How The Bisexual Lighting Meme Made Me Feel Seen
Turns out we're not as mythical as Santa, the Easter Bunny or even surprise gay icon The Babadook.
Unfortunately you can’t spell the word ‘invisible’ without the ‘bi’, and as anyone who identifies as bisexual probably knows, bi-erasure is something we repeatedly come up against when discussing our sexuality.
Despite what pop culture might have you believe, we bisexuals are nowhere near as mythical as Santa, the Easter Bunny or even surprise 2017 gay icon the Babadook. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Biscuit found that up to 38% of women identify as bi – so it’s really no surprise that bisexual lighting is a meme that has become A Thing in the community.
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If you’re new to this concept, it’s a pretty simple one based on an aesthetically pleasing colour scheme of pink, purple and blue lights - which you might (and really should) also recognise as the colours of the bisexual flag.
But even if you don’t, you’ll probably recognise it as the colour palette of choice for a whole load of music videos, films and TV shows that have been filtering through the mainstream over the past couple of years.
While in technical and artistic terms it’s probably most likely to be a reference to 1980s nostalgia, an easy one-size-fits-all trend that appeals both to the older generations who lived it and the younger ones for who all things retro are fashionable, it’s also become an unlikely signifier for the often forgotten about bisexual community - all thanks to good old social media.
The colour scheme been used in movies like Black Panther and Atomic Blonde, in Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode, and chatted about as a concept on forums including reddit since as far back as 2014. But it was Janelle Monae’s ‘Make Me Feel’ video from which this meme was really born.
In just over three minutes of sexually charged song lyrics, Janelle is bathed in a sea of pink, purple and blue light as she’s seen exploring romantic relationships with both a man and woman.
Given Janelle’s openness about the fluidity of her sexuality, it makes sense that it’s been adopted as a representation of bisexuality, and with social media immediately noticing just how prolific this lighting set up is across the cultural spectrum, it's evolved into a fairly iconic meme.
Bearing in mind bisexuality has been repeatedly under-represented in pop culture - and when it is it’s generally done in passing or as a brief, temporary plot device - the bi community has taken this concept and flipped it into an empowering visual device. Because once you’ve noticed bisexual lighting, you will notice it everywhere – an arguable parallel to the size of the bisexual community compared to the minimal popular representation we enjoy culturally.
Still, that’s not to say that there isn’t an argument to be made that portraying a sexuality as an aesthetic or trend can do damage to the credibility of bisexual relationships.
If you identify as bi, you’ll probably have had the obnoxious questions alluding to the fact that you’re going through a ‘phase’, and plenty of people have criticised bisexual lighting for reinforcing the idea that bisexuality hinges on stereotypes of experimentation that only take place in secret, most often in the dead of night.
But it also glosses over the fact that for a lot of us, clubs do offer as an important space for getting to know our sexualities and our true selves. In a society where seeing LGBTQ+ people openly represented on TV, in mainstream film and in positions of power still isn’t the ‘norm’, is it really surprising that we look for safe places to try things out before necessarily committing to particular identities publicly? Sometimes you just want space to live without having to make a point on the behalf of society.
And in a place where the language of social media is key, to me bisexual lighting also feels like a way to reference different sexualities without necessarily making them the central plot point.
It makes us feel seen and it also makes not just the bi community, but both the hetero and wider LGBTQ+ communities consider us. Because maybe most of the artists using pink and purple lighting just think it’s pretty, but if it makes people think twice before assuming that the voice in their ear is straight, that’s good by me.
The language of memes hinge on humour and are far more likely to stick with you as a reminder than me standing on my soapbox having a moan about bi-erasure. It’s also more likely to reach a far wider audience in a more natural context.
Bisexuals aren’t more likely to be unfaithful. We’re not greedy and less able to ‘decide’ on who we want to be with. But it is so nice to see ourselves represented – both in mainstream music AND in meme culture.
As bi people we know what the frustrations of being bisexual is – but for a meme to be mainstream, it makes people remember that we exist and perhaps understand a little more about what our experience is like opposed to letting us dissolve into the background of the wider LGBTQ+ acronym.