The ‘B’ Word

Holly Parsons

"Freddie, you’re gay"

There’s a line in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) in which Freddie, played by Rami Malek, tells his girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), that he thinks he’s bisexual. Mary’s response is, “Freddie, you’re gay.” For any queer person, someone else telling you your identity when you’ve thought about it for yourself is pretty heavily frowned upon. But, as a bi woman myself, this scene struck me in a way it probably wasn’t intended to, as I thought, oh so briefly, that finally, the media was starting to correct the problem of bi-erasure. It wasn’t to be, though, and I was left with a strong sense of disappointment and hurt. Freddie Mercury was, more than likely, bisexual. He had sentimental relationships with both men and women throughout his life, yet he has become one of the world’s most famous gay men. It’s true that his most noted relationship, and the one he was in at the time of his death, was with a man, but he also referred to Mary Austin as the ‘love of his life’, and an obituary described him as a ‘self-confessed bisexual’. So why do we still insist that Mercury was gay? It’s part of the long-standing issue of bi-erasure, in which sexuality is often condensed into gay or straight, black and white, with bisexuals being described as greedy or just going through a phase. And Freddie Mercury is just one example; David Bowie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Oscar Wilde, and Frida Kahlo also number among bisexual figures whose identities have been erased or forgotten. The fight for bi recognition and visibility has been going on for many years. When Pride events started taking off in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a severe backlash to the inclusion of bisexual people, not only from outside the community, but from within it, too.
The ‘B’ Word
Freddie Mercury

The Historians Magazine

One of the fastest growing Independent history magazines in the UK, championing emerging historians.

Just as gay people have existed for centuries, so too have bisexual people

In 1989, Northampton Lesbian and Gay Pride March became Northampton Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Pride March, and certain lesbian groups, in particular, took a stand against it. While some were in favour, others believed that bisexual people were a threat to lesbians and their inclusion would open the doors to a flood of people who were ‘living a heterosexual lifestyle’. A letter-writing campaign began and, just two years after the change, the word ‘Bisexual’ was once again removed from the march. Just as gay people have existed for centuries, so too have bisexual people, yet it is only within the last forty years that bisexuality has become ‘acceptable’, and even then, some bi people choose to hide their identities within the queer community to avoid discrimination. And it’s difficult to understand how Pride became so hostile to bisexual people—it began with a bisexual woman, after all. In July 1969, on the one month anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Brenda Howard gathered a committee at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street, New York, where they planned the Christopher Street Liberation Parade. This was the first ‘Pride’, and Howard earned the moniker of the ‘Mother of Pride’. A year later, she organised another march, which was a roaring success, and since then, Pride events have been taking place around the globe. Howard was openly and unapologetically bisexual. Much of her time in the queer community was devoted to promoting the acceptance of bisexuality, and in 1987, she founded the New York Area Bisexual Network. The Network co-ordinated services for bisexual people, and up to the present day, it is responsible for connecting bisexual people in the Tri-State area. It’s an especially honourable mission, as bisexual is sometimes a lonely thing to be—there are very few bisexual spaces, and with rampant biphobia and bi-erasure still happening, it’s often easier to continue to hide. Howard was also an active member of Bialogue, one of New York’s earliest bisexual political groups, and she founded the United States’ first Alcoholics Anonymous chapter for bisexuals. Brenda Howard was a role model for the bisexual community. She was proud and certain of herself, and she did everything she could and more to make sure bisexual people were just as welcome in Pride as gay people were. It is sad, then, how quickly bisexuality became taboo again, and how it is still an ongoing problem today. So, next time someone asks why Pride exists, or why Pride Month is June, tell them, ‘A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.’
Ancestry UK
The ‘B’ Word

Holly Parsons

Holly wrote for Edition 6: LGBTQ+ History Month.
Untitled design (51)
Liberation within Interment: The Drag Queens of Prisoner of War Camp Cottbus
Gloucester History Festival 2 - 17 September
A Day The World Mourned, And Nearly Went to War: The Military Response to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy