Tuesday, February 12, 2013

#MBLGTACC Devaluation of Identity

My least favorite workshop of MBLGTACC was one on non-monosexual identities.  I should mention right away that this has pretty much nothing to do with the people who wrote the workshop, nor even really with the people who spoke during the workshop.  Instead, it was an experience that angered me based on the devaluation of experience that has been going on in the non-monosexual community, and the fact that the exact same shit happened here.

First, I'm going to explain a bit about my identity as it relates to non-monosexual identity labels.  I already said in a Parade of Identities essay that I identify as both bisexual and pansexual.  This is a long-term reality... the short term reality is that which one I identify with flows and changes as time goes by.  Currently I identify more with "pansexual," mostly because I have been trying harder to work in solidarity with non-binary-identified people, and that encourages me to want to make that specification direct.  However, I spent most of my adult life identifying as bisexual and a member of the bisexual community.

Here's the main issue:  The word "bisexual" is being defined in a way that does not take into account the experiences of a large number of bisexual-identified people.  In the workshop, the definition was very clear that a bisexual is romantically or sexually interested in two sexes.  Absolutely no leeway here.  "Bi" means "two," can't you read?!

Anyway, that's the way pansexuals often frame it.  I pointed out, as somebody who identifies mostly as pansexual but again has spent most of his adult life in the bisexual-identified community, that this is not a definition that many--if not most--bisexual-identified people would personally use, and in fact it doesn't represent the attraction many bisexuals have.

So in other words, people are identifying pansexuality and bisexuality in competition with each other, as if:
  • Pansexuals are open to love with any gender, bisexuals only two.
  • Pansexuals are open to love with trans people, bisexuals aren't.
  • Bisexuals reinforce the gender binary, pansexuals do not.
Although there are certainly bisexuals who are only open to two genders or two sexes, the idea that these things inherently define bisexuality are largely put in place by people who do not identify as bisexuals, especially pansexuals.  There are many bisexuals who are open to trans people, against the enforced gender binary, and open to non-binary people.

When this definition was the one being used to describe bisexuality, I noticed my bisexual-identified friend/professor was shaking her head in disagreement.  This does not describe her experience, but it's what people on the outside are using to identify her.  So I spoke up to make the point that many bisexuals have been severely opposed to this definition, which was met with somebody else reiterating, for the hundredth time I've heard it, the so-called difference between "bisexual" and "pansexual" as "but 'bi' means two!  'bi' means two!"  Well, "pan" means "all" and has been used in the past to refer to a sexual paraphilia, so I suppose that pansexuals want to fuck absolutely everything including literally the kitchen sink.

Although I regret some of the things I said, I don't regret my feelings... I have a right to be unhappy when peoples' identities are being misinterpreted and devalued.

I'm going to make a very firm statement right now:  The only people who have the right to define what bisexuality is are people who identify as bisexual.  If they were to come to a major consensus to say "Yes, bisexuality refers to loving two genders or two sexes, and only that" then it would be one thing.  It's also different from bisexuals who say "I am bisexual because I am interested in both men and women."  Instead, a definition is being pushed onto bisexuals by people who do not identify with the label rather than by people who identify with it.

As pansexuals, this is something that needs to stop.  We are perfectly capable of defining ourselves without automatically framing it as an alternative to bisexuality.  And we are perfectly capable of responding to the inevitable "...so, you're bi then?" responses with "no, I do not identify with that" rather than "but bisexuals are binarists/transphobic/only open to two genders!"  Until we do that, we are perpetuating the same devaluation of identity that causes some bisexuals to make ignorant statements that pansexuals are just hipster bisexuals who want to be special snowflakes.  If you oppose pansexuality being defined as an attention-seeking form of bisexuality for hipsters, don't make the same mistake by giving self-congratulatory definitions of bisexuality.