A Space Of Our Own, or Ground Control To Major Tom

Take Your Protein Pills…

My dear friend Judy, who has known me for years and years and who has been incredibly influential in my life and is one helluva poet, asked a great question on my last article. I gave her a sort of flip, quick answer, knowing that this was a subject that would need some serious exploration. First, the question:

“Flip, a bystander-type question that may or may not have validity. Since the gay community is so intent on oppressing, on driving you and the trans people out, or at least shaping you to fit their mold, why do you keep pounding on their doors? Surely there is room out there for a separate Bi/Trans group? You don’t need the support (and obviously aren’t being given much) from the Gay community, and you could band together as a separate group, unharassed, supporting each other instead of dealing with phobics within the very group that should be accepting you…”

This dovetails pretty neatly with some discussions I’ve been having in the closed spaces where I do a lot of discussion of bisexual and activist issues. So I am going to start there, because one of the things that I have done with Judy in the past is participate in and deeply discuss closed spaces online (generally in the context of virtual community management but sometimes deeply personal, see my old blog for a dozen articles about virtual community I wrote a decade ago), and because there is a relationship between thoughts about closed and open spaces and the kind of separatism that Judy’s asking about.

…And Put Your Helmet On

The very first thing is that there are three very different types of closed spaces. The first, and most problematic, are the Exclusionary spaces. The best and most current example of this is Michfest. If you are not familiar with it, this is a big annual music festival with a long history that is only open to “womyn-born womyn”. It’s sort of a physical representation of the kind of Lesbian Separatism that was popular in some 2d Wave Feminist circles, and continues to be a shibboleth to the community referred to as “radfem” or, as I have heard a few refer to them, “radscum”.

As a male-identified person, it’s not up to me to tell women how to do feminism. As a human being and a feminist, I do feel it’s within my warrant to poke at social justice issues, however. As a person who is equipped with (and has a fondness for) penis, I am beneath the notice of the radfems. After all, I am the Oppressor, blithely supporting The Patriarchy by virtue of my Male Privilege and my keeping a poor female soul in the shackles of marriage. So my puny ignorance, in their eyes, means that I am literally not worth wasting hate mail on. (That may change at some point.)

But Michfest is wrong, and mainstream lesbian icons like the Indigo Girls are coming to realize this. It is too big to be strictly a private gathering, and the harassment and expulsion of people they determine to be “not female enough” is hurtful. They are using a very strict model of biological essentialism to exclude people from a large and high-profile social activity. They are pretty much acting like the Women’s Auxiliary of the Westboro Baptist Church.

They despise transwomen for having been born with a penis, transmen for wanting to have a penis, straight women for wanting to interact with a penis, gay men for both having and wanting to interact with a penis, and as far as bisexuals go, well, you’ve probably figured out that if we have any authentic existence at all, we’re almost beneath contempt (except when they give speeches or write articles or create biphobic Tumblrs to slop some hate our way.) Most of the feminists I know, regardless of their gender identification, tend to react to them somewhere on a spectrum between embarrassment and exasperation. (There may be a little confirmation bias here as I am unlikely to be found keeping company with people who despise me.)

So this is an example of an Exclusionary Closed Space. It doesn’t really help anyone.

And Here Am I Floating In My Tin Can

Another closed space is one where people seclude themselves for simple privacy, for breathing room, to keep out the trolls. There are a lot of online venues like this. Some of them have more private spaces inside them to allow people safety. This was the origin of Michfest – a place where women could just be themselves without having to worry about having to react to or deal with men. I’m OK with this. In fact, as a male-identified person, I feel that if I were to try to go to Michfest and was turned away at the doors I would not feel ill-treated in any way. The problem, of course, is when these spaces go to the dark side.

The Papers Want To Know Whose Shirts You Wear

The third type of closed space is one where work gets done, and where people who do their work in public can let their hair down. This is typical of the closed spaces that I participate in, and the kind of closed spaces that I have encountered at conferences.

Let me tell you a story. (I’m assuming that if you’ve come this far you won’t mind a few extra paragraphs, right? They aren’t padding, I’m not getting paid by the word here.) A couple years ago, I was involved in planning and running a conference for the LGBT and Ally community – the 2011 Minnesota OUT Campus Conference. In retrospect it was a useful experience for me, even though at the time it was hellish. I won’t go too deep into the behind-the-scenes details other than to say next time you are at a conference, any conference, no matter what happens there, make a point of going up to the planners and showing some appreciation. Until you do it yourself, it’s impossible to understand the level of work and frustration and heart that goes into these things behind the scenes.

So at this conference, we had some Identity Caucuses, places where people identifying as Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Trans* could meet and talk about their experiences. There was quite a bit of debate about whether to have these be open or closed. In the end, concerns about intersectionality trumped concerns of privacy.

In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

I went to the Bi Caucus. (As an organizer, other than the keynote speeches and one after-session party, this was the only activity that I was able to attend – I was too busy making sure that the workshops happened when and where they were supposed to happen and that volunteers were available and utilized to go to anything else.) The good part was that I got to meet the amazing and inspirational Natalie Clark. But the bad part was that we got to do much less than we wanted to at the caucus, because we had to spend too much of the time attempting to gently correct the ignorance and misapprehensions of the non-bisexual participant (and when you only have an hour, two minutes is too much time to spend on that kind of thing). There was a little good conversation to be had, but it was constrained because we were constantly made aware that there was someone here who didn’t even have the basic 101 understanding of our issues that we walked into the room with – not only bi issues, but queer issues overall.

It was clear to me when I left the room that the other participants were also leaving unsatisfied, wanting more, more that we were not able to get to because we had to spend our energy on the basics, and on defending ourselves. It was a subtle defense, there was no hostility in the room, but I saw (and undoubtedly perpetrated) eye-rolls at having the focus of the space be directed not at the people it was there for, but at someone who thought they were there for us but in actuality was there for what we could do for them.

That’s why some closed spaces are necessary. There need to be spaces set aside for Queer People of Color, for Bisexuals, for Trans*folk, for Gay men, and for Lesbians inside Queer spaces. And as much as I love our Allies, there need to be some areas within this overarching QueerSpace that are reserved for us and us alone. Not because they are bad people, and not because they are not authentically engaged and important.

But because sometimes we need to be able to let our hair down.

If someone wants to say something about heteronormative dominant culture, and uses the not-particularly-accurate shorthand “straight people”, they need to be able to say it without fear of repercussion or fear that they will be offending someone who is not the target of their rant.

A big part of the Queer experience is having to censor ourselves. In the case of being in the closet, it’s a constant need to censor not only every damned thing that comes out of your mouth, but extends to dress, to gestures, to looks. The slightest thing can give you away and by giving you away, compromise your safety.

I would go so far as to say that if there is one experience that is universal to all Queer people, it is the experience of the closet. We all have different approaches to our sexuality, we all have different intersectional issues, but we all know that even if we have been so lucky as to have never hidden ourselves form the world, there is always the possibility of a situation where we will have to deny our Queerness or risk real physical harm. Always. There are safe places, but the world as a whole is not safe.

Check Ignition

Speaking of intersectionality, what I’m trying to illustrate shows up very clearly in another community that has a lot of intersections with Queer community. I’m talking about Recovery. Specifically, I’m going to use the example of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d like to thank my partner for being willing to help me understand some of the mechanics of AA, which she was able to do without compromising anyone’s confidentiality – no specific details that can’t be found outside of the literature were discussed.

AA has two kinds of meetings. Open meetings, that anyone can go to, and closed meetings that are only open to people who identify as having problems with substance abuse. You may be deeply mired in your particular addiction, but as long as you are trying to get that First Step, you are welcome there. There are also meeting with closed demographics, for example, there’s a meeting nearby that is for women only. (To the credit of AA, if my friend Alice, who was named William when she was born and is still working on getting her legal identification changed were to come to the women’s meeting she would, unlike Michfest, be admitted without qualm.)

Now, I have been to a couple of open AA meetings to support people I love. These were open meetings.

If, at the door, I had been told that I could not enter because it was a closed meeting? I would not have felt excluded, because there is a difference between an exclusionary space and a private space.

It’s Time To Leave The Capsule If You Dare

So now, I feel like I’ve provided sufficient background to answer Judy’s question. Why don’t we call for separation, for our own separate movement entirely? What do we need anyone’s recognition for, anyway?

For a few reasons.

1)Access to resources is important, and too often bisexual people and organizations are getting left out entirely. And without our participation, other people in the Queer community end up saying startlingly ignorant things that hurt us, and would hurt us even if we were considered a completely separate population.

2)We aren’t a separate population, because as I pointed out in my previous article, the Dominant Culture that is the real source of the problem doesn’t separate us. Someone who discriminates or worse against someone who is not straight doesn’t really care about fine divisions of Identity Politics. They just want, for whatever reason, to hurt someone.

3)We make up as much as half of the LGB population. Why allow the entire Queer population to be divided and conquered? And this is one of the important questions I ask people in the LG population when I catch them saying ignorant and hurtful things about bisexuals — why are you collaborating in Dominant Culture’s strategy to keep you down?

4)It’s not the majority of the LG population who are actively trying to hurt, discredit, and erase us. It’s a relative few who are active, and a whole bunch who are simply ignorant. And that’s not a slur, I am not attempting to insult people. It’s a statement about an easily correctible condition.

The cure for ignorance is education. For types like me, education takes the form of talking and writing in relatively cool and academic tones, over and over and over in huge blocks of text. Others are doing much angrier and confrontational work with videos and images along with their stacked paragraphs. And there are yet others for whom it’s passing along pages of links and tirelessly publicizing the things the first two types generate, and mentoring activists of both stripes.

Tying back to the comparison with communities of Recovery – the presence of closed spaces in AA does not make those closed spaces not part of AA. It would be laughable to claim they aren’t, just as it would be laughable to say that closed NA meetings, for example, are not part of Recovery at all. And although there are other groups and organizations, some of which follow the AA model to one degree or another, some of which don’t, all of them are rightfully considered part of Recovery, people dealing with problems of Chemical Dependence or Substance Abuse.

The LGBT community needs to be the same. All of us Under The Rainbow have certain issues in common, regardless of what letter forms the best loose and general umbrella term.

The problem, in QueerSpace, is that bisexuals are being denied access to community. Repudiating our siblings, crafting a B-only movement that excluded G and L, would do nothing to increase access to that community and would weaken the larger community just as much as it would weaken the community-within-the-community. It would be cutting off our nose to spite our face. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build and nurture bi-only and bi-focused spaces.

We are not asking that specific Gay and Lesbian spaces that are closed for good reason be open. We’re asking that the public square be left open and that the Queer people who say horrible things about bisexuals – the same kinds of horrible things that are being said about them by people like everyone who freaked out about marriage equality passing in Minnesota – look at themselves and quit shooting themselves in the foot while firing at us.

The problem in the world at large is that all of us LGBT people are being denied basic human needs. The way to make that happen is to work together, not apart – but a lot of bisexuals are getting pretty disheartened by being told we have no home. And some of us are getting angry enough to talk about separatism, but in the long run, it is a battle I don’t want us to fight lest we find ourselves in the position of General Pyrrhus, winning a victory that ultimately destroys us.


About fliponymous

Bisexual activist, thinker, writer, husband, father, Licensed Professional Counselor.
This entry was posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to A Space Of Our Own, or Ground Control To Major Tom

  1. judyt54 says:

    Random thoughts about an amazingly good post

    bravo, bravo, bravo. and yes I get it, Flip. You have your own internal ‘private places’ within the Bi community, but need to stay in the LGBT community to validate yourselves–to them–as part of it. Pulling out to make your own special place only reinforces their feelings that you ‘don’t belong’ and the hostile segment will feel justified because they drove you out. “Well, of COURSE”, they say, smugly.

    Online I’ve been a reluctant part of some of those “women only’ places, and I last about a week before my feet start moving under the table and then I’m gone. Way too exclusive and frankly boring.

    And in any gated area, online or off (and this is what, basically, AA and LGBT and even Weight Watchers are about), after the goal has been reached and you have quit booze or lost the weight or become accepted into the larger community–for who you are, not what you are, the need diminishes. Not disappear, but diminish. There are people who never truly feel comfortable without AA to go to, or LGBT, and how that weight just keeps creepin up, so it’s always there for when you need or want a ‘home ‘ to come back to. I get it. I won’t throw Robert Frost at you, but that’s about it, isnt it. Even if they don’t entirely approve they still need to recognize that THEY themselves are in a gated community as well, for the very same reasons. Community being the focus word.

    The baseball analogy I touched on earlier still holds, I think. You may want to be on the team you want to be on, because you know you’re as good as any of them–just being visible is half the battle. But because you need to play, to keep your game sharp in the meantime, you have your own private space where you can play with other people in the same situation. Always with your eye on the main goal, to get to play with the team you signed up for.

    And I guess part of the problem is that there are so many different ways to be gay, or bi, or even trans; gays and lesbians are pretty much settled on–he is, she is. But when you get to the grey area (not from your vantage point but from theirs) of Bis and Trannies, the possibilities of personal orientation and choice explode exponentially. Gays like other guys–they may hate women, love women, what ever , but their partner of choice at any time is another man. Lesbians are the same way. They often even dress their preferences, conscioiusly or otherwise. But always another woman for a partner. People are almost always more comfortable with structure like that. But throw a Bi into the mix and all the rules are different. They don’t follow the “accepted’ standards and I always get the feeling that the gay community is a bit scared of that. You can’t be pinned down in any direction. In their own way the LG part of the community is just as rigid as the ‘straight’ world, and Bis don’t fit any mold they can find.

    Great post, flipper. Always. You write good *g*

  2. Francesca says:

    Another reason for not just creating separate space for ourselves is that most of us have lives that involve people who don’t identify as bisexual. I’m a bisexual woman married to a trans* lesbian. I wouldn’t want to be part of something that excluded her any more than she would want to be part of something that excluded me. I also have a lot of L and G (as well as T) friends who are thoroughly supportive and anything but biphobic. You’re right when you point out that the hostile and ignorant folk are not the majority of the broader Queer community. It can be fun (and liberating) to spend some time in bi space once in a while but I wouldn’t want that exclusively.

  3. judyt54 says:

    I think thats almost a given; we are, most of us anyway, so diverse in our friendships and relationships that to isolate our relationships to a prepackaged “standard” gets numbing after awhile. I actually left a forum because one poster insisted my political leanings were This and This and Those, without ever asking me what they really were. Labels are handy at reunions and old home days, but confining almost everywhere else.
    I was actually thinking just that, Francesca, a small place to go to that has the bi equivalent of “Cheers” [where everybody knows your name] embedded in it. You wouldnt want to spend all your waking hours there, but its nice to have a haven of sorts to visit. Absolutely.

    The trouble is, the hostiles are much louder, more insulting; and because you refuse to be slotted into their standard name tag mentality, more upsetting to them because you really can’t be categorized. it makes ’em nervous. *g*

  4. MM says:

    I enjoy your blog, but seem to be drawn to disagreeing with you. Partly I guess because I hone my thinking by disagreeing. Or maybe I’m just disagreeable?

    So: I don’t think you have made a clear distinction between 1 (exclusionary) and 2 (privacy/breathing space). I’m not saying you don’t see a distinction, or that it doesn’t exist. I’m also not saying that I do not make distinction, or that I like or dislike all exclusions equally. I’m saying I don’t think you’ve pointed out a distinction. It irritates me, because I think you have something to say, but don’t know what it is.

    You say about (your example of) category 1 ” It is too big to be strictly a private gathering, and the harassment and expulsion of people they determine to be “not female enough” is hurtful.”
    — “Not female enough” would certainly be a way to say it that would maximize the potential for hurt. That’s your choice of wording, meant to point to what is “wrong” with this exclusion. (I think you are being inflammatory by saying it this way!)
    — Why would the category “women only” be an acceptable category 2 event (to you) but the category “cis women only” not be acceptable to you? Please note I am NOT disagreeing with you, I’m inviting you to clarify what the difference is.
    — The point about it being “too big to be strictly a private gathering” is interesting. How does size relate to a group falling into category 1 vs category (exclusionary) 2 (privacy/breathing space) ?? Are you saying that privacy / breathing space is only a legit reason to exclude up to a certain size? Can you talk about this a bit?

    You state that YOU do not find being excluded by category 2 groups hurtful or offensive. I don’t buy that this makes it “not hurtful”. It’s circular logic: It doesn’t “hurt your feelings” because you believe it is legitimate for some reason. (On a personal note: I have been deeply deeply troubled by this. I enjoy women-only spaces AND I see a dark side. I’ve come to believe that there really is not a way to exclude people with no harm or risk of harm.)

    You say “So this is an example of an Exclusionary Closed Space. It doesn’t really help anyone.” What do you mean here? Do you not perceive the thousands of women-born-women who attend Michfest as “helped” by attending? I wonder if your idea of “helped” is so far from mine that your answer will not make sense to me.

    Since I’d really like to see you respond to this comment (in short or long form), I’m going to suggest a couple of stepping stones that I think you could use to clarify the distinction you see between 1 (exclusionary) and 2 (private/breathing room).

    suggestion A: category 2 (privacy/breathing room) is groups who EXCLUDE PEOPLE in order to have privacy / breathing room (which you say is legit). Do you believe that category 1 has some OTHER motive for excluding people? If so, what? Do the people involved think their motive is privacy and breathing room? NOTE: whether or not you or I like it, there are absolutely people for whom Michfest’s rules support privacy / breathing room.

    suggestion B: what is it about exclusions that makes them “okay” with you? Why do you feel that excluding MEN (for privacy/breathing space) is legitimate but excluding trans women and men is not? NOTE: I’m not saying I see it differently than you do, I’m inviting you to specify what it is about any category of people that makes you think it is “negatively” exclusionary (category 1) to keep them out, rather than a kind of exclusion (“privacy”) that you support (category 2)

    In your AA example about a closed meeting you say ” I would not have felt excluded, because there is a difference between an exclusionary space and a private space.”
    So you are defining “excluded” to mean “hurtfully excluded” or “unfairly excluded” or “excluded in some way I don’t support”. You ARE being excluded. Very clearly, for a specific reason, one that you support. Private spaces exclude people for the purpose of narrowing what the people present have in common. People at an AA closed meeting have the use of [whatever] in common. Women-born women have living their whole lives as ciswomen in common.
    You don’t feel hurt by being excluded because you support the specific type of privacy that is being created by excluding you.

    I struggle with these questions.
    I very actively dislike Michfest’s rules, because the experience of “being a woman” is the one I’m thinking I want to share, and I believe that many transwomen have more of a need to be in women’s space to share this, because of being trans. I’m in favor of meeting those needs.
    However, if I wanted to bond and heal about experiences of growing up and being socialized as female, I would (possibly) want to do this primarily with people who were “treated as girls” (which is not the same as being female necessarily). Even then, there may be other ASPECTS of what the experience that I’m wanting to isolate and bond about that really are NOT about growing up as a girl. I may not have the most nuanced understanding of my own experiences. So my exclusion could hurt people who are excluded and could benefit. There may also be cultures where girls are treated adequately differently that people from these cultures would weaken my group experience.
    I wish that more GL people wanted to bond with me about the experience of same-sex attraction and/or feeling marginalized by heteronormativity. But I am aware there are lots of GL people who want to bond around EXCLUSIVE same-sex attraction — or at least they think that’s the attribute that matters to them. Or maybe it is GL identity. Similarly, there are people who are exclusively same-sex-attracted and/or GL identified who have different enough experiences that the bonding may not turn out as well as could be.
    I question what exactly matters — what attributes exactly do we want to isolate and bond around? And why?
    If you want to have in common both same-sex-attraction and other-sex-non-attraction, then excluding bisexuals makes sense — but you’ll also have to exclude a lot of GL people. So the criteria should really be more specific than the GLB label.
    Then again, it may be that the important thing for a group is that people have personally experienced shaming and/or bullying types of behavior directed at them because of their same-sex attractions. I’ve only experienced that in pretty minor ways, and know some GL people also have not experienced this much or at all.
    Likewise there are some bisexual people who I’ve found it difficult to relate to socially even about bisexuality, because their meaning was so different from mine.
    You’ll notice that the ideas I’ve listed are about socializing and/or support/therapy sorts of things. If the reason for getting together is to promote same-sex marriage rights, well, anyone who wants to show up should be welcome — although I’m personally gonna have a big problem with showing up if it is called “gay marriage”.

    A lot of this seems pretty “random trial and error” to me. A lot of GL groups likely feel they are doing fine, until BT people complain they are not NAMED as part of the group. Explicitly lesbian dating groups likewise may feel they are doing well, but they are missing a lot of potential members. The purpose is dating, and excluding bisexual women is making the pool smaller.
    I think there are some aspects of what works (mostly benefits people) vs harms people that have to do with how many people fit the criteria. (There have to be enough people who qualify to even have a group. I’ve attended some extremely tiny bi groups!) AA can slice and dice because there are a lot of people involved. Except where that’s not true (maybe small towns) — where the exclusions matter all the more because it is the only game in town.

    If the attributes I want to bond about are too narrow, no one qualifies, or I can’t find them. And often those narrow attributes are too narrow to have a good time socially. If I meet with a group of bisexual vegan women who love cats, I might really have a great time — but if we all live together I might want more diversity after a while. And if I live in a rural area, I’ll be lucky to ever find anyone who fits my criteria.

    This numbers game is intensified when the attributes are held by only a tiny population and/or are invisible. There are far fewer trans women than cis women, which means that transwomen are unlikely to be able to create and sustain something LIKE Michfest.

    The need for bonding, exclusion and common space are greater when there is a “theraputic” purpose — such as for attributes with less power, status, or resources — e.g. poor people, disabled people, children, GLBT people, people of color, and so on.

    • fliponymous says:

      This is great — I live for reasoned and well-thought disagreement! There are certainly flaws in my presentation, incomplete thoughts, and assumptions that I make while writing that it takes others to break out and make me aware of. So I’ll try to answer the objections while keeping in mind that your comment is also helping me to refine my views.

      So, about the “too big”. I’m thinking of big in a larger sense (see what I did there? haha) than purely numeric. There’s cultural impact, meaningfulness, etc. One of the problems surrounding Michfest that a friend pointed out to me is that the run-up to it seems to include an increase in both transphobia and biphobia in the online venues where we meet for vitrual community. There are a lot of people who are in it for music and fellowship, but there is also a very vocal contingent that seems to be in it for the hate.

      >Why would the category “women only” be an acceptable category 2 event (to you) but the category “cis women only” not be acceptable to you?< This NAILS it!

      The category "for cis women only" would be totally acceptable to me because it clearly states the category for inclusion. But when the category is described as "for women", then there will be some people who desperately NEED community standing at the gate and saying, "Well, ain't I a woman?"

      "Not female enough" is extremely inflammatory — and that's why it's in scare quotes, because it's the criteria being used to exclude people whose life experience has been one of being women who have not been allowed to be women by society at large and by a significant amount of the individuals (and a majority of the institutions) around them. It's not my phrase, it is the phrase of the excluders.

      So the distinction between exclusion I'm OK with and that with which I am not is twofold — one is whether it's explicit, the other is the intention and purpose. There is a size/significance threshold as well but that one is a little harder to draw a hard line on.

      Here's an example of an exclusionary group with the same criteria as Michfest that I find it hard to argue with. A Dianic Wiccan group that includes rituals that require specific female attributes. Here's the other side of the coin: prostate cancer survivors. (Interestingly, the second example would include transwomen, it is transmen who would be excluded because if you never had a prostate, you simply can't have had prostate cancer.)

      Another piece of "big" that was inadequately defined in in the relationship of the group to culturally dominant vs marginalization. I don't see anything wrong with a group of marginalized people excluding the marginalizers at times — I would not complain about a strategy meeting of gay activists who said "no straight people in this room". I would not complain about my being personally excluded from Michfest. If the small and loud group at Michfest who are demanding the absolute exclusion of anyone who was not born biologically unambiguously and raised as female decided to start their own music festival? Rock on. (And a thought experiment on that last — would the people who are excluding transwomen from the fest also exclude someone who was born with female bits but who had been raised as a male by disturbed parents, who had been forced to assume a male identity until she was in her mid-thirties? Or would they lionize her and make her the guest of honor for surviving this hugely oppressive injustice? I truly think the latter, which makes their exclusion of transwomen hypocrisy of the highest order.)

      You discuss therapeutic purposes and size of population in a way that makes me wish I had written your last few paragraphs 😉

      The distinction between 1 and 2, then, really comes down to intentionality. What's the purpose of the exclusion? If it is to create safety and freedom, if it for therapeutic purposes, then it's more likely to be fair. But if it is simply to exclude, it it is to tell someone that they are not worthy, if it to further discriminate against the already discriminated against? Problematic. You mention the idea of a group of "bisexual vegan women who love cats". Nothing trips my wires there. But a bisexual group that said "All bisexuals are welcome unless they are also vegan woman who love cats" would lead me to go to the organizers and ask them what the hell they think they are doing.

      It's OK and often necessary to exclude the majority. It's not OK to exclude the minority. And something that is especially not OK is to exclude from a group (or a movement) the very people who helped found it. And there will be more about that later.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking question, I hope we can continue this dialog (I obviously have not fully addressed everything you said here). Let's disagree more!

      • M says:

        Hi again, I am writing a brief reply as that’s what I have the time for. I *may* write more another day…there’s certainly plenty to say.

        First a huge THANK YOU for your reply, and engagement. I’m encouraged and heartened. I don’t know if we would want to continue discussing and disagreeing, but I’m glad there appears to be no harm in it so far. (if we do want to, I think we could continue for a long time. I find your topics of interest, but also do find I see things quite differently, while being concerned about similar issues. It’s an odd experience, since I generally support your goals, but squirm and frown about much of your commentary on why and how. And I often end up thinking, huh, well I wouldn’t say what he’s said, but I wonder if he’s right and I’m missing it. Could it be like he just said? Nawwww….)

        Regarding “not female enough” and “ciswomen only” – OMG how did I not see the part about the NAME of the festival “the Michigan women’s music festival”. EEK. Hit me over the head why doncha? This is ME, a person who isup-in-arms about the use of the term “gay marriage”!!!! Okay, I admit to my blndness. Bad blindness there. Request #1 to michfest: change your name in solidarity and recognition that transwomen are WOMEN.

        Re: not female enough, you said “It’s not my phrase, it is the phrase of the excluders.”. Huh? Really? Am I reading this right? Michfest attendees and/or organizers say “you are not female enough to attend”? For real?

        “What’s the purpose of the exclusion? If it is to create safety and freedom, if it for therapeutic purposes, then it’s more likely to be fair. But if it is simply to exclude, it it is to tell someone that they are not worthy, if it to further discriminate against the already discriminated against? Problematic”
        Part of my quibbling is that I think the kinds of exclusion you don’t like ARE done for supportive and/or therapeutic purposes. In this case by a marginalized group (ciswomen). Excluding a far more marginalized group (transwomen).
        I do not think anyone says “let’s exclude some folks because well we just like to exclude.”. So, I don’t think it is correct or clear or kind to differentiate on this basis. The exclusions you don’t like won’t change, the people making them either won’t think you are talking to them or will think ou are miss characterizing them (and they will not be pleased).

        What comes to mind here is: in your excluding straight people example: I’m thinking about how people change their identification – say from M to F or from straight to gay to bi…… And that this makes this kind of identification claim “suspectAble”. Compare that to the claim that I was assigned female at birth – this could be factually incorrect, but it is a claim that is about something external to me. It’s not a claim about my (internal) gender, it is a claim about my assigned sex.

        I’m wandering off into the weeds here, but I think the (theoretical) gay activists who don’t want straight people at the meeting are also most likely making an inadequate distinction. That is, the gay people in attendance may (fairly likely) have divergent enough viewpoints to still have the kind of disharmony that they are seeking to avoid. Maybe less of it. Point is I seriously question whether excluding straight people is “successful”. I find disharmony regularly with bi people who are not bugged by things that bug me. (I’ve parsed the problem of bi invisibility and centrality and meaning in a particular way. I’ve been recently realizing that this way I see it is not what others see. So I want to get better at explaining how I see it. And why this leaves me up-in-arms so much of the time.)

        “But a bisexual group that said “All bisexuals are welcome unless they are also vegan woman who love cats” would lead me to go to the organizers and ask them what the hell they think they are doing.”. Is this because your think vegans and cat lovers are a minority? Or are discriminated against?
        Or is it because you are against using NOT in defining, (I.e. you’d be okay with a group for bisexuals who eat animal products and prefer-dogs-horses-or-no-pets). (personal note: if this is the case, I’m going to think you have a logic problem that fascinates me – um, my linguistic obsessions are totally designed to disagree and to see this as incorrect.)

        I kinda get the discrimination and minority thing as a criteria for when it’s okay to exclude. But I also see it leads to problems. Such as gay people who think bi people have more ability to pass (which is true for some people) or have experienced less discrimination…..and bi people who think we’ve experienced (more) discrimination of a different kind. And so on.

        I guess I’m not being so brief.

        To jump to another sub-issue – I want to recommend a book “the Tao of Democracy”. I think you may love it as much as I do, which is a ton. It is a book about many ways of structuring meetings and group projects. It should give you some different options with regard to the conference where mono people came to the bi meeting, but you wished their comments had taken less group attention. May not resolve the issue for you, but I expect will add some new ideas to the mix.

        Just reread your comment. Sure, we can disagree more! How very agreeable of you!

        • M says:

          P.s. very pertinent concept: people bond (let’s say on a first date) just as much or more about what they DISlike as what they like. They may have more things that they like in common (and it’s good to have some likes in common) – but someone who shares your hatred of Brussels sprouts? Woo hoo – there’s something extra nice about it.
          Knowing this, I still don’t want lesbians to have events that exclude bi women.(plus I may dislike about some men the same things they dislike about some men. LOL)

          • fliponymous says:

            Fantastic — these are exactly the conversations that I have wanted to have here since day 1, and I really hope that on some of these larger issues where we have divergent paths that lead to similar places, you can loan me your lenses.

            Regarding excluding straight people, here’s what I’m clumsily trying to say: almost all the time it is important to include our allies. For example, I would NEVER make the statement that “straight people shouldn’t be commenting on this blog”. And if I’m celebrating? No problem.

            Maybe I am completely wrong and there should be no spaces that are closed to anyone. On the one hand I would entertain that notion, but on the other experience has shown me that sometimes, you need a retreat, a space where you know you’re not going to have to do 101 all day — and when you have a space that feels that way, it can be incredibly frustrating to end up having to do it.

            re bisexual vegan women with cats: it is exactly because unless the meeting is the Dog-Owning Bi Men’s Steak Fry (in which case the exclusion wouldn’t bother me) then people are being kicked out arbitrarily.

            Huh. Pardon. I’m sort of thinking this out while I write, so it will be a bit rambly. OK, looking at the statements I’ve made and the distinctions that I’ve been drawing, it occurs to me that the connective tissue, the unspoken bit that makes it all make sense, is arbitrary exclusion.

            I am going to have to think about this more, I think you may have just hit me with the clue-by-four.

            >(I’ve parsed the problem of bi invisibility and centrality and meaning in a particular way. I’ve been recently realizing that this way I see it is not what others see. So I want to get better at explaining how I see it.< I REALLY want to read this/have this conversation/host your view as a guest blog here! If you are at all interested in this, you can drop me an email, or PM on FB (where we can work out the details in a space outside of public scrutiny, hehehe). I feel like I could learn a lot from your views on this.

            Again, you've given me more to think about than I can address completely (which is so totally the right problem to have). There's one that I have to be sure to hit, though, and it's the one where you mention a gay group discriminating against bisexuals because of the perception that they can pass more easily. This is a huge problem in real life, it happens all the time, it presumes that passing is a goal or a positive, and it's the kind of exclusion up with which I will not put. It's playing the Oppression Olympics, and I have no tolerance for that — no one wins prizes for coming in first.

            • M says:

              Okay, I gotta stop replying, but I really really am only going to reply to just ONE bit for now. The last paragraph.

              Certainly I think that bi people in male-female partnerships “can more easily pass” as straight (in fact, that’s a giant understatement – most will be read as straight even in they announce their bisexuality or queerness constantly, or so it seems. Unless they are very genderqueer or something???? ). Whether this is desired or desirable depends on many things. (I am aware it can also be a burden or a blessing or both.) And I’m NOT saying it is true for all bi people. Im speaking of people who are in a MF parnership. Nor is it true that all GL people cannot easily pass or have any tendency to be read as GL. Some GL people are also regularly read as straight. Much depends on what you look like and who you walk with or live with or call Honey.

              Given all that, in a very general sense bi people overall are probably read as straight more often than GL people are. So, in some ways I agree with the stereotype…. Although of course I would add a TON of conditions to it, and of course I think it sucks as a reason to look down on anyone. Actually I think bi people who are read as straight have opportunities to do unique kinds of advocacy and speaking up (when they choose to), just as straight people can. Which bi people could be credited for (just as allies seem to get Extra Credit! Ha!)

              Rightly or wrongly, I have the idea that many many bi people do not go to the trouble of claiming bisexuality. By which I mean that I think many bi people do pass as GLS, or allow others to infer what they infer. Which I find understandable. To NOT pass is huge work, since most everyone is wearing monosexual lenses. I think this (lack of masses of people claiming bisexuality) contributes to the stereotype. (I personally wonder about when bi people choose to claim bisexuality vs when they allow others to assume…. I wonder about how being in a SS vs MF partnership affects this. I experience different pressures, and am not sure even for myself in what situations I’m more likely to state bisexuality…… It seems complicated to me.)

              I would be in favor of changing the wording of the stereotype to say that some bisexual people CAN OR MUST pass as straight (or as GL) unless they want to work really hard. Some bisexual people can pass, and if they want to NOT pass, it is extra hard and maybe ridiculously hard.

              Actually this is one of my big personal pet peeves – I think that being out as bi is VERY hard work – that there is an “extra burden” which is not acknowledged by all the progressive political voices in favor of coming out. I try to be sympathetic with both myself and others about this. And I wonder what we can do (that we are not already doing) to make it easier, or to share the burden.

              • fliponymous says:

                One of the articles still simmering on the backburner is about how the closet is not the same thing as monosexual privilege — it is the appearance of rather than the reality of. I get oh so tired of people saying “Well, you can be in the closet so easily, what a great advantage to your life!”, when it is people who should know *from their own experience* just how toxic and corrosive the closet is, not only due to the daily stress of being incongruent, but from being denied entry into the community that they are part of.

                It all comes down to community. I have come to the conclusion, in fact, that it is the most important thing there is in quite a few ways.

                • MM says:

                  I’m curious whether you find coming also out “toxic and corrosive”? I guess I see all positions as having pretty hefty downsides. I guess I’m pretty cynical!

                  My guess (and it is just that) is that the people saying “what an advantage to your life” find being out hard or painful. They may also perceive you as not missing out on anything by being “easily in the closet”. Speaking for myself (and possibly dodging some tomatoes) I think there’s also the option of being “low key” — not so in the closet that you’d be horrified if someone found out — but not outing yourself so often either. And you COULD live this way and still enjoy lots of GL events, hobbies, groups, whathaveyou. Perhaps you would feel this was politically unacceptable? This may or may not be what they mean. I’ve always been a bit unclear on where the borders of “the closet” are, and I’ve never outed myself continually with everyone. I have a lot of experience with “letting people think whatever they think”. (Actually this also describes my experience when I explicitly out myself. They still think what they think, and I usually don’t know what it is, and can’t necessarily change it to any great extent.) When I do come out, I’m not “seen” to any great extent.

                  Regarding the article, be careful about lumping (both types of) monosexual privilege together into one basket — if one is passing for gay (e.g. has a SS partner) it may be pretty easy to be “part of” the GLBT community. Although that has never felt safe to me.

                  • fliponymous says:

                    IMO, you are not truly part of the community if you can be pitched out of it when they find you out. So “passing for gay” is just the same damned closet, just a different door.

Questions, comments, concerns?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s