Visibility, Self Acceptance and Why “The Closet” Hurts by AnonymousWritten by Blog Editor
If society can’t accept me, how do I accept myself?
It’s 2018, and here I am, still going on about visibility, but not without reason. I am a dual heritage, bisexual young woman, which is essentially a combination of all the least represented groups in the media.
Visibility is about more than just diversity for the sake of diversity (although that is obviously important). Visibility is the best catalyst for acceptance, both from society, and from yourself. All my life I’ve been supported through understanding and accepting my race – I’m not just Asian and not just Scottish – but my sexuality is something I’ve had to work through myself. The fact that the only bisexual characters that exist in the mainstream media tend to be highly misrepresented is entirely unhelpful.
Picture this: I’m 13, and I’ve got a crush. Yay, right? Well I’m a girl, and she’s a girl too, so maybe just a subdued whoop. After the lengthy process of actually figuring out that I am bisexual (which takes much longer than you might think), I had to learn to accept it. It’s one thing to know I’m bi, but to be okay with that is an entirely different ballgame.
The road to self acceptance (at least for me), had two major potholes. Number 1: The closet and my family, and Number 2: Breaking through society’s misconceptions. The closet can be extremely lonely, and really just awful for your self acceptance, because it reinforces that there is something to be ashamed of. That other people won’t accept you, which just makes it harder to accept yourself.
My family is religious, and whilst they aren’t totally homophobic, they would rather have a straight daughter. Being around friends who were proudly out didn’t help. I couldn’t come out to my family, and so I felt that I had to stay hidden away.
I found ways to combat this: joining an online community, writing about my life and sharing my experiences (like I’m doing now), and looking for other people who had dealt with these experiences, both in real life and in fiction. As always, communication was extremely helpful. I didn’t come out as such, more like I opened the closet doors and let in a little light. This is where Number 2 comes in.
I turned to the media, to find bisexual actors or characters that were proud of who they were. Maybe even a dual heritage character who was bisexual. Someone that I could relate to, whom I might have shared experiences with. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed.
Only 2% of all characters (sampled by a survey conducted in 2016) were LGB, and of that 2%, only 7% were bisexual. Of all the characters that were sampled, 58% of LGBT characters came from 2 films: Pride and Love is Strange.
Visibility in media is not an exclusively LGBTQI issue, with only 12% of the sampled media having a cast that was racially balanced, and only 18% having a gender balanced cast. Visibility is an issue that affects everyone.
This massive void in media representation made it so much harder for me to accept myself. All I could think was: “If society can’t accept me, how do I accept myself?” I know for a fact that I am not alone in this. Putting the (unacceptable) homophobia and transphobia aside, self acceptance can be gruelling on your mental health.
I began to lose track of the other things that were important in my life, focusing only on my sexuality. I dropped all my hobbies, stopped reading, and essentially sat around all day trying to force myself to be happy about my sexuality. You can probably guess how counterproductive that was – very!
There is one simple way to help boost media representation. The first of these is the most obvious: support stories that are inclusive, and express your disdain when they aren’t. Producers need their films and programmes to be well received, so make noise about non-inclusive casting and storytelling. Encourage companies to make their diversity targets public, and hold them to it.
I know it’s the biggest cliché around, but it really does just take a little time. Or a lot of time. Everybody accepts themselves at different rates, and trying to rush yourself helps no one. Just breathe, know that it gets easier, and most importantly, don’t let this get in the way of your life. I used to think I would feel like I was never going to be happy with my sexuality, and now, despite still being mostly in the closet, I’m in a happy, healthy relationship with another girl.
It will get better, even if it doesn’t feel like that yet. In the meantime, keep looking for representation, and don’t stop complaining until you get some. Then keep complaining – there’s probably someone who hasn’t been represented yet.
Picture courtesy of Peter Salinki.