagram — and one video on YouTube titled "How Bisexuals Sit" has more than 800,000 views.

That one specific video is one of several. It's a great example of something that started off as a joke, then went viral to the point of it now being a part of this culture of silly inside jokes and shared history among a growing bisexual community. A "bi chair" was even designed by a Brazilian artist and then actually made by a father from Iowa.

"Since bisexuality is such a big tent, we're seeing kind of like this very particular bisexual subculture spring through the internet," said Pappalardo.

"That's one way to sort of define an 'us' in a culture that often 'invisiblizes' us or erases us altogether as bisexuals," explained Julia Shaw, author of new book "Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, And Science of Bisexuality." "And so how do we identify each other, and what are our jokes? What is our community? And as part of that meme culture is almost an essential part of this point."

Shaw, a London-based psychologist and queer researcher, wants to start more open conversations about sexuality and attraction.

"I wrote a book about bisexuality because I had so many questions as a bisexual person and an academic that I wanted the answers to, that I really struggled to find," Shaw said.

"Bi" is like a history book for the growing bisexual community, compiling decades of research and writings about bisexuality which were previously scattered and erased even within LGBTQ literature, as well as historically misunderstood by society as sexual deviance. In 1974, an article from The New York Times described it as a "largely mysterious lifestyle."

Shaw's book also goes into her experiences as a bisexual woman today and what it means to engage with bi spaces online and see bisexuality better represented in pop culture. Shows like the NBC sitcom "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and The CW's musical comedy "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" have been praised for their representation of bisexual characters.

"That's also what I'm trying to do with my book 'Bi' is to really bring the stories out of the shadows... which can really help to tether bisexuals to their own paths and to their own sense of self," Shaw added.

Nearly 1 in 6 Gen Z adults in the U.S. identify as bisexual according to a Gallup poll from earlier this year, making it the most common LGBTQ identity among Gen Z, millennials and Gen X. Some big reasons for that could be because of the stronger acceptance of LGBTQ people in the U.S., increased legal protections against discrimination and, again, online visibility.

But despite all of that, Shaw notes that most people who are bisexual aren't out and many likely aren't plugged into safe LGBTQ spaces online. Because of that, the visibility of those communities — even those filled with silly inside jokes and memes — are important.

"You feel validated, you feel affirmed, you feel a part of a community that shares that experience," said Pappalardo.

"These kinds of spaces can act as a massive buffer for things like anxiety, depression, and other negative outcomes that happen from feeling lonely and isolated," said Shaw. "And, you know, maybe struggling with the visibility or lack thereof, of bisexuality."

As more people learn about bisexuality, its history and its culture, Shaw hopes to see even more stories and books of people who love "regardless of gender." 

Her Book "Bi" comes out in the U.S. this Pride Month on June 28.