Old Biphobia and New, or An Angry Bisexual With A Keyboard

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.

About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband and father, non-traditional Graduate student, member BiNet USA Board of Directors. When I grow up I want to be an Existential/Feminist Psychotherapist, a community college instructor, and expand my work for bisexual visibility and equality for everyone in the QUILTBAG. This is my personal blog and the views here do not represent the official position of BiNet USA.
This entry was posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Old Biphobia and New, or An Angry Bisexual With A Keyboard

  1. judyt54 says:

    saying someone is ‘sufficiently ‘ bi or straight or gay or purple is like saying someone is “sufficiently dead” enough to be buried. You either are or you aint–and how does anyone ‘measure’ gayness??? Is there a set of rules, a gay/bi meter that reads like an indoor- outdoor thermometer?
    This is, btw, a great post.

  2. I’m reminded of two things a wise Jewish rabbi once said: “Judge not lest ye be judged, for the measure ye mete out unto others will be meted out unto you,” and “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The wisdom of the latter statement in particular resonated with me as I read this.

  3. This is a brilliant post. Thank you for this! I’m so tired of the ‘you’re not gay/straight enough,’ – attitude of some people. Of course I am not. I am NOT straight, and I am NOT gay – I am bisexual, thank you very much!

  4. stb879 says:

    The transgender community feels this same kind of prejudice from the LGB part of LGBT. Together we are stronger so why would ANYONE who identifies as any part LGBTQetc. ever look down on or minimize another person in our ranks. It’s absolutely absurd and near sighted. I am trans and pansexual. I represent half of LGBT and feel marginalized by too many mainstream gays and lesbians.

    • fliponymous says:

      The bisexual community and the trans*gender community, historically, have been strong allies — and why not? There are a LOT of non-monosexual trans*folk, lots of overlap between the two.

  5. The commentary regarding biphobia in the queer community definitely struck a chord here. Us Bi’s are rarely straight enough or gay enough to meet the classic code of understanding humanity, yet in nature and in history we are prevalent enough. Appreciate the blog and the sharing.

  6. Wes says:

    I think biphobia would be around even if homophobia wasn’t. In my experience, all of it is born from people not understanding other people’s sexuality if it is not the same as their own. The usual I hear is that bisexuals can’t decided which gender they want, want both a male and female romantic and/or sexual partner, are confused, etc. I try to combat it when I can, but even most of the rest of the queer community really doesn’t seem to care. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of transphobia in the rest of the queer community as well. We’re a relatively divided community.

    For the record though, those that identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, and such can be as bigoted and cruel as anyone else. My personal favorite was being called sexist because I was a guy that only liked guys. More general attacks are made against heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, simply because only one gender is liked. Some examples include that we’re superficial or shallow, that everyone is bisexual and we’re in the closet, that we’re obsessed with sex which is why we care so much about our partners’ genitalia, and others like that.

    I wasn’t trying to detract from the message of the article though. My point is that the infighting present in the LGBTQ community goes much further than just internal biphobia.

  7. Matt says:

    At 19 I felt 50/50 bisexual and male. I moved to a large city to find a gay bisexual community and ended up meeting a young woman and dated her – we were both literally told not to come back to the LGB Union. Only two gay students became friends with me. I asked a gay student out and he said yes, but a couple days later he said “I’m sorry if I date you or even sit next to you I will loose all of my friends”. Estranged from the community I sought Out for safety I ended up finding more women to date the men. So indeed my behavior has been “mostly straight”. Now over 20 years later I have experienced harassment, job discrimination and much more from both the straight and gay community with little to no advocacy. But what’s more is I have only on occassion found a “bisexual community”. I am dating a bisexual woman but still feel in the margins of the margins.

    • fliponymous says:

      Ouch. I’m sorry you got cast out by the people who should have welcomed you, Matt.

      Your comment also reflects on a major issue, that behavior does not equal orientation. If you identify as bi, your behavior doesn’t change that. I’ve been married to a straight woman for 21 years, but that doesn’t make me straight or even mostly straight — as she would tell you.

      • Matt says:

        But your point is a good one. Dan Savage was right on something, “Most of the bisexual men, including my leading antagonist wind up with women.” (something like that) this is a self fulfilling professy really. Because when you don’t feel safe in the gay community and few would consider dating you, who are you going to date plant life? The only times I felt a part of the gay community were when I met a gay guy I liked who was open to dating me – but I more easily found available women. But then Dan goes further and says, “and don’t involve themselves in the LGBT movement.” I have had two different gay men convince two different women NOT to date me. It doesn’t help with trust issues. And as a monogomously married bi male friend of mine says, “of course I don’t tell people I’m bisexual my marriage would be misunderstood.” So over the years MOST of the bisexual men I have known end up in monogomous opposite sex relationships which is the exact opposite of the stereotype. And naturally they would not want to participate in gay community events if there sexuality is continually on trial and even jepardizes their opposite sex relationships. Yes and I have many gay friends who are loving and supportive but I have always felt in a catch 22 situation of having my life and love illegitimized. BUT what if ALL of these men (including myself) were included – ALL the men would support gay causes of course.

        • fliponymous says:

          Yes, all the bi activists of my acquaintance work hard on LGT issues as well as what we do with the B. The commentors on Dan’s article talk a lot about the odds — for a bi guy, there are X bi or gay men who might be interested in him, and probably 8X straight or bi women (side note: when I say men and women I’m not ignoring people who are intersex or genderqueer, just simplifying the math) who might be interested in him. Which matches your experience to a T, as well as mine — back in the day when I was dating, there were a dozen straight (or bi) women for ever gay (or bi) man I met.

          What Dan does is extend the idea that most of the bi people *known to him* are in other-gender relationships (because he assumes, of course, that if you’re in a same gender relationship you’re obviously gay rather than bi) and turn it into this biphobic idea that we’re “mostly straight”. Which only makes sense from his perspective, because he clearly doesn;t realize that to a homophobe, “5% gay” = “gay”. (And there’s no such thing as “5% gay” or “30% gay” or even “90% gay” because all of those things are based on using the outdated Kinsey Scale, which is a measure of behavior rather than attraction/orientation — according to Kinsey a virgin would be neither straight nor gay but asexual; I’ve said quite a bit about Kinsey here and on HuffPo.)

  8. It’s so easy (and so counterproductive) for people to kick the person/people one step down the ladder: as if biphobia or transphobia somehow makes “simple” gay and lesbian identity safer or more palatable.

    Thank you for pointing out something that should be obvious: it does the exact opposite.

  9. I had a recent facebook discussion with my older sister. One of her friends on facebook brought up the Kinsey scale. My response was to explain that the Kinsey scale was simply out of date and actually doesn’t measure one’s sexual orientation. Her response was to attack me by saying that I missed his point on sexual orientation being fluid. Followed up though by pointing out heterosexuals and green/blue eyes.

    The Kinsey scale is, in my opinion, biphobic and the Conservapedians also love to use the Kinsey scale as well.

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