Slicing Off The Margins, or, Twirlip of the Mists


When a marginalized population seeks to gain rights that have been denied them, the tactic of further marginalizing parts of their own population is appealing and seemingly effective in the short run, but it causes more problems than it solves. Further marginalizing parts of your own community is not a suitable solution.

And yet, it’s what happens, day after day after day.

A Brief Recap Of History:

The modern Queer movement is generally dated from Stonewall. While the bottles were still being thrown, the transgressive element that stood up and said “We are not going to take it sitting down anymore” was being minimized by the assimilative element through the dual tactics of disowning them and co-opting them. I’ve written about Brenda Howard before, the outspoken bisexual activist who is known as the Mother of Pride, one of the main organizers of the Christopher Street Rally that has become the modern Pride Parade. Now, back in those days, the word “Gay” meant what “Queer” means now – it was an umbrella label for everyone who did not fit the heteronormative mainstream. If you were gender nonconforming or had any orientation other than straight (or both), you were called “Gay”.

Then came the homonormative. Things like the 1979 Cass model of identity development, which threw bisexuals under the bus by describing our broad spectrum of attraction as “immature”, described having other-gender attractions as something to get past as part of your development. You couldn’t be gay anymore if you had attractions other than same-gender.

There were also politics involved – many lesbians felt that the “Gay Agenda” served gay men very well, and left out the struggles that are unique to women. Some of this was tied up with 2d Wave feminism as well. So the label split into Gay and Lesbian.

Can you see the exclusionary tendency, the further marginalization started to take hold already?

I was recently in a room with a dozen committed, engaged bisexual activists. I asked people to raise their hand if they had ever heard of Brenda Howard. Fully 2/3 of the hands stayed down. This is how the co-opting and erasure of our own history has succeeded. Brenda was first gaywashed and then *poof* she was gone. She’s not the only one to disappear.

Which is how the next thing happened.

Twirlip Appears:

At the same event where I asked about Brenda, there was a man who thought he was an Ally to bisexuals – sort of like a couple other people I will bring up later – who said that he’d been involved in the Gay Rights Movement for over 40 years and a)why didn’t the bisexuals just get involved in the struggle and b)why we “tolerated erasure”. He was brilliantly and passionately informed by one of the speakers of just how ignorant and offensive he was being (and oh, how I wish I had a transcript of the speech we were treated to!), but he just didn’t get it. I personally spoke to him right afterward, because it was obvious he was still somewhere off the map, and I tried to tell him why what he was saying was problematic. But like so many of the people who erase and put down bisexuals, he was so convinced of his rightness and his Allyship that he was oblivious and impenetrable.

In Vernor Vinge’s classic SF novel A Fire On The Deep, there are interludes from the galactic information network, patterned after USENET. A few of these interludes featured an utterly clueless being named “Twirlip of the Mists”, who not only seemed to think that humans have six legs, but further insisted that this “hexapodia” was the “key insight” that would explain everything that was happening. At the moment that I found myself stymied by the Teflon of this well-meaning but offensively ignorant man’s beliefs, I realized that he was Twirlip of the Mists. And he’s not the only one.

Here’s another one: Dan Savage.

But, but, Dan Savage does so much for the Gay community! He’s saved lives with the “It Gets Better” Project! He’s one of the Voices of Gay!

Yes he does, yes he has, and yes he is. And that’s part of the problem. See, Dan Savage is one of those not unusual gay men who lied about his orientation when he was first coming out. Like so many others, he used my identity (Bisexual) as a way to dip a toe into Queer before following the stages of Cass and repudiating heterosexuality. He reinforced at least two of the major myths about bisexuality while he was doing so – and continues to do the same thing today. Myth One: Bi now, Gay later. Myth Two: Bisexuals are Tourists.

Now, Dan now claims that his views have evolved and the “Angry Bisexuals With Keyboards” (of whom I am one and have been blocked from interacting with him on Twitter because I once respectfully and politely asked him to consult with some actual bisexuals before pontificating about our existence and motivations in public) are giving him a raw deal for stuff he said in the past.

The problem with Dan Savage is he really hasn’t changed all that much. He has not repudiated his earlier words. Rather, he claims that the stunning insight that a lot of people who identify as gay now did, at one time, identify as bi, means that the most significant segment of bisexuals (especially bisexual youth) are Lying Tourists. (My words, because he’s politically savvy enough to not say what he means in terms that could be so easily understood.) He continues to insist that a bisexual 15 year old knows less about his sexual orientation that a gay 15 year old. One he is willing to embrace, the other he holds at arm’s length until they are old enough to be sure. Hey Dan! Guess what! When I was 15, I was sure, I just didn’t have words for it – and I was being told that I was either a straight guy getting the homoeroticism out of my system or a gay guy who was still trying to fit into heteronormative culture. I was bi then, and I’m bi now.

I was never straight.

So Dan Savage is another Twirlip, another dude who thinks that “hexapodia is the key insight”. He has doubled down and tried to claim that he’s really been Right all along, and we should just leave him alone.

Here’s another one: John Aravosis. Here’s a guy who is mad because some bisexual activists called him out on a horribly biphobic headline, where he characterized NJ Governor Chris Christie’s flop-flopping and refusal to take a stand as “bisexual”. It was a cheap joke, and an easy one for him to make. So because of this and other incidents where he’s done callous and ignorant things, he’s claiming that after being an Ally to bisexuals for years, he’s washing his hands of us – he went so far as to compare a well-known bisexual activist to Fred Phelps for the crime of pointing out to some of the populations that Dan has notoriously ignored that he would be available to answer questions on Aravosis’s blog. Signal-boosting and increasing his audience. The fiend!

We’ve all run into fake Allies before. One of the surest signs that someone is there for their Ally Cookie rather than to actually help is the threat to take their ball and go home when they receive even the mildest criticism. No real Ally says they are Out of the Ally Business because they get told they did something wrong. Being an Ally is not a title you can take, it is one that must be given to you.

(Aside: for my own part, I don’t like the language of Ally being applied to people within the LGBT community when they offer support to a letter other than their own. For a gay man to claim to be an Ally to bisexuals is as Othering and erasing as for a bisexual to describe themselves as an Ally when they support things like the Day of Silence or marriage equality – it means that for all intents and purposes they are saying that these issues don’t affect them personally.)

So, John Aravosis is another Twirlip. Someone who claims that because he recognized we existed before there was research weakly indicating so, he should get a free pass for anything he does – such as in 2007 calling bisexuals “part-time gay”, or in 2013 heading up his interview with Dan Savage with the question of whether bisexuals exist at all.

He simply can’t see how hurtful it is, in 2013, to even feel like this is a question that needs to be answered – although from the comments on the article, it seems that a lot of people still answer it “No.” I wonder how he would feel if straight people started seriously asking “Do Gay people exist?” Actually, some have. A few years back, the (now former) Chief of Police of my town said there were “no gay people in Saint Cloud”. This was in the context of a cop who had been highly respected Rookie of the Year being first outed and then fired for being gay. (Yes, they made up a different rationale for it, because in a state that has a non-discrimination Human Rights statute they have to cover their tracks – I’m assuming you all work for a living, you know that any of us can be fired at any time for any reason, and there are few to none of us who couldn’t be forced out of our jobs for the kind of trivial offenses that every single person does at one time or another. Ever checked a personal email at work, or lingered an extra minute on a task because you just had to sit down? Yup, you too can be fired for cause. You’re welcome.)

I can see John Aravosis and Dan Savage and all the other Twirlips coming unglued at the idea that their very existence can be questioned.

Here’s a clue for you, John and Dan and all the other Twirlips: Bisexuals are not asking if they exist. So maybe it’s time you quit acting like it’s a legitimate question. It’s about as legitimate as asking if people like coffee, tea, chocolate milk, or wine, and then being surprised that some answer “all of the above”. After a couple of decades, asking “Do people really like ‘all of the above’?” is not only asinine, but proof positive that you have not been listening: that you have not been asking an honest question but rather spouting off inanities in order to… do what? What’s the goal of asking this kind of ontological question over and over? Is it to reinforce the notion that people who answer “all of the above” simply haven’t made up their minds yet? That, by the way, is an example of an honest question, even if it does have a bit of a rhetorical edge to it.

So, it’s OK to force an ontological crisis on bisexuals both old and young, because…

Because why?

Argument Redux:

Because by marginalizing the people who do not fit the image that they want to present, they feel like they are making their position stronger.

But they aren’t.

What they are doing, in fact, is making it easier for the Overculture to pretend to accept them while retaining the ability to strip them of their hard-won recognition – and rights – at the drop of a hat; rights that were won not by them alone, but by a coalition that included and continues to include the very people they want to minimize, the people they want to point their fingers at and say “Them? Oh, they’re too Queer, we don’t need to include them.” You know, the way that they treat bisexuals and Trans*folk.

I’m talking about gay men who say “Tranny” when they talk about people who don’t conform to the gender roles that they themselves do. (And it occurs to me, and I have no data to back this up, but from a quick riffle through my mental notes about who I see doing this, it’s the butch gay guys who do this more loudly that others. Hmm. I might even go so far as to wonder if they are butch gay misogynists…) In Aravosis’s case, the 2007 article where he referred to bisexuals as “part-time gays” is the article where he claimed that the inclusion of Trans*folk in ENDA was the reason it lost (possibly true) and that because Congress wasn’t ready to accept Trans*folk as real people with the same rights as the rest of us, it would have been better for some to get rights while making it harder for the rest to catch up, even though they were in the trenches. Of course, he didn’t say that Trans*folk and bisexuals were there all along, because as far as he’s concerned LGBT means “Lesbian and Gay”. And even if a weak and problematic version of ENDA would have passed by throwing the T under the bus, would that have been worth it? How’s that half a loaf taste?

Ever notice how when people claim that “half a loaf is better than none”, they are always talking about the half of the loaf that they themselves are holding onto? Imagine how Aravosis would have reacted if the ENDA bill under discussion had included Trans*folk who identify as straight or bisexual, and bisexuals, but had excluded monosexual gays and lesbians? Oh, we would have heard the screams to high heaven, folks. “Rights for some but not for all? That’s just not fair! That’s un-AMERICAN!”

The Theoretical Basis:

Get ready for some Queer Theory. (Oh, don’t act so surprised, you knew I’d get there eventually, right?)

Here’s what the Overculture does. It systematically develops and uses institutional structures that define rigid roles for people, roles that it can use to determine who is an acceptable Person and who is not – who is real and who isn’t. Whose existence is a given and whose must be granted with formal research. Rules that people must follow without exception or else they are cast upon the road ringing their bells lest anyone come into contact with them and be contaminated.

One of the great triumphs of the Queer community over the last five decades or so (or at least the Gay and Lesbian parts of the Queer community) has been the construction of Mainstream Gay. People who follow the Cass Model of identity development, who have repudiated all sexual desires for anyone not of the same gender, who can blend right into the Overculture in every respect except for the gender of their partner. One of my conservative friends (yes, a screaming Leftie like myself has some treasured Conservative friends) wrote an article about how the movement towards marriage equality (or as he put it in the lexicon that Mainstream Gay has approved for us via focus group, Gay Marriage) is the triumph of Conservative Family Values, because now all those gay people have shown that all they want is to be just like everyone else, settle down in the ‘burbs with a white picket fence, a catdog, and 2.4 beautiful (adopted, or inseminated, or leftover from their “fake” marriages) children with nary a sign of difference except for a discreet rainbow triagle on the mailbox and a tendency to schedule vacations from their well-paid office jobs in June. (And they are well-paid office jobs, because it’s pretty well-known that you can’t be Queer and work in the trades, or be skating by working at a convenience store or flipping burgers – come on, you’re gay so that means you’re creative and have Special Skills that any employer will recognize and reward! You too can write a column for Big Gay Media or work in statistical analysis of electoral politics or be a doctor or a professor!)

A great triumph indeed, but also the biggest weakness of Mainstream Gay.

Because in order to do this, they have cut off the very people who get stomped on the most by the Overculture – the transgressive. The gender non-conforming. They step on bisexuals in small ways, and by doing so, they not only give the Overculture license to do so, but put themselves in the precarious position of only being tolerated as long as they toe the same line in every way save the gender of their partner.

They think they have Queered the Overculture, but they have not.

They have only mainstreamed their little piece of Queer.

They have homesteaded on shifting sands. They are like the protesters in suits and ties in the 1950s, outside the State Department, begging to be let in as long as they retain their tailoring and conservative haircuts.

Rather than continuing the clarion call of Queer Nation (“We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”) they have adopted a new battle cry, one that is weak to the point of uselessness.

They are saying “We’re here, but we’re not so Queer, let us play the game too.”

And it’s a zero-sum game they want to play. Because as long as the rhetoric of the Twirlips and the organizations of Twirlips like the HRC (and frankly any organization that uses LGBT as a synonym for “Gay and Lesbian”) is predicated on cutting out those elements that are seen as “too far outside the mainstream”, as long as they leave out the kinky and the polyamorous and the gender non-conforming, they themselves can be cut out at any time.

A young man was shot in the face and killed in NYC not long ago for the crime of being gay – or at least being not straight, because these days, I don’t assume that everyone who isn’t straight is gay. The brutal lopping off of those who don’t blend in enough is an effective short-term tactic for those who can already fit in well enough in most respects, but it does not change the society we live in in any meaningful way. What use the right to marry when you can still be fired or denied housing for being queer? When you can, like Polish journalist Ivo Widlack, be targeted by the INS because your marriage is considered “fake” because everybody knows that LGBT means Gay, and Gay means that you only have same-gender attractions?

The point of Queer Liberation was to change society, not to change ourselves to fit society. There’s a word for that: it’s called the Closet.

Closet, Double-Doored:

And that brings me back to the first Twirlip I mentioned, the man who wanted to know why I “tolerated” being erased but seemed to think I was being unreasonable for standing up to his attempts to erase not only me, but the historical tradition that my activism is rooted in. He equated “not being listened to” with “not speaking up”.

Personally, I am monogamous and vanilla. That is certainly one of the ways to be bisexual, but it is by no means the only way. People who are polyamorous and/or kinky get pushed out by the assimilative. Even the basic busting of myths about bisexuality that every emerging bisexual activist seems to do as their first action (myself included) can sometimes do this – if you look at the language, much of the time there is a good bisexual/bad bisexual dichotomy set up. Friends, you can’t say “We’re not all sluts.” That is slut-shaming. Some of us have more partners than others, on a long-term or short-term basis, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

And the people like me, who are most comfortable in a long-term relationship with one other? We get buried, erased, told by Mainstream Gay that we’re just gay and isn’t it great that we finally made up our minds and quit being tourists (if our partners are the same gender) or that we should just shut up now that we’re all done “experimenting” and enjoy our Heterosexual Privilege (if our partners are the socially acceptable “opposite” gender), or that we must Love Hearts Not Parts (if our partners are genderqueer, as if refusing to be labeled as one of two irreconcilable opposite genders means that there’s no gender involved at all).

This is what I mean when I say the Bisexual Closet Has Two Doors. Because the Twirlips want to shove us back into the closet as fast as we can push the door open – they build closets for us as fast as we can smash them. The one that affects me the most personally is the one about “heterosexual privilege”. See, as far as the Twirlips are concerned, the fact that I can climb back into the Closet without having to hide the gender of my partner means that as far as they are concerned I want to.

In the American South during and after the days of slavery, there was a racial segregation system called “the One Drop Rule”. It mean that if you had one ancestor who was recognized as Black, you were Black. If you were light-skinned enough to pass for White, good luck, because if it was ever found out that you were not, that you had One Drop, you were done. No longer equal. No longer fully human.

And the Overculture has the same kind of rule for Queer. (Interestingly enough, it seems to play out differently for men than for women. More about that another day.) I’m male-identified. As far as the society I live in is concerned, it doesn’t matter that I have been sincerely and monogamously married to a female-identified person for a couple decades. What matters is that we met because she was dating the guy that I was chasing. “You’re exaggerating! It can’t be that way!”

Situation 1) I’m a college student. College students are by definition broke. Broke people sometimes go down to the local spot and get a pint of plasma extracted from their veins in exchange for a glass of orange juice, a cookie, and $35.

But I can’t.

Oh, I could if I was willing to lie about my past. But I’m not. Because I lied for so long, and every lie piled on my soul in a corrosive heap that came too close to killing me than I like to admit. No, I choose to live a life of integrity and Pride, one where I don’t walk around trying to fool people.

But because over the course of my life I have had sex in ways that people like Fred Phelps find icky, this resource is barred from me – and from my partner, because she has had sex with a man who has had sex with men. It’s a small thing – but when you run out of money a week before payday, $35 for an hour’s easy work can be a pretty big deal, especially when you are feeding a teenager.

Situation 2) A couple jobs ago when I was still in the closet, I was at an off-site work function, a campground frolic billed as a team-building retreat that was really just an excuse to blow off some steam. Late in the evening, as the alcohol started to flow, we ended up playing a party game similar to Truth or Dare – simplified, in that the Dares were all the same: drink up. So people were asked questions that got more and more sexual.

Here I was, surrounded by my co-workers, lots of booze flowing (it was a job on the fringes of politics and alcohol was a major part of the corporate culture – we worked hard, we played hard). At least a few people had already snuck off to the fields and had inter-office other-gender sex. So there I was, a couple of knocks under my belt, when the question came to me. “Have you ever had sex with someone the same sex as you?”

It freaking killed me inside, because I had let my guard down. I had allowed myself to feel at ease with these people, and now I was in a panic. There was no way out of the situation other than to coldly state a bold-faced lie, or come out at a time not of my choosing. An honest answer could have unknown consequences: I did not know 2/3 of the people there other than by name. I chose an honest non-answer and drank up. But the rest of the night I was quiet and withdrawn and worried that someone would stomp me in my sleep for not being straight enough.

So in both of those situations, one out of the closet and one in the closet, I ask: where was this so-called Heterosexual Privilege they keep saying I’ve got?

You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

That’s why I get so upset when people try to claim that bisexuals enjoy “heterosexual privilege.” They don’t understand the definition of privilege.

Privilege is unearned. By definition. It is something that is handed to you whether you want it or not. That meaning has gotten twisted by people who, upon taking their first Human Relations class, think that becoming aware of their privilege one time means they don’t have it anymore.

If you have to do something for your special access to power, if you have to earn it by lying or doing things a certain way, then it’s not privilege. Being in the Closet is not privilege, not unearned access, because you have to do something for it. You have to lie, or at the very least, you have to refuse to correct people’s assumptions.

I’ve read a pretty good argument that the ability to go into the Closet (rather than actually being there) is a privilege, because some people can’t, or they don’t have a Closet to go into. I’m willing to accept this argument.

That is not an argument that bisexuals have heterosexual privilege, though. That means that we have the exact same privilege as the Twirlips of the world, and if they can’t see how horrible it is to be told that “You don’t need to worry because you can just hide” then they have themselves forgotten what it was like. And that’s sad, because it means they have lost touch with one of the experiences that should bind us all together, with what may be the only experience that the vast majority of the LGBT community has in common, from the center all the way out to the margins.

A Final Metaphor

Imagine the LGBT community as a piece of paper with something written on it: perhaps it’s the famous Queer Agenda. It’s written in standard style, with some blank space around it. Your job is to mail this piece of paper, to get this message to a recipient who can do something with it.

Now someone tells you that the paper is too big to fit in the envelope. It’s already smaller than the papers that are already in there, but hey, you really need to get this delivered. So you cut off the bottom third.

Nope, they tell you, still too wide. So you cut off the blank spaces on the sides.

Nope, they say. Still too big. So you keep cutting.

Pretty soon, you’re cutting off parts of the words, and even whole sentences.

After a while, you’ve forgotten that the point of putting the paper in the envelope was not to get the paper in however you could, but to get the words read by the person you’re mailing it to.

You’ve confused the medium with the message, and willingly mangled the message so it will fit the medium.

So did your message actually get across? Or did all you accomplish was to send the meta-message that since you’re willing to cut off anything they might not like, it’s OK to cut you off too?

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.

43 Responses to Slicing Off The Margins, or, Twirlip of the Mists

  1. M says:

    Hello, here I an again, swearing I will address only 2 items, and only in a very small way.

    First my appreciation for this: “not being listened to” with “not speaking up”
    Yes. I think this is a big deal. Being not seen is not the same as being not visible. Being misread is not the same as being not visible.
    Sometimes I inwardly protest the term “bisexual invisibility” because it (sometimes seems to me) it reinforces the notion that monosexual assumptions are natural or logical.

    Second (and last) a small comment on heterosexual priviledge. Prepare to throw tomatoes at me. I think there are many kinds of heterosexual priviledge, some of which I’m pretty confident you have. Others of which you don’t. Same for me. Same for the GL folks. Same for other bi people. In particular there are vast amounts of safety and approval involved in living with an other-sex partner (as I believe you do).
    (note: I am using you as an example. This is not about you personally. I could also use me as an example, but you are more convenient since I’m unpartnered.)

    While I do NOT think this means that bisexual people all have blanket heterosexual priviledge, I do myself acknowledge that I have had the safety that comes with having a male-other-sex partner. (this involves both heterosexual priviledge and male priviledge). When I’ve had a female partner (which was not for all that long) I have very much experienced a change in my sense of personal safety and psychological safety.

    Reading what you’ve written, I wonder whether you have considered this. Do you think people who cite heterosexual priviledge may have this in mind? My guess is that they do have this sort of thing in mind. I don’t see how what you’ve said addresses it. At all. Perhaps I’m dumb.

    I am NOT saying this is the whole story, or that you are not subject to discrimination. I promise you I am not.

    I DO think that discrimination against bisexual people is frequently, pervasively hidden (unknown to people). So I’m in favor of pointing it out. Maybe that’s where the glitch is in my reading of your thoughts. Maybe you think that the het priviledge comments are ENTIRELY about unawareness.

    Here’s a question: when you make these points in person, in conversation, does it change anyone’s mind?

    Okay, I’ve gone past what I said I would write. I am interested in your response.

    • fliponymous says:

      Throw tomatoes? Never — then I would not be able to make salsa 😉

      On point one, that’s where bisexual erasure comes in — an act that removes us from sight rather than simply not being seen. Invisibility and erasure are related and feed each other.

      Regarding your thoughts on heterosexual privilege — here’s how I see it. I can’t have heterosexual privilege, because *I’m not heterosexual*. Most of the accusations of het priv coming from people in the LG community are about the closet, are about privilege you access from passing, but that access is not true privilege.

      There’s a quote I read recently, paraphrased it goes like this: I applied for a straight card, but the application came back stamped REJECTED: C***SUCKER.

      Privilege is *unearned* access to power. I posit that if you have to work for that access, if it can be taken away if anyone bothers to look at your application, it’s something other than the kind of privilege we are talking about when we say things like “check your privilege”. If someone ever told me to “check your heterosexual privilege” based on the sex/gender of my partner I would probably want to punch them in the nose. I think people who say bisexuals have “straight privilege” are the people who either want us to disappear into the closet, or wish they could disappear themselves.

      Now, I’m not denying that I have a buttload of privilege. I’m white, cismale, college educated, generally middle-class (even if a little short of funds at times), not visibly ill or disabled, American, etc. I have all of these characteristics and there is so much crap in the world that I simply don’t have to deal with. But heterosexual? I’ve never been hetero, not since I developed an awareness of my sexuality. If people thought I was it was either because I was in the closet, or they aren’t listening.

  2. M says:

    We are on such different pages, I’m not sure how to proceed. I don’t understand how you got to there from what I said, and don’t know what to say to be heard.

    How about MF-relationship-priviledge. Do you think you have that?

    I don’t think you are doing something to have that, other than maintaining your marriage, and presumably showing up in the world with a female-looking person. I think that results in a lot of safety, as compared to showing up with a same-sex partner. Is this an offensive idea to you?

    Let’s see if there’s any room for agreement on that before I go back to whether that relates to heterosexual privilege or not.

    • fliponymous says:

      I think the reason that we’re on different pages is that I am responding to attacks on bisexuals that are made on the basis of supposed “straight privilege” but are actually people telling me to closet up and enjoy it (which is the point I am clumsily making in the article, and one that I have been dancing around and trying to state in a way that makes sense for a while now).

      The point that you seem to be making is similar in that you are saying that my relationship gives me privileges such as being able to be married in every state. What you are not doing is attempting to extend that into the Oppression Olympics.

      So the conversation we’re having is not one of the conversations that angers me, because you’re not telling me to shut up and close the closet door behind me, you’re not trying to deny me access to my community because of the accident of my relationship.

      The benefits that accrue to me for being in a different sex/gender relationship are not something I take for granted, but neither are they something I get for being heterosexual. I hate to use racial analogies because they can never be totally accurate and are easy to misread, but sometimes thay are the only way to get the point across clearly. If I was biracial but caucasoid in appearance enough that most people thought I was White, would I have White Privilege, or would I have access but only as long as I lived incongruently?

      This is an interesting discussion and I am trying to get to where you are coming from rather than arguing with others — it’s hard sometimes to get out of defensive mode and I appreciate that you are willing to keep trying. So am I.

      • M says:

        Oh. Humm. You think they are saying to closet up and enjoy it. Hummmmmmm. Is that kind of related to saying “what difference does it make anyway, you are in a monogamous MF marriage?”
        As much as that question irritates me, I also can see where it comes up.

        I have not interpreted “bi’s have het priviledge” as meaning “closet up and enjoy”. Rather, I hear it as closer to “people in MF relationships are read as straight”. Granted, I don’t hear it as meaning ONLY this, and people have all sorts of attitudes that affect their viewpoints.

        Now, I think someone could well ask how “people in MF relationships are read as straight” differs from “closet up and enjoy”. I think that is an interesting question, not far from the irritating question I mentioned just above. Another aspect – hard for me to articulate – is that my “read as straight” is actually an understatement. More like “cannot be read as queer by most”. So “enjoy” could be rephrased as “accept it”. I guess I’d say my rephrase of “closet up and enjoy” is kind of like “you will be read and seen as straight because you are in a MF relationship, and since no one thinks bisexuality really exists, you are gonna pass from a practical point of view.”

        Also I want to mention that I think “closet up and enjoy” is quite an irritating idea. The degree to which this gets under my skin is likely a pointer to how much it IS irritating to be misread as straight for so much of my life. And maybe about me deciding to let that pass often, or even the continual difficulty of deciding how to NOT let it pass and when etc.

        • fliponymous says:

          The people that I am taking issue with? “Closet up and enjoy it” is *exactly* what they are saying, rather than the thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion we’re having. From you, I learn different ways to look at things. From them, all I learn is how much they despise me for the crime of not being queer enough for their taste — while still being way too fing queer for the straight world.

      • M says:

        The way that I hear the “het priviledge” thing is actually a lot like oppression Olympics. And then I’m busy with the details of the Olympics, which are that oppression is experienced differently based on lots of things. Some people experience more than others. Relationship status is a big factor, and appearance is another.

      • M says:

        I don’t think of white priviledge or het priviledge as on/off global, in a way that you seem to do. I also have congnitive dissonance on what “live incongruously” would mean in the situation you list.
        I guess i could try thinking of het priviledge as a global thing and try to see how it fits. Honestly I see it as more nuanced. I generally don’t stand out as queer. On the other hand I don’t have the respectability that goes with having a male partner and kids.

      • M says:

        Thanks for trying. Appreciated. And needed. I’m amazed how hard it seems… Um…. It’s weird. As I’ve said before, we agree on a lot, and yet I seem to find many of your views hard to understand. It’s like we are on parallel tracks. In the same neighborhood, going the same direction, but different too.

  3. M says:

    “Most of the accusations of het priv coming from people in the LG community are about the closet, are about privilege you access from passing, but that access is not true privilege.”

    I hear it differently. Not so much about the closet. Then again, I don’t see passing as being closeted, I see it as an outcome that is simply going to happen- people will read me as they read me, and short of wearing a sign, that is often going to be as heterosexual (especially if/when I hang around with a guy.)
    Passing is not exactly the same meaning as being read as heterosexual. But they are related. I do not think it is my responsibility to tell everyone my orientation. I assume you and others also do not have such a responsibility.

    Then again, who knows what people mean when they cite hetero priviledge? Maybe I’ll try asking some people what hey think it is. I’m sure this will result in a range of answers – most likely including both what you said and what I’m trying to say.

    Lists online of what het priviledge includes vary wildly. Is one includes lots that would apply to many bi people with an other-sx partner:
    This one is mostly stuff that bi people do NOT enjoy:
    Much depends on the wording.

    • fliponymous says:

      Looking at the Metro link (caveat: I have more than once taken serious issue with some of the derp this site comes up with sometimes): here’s the line that sums it up — ” If you are straight (or in some cases, perceived to be), you can live without ever having to think twice, face, confront, engage, or cope with anything listed below.”

      Because I am not straight, I DO have to think twice, face, confront, engage, or cope with some of these things. Not all of them, and not all the time. But things like points 8, 9, 10, 13, 16, 19, 20, 23, 24, 26, 27, 29, and 30? These are clearly things that are based on being straight rather than on who my partner happens to be.

      And these are the items that I get argumentative about, the items that I get offended when people try to lay them on me as reasons that I should be denied access to my community on the basis of “heterosexual privilege”. The other items on the list aren’t about heterosexuality so much as the privileges of having an other-gendered partner, and yeah, I will own these privileges — I simply don’t agree with those who claim that they make me not queer.

      On to the second link: This is a MUCH better list, as far as I am concerned, and this is the exact list that I feel like people are trying to push on me when they tell me I have “straight privilege”.

      Does that put us closer to understanding where each of us is coming from?

      • M says:

        I come back to that I’m parsing priviledge more finely than you are. There are certainly some straight people who don’t enjoy all the items listed. One answer would be to rename the list as something like hetero-and-gender-stereotypical-and-MFrelationship-priviledge. I’m thinking of a specific man who is heterosexual and an artist, and often read as gay. I think he still has MUCH of the stuff of het privilege. But not all. Likewise I think a theoretical straight woman who lives with another woman and is not dating will have less status in some ways (than a straight woman living with a male and/or dating a male).

        I think your point about people pushing het priviledge on you is………worth thought. I’m sorry. It sounds kinda like being told that you ARE heterosexual. Or something.

        • fliponymous says:

          That is exactly what they are doing — telling me that either I am really a hetero tourist and “bi-curious” (and I have an inevitably long article brewing about how I feel about THAT one), or telling me to shut up and enjoy being able to pass even though what they call being able to pass I call being relentlessly erased.

          • M says:

            It is funny, it seems to me that what I hear and what you hear are similar but also different. I still don’t hear het priviledge as meaning what you are saying. But I see how you might hear it this way, and it seems now (after this much thought!) less important.
            Okay, we’ll, in one way it is really important: no amount of logic and evidence is going to change anyone’s mind if you are not addressing their actual viewpoint. So, um, it matters if you or I are arguing irrelevant points.
            And then in another way the finer points don’t change that it is hurtful to hear that we are worthy of less inclusion or resources or whatever.
            BTW, when I’m writing this, I am able to be relaxed and interested in what people mean and believe about het priviledge. Enough so that I’m imagining intentionally engaging to find out and explore this more. I think IRL however I’d be too reactive and defensive to follow through with this?

            • fliponymous says:

              Let me try to be totally clear. When I hear someone tell me I have “heterosexual privilege”, I react with “I’m not heterosexual”. When someone tells me that I have the ability to vanish into straight because my partner is other-gendered, I react with “I don’t view vanishing as a good thing.” When someone tells me that I don’t belong in their Gay movement because of my “heterosexual privilege”, I get seriously pissed off.

              You say that you are parsing the term more finely than I am. I feel like you are using it to describe things that *look* heterosexual but are not necessarily so.

              • M says:

                It’s weird that I’m even trying to explain any of this. Whatever kind of social disapproval someone wants to invoke toward bisexuals or toward you, I’m against it. On the other hand, your reasoning doesn’t address what I understand het priviledge to mean. Thus my question as to whether you find that the people who bring up het priviledge are moved at all by your line of reasoning.
                FWIW, when I’ve encountered the het priviledge idea, I’ve become too upset and flustered to address it is I would hope to. Actually, I have once or twice had my talking affect someone’s thinking about bisexuality, but I the it is the exception not the rule.

                So back to your question – huh, okay, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement. Maybe there’s nowhere else to go with this.

                A lot of it boils down to that I feel MUCH more vulnerable when I am VISIBLY in relationship with a woman, in a non-GLBT-specific context or venue. I don’t assume that GL people do this more than bi people do, it is a matter of individual experience. I also don’t assume that everyone feels equally vulnerable.

                I do presume that you encounter less homophobia in your day to day life with a female partner than you would with a male partner. Do I think you should be shunned as a result? Of course not. Do I think you have positive opportunities to respond to homophobia that you would not have with a male partner? Probably.

                Do I think the level of social and physical risk around homo-hatred is about appearances? Yes, I most certainly do, in many cases. There are also some cases where words will get you thrown out. But in general actions (appearances) are more provocative.

                I think ALL OF IT is quite individual. A lot of what feels most risky and exposed (to me) is the everyday appearance with a SS partner. I’ve danced with women at non-queer-defined venues, for example. I have never introduced a woman as my wife.

                As I said elsewhere (and I think you may have missed it) all this nit picking, if anyone cares to do it, also applies to GL people. There is not some standard allotment of oppression that people have lived. Not in any way. I’d rather NOT do ANY of this nit picking.

                Please note that I also acknowledge monosexual priviledge, and note that you and I do not have it.

                • fliponymous says:

                  “Thus my question as to whether you find that the people who bring up het priviledge are moved at all by your line of reasoning.” — I honestly do not know.

          • M says:

            When I hear het priviledge I think it means [some of what we have said] and that this RESULTS IN experiencing less homo-oppression. And i think thats what MATTERS to the people saying het proviledge. Not that i know, i’m just saying this is the meaning i make of it. Since I don’t think there is any possibility of NO discriminatin against bi people, I say LESS discrimination. Although I’m sure there must be some people who are of the opinion there could be none. (people I’ve talked to are routinely unaware that DADT explicitly applied to bisexuals, for example.)
            So, it is kind of like oppression comparison type of thing. As I hear it. And I’ve run through the responses and particulars in my own mind far too much. It would be more interesting to actually discuss it with people who think this.
            And the MAIN POINT, to me, is that whatever the outcome of the oppression comparison, I don’t want the next idea to be “and therefore bisexual people are too different to relate to, or can’t understand GL people, or should not share GL community……”

            So, I’m wondering if I might set up a discussion on this topic and ask some GL people to discuss it with me. I wonder if anyone would show up, and I wonder if it would result in an increase or decrease in biphobia. Ha.

            I think I may be on to something here. Or not. I mean, mostly I’ve gone to bi events where bi people are irritated by all the stereotypes. And we want to “correct” and “educate”. Which um maybe works sometimes and maybe doesn’t….. But it’s different than dialog. So um I’m wondering if I could sustain dialog in a way that would work….

      • M says:

        Important to note: many GL people also have some kinds of het priviledge, or (more correctly) have gender-stereotypical priviledge or don’t have SS-partnered discrimination. Some have MF-partnership priviledge. We are all a mixed lot.

        Finally, while we notice the difference between MF-partnership and straightness, for many GL people, being GL and having a SS partner may seem synonymous

        • fliponymous says:

          Yup. That’t the flip side of erasure, all the bisexuals who get thought of as gay and then, when they try to be visible or have a life circumstance change that disrupts that gay identification, get slammed for being “traitors” (if they are women) or for being “closet cases” (if they are men).

          • M says:

            Lost again. Apparently what I said is incomprehensible. You could try reading it again. But not sure if that will help.

            • fliponymous says:

              It’s not that it’s incomprehensible, M. It’s that our lenses are a little different.

              • M says:

                No, really, reread what I said. What you said, um, makes sense but has no connection I can see to what it responds to.

                • fliponymous says:

                  “for many GL people, being GL and having a SS partner may seem synonymous” — and that is a key way that bisexuals are erased, through the same mechanism that causes people to call us “curious straight people”. It all comes down to the same thing: other people judging our sexuality based on the apparent gender of our partner — and if those genders are different, telling us we don’t fing belong.

  4. fliponymous says:

    The thread won;t let me reply directly, so bumping a new one based on the statement that “GL people can also have straight privilege”.

    OK I think I see the problem. See, I don’t think you can have X privilege unless you are X. Period. You can be in the closet and access some of the external power advantages, but the closet is a prison, not a privilege.

    So, that appears to be the crucial point where our thoughts diverge. I see straight privilege as those privileges that are given to you specifically because you are straight. Not those things that are attached to the perception people have of you because of the gender of your partner. And I don;t see any part of the closet as positive other than when it is something necessary for personal safety — and I also think that if *everyone* was *completely out* then the whole safety issue would start to diminish, because I think if there was no doubt that we were everywhere, the haters would not feel so free to do the crap they do.

    • M says:

      I think you are probably “right” regarding priviledge….. My thoughts are my guesses about what people mean when they cite het priviledge…… Which is vague subjective stuff…..

      So I will try the “I am not heterosexual so i cannot have straight priviledge” answer next time, especially if/when I have a male partner. And will see where it gets me.
      Meanwhile, if you want to you can also try this answer…..” do you mean I should be experiencing every kind of homophobia possible at all times in order to be welcome?
      Do you have a test like this for your gay friends?”

      Actually the above is needlessly nasty. I have to temper it with remembering that many GL people seem to be clueless about the pain bi people are subject to.
      If only I knew how to get THAT across!!!!!!

      I’d like to actually find out which, if any, of the possible answers, would actually change anyone’s feelings about any of this.

      • fliponymous says:

        And therein lies a whole ‘nother article: since when do you have to have a specific number of scars to be accepted into the community? I recall a very nasty commenter on one of Kyle’s YouTube videos who made the statement that “If you’ve never been tear-gassed, you don’t get to call yourself an activist” on her website.

        That kind of attitude, that you don’t get to have any queer credentials if you haven’t been the victim of a hate crime or at least been disowned by your family, is pervasive and in the end toxic — and I think it may have something to do with the toxicity of the “heterosexual privilege” accusation.

        • fliponymous says:

          In other words I don’t think it’s needlessly nasty at all, I think it’s a reasonable response.

        • M says:

          My mind it taking this in a whole nother direction. I’m going to make a taxonomy of all the bits and put them on separate scales – like Klien but for the sub-parts of politically queer.

  5. M says:

    I will continue to consider whether het priviledge may be on/off, all or nothing. If I take it that way, clearly bi people don’t have it. Bt then, not all het people have it either. I see all the edges.

  6. Kyrie McColgan says:

    Thank you for your excellent writing on this subject. It is wonderful to read your experiences and comments on the issue of being bi.

  7. M says:

    I’m back again. I had forgotten about this excellent essay about hetero priviledge
    I want to warn you that I think it may be upsetting. It is excellent writing and well thought out, but a very different viewpoint from yours.
    Although I’d forgotten about this essay, i’m sure you’ll see immediately how it influenced my thinking about this issue. My earlier comments were in the general direction of peppomint’s (the augir’s) viewpoint, although he takes is much farther than I did. (He feels it is critically importent for bisexuals to address the ways they do have hetero priviledge (if any) in order to relate with GL people.) I know that when I read this article years ago I thought about this a great deal and in detail. I think he’s done a good job of thinking through individual experience differing from identiy.)
    Anyway, I recommend it as worth a read, just be prepared to be ticked off.
    I’ll also note that way down in the comments there’s a comment (that i think is) from Shiri Eisner (bidyke) which may present some of your viewpoints, and certainly some of the “hey I disagree big time” that I expect you will feel while reading this article. So you may want to read the comments too which are long.
    An interesting note is that peppomint (the author) suspects that some other feelings of biphobia in GL people are actually due to the issue of straight priviledge. That is, he suspects this is an even bigger issue than it appears.

    I’m sure you’ll find the other articles at his site also fascinating.
    Another bisexual with strong opinions, but a different take on things.

    • fliponymous says:

      Yeah, I’ve read this article, and your summary of my reaction is pretty accurate.

      Here’s the thing. I feel like all of these arguments that you’ve presented do exactly the same thing: they conflate straight privilege with passing privilege.

      And you don’t get passing privilege for being bi. You get it for *passing*.

      In particular, one point really bugged me: the thought that including bisexuals in queer spaces causes “straight creep.” Talk about demonizing. I’ve personally seen straight creep in an organization I’m involved with, one I have backed off from because of the prioritization of the needs of Allies (and the desire for more Allies which has translated into having more straight “employees” than queer ones), and let me tell you, this doesn;t have a damned thing with “letting the bisexuals in”.

      Seriously, M. Think about it. Why is it so important to proclaim that bisexuals have straight privilege? Why embrace the tools of erasure?

      I am not trying to cut off the dialog here, I’m not yelling at you to shut up. I’m asking, what is the use of con-fusing straight stuff with bi stuff? One of the new things going around in some circles is when a bisexual woman gets co-opted into the Lesbian movement as an icon/role model/etc, and people that knew her come in and point out that she was bisexual, they call it (are you ready for this?) “straightwashing”.

      And that’s the kind of crap that happens when you crack the door open to calling our erasure “privilege”, and I don’t understand what you are trying to tell me.

      • M says:

        Oops, well, huh. I am posting my first reaction here, and may actually come up with something meaningful later 🙂
        Certainly mostly the point of posting this was that I think Peppermint said it better than I did. Okay, you think it’s the same deal. Okay. He takes the line of thought to much farther places than I was taking it. Which makes it interesting, though uncomfortable.
        There are other things in his post that are provocative in good ways, like the parts about the range of bi experience and maybe not trying to appeal to bi people as one group. Which is vaguely related…..

        Peppermint’s view holds that it is that it is important to acknowledge areas of priviledge as a way to build bridges with GL and other people. Thats how i read it anyway. This differs from erasure. Whether that works depends greatly on execution IMO. I find Peppermint much more gracious and generous than I was, so I think he’s more likely to actually build some kind of bridge about this issue. I’m actually pretty defensive.

        Really, I guess I’ll just apologize for posting this. I’m sorry you are hurt in whatever ways you are about this issue. And sorry to cause irritation. I wish I could offer something more meaningful to actually help you on a personal level. I keep struggling with what to say.

        • fliponymous says:

          No need to apologize for posting! If only those views I absolutely agree with were acceptable to have here, I’d end up living in a bubble.

          The reason I react so strongly to this is not because I am refusing to recognize the privileges I have. The place where I get stroppy is that what I see as straight or as heterosexual privilege is not the same thing as passing privilege.

          People who are gay and in the closet get the same advantages as bi people in the closet. But people who are out of the closet as gay don’t have to fight against their own community for recognition, and they certainly don’t get accused of being fakers and predators, or of causing “straight creep”.

          I’m still trying to write a definitive article about this, about how the closet is a prison and how accusations of straight privilege are used to force us into it. This discussion is helping with that. Pardon me if I get grumpy sometimes.

  8. M says:

    And on my end I’m not saying that being read as straight is all joyful. Which seems to (maybe?) be a big part of your pain around this.
    I’m still guessing a lot as to what your pain / point is. Today’s guess, rereading the part about passing vs straight privilege is that you find it painful and ironic to be told you have a priviledge when the priviledge cited involves pain (erasure – being misread) in order to exist. So you find it painful to hear that this is a “positive” thing, and object to all the terminology involved.
    Is that close?

    What I make of this is that it would be good (for you and/or for many of us) to work on expressing fully the extent and nature of the pain you/we feel when you/we are misread. Actually, separate from the guess above, I already think that expressing fully the kinds of pain involved in bisexual identity would be a good thing to work on.

    I continue to find your use of “in the closet” confusing in this discussion. I see a major difference between being in the closet and being in a MF relationship in which one will be regularly read as straight. The latter results in the priviledges and pain of being read as straight. Unless you announce your bisexuality to everyone (and I’m suspecting that you may do that. If so I think you could write an interesting article about how and why you do this and what you think of people like me who don’t do so.)

    If I were trying to just argue, I’d find much more to respond to, BTW.

    Oh, and now there’s another piece I see which is – um – really convoluted. (I agree very much that these convolutions need to be exposed and recognized. But difficult.) You object to having your priviledges (which you acknowledge exist) pointed out because this comes on the heels of being out for which you should be commended.
    I don’t think I have that out right but I need to go right now.

    • fliponymous says:

      I read it all, but I am going to just hit a couple of the high points in this reply (been up since 4:00 am).

      “[…]expressing fully the kinds of pain involved in bisexual identity would be a good thing to work on.” Um, yeah. That’s one portion of what I do here — but I also try to get into the whys and the hows as well as the ouches.

      “I continue to find your use of “in the closet” confusing in this discussion. I see a major difference between being in the closet and being in a MF relationship in which one will be regularly read as straight.” — If you recall , the main point of that was how when we get out of a closet of our own choosing (what you are isolating as the definition of in the closet), we get shoved right into another one, one that is constructed for us because people can’t seem to get past a)defining other people’s sexuality based on their partners, and even more of an issue b)defining other people *period*. And it’s when other people are defining us that the claims of “heterosexual privilege” come up.

      What I am going to say next may sound snarky, grumpy, or hostile. I assure you that it isn’t, it is merely the best I can come up with to express a general principle.

      If you want to claim you’ve got heterosexual privilege, knock yourself out. 😉 But if you (generic “you”, not “Hey, you, M”) want to claim that I’ve got heterosexual privilege, then all I can say it: I have lots of privilege. Buttloads of it. I’ve got White privilege, because I’m White (my First Nation ancestry is so diluted and separate from who I am that it doesn’t enter into the picture). I’ve got Male privilege, because I am a dude. I have cisgender privilege, because I am cisgender. I have middle-class privilege because I am middle-class (temporarily living below the poverty level, but middle-class expresses my worldview, my background, my ambitions — I know what it’s like to be poor, but I don’t know what it is like to be poor as a child, for example). I have Ability privilege, because I am physically and mentally not in the group broadly described as “disabled” (and if I got some of the wording wrong there, apologies, I think I’m on the right track but I hope my friends will correct me if I’ve screwed it up).

      But cowering in the closet for close to 30 years didn’t make me heterosexual, and now that I am out, other people’s views of who I am — in *direct* contravention of my loud and if I might say so myself FABulous efforts to correct those false impressions — does not give me Heterosexual Privilege.

      We’ve run up against definitions again, M. I feel that your definition of “Straight Privilege” is so loose and all-encompassing that it doesn’t have enough to do with either straight *or* privilege enough to be meaningful to me. I would guess that you’re finding my definition pared down to uselessness in the other direction.

  9. M says:

    It’s fine with me to call it passing priviledge or MF relationship priviledge or being read as straight priviledge.

    A gay person in the closet and a bi person in the closet may have very different amounts of passing priviledge. Or not. What do these 2 people look like? Do they get read as straight? Do they live with a same or other sex partner?

    I can’t claim to know what “closet” means to others, I’ve often found it confusing. But you are correct that I don’t think of it as including “being misread”. So your meaning seems seems both wrong and interesting usage to me. I would have assumed you intended to be using it in a provocative and non-standard way in the essay you cited. Like, comparing being mistead to being in the closet. But now I think you may actually mean that being misread IS being in the closet. Which leaves me very curious about what others may include in the meaning of closet. Perhaps I will poll some people about this later today.

    Oddly though, I DO see “being misread” (and other forms of inability to comprehend bisexuality) as a huge barriers to being out. Which means that as i understand the terms, out and closet and not opposites….. (no wonder I’m confused!) I have said things like “I can’t come out because others don’t get it” and “there is no OUT”. In other words, I’m not in the closet, but that doesn’t mean others are capable of seeing me accurately. Now THIS is a place of gigantic pain for me. But I don’t call it closet, it is more like the world.

    By the way, I think I should stop writing comments, and possibly should either stop reading here or else maybe talk to you on the phone……..we could get more frustrated faster 🙂

    • fliponymous says:

      “It’s fine with me to call it passing priviledge or MF relationship priviledge or being read as straight priviledge.” That works, and that’s exactly what I mean.

      As far as different views of the closet, simple misreading is just invisibility, but telling someone they are actually gay or straight when the person has made it clear they are neither is a pretty aggressive closeting.

      I have a new article on the way to generate long conversations on 😉

  10. M says:

    Ah, closet certainly doesn’t mean that to me.
    Definition differs as to whether it is SAYING or being heard.
    I admit that not being heard can feel a lot like not saying, since communication is not happening.
    I often don’t say because I think saying will not result in understanding.
    As I said above my idea of out and closet aren’t opposites so no wonder I find these confusing.
    I’ve understood closet to mean not saying and out to mean being understood.

    Re priviledge, geez, that’s all you want? Gad, that seems too easy.

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