May 9 is Give OUT Day, a day designated to get as much support for LGBTQ organizations in one day as possible.
Here’s why you should take the opportunity to support BiNET USA today:
May 9 is Give OUT Day, a day designated to get as much support for LGBTQ organizations in one day as possible.
Here’s why you should take the opportunity to support BiNET USA today:
One of the basic tools of the activist is the “elevator conversation” — a fast way to explain the issue that they are trying to communicate about. These conversations are potent and useful, because you simply cannot expect everyone to take the time to talk for hours or days (or to read 50,000 [or even 5000, or sometimes even 500] words) about an issue that is not their top concern, even if it’s something they should be concerned about. It’s also not going to do anything about people with a commitment to biphobia — no, this targets the people who wouldn’t mind getting it right if they just knew what right was, or simply would quit doing damage if they knew they were doing it.
Nope. The 30-second elevator conversation is not the final word or a sophisticated explanation; it is a seed, a beginning, something to get people to say “Huh. Hadn’t thought about it that way before.”
So here’s an elevator conversation to have when someone says that bisexuality doesn’t exist because everyone is either straight or gay. It’s not the only such conversation, and I don’t claim that it’s appropriate for every such claim. I’ll be putting up some different quick bits like this to handle variations on the theme and other issues.
This is, as I said, a conversation starter rather than an argument ender. Its virtue is its simplicity, and I will also do a video of this blog entry.
You’ve got your second base, and you’ve got third base. Although the Shortstop is between 2d and 3d if you just look at the physical position on the field, it is clearly a separate position, not “half 2d and half 3d”, and the Shortstop doesn’t start as the 2d Baseperson and then become the 3d Baseperson by moving through the Shortstop position, neither do they have the same duties and function on the field outside of the general responsibility of catching the ball and tagging out the runner if they can. Do the 2d and 3d Basepeople occasionally catch a ball that was aimed at the Shortstop, or vice-versa? Sure. Does the Shortstop sometimes hang out the entire game without touching a ball? Certainly. But that doesn’t make them not the Shortstop.
The vast majority of the prejudice and hatred bisexuals face is from the dominant culture and it’s precisely because of the ways we violate the heteronormative. In fact, it’s not just because of our same-gender desires. There’s more.
Straight men who are homophobic, a significant set of homophobes and the set most likely to commit violence due to that homophobia, often find themselves in the position of having to assert their straightness. While this has been interpreted by a lot of people as “The salient syllables in homophobe are the first two”, it’s actually irrelevant to my argument why any particular straight-identified man would have a problem with queer men. It suffices that some do, and that for those men, an openly bisexual man may in some cases be more disturbing to them than an openly gay man.
First, the male side of the story. (And this will be a little more in depth than the section on the female side, for the simple reason that as a cismale, any information I have about the female bisexual experience is secondhand. I can report what I have seen, but not how it feels. Let me know if I get anything horribly wrong, please.)
In a male-oriented monosexual schema, where Straight is Straight and Gay is Gay, the two states of attraction are mutually exclusive. Gay/not Gay. And Gay=Like A Woman.
It’s been established by a lot of people that for the androcentric dominant culture, the worst thing you can be is a woman (see this post and Chuck Derry’s work) . And one of the essential qualities of Woman, in these backward and hateful people’s minds, is to be sexually penetrated.
Always the penetrated, never the penetrator.
So if you listen to these men, when they start getting wound up and the spittle flies from the corners of their mouth, you hear the same thing over and over – a horror of being penetrated. They get so worked up about the idea that anyone other than a woman could possible enjoy being penetrated (and almost always when I’ve listened to the loudest and most freaked out, it’s penetrative anal they are freaking out about) that they have to prove they’re The Penetrator (coming soon from AC Comics, I presume).
And part of proving that you are Manly Straight Guy is to be “into chicks”. Whether it’s wolf whistles and catcalls or surreptitious looks (justified by “Hey, I’m a guy, we all look, it’s no big deal”) that objectify specific feminine attributes, it comes down to this:
Because heterosexuality and homosexuality are presumed to be mutually exclusive opposites, if you are one of these guys whose masculinity is so fragile that the merest whiff of teh gay makes you subhuman, you interpret your attraction to women to be not only an attraction to women, but proof that you are No Homo.
And this is one reason why, among men, bisexuality is so threatening. Because we disrupt the binary. Since we don’t fit into a mutually exclusive gay/straight black/white this/that framework, we are unclassifiable without the addition or invention of another category.
But, more importantly, our very existence makes it impossible for anyone to fit neatly into a bifurcated system of irreconcilable and mutually exclusive opposites, because bisexuals prove that such a system does not even have any grounding in reality, any independent existence. The simplest (and still ridiculously inadequate) way to even begin to approximate human sexuality is a spectrum, although something like a 4- or 5-dimensional Venn diagram probably comes closer.
Now in these more enlightened days (and I don’t even have to go back to before Stonewall to see a time when institutionalized heterosexism was clearly in the majority, I merely have to go back to the mid 1980s when I was first becoming aware of my sexuality) there’s a lot more acceptance of Gay. But for many people, that acceptance of Gay (which is more tolerance than true acceptance, see this post for why I find “tolerance” to be problematic) is predicated on gay people being exactly like straight people except for one trivial difference. One little thing that’s really not a big deal.
One of the characteristics that makes the suburban lesbian or gay couple in their ranch-style house with the white picket fence acceptable is monosexuality – that this couple, which has to be more stable than the typical straight couple in order to gain legitimacy, has attractions to only the gender that’s considered acceptable for them. Monosexual people are able to get their heads around the notion that attraction to women is acceptable for lesbian women, especially if one of them is sufficiently butch and the other sufficiently lipstick for their neighbors to decide they know “which one is the man”. (Aside: A friend of mine in a recent conversation about the butch-femme dynamic quipped “the saying goes that if two butch lesbians kiss, a flannel gets its stripes” in order to highlight the perception that even in same-sex relationships, gender roles are assumed to rigidly adhere to societal normatives.)
Of course, if one or both of the women in this couple is bisexual? If they are monogamous, their bisexuality is erased because people assume the gender of your partner determines your orientation; if they are visibly polyamorous across gender lines then they’re “not really lesbians” and might get “turned straight” at some point. Because they’re not a real couple, they’re just a couple of sluts. Facepalm.
Briefly, and based on my discussions with women, female bisexuality is not as threatening in the same ways. I don’t have any real data on this, just a couple theories which I’ll touch on fast and then leave hanging for discussion or a future article – 1) the type of men who are the most threatened by male bisexuality are the same types who think that F/F sex is just a performance for their benefit; 2) most of the women that I have seen get seriously threatened over female bisexuality are Sheila Jeffreys types, which is a splinter group that doesn’t adequately represent the population of female-identified persons.
So, the biggest problem faced by bisexuals is fear, hatred, and loathing by homophobic, heterosexist, and heteronormative attitudes in the dominant culture. That is not a point that’s in dispute. But that doesn’t make it unimportant to take on biphobia in queer spaces. It makes it more important than ever, because it’s a division in our community that’s hurting everyone Under The Rainbow.
I’ve turned the preceding post into a video. If people like it, I’ll do more, if people hate it, I’ll do less. Let me know how you feel about this format as an addition to the printed word, and if you’d like to see any of my older posts narrated as videos.
There were two things that happened this week that, while not causally linked, illustrate several of the problems biphobia presents not only for us bi folks, but for the entire LGBT community.
The first was the reprinting of a Savage Love column from 2006, including Dan’s biphobic comments. The other was a statement made on the floor of the MN legislature where marriage equality is being debated. You may recall last year the forces of the far right, taking a page from my congresscritter Michele Bachmann (yes, I live in her district, and no, we’re not idiots, we’re gerrymandered so that only an anti-choice candidate can ever win here), tried to ram through a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Well, we beat that, and miracle of miracles the state Democrats actually have followed through by trying to strike down the state law doing the same that the amendment would have made unchallengable.
Savage’s column featured a letter from a bisexual woman in a marriage with boundaries a bit looser than some. The issue was that her husband was having some issues with her having sex with a man, even though he had no issues with her female lovers.
Dan’s response was a triumph of biphobia. He claimed that he was not being biphobic (and where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, all those remarks where people say “I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic but…”). He also made some snide remarks about angry bisexuals with keyboards. That got my attention fast, as I’m sort of a card-carrying member of that particular group. His specific biphobic remarks were that his position on bisexuality has eveloved, that we’re not all lying cheaters in his eyes.
No, he’s come to the conclusion that the problem with bisexuals is that we are “mostly straight.”
Oh, gee, thanks Dan. Your problem is that I’m just not queer enough for you. Glad we got that settled. One of the issues that gets debated in some bisexual activist circles is that a lot of us tend to write and speak a lot about intraqueer oppression, about the way we get treated by the gay and lesbian segments of the community – like the recent Tumblr celebrating biphobia as a good thing, or Dan Savage, or the constant erasure in places like the Advocate and frankly anywhere that a story about bisexuals or bisexuality is printed. The biggest problem we face isn’t biphobia, but the homophobia that pushes down on all of us, and we should be talking more about that.
And it’s true, that it’s the anti-queer sentiments and institutional oppression of anyone who isn’t straight that is the source of the problem. If the dominant culture let us be, if there was no homophobia, then there would be no biphobia (I hope). But it’s the biphobic actions and remarks within the gay and lesbian community that send the message to even those who want to be our allies that it’s still OK to denigrate and discriminate against bisexuals.
Savage, you allowed an article from 2006 to be reprinted, including your comments. You might tell me that your views have modified further since then – and going from “cheating liars” to “mostly straight” isn’t much of a modification, dude, you’re still reinforcing the old “straight, gay, or lying” thing that Clive Davis ran up against when he came out as bi. But the column was reprinted, under your name, you got paid for it, so we have to assume that you fully endorse it. One of the commentors responded by saying “Bi women are mostly straight, bi men are mostly gay”. That wasn’t a comment from 2006. That was a comment from 2013. That was people seizing on Savage’s biphobia to justify their own.
And what does a column from 2006 have to do with the price of muslin in Mandalay, with the debate on the floor of the Minnesota legislature?
An old-school bigot and state Representative took the opportunity to make his stand against marriage equality by introducing a friend of his, someone who, in his words, “was active in the gay lifestyle for about ten years, and then he left it, got married and he now has three children.”
Now listen closely at that dog-whistle. The “gay lifestyle” is classic hater code, and the kind of thing used by people doing reparative therapy (and people who are skirting the edges of reparative therapy by claiming they’re just helping people change their behaviors). People who can’t tell the difference between behavior and orientation. So what’s his argument against marriage equality? His buddy isn’t gay anymore, and he’s married now.
Now, I haven’t met this friend. But I wonder if he doesn’t identify, not straight, but bi. Of course, he wouldn’t say that to the Distinguished Not-a-Gentleman from Glencoe, becasue that would indicate he’s, er, not straight.
See, Dan, here’s the thing. In a state where your greatest hope, that you can get married to your dude, is being argued about, the detractors are using biphobia to argue against marriage equality. Biphobia that you yourself encourage. Let me say it again, in more general terms, and with the full awareness that I am not the first person to point this out.
Biphobia in the queer community legitimizes homophobia in the dominant culture. Kicking out the bisexuals doesn’t help you, it hurts you. Telling half of the LGBT population that they don’t belong just shrinks our numbers and takes power away from all of us. Biphobia by leaders in the gay and lesbian communities allows straight haters to use biphobia as a wedge to divide us – and these people are experts at using wedges.
That’s how it all ties together. But there’s a further point I need to make about this construction, this idea that “bisexuals are mostly straight”.
That is an idea that only has meaning if the person having the idea is part of the lesbian/gay community.
I spent decades in the closet, and in the culture where I did so, there’s no place for “mostly straight”. No, you have to be straighter than straight. See, as far as the homophobes are concerned, any indication that you’re not purely and exactly attracted only to the socially acceptable “opposite sex” means you’re quite simply a f****t – intolerable, subhuman, deserving of whatever maltreatment they wish to put upon you.
In the world inhabited by people like the Neanderthal From Glencoe and Congressperson Bachmann (and her husband Marcus, making his living praying away the gay), any trace of teh queer is sufficient evidence to make you utterly unacceptable. But for more subtle bigots like Dan Savage, if you aren’t what he considers “sufficiently gay”, well, you don’t belong over here either.
With friends like that? It’s no wonder many of us appear to spend more time dealing with biphobia inside the LGBT community than the homophobic dominant culture. It’s because we recognize that we cannot win if we are not united. So biphobes?
It’s your own emancipation, your own equality, your own acceptance that you’re harming by denigrating and discriminating against bisexuals. You’re shooting yourselves in the foot.
And the Angry Bisexuals With Keyboards? We’re on your side. We’re not allies, we are members of the community. We face the same homophobia that you do. But as long as you keep trying to push us out, all you’re doing is making people like Michele Bachmann and her husband’s jobs easier.
Think about it.
Part One: Find Another Word
So I’ve had more than one straight person tell me about how calling something “gay” to denote its unworth is not intended as a slur against LGBT people. It had sort of faded recently, or at least I thought it had due to the efforts of clever and widespread campaigns against it, until I heard a story a couple weeks ago on NPR about GLBT on television, and heard the following line from a recent TV show, delivered by a gay character. “Even I think rollerblades are gay, and I had sex with a dude last night.” (More on that story in part 3)
Really? So the vaunted surge in Gay Presence On Television is simply another way for people to use “that’s so gay” as a slur. Thanks. This simply adds legitimacy to the idea that saying something is “gay” as a negative is not a slur.
I’m going to go ahead and say this now. It is.
If you want to say something is bad, say it’s bad. If you want to say something is stupid or unpopular or you just don’t like it, just say so. Just say so. I just ask you don’t say it in a way that says to me that I am stupid or unpopular or represent something you don’t like.
Hey, you’ve said it for years. It just slips out sometimes. Look, I am not going to hate you for that! But please think, next time it slips, that you may be hurting someone. Because I know you personally, because you’re my friend, I know that you are not hating on me. But among the 900-odd people who read your Facebook comment that someone’s new football-themed song spells “G.A.Y., hahaha” may very well be people who will. Or there may be someone else who reads it, who doesn’t think it’s funny at all. Someone who is still hiding from the world.
Let me put it this way. Would you walk up to me and call me a f****t to my face, knock me down, egg my house or slash my tires because my idea of what (and who) is sexy is partially different from yours? Of course not.
So why is it OK to send the message to others that it is?
I know you meant no harm.
But I need for you to know that, in my eyes, you have contributed to the problem rather than being part of the solution. Hey, it’s not your problem, you’re straight, tolerant — you’ve put up with me all these years! — and a damned good friend to me and my family. It’s not you I’m worried about — it’s those who will read your words and take it as one more validation of their license to discriminate. I know, as a sure fact, that if we were walking down the street, and someone called me a name, you’d be the first person to go medieval on their ass, put them in their place. It would be Fight Night. It’s the people I don’t know, who look at your words as a model of appropriate behavior, that I worry about.
It hurt me. It made me feel like, for at least a moment, you forgot that I and people like me are real human beings. It made me say, “If even the people I like and trust (because I do trust you) feel free to continue to use the mental construction that gay=bad, then what will the people I don’t know do?”
I know I’m not perfect. I know I say stupid things sometimes. I know I can be a little touchy about things. But I don’t think I am out of line here to ask you, please,
if I am your friend,
don’t equate gay with bad, or useless, or distasteful, or unfair.
Part Two: Sources
Here’s a question – where does this even come from? Why does the word “gay” get used as a slur?
It’s homophobia, and even deeper, it’s about gender and masculinity. No one uses “That’s so lesbian” as a slur, as an insult for things that have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation. But as I and many others have noted before, the worst thing that a person can be called in this culture is a woman.
Bet you thought this was going to be a long section! But it’s pretty simple, really.
Part Three: More Assimilationism
The story on NPR I referenced earlier noted that the new Gay Presence On Television features almost exclusively upper- or upper-middle-class white gay men living urban or suburban lives with reasonable security and babies (or as the story calls them, “gaybies” – to which my partner turned to me and said “You’ve got to be kidding me. They’re just babies. Babies are babies. You put milk in one end and try to keep the other end dry”).
This is the triumph of assimilationism, of the forces within the LGBT movement (and let me state that this is something that comes from the L and the G, not from the B and the T, who get erased by this) that have chosen the “We Are Just Like You Except In A Very Trivial Way” approach to acceptance. Sure, it’s worked for those who can and do blend in seamlessly with dominant culture (and the upper half of the economic stratum within that culture) in everything but the gender of their partner.
The story was a good one, in that it mentioned that bisexuals, trans*folk, queer people of color, and queer poor people are marginalized (or exoticized, a particular type of marginalization that women of color are especially familiar with) in the media.
Because we don’t fit. Because the gay or lesbian couple with a house in the ‘burbs, white picket fence, catdog, kid(s), and discreet rainbow triangle on the mailbox are only allowed, only tolerated, as long as they remain exactly like all the straight people on the block (except for that tiny, trivial difference).
Know what? It’s not trivial. Stonewall wasn’t about people rising up to say “Let me blend in.” It was about people who were transgressing societal norms saying “Let me be me.”
You know the mantra of the assimilationist tendency. “Quit being so Gay. Quit being so Bi. Quit being so Trans*. Quit being so Black. Quit being so [whatever]. If you resemble anything but straight, White, upper- or upper-middle-class, quit doing whatever it is you do, because it makes me uncomfortable that you may be different than what I’ve been raised to think is right and proper. Maybe you’re a socialist. Maybe you’re a pervert. Maybe you’re a slut. Maybe you’re not going to buy into the daily BS that we pretend is OK, the way things are, the cost of doing business. Maybe you won’t find rape jokes funny. Maybe you’re going to start acting like women should be treated as adult human beings. Maybe you’re going to rock the boat. I mean, this may be the second decade of the 21st Century, but it’s still the 1950s around here.”
I haven’t had a lot to say this month, between moving, starting a new semester, and reading more Queer Theory. I’m preparing to go to MBLGTACC 2013 in Lansing this weekend, and I am hoping to see some of you there — I still look a lot like the picture up on top of this blog, but my hair’s a little longer. So if you read this, come say hello if you see me there. I’m not presenting anything, but I guarantee I’ll be attending Robyn Ochs’s workshop.
Some blogs posts of note for you:
Even Aud‘s latest couple of heartfelt entries on the problems with the “Hearts Not Parts” constructions are perceptive and viscerally honest in a way that I only wish I could be.
Aspie Strategy is a blog for adult Aspies. (Personally, I don’t care for the “person with Asperger’s” label, because I don’t have a disease. My perceptions and cognitions are different from whatever they’re calling “the norm” in a way that is simplest to describe to neurotypicals as a syndrome. But I’m not sick, so I can’t be cured — calling me an “Adult with Asperger’s” would be the same as calling me an “Adult with Bisexuality”.) In any case, it’s a great resource not only for us but for the NTs who love us.
Midwest Bi Activist has got it going on, if you dig what I’m saying. The highlighted post, about what the label debate means for organizing, is phenomenal. Here’s a clip: “Within queer activist circles (i.e. the groups of people who make change), the dominance of the label debate is so great, that it alone is often defined as “bisexual activism” in GLBTQA activist/advocacy groups. That is, if you are in a GLBTQA group and discuss the label debate once per year or so, the group perceives itself as doing its part to include bisexuals. If the group is doing really well at including bisexuals, they might also have a separate session asking the epistemological question, “What is bisexuality/pansexuality, etc.?” and/or “What does it mean to be bi/pan/fluid, etc?”. And then… the topic of bi inclusion and support is closed.” WOW, right?
There’s a lot of good stuff going on under the bisexual tag on Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section — even if, le sigh, they still call it “Gay voices”. But that hasn’t stopped the authors of Bi The Bi from telling it like it is. They are posting fast and furious and deserve some extra attention.
I also recently put a condensed and I think slightly improved version of my guide for bi men coming out on Huffpo, with a link to the website that mirrors this blog.
I’m currently working on a couple of full-length articles for this space — and I am certain after MBLGTACC I’ll have a dozen more in the works. So there will be more content coming soon!
Finally, I would like to thank those of you in the US and the UK who have purchased the ebook of the first few months of articles from here. I appreciate it, and your faith in me (as shown by your willingness to plunk down cold, hard cash) inspires me to work harder and write more betterly
Exploring male bisexuality
The blog of author A.J. Walkley
Social Data for the Queer Revolution...
Ramblings on the Law, Parenting, Equality, and other stuff
Scepticism, feminism, and queeristry with an Irish bent. Expect occasional knitting, cookery and roller skates. It's all in bits, like.
Thriving with Autism
Angry Bisexual With A Keyboard