It seems unthinkable that there has been no true history or close examination of bisexuality published before Julia Shaw’s Bi in 2022, but here we are. Its thesis is perhaps best summed up in the words of beloved television bisexual Callie Torres from Grey’s Anatomy: “It’s a thing and it’s real. I mean, it’s called LGBTQ for a reason. There’s a B in there and it doesn’t mean Badass. Okay, it kind of does, but it also means Bi.”

Bi - Julia Shaw - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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As per the blurb, Bi “explores all that we know about the world’s largest sexual minority… there is more to explore than most have ever realised,”. The Guardian called it “a tour of the science, culture and history of bisexuality that ranges from the vehemently political to the charmingly weird,” which sums it up well, too.

Shaw starts strong with a history of the term “bisexual”, how it has been defined and how it has been misused. As she points out, “bisexual” has been (mis)taken by many young queer activists to be a trans-exclusionary term, leading some to adopt alternatives like pansexual or plurisexual. In reality, “bi” does not refer to a sexual or gender binary (male/female), but rather to an attraction to the “self” and the “other”. A bisexual person is attracted to people who share their gender identity and people who have different gender identities. This aligns with the etymology of “homosexual” (“homo” meaning same as oneself) and “heterosexual” (“hetero” meaning different from oneself). So, there you go – the more you know!

From there, Shaw goes as broadly as she possibly can, without writing a multi-volume epic (which this subject would deserve, but would be difficult to market). Bi covers Kinsey, bonobos, prison sex, film and television, marriage, threesomes, and more. Pretty much any entry-level question you have about bisexuality can be answered in these pages.

Naturally, Bi includes some shocking statistics. I was surprised to learn that some 83% of LGBTIQA+ people are closeted, for instance. It makes sense, once you think about it for a second, but it still seems like a big, sad number.

Speaking of sad: some sections of Bi are quite a bummer, and you should steel yourself for that going in. It’s not all sexually curious primates and Pride marches. Bisexual people face “double discrimination”, being excluded from the straight community by their queerness and treated with suspicion by the gay community for their malleability. The stats on sexual assault victimisation in the bisexual population made me want to curl up and cry. I even had to put Bi down and look at pictures of puppies a few times in the ‘It’s Political’ chapter, where Shaw describes countries that criminalise queerness (69 of them, at the time of writing), and the uphill battle that bisexual asylum seekers face in “proving” their sexuality (they’re less likely than any other sexual minority to be afforded refugee status). So, just be prepared if you’re going to read this one yourself.

Shaw’s tone is more academic than conversational throughout Bi, though she does slip in a personal anecdote here and there. I would’ve preferred more of that, if I’m honest, but that’s purely a personal preference and not a reflection of the quality of the work at all. Overall, I really vibed with her philosophy of de-centering heterosexuality and making bisexuality more visible. I can see her expanding this into a purely academic work of queer theory, if she’s so inclined in future.

Bi will obviously be of most interest to bisexual readers, but it has plenty to offer a general audience too. I would especially recommend it to straight allies and loved ones of people who have recently come out as bi, as a solid resource for informing your understanding and conversations.