Bisexuality might have a place in the LGBTQIA+ rainbow, but before rainbows and sexual identity were even a thing, women were living authentically Bi lifestyles - sometimes in plain sight, despite the conservative and often dangerous consequences of doing so.

Before Kirsten Stewart and Miley Cyrus and attention-grabbing sapphic snogging from modern-day celebrities, women were pushing boundaries and loving women unapologetically as far back as the 1700s.

To celebrate these brave trailblazers as the forerunners to Bi and queer women of today, we tip our hats and raise a glass during Bi Visibility weekend to ten Bi icons from yesteryear.

From the bottom of our women-loving hearts - we salute you, ladies!


Sappho: the poet from the Isle of Lesbos

The godmother of Sapphism, this Greek poet wrote about love and women and is the very reason behind the name ‘Sapphic’ and ‘Lesbian’, as she’s from the Isle of Lesbos. Sounds heavenly to us, wonder if we should hold an event there?!


Frida Kahlo: artistic free spirit

An iconic Mexican artist who was a trailblazer in more ways than one. She was the first Mexican artist to be featured in the Louvre, the first Latin Amecan artist whose work broke the £1m threshold at Sotheby’s and first Hispanic woman to be featured on the US postage stamp. Her surrealist folk art / autobiographical paintings openly depicted her bisexuality. She remains an icon for the Chacano movement, the feminism movement and the LGBT movement.


 
Josephine Baker: the Nazi-defeating Bi goddess

She was an accomplished singer and dancer, the first person of colour to feature in a major motion picture,and she dated world famous artist Frida Kahlo. Josephine Baker was even badass enough to kick Nazi ass in the war, becoming a spy for the French resitance and was later active in the Civil Rights movement.



Julie d’Aubigny: wild French fancy

Talk about living and dying by the sword! Julie D'Aubigny was a 17th-century bisexual French opera singer and fencing extrodinaire who killed/wounded at least ten men in life-or-death duels, performed nightly shows on the biggest and fanciest opera stage in the world, and aparently even took the Holy Orders just so that she could sneak into a convent and seduce a nun. This impressive firecracker even openly kissed a woman at a posh Parisian ball and challenged three noblemen to duels ...and then beat them all. Brazen we tell, you!


Olive Custance: Bright young poet

Part of the fashionable circle of literary talent who were part of the intellectual and artistic ‘aesthetic movement’, she was a poet and bisexual who married Lord Alfred Douglas (also known as ‘Bosie’, himself a bisexual), who became famous for his dalliance with Oscar Wilde. Custance became involved with notorious American lesbian Natalie Clifford Barney in Paris, who competed with Sapphic poet Renée Vivien for Custance’s affections. It was a time of hedonism, influenced by intellectuals at the time advocating that life should be lived intensely - and with an ideal of beauty. We quite agree...have you SEEN our parties?!


Anne Desclos: the mother of BDSM

Waaaay before 50 Shades of Crap hit the shelves, there was bisexual kinkster Anne Desclos. A journalist and novelist, she wrote under a number of pseudonyms. Her most famous work was erotic novel ‘The History of O’, which deals with a woman who submits to sexual slavery. It’s passages are so raw and shocking they’d even make Stanley Kubrick blush. Anne’s work even inspired the formation of a BDSM-loving lesbian group in the 70s/80s, but the book has also attracted criticism from some feminists for degrading women. We salute anyone who speaks their truth and just like drum & bass or folk dancing, BDSM isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea!



Marlene Dietrich: gender-bending heartbreaker 

A legendary cabaret artist and German-American film star and singer, Marlene became one of the highest paid stars of her time. Although she largely kept the details of her private life out of public view, she was bisexual and actively took part in the gay and drag scene of 1920s Berlin. She became synonymous with ‘gender bending’ cabaret performances in a top hat and tails, even kissing a woman in notorious films 'Morocco' and 'Queen Christina'. She had a long string of overlapping affairs including the Cuban-American writer Mercedes de Acosta. Dietrich coined the phrase ‘Sewing Circle’ to descibe the community of closeted lesbian and bisexual actresses in Hollywood during this time.

Isadora Duncan: dancing queen

Dubbed ‘the mother of modern dance’, Isadora Duncan didn’t hide the fact that she was bisexual. Born in California in 1887, she didn’t like the rigidity and rules of ballet, believing that dance should be art not just entertainment. She shunned ballet shoes and favoured flowing Grecian-style tunics and dancing barefoot. Duncan’s lifestyle was at times lavish, with guests drinking more than 900 bottles of champagne in one night. An outspoken atheist and communist, Isadora even bared a breast on stage long before Janet and Justin’s ‘nipplegate’ at the Superbowl. She had a prolonged relationship with writer Mercedes de Acosta (who also had an affair with Marlene Dietrich).


Nina Hamnett: Welsh Bohemian Queen in Paris

A Welsh expert on sea shanties and an artist, she pursued her studies in art in Montparnasse and became involved in the bohemian set which included Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Serge Diaghilev, and Jean Cocteau and an assortment of the avant garde crew living it up in Paris. Hamnett was Flamboyant, massively unconventional, and openly bisexual, once dancing nude on a Montparnasse café table just for the "hell of it". She was an extremely heavy drinker and kept many lovers. Back in London, she became a key part of the Fitzrovia artistic community and became friends with another Welsh hellraiser - Dylan Thomas.


Eleanor Roosevelt: First Bi lady in the Whitehouse?

Ok, Ok...it’s speculation of course, but the First Lady’s long string of achingly sentimental 10-15 page letters to journalist Lorena Hickok (or ‘Hick’ for short) hint at the fact that the ladies shared a very ‘close bond’. The letters talk of kissing one another, kissing one another’s photographs and Hickok even gave her beau Mrs Roosevelt a sapphire ring (which she wore). They also signed off calls with J’taime and je t’adore and many biographers have written of their erotic/romantic relationship. 

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