Stella Maxwell
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Music Makes the Bi People Come Together

Halsey

Planning Bisexual+ Awareness Week (BiWeek) at GLAAD during a global pandemic  has been a complex experience. BiWeek runs annually from September 16 through 23, in partnership with the Bisexual Resource Center and Still Bisexual to draw attention to and celebrate the experiences and history of the Bisexual+ (bisexual, pansexual, queer, fluid, no label, etc) community and celebrate the community’s resilience.

BiWeek is a predominantly digital campaign, which in some ways works well when everyone is at home, because the content is built to live online in the first place. On the other hand, BiWeek exists to unite and celebrate the Bisexual+ community, and the mere act of coming together is difficult when everyone is physically separated. As you can imagine, planning for BiWeek has involved trying to figure out the best ways in which we can still connect with each other, as well as the ever-present self-reflection that BiWeek always brings. This brought me, as many things do, to music.

A common discussion online as of late is the concept of “love languages”: ultimately the different ways in which a person shares and receives love. I realized early in quarantine that music is my love language. It’s not necessarily surprising that music is how I connect with the world and community, considering that I have music playing in almost every situation and I’m always writing my own songs (or at least trying to.)

Many of my favorite memories are deeply indebted to the music that was playing at the time: writing a novella in 6th grade while listening to Ram by Paul and Linda McCartney; driving around late summer nights in 2015 listening to one of the four different formats I purchased of E•Mo•Tion by Carly Rae Jepsen; bursting out singing “Untouched” by the Veronicas while waiting for the A Train after a Sunday night at Stonewall; dancing for the first time with a new friend to Kate Bush in an emptying apartment; or discovering Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair at 2 in the morning in 8th-grade.

In all these experiences, I found vast new worlds within myself. I bond with some friends over TV, some over books, some over politics -- but I bond with everyone, including myself, over music.

Music is powerful because it is an abstract art form, but still manages to have a concrete impact on our emotions, in ways that don’t always make sense. For example, I always feel like listening to Madonna is an act of rebellion even though she’s one of the best selling artists of all time. I feel a sense of immense joy from Peter Gabriel’s and Lana Del Rey’s voices, even as they sing about true sadness and grief. I’ve found ways to explore and express my emotions about my bi+ and nonbinary identities through Taylor Swift’s and Bruce Springsteen’s discographies even though neither of those artists share those identities. Some of the magic comes from not knowing how a certain song is going to make you feel, or the memories that you’re going to build with that song in the future.

What I’ve noticed is that although many of my favorite artists are not bi+ themselves, their music has really resonated with me. That’s an interesting phenomenon, and one that LGBTQ people seem to run into often: there is a lack of representation, and so we connect with the content that we can find any overlap with. For bi+ people specifically, even though we make up a majority of the LGBTQ Community, there is still a major lack of representation in media, even as content has become more inclusive of gay and lesbian people. For example, in GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index for 2020, we found that out of all LGBTQ characters in major studio releases, only 14% were bisexual+, and when the Supreme Court decision in favor of employment protections happened in June, many media outlets excluded bi+ people from their coverage.

One thing that is notable to me is how many bi+ artists there are that aren’t widely known as bi+. Artists like Janis Joplin, Freddie Mercury, and Laura Nyro all fit under the bi+ umbrella while being some of the most influential artists of all time, and I didn’t know they were bi+ until recently. Even some of my personal favorite artists, like Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Vanessa Carlton, and Joe Jackson are bi+, but I’ve interpreted their identities inaccurately. This shows me that our cultural understanding and acceptance of bisexual+ identities is severely low, to the point that a big fan who works on bisexuality+ in the media didn’t know that several of their favorites shared their identity.

Thankfully, this is changing, particularly in the music industry. Artists like Keiynan Lonsdale, Rina Sawayama, and Frank Ocean have talked about their bi+ identities and have them massively shape their work. Young bi+ people can now turn to Halsey singing explicitly about her relationships with people of multiple genders in one song, like “Bad At Love,” Ezra Furman and Christine and the Queens talking about their gender identity as well as their sexuality in songs like “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” and “Girlfriend,” or even just blast “Gettin’ Bi” from the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend when they want to dance around expressing themselves and their identity.

Compare that to my long-winded rants about how Taylor Swift uses POV shifts to queer the narrative, or how Dolly Parton was definitely into "Jolene," because those were some of the only avenues I found to understand my own identity. There is so much farther to go, but I am so excited for younger bi+ people to have this boost of representation in the music they can listen to.

Artists are showing true bravery, standing true to themselves even as acceptance for LGBTQ people is at risk. It is one thing for an artist to be brave, and it is another thing for an artist to be supported and uplifted for being brave. I hope that as more bi+ artists share their work, more people will show up to listen to their music, turn out to their shows (eventually!), and use the right terminology to talk about their favorite artists’ identities. If you’re unsure where to start, check out Spotify’s BiWeek themed Out Now playlist to find some incredible songs by bi+ artists.

As more and more artists can be open and authentically themselves, we will only see more true community between bi+ people. And that is something I would love to see this BiWeek.

Mackenzie Harte (they/them) is the Coordinator for Education & Training at the GLAAD Media Institute, and manages GLAAD’s #BiWeek campaign. Mackenzie graduated from Fordham University with a major in Political Science and a minor in Bioethics, and is a writer in their spare time. Mackenzie is on Twitter @MackHarte.

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