Weird Things the Victorians Did, Ranked by Bisexuality

Where did this pitch for the first day of Bi Week come from? From inside of a top hat, under the whalebone of a corset, from between the stitches of a stuffed mouse or perhaps from the dregs of a bottle of embalming fluid we then filled with beer and drank from leading to our untimely demise? I can’t prove it, but you know what feels bisexual? The bizarre habits of the infamously prudish (but irredeemably odd, okay) Victorian English people. So, in order from least to most bisexual, I have ranked things the Victorians liked doing. You’re welcome and g’day gov’nah.

9. Taking Photos With Dead People

a cute photo of a victorian girl with her dog

Via duncan1890 / Getty Images I promise no one in this photo is dead. I’m not going to put a photo of an actual dead person in a humor article! GEEZE.

Life was fragile, and photography was extremely new and also expensive. Often, these post mortem photographs were the only image one would have of a deceased loved one, especially an infant. Lesbians, pansexuals, maybe even people who identify as queer would also do this. Not a uniquely bisexual-seeming activity but definitely not belonging solely to the straights either.

8. Making Up Chastity Belts, Attempting to Pass Off These Forgeries as “Real” Artifacts

a grainy photo of a chastity belt

The grainy quality of this photograph definitely makes it look EVEN WORSE.

The Victorians — in a white people trend that is definitely deserving of scrutiny — took it upon themselves to depict the middle ages as more bleak and violent than they actually were. The Victorian age was an age of progress, after all, wasn’t it? Not an age that might actually have anti-masturbation devices. Okay, and even if they did, they also had factories! And electricity! And photography!

“There was a certain branch of English manufacturers,” Classen says, “who realized that there was a huge market on the continent and elsewhere for chastity belts.” That market was museums and curiosity shows. The tight-laced Victorian crowd was willing to pay top dollar for a glimpse of any salacious Dark Age torture device, which were lovingly (and extravagantly) crafted to fit their notions of medieval barbarism. Thus, the chastity belt was forged. –How Stuff Works

This entry is slightly more bisexual, if only because it’s kinkier than taking photos with dead people (if you think otherwise, I’m open to discussion). But I am pretty sure bisexuals are into accurate history, unlike straight people who love to rewrite history so it’s less gay or so that the people of the past seem to have engaged in more meaningless acts of violence than we engage in today.

7. Doing the Same Thing with the Iron Maiden And The Pear Of Anguish

Left, an "iron maiden" with its doors secured; middle, a blindfolded prisoner is forced to kneel down before the "iron maiden" in a dungeon; right, an "iron maiden" with its doors open. Etching.

The art dealers who made this thing up had a “burning ambition” to get rich quick. Not very bisexual of them, sorry.

The history of the Iron Maiden is known and traceable back to Victorian con men. It’s not real, but it sure does leave an impression peoples’ psyches. There is something about coming up with something both so masculine and so feminine that gives me bisexual energy. Also, the Pear of Anguish — most likely not real, AGAIN likely made up by these horny Victorians — has haunted my dreams since I first heard of it and thought it was real. This gives it bisexual energy if only because bisexuals also haunt my dreams.

6. Obsessing Over Optical Illusions, See Also: “Ether Frolics”

19th-century French illustration depicting the hallucinatory dreams caused by taking ether (diethyl ether).

This is what that looks-like-an-‘old woman’-until-you-flip-it-upside-down-and-then-it’s-a-‘young girl’ optical illusion trick looks like on ether.

Victorians loved optical illustions, in my opinion, because 1) optical illusions are objectively awesome and 2) because these people were hitting that ether left and right. Apparently, they drank ether in addition to just inhaling it, and sometimes it could make the drinker’s BREATH FLAMMABLE? You don’t need an optical illusion if that kind of business is already occurring in your parlor, but I guess no one asked my opinion. Anyway, giggling over Pepper’s ghost while either honking on ether or being shown a version of it by your fourth grade “enrichment” teacher is definitely an activity that ~feels bisexual, one way or another.

5. Loving Taxidermy

a photo of a dog wearing a lion's mane costume

Apparently I’ll put an illustration of an Iron Maiden in this article, but I will DRAW THE LINE at actual taxidermy. Enjoy this guy. He’s working it.

It’s science! It’s art! It’s fashion! It’s death! But also whimsy! And home decor! It’s Victorian taxidermy! While definitely tinged all over with sapphicness, I can assure you that should I ever have the stats to back this up, that bisexuals would be, of all the sexual orientations, the most into taxidermy as a whole. Should I make this survey? Would you take this survey?

4. Going to Therapy

a woman receiving therapy

The uh…photos that come up for Victorian therapy all involve electric devices.

If you’re bisexual, you are more likely to have negative mental health experiences and therefore worse health outcomes. I hate it! So, you know, I’m not being unserious here. Take care of yourselves out there, my bisexual friends. Therapy has come a long, long way from Freud, and I am so glad we can have some contemporary trauma-informed therapy as opposed to our dear friend (who was perhaps necessary for the progress of the field, but still) jacked on cocaine telling us to look deeper into our dreams. (Although, sadly, there are a lot of therapists out there so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of y’all have also experienced this). Anyway, going to therapy seems like something many of us bisexuals need in a world rife with biphobia. This is a highly scientific ranking. And our Head of Victorian Science and Bisexual But Also Heartbreak, Mary Shelley, I am sure would agree with me.

3. Performing Seances

a table of victorians are having a seance and a guy is jumping back

These guys are freaking out!! Someone get them some ether.

This is peak bisexual activity, whether you believe in the ghosts or you’re profiting from being a hot person who other people believe can talk to ghosts. At its peak, one Spiritualist book was published PER WEEK, so perhaps this movement can be compared to the astrology of today? And if that comparison can be made, I am almost certain that many queers had to have been involved. Knock once if you agree. (My certainty is based entirely on my own speculation, a tea reading of the vibes.)

2. Making Peculiar Hair Decisions

an advertisement for old timey medicine

Vigorous. Hair.

Have you seen the TikToks lately? You know what ones I’m talking about? The ones where a lesbian woman will be like “I’m attracted to women. But men are cool, too.” And a straight woman will be like “I’m attracted to men. But women are cool!” And then a bisexual woman will be like “Women are the sun, the breath in my lungs, and I am a worm and I would be lucky if they cut me in half with scissors.” And then someone interjects, “but you like men, too?” And then it cuts to them vomiting and saying like “yeah.” Thank you for bearing with me and letting me manually explain and also butcher a TikTok I saw that also doesn’t really include nonbinary identities within the realm of bisexuality but it’s fine, we’re moving on. I feel like it is just this attitude toward women and nonbinary and trans people of any gender (but not particularly cis men) that would lead a bisexual to want to keep, collect, and then craft with the hair of a special “friend.” 

1. Making Peculiar Chair Decisions

christopher columbus in this advertisement is on a victorian folding chair

It’s good to know that literally nothing has changed about furniture salesmanship.

Haha. Yeah, it’s a joke about how bisexuals supposedly cannot sit in chairs. And as I write this, I was about to be like “and yet I am sitting high and mighty and totally in a standard fashion in a chair right now!” And reader, I just checked. I’m kind of standing, leaning on the outside of my feet, with my butt just kind of kissing the edge of a stool, while I loom over the laptop which is on a table much lower than I am, so no, this is a bisexual sitting travesty. Still, I challenge all of you, tell me how one is supposed to sit in this particular chair! It’s apparently a mystery! But if anyone can solve it, I am sure it’s you, dear Autostraddle readers.

Happy Bi Week 2023 from Autostraddle!

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Nico Hall is Autostraddle's and For Them's Membership Editorial and Ops Dude, and has been working in membership and the arts for over a decade. They write nonfiction both creative and the more straightforward variety, too, as well as fiction. They are currently at work on a secret project. Nico is also haunted. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram. Here's their website, too.

Nico has written 226 articles for us.


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