In the LGBT community, there is a (perhaps excessively) heavy emphasis placed on presentation. To elaborate, it can be really important for individuals in the queer community to read as queer. The aesthetic labels “butch” and “femme” rose from the diverse gender presentations present in the lesbian community, and gay men have a variety of aesthetics as well (including “bears” and “twinks”). Some wrestle with reading as queer and reasonably prefer their sexuality to not be the center of their presentation. For others, it’s important that they present in a way that addresses their labels. Both are valid approaches.
However, bisexuals are not afforded quite the same options as gay men and lesbian women. There is no aesthetic for bisexuals, and others in the queer community often deny them labels based on the idea that bisexuals aren’t really queer and that bisexuals have “straight passing privilege.” To read as queer for a bisexual is to be labelled “gay” or “lesbian.” To read as straight is to be labelled as such. Regardless, bisexuals’ identities are erased.
So, what does it mean to present as bisexual? What common themes occur in how bisexuals present? If lesbians have flannel and straight women have yoga pants, what’s left? I asked several bisexual women about the question of the “bisexual aesthetic” (bisthetic, if you will) and from their responses, I’ve narrowed down a few common themes in how femme* bisexual women prefer to present:
Bold eyeliner: Thick, bold eyeliner seems to a staple of the bisexual aesthetic. A killer winged look to match the sharp wit that it takes to be bisexual in a heteronormative culture.
Skater skirts & tights: Pants are passé anyway.
Edgy hair: Much like we break the mold of monosexuality, we break the mold of traditional hairstyles. Bisexual women apparently lean towards short, and often dyed, hair.
Obviously, not every bisexual woman sports eyeliner, skirts, and short hair (just like how not every lesbian wears flannel). But for bisexuals, whose identities are the subject of debate and scrutiny, presenting as their sexuality can be crucial for reclaiming an identity that is often defined for them. The fact that bisexuality has no defined culture separate from that of lesbians and gay men is telling when considering where power and privilege lies within the queer community. So although seemingly shallow, claiming token aesthetics is a part of bisexuals carving out a place for their identity in a culture of intolerance.
*This is not to exclude butch bisexual aesthetics, but I was limited in my outreach, and the majority of the responses described a femme aesthetic.