Educating YouTube Viewers – and Himself – on the Unique Challenges Facing Bisexual Americans
Editors’ Note: This story is a part of the #BiStories project, the first national survey exploring the intersections of bisexual Americans and the need for comprehensive non-discrimination protections. The #BiStories Project is proudly led by BiNet USA and Freedom for All Americans. Learn more about the #BiStories Project here – and click here to add your own.
When RJ Aguiar first decided to make a video on YouTube declaring his bisexuality and addressing many of the questions that he had received online, he thought that he would probably run out of things to discuss in the first video.
“When I first posted that video, the goal was to talk about it once and then never again,” he said. “I literally approached putting together that video as, ‘I’m going to lay it all down on the line so that I don’t have to deal with any of those questions anymore, and I’m going to idiot-proof it as much as possible.'”
RJ had been making videos on YouTube for a few years – he and his now-husband Will Shepherd, also a popular YouTube vlogger, together cofounded www.NotAdamandSteve.com, a portal for their activism and thoughts on culture, sexuality, politics and beyond. He had been getting similar questions again and again – most commonly, “Why do you identify as bisexual if you’re dating a man?”
Bisexuality – the potential to be attracted romantically, physically, or mentally to people of more than one gender (not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree) – is very often a significant part of a bisexual person’s life, as it is for RJ. It does not disappear or depend on any factor that a person’s capacity to love – so the fact that RJ was in a long-term relationship with Will did not mean that he was no longer bisexual.
The video he made addressing this eventually amassed more than a half million views online.
“My video got such a reaction, and there was a flood of traffic from people who were like, ‘Oh wow, there’s a bi guy talking about his identity, and we’ve never seen that before,'” RJ explained. “I got a flood of messages and comments from people who wanted me to talk about my identity more. To me, that illustrated an apparent need for something like that. There was this gaping hole on Youtube, and so that’s how #AskABiGuy came about.”
From there, RJ began making YouTube videos dedicated to answering questions about bisexual men (#AskABiGuy) and dispelling the many myths that have latched onto the community like prickly tree burrs. In the time he’s spent making that series – and the activism he has engaged in surrounding the series – he has learned so much more about the bi, pan, fluid, and queer (bi+) community.
“Everything that happened after I posted that first video is really the reason that I got into the bi activist space to begin with,” RJ said. “I was really just learning about bisexuality with that first video, but then I started reading more about it myself and was learning all of these things – I learned along with the audience there, and I learned about folks’ experiences all across the bi+ identity.”
His videos quickly led him to some of the nation’s leading bisexual community groups and organizations, including BiNet USA. BiNet’s president Faith Cheltenham leads a series of cultural competency trainings, and RJ saw one of them last year.
“The first time I saw Faith’s presentation, my jaw was on the floor,” RJ said. “I had a sense of how tough it was for bi people, but I had no idea about the mental and physical health issues bi people face at substantially higher rates than our gay and straight counterparts.”
RJ also learned that bisexual people face higher levels and greater rates of poverty, homelessness, and mental health illness than their gay or straight peers. They have higher rates of anxiety or mood disorders and are more likely to seriously consider or attempt suicide. Bisexual women and men are at increased risk for sexual violence, and bisexual women report disproportionately high levels of physical violence, rape, stalking, and psychological aggression.
RJ made a video specifically about these issues this week, during Bisexual Awareness Week 2016.
On top of all of this, bisexual people often see their identities and experiences erased, or lumped in with gay or lesbian people and glossed over. That leads to a troubling lack of discussion about these specific challenges facing the community.
“Many people assume that everyone under the LGBT acronym experiences the same issue – so a lot of my work is bringing up those statistics and facts and figures about the reality of living as a bisexual person,” RJ said. “Just because the LGBT community has a strategic alliance doesn’t mean that we all have the same needs or desires.”
That’s partly why RJ is excited each year for Bisexual Awareness Week in September – it’s an opportunity and an occasion to get the word out about these unique roadblocks.
“One of the reasons that weeks like #BiWeek are so vital is that a lot of people hear the phrase ‘bi issues’ and think, ‘What are those?’,” he said. “Even as someone who is a member of the community, there are certain issues that I hear about and react, ‘Wait, what?'”
It’s important to note that in a majority of states, bisexual people are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, or public accommodations. These lack of LGBT-inclusive protections can be crippling, leading to many in the bi+ community dealing with employment or housing instability or persistent fear of coming into contact with an unfriendly co-worker, landlord, or shop owner. No one should face discrimination for who they are or who they love – and bisexual people bring a unique aspect to this ongoing national fight.
RJ attributes a lot of his growth in knowledge to his willingness to listen. He often emphasizes the importance of listening – a powerful tool, he said, in becoming a better ally or advocate. “If I hadn’t listened to Faith’s speech or talk to other people in the bi+ community, I wouldn’t be able to advocate on my own behalf,” he said. “The big thing is that we should just listen more – listen to as many diverse perspectives as possible.”
This Monday, September 26, RJ will join dozens of bi, pan, fluid and queer (bi+) advocates in Washington, D.C. for a community briefing at the White House. An event like this, he said, provides an incredibly substantial boost for visibility of a community that has been marginalized, like the bisexual and bi+ community.
“To get that sort of high-profile recognition for your community is really awesome,” RJ said. He thinks back to that first video, where he straightforwardly – and, he said, “unambiguously and fervently” – asserted his bisexuality and challenged viewers’ misconceptions.
“Straight people and most gay people don’t really have to argue about whether or not they exist,” he said. “But when you do, when you have to advocate for your own existence, it’s useful to have the President and the White House in your corner.”