Saturday, June 29, 2013

Five Things I Wish I Stopped Hearing Bi Activists Say

I flip between "bisexual" and "nonmonosexual."  Most of these I do not regularly hear from pansexual-identified people (and other nonmonosexuals who do not identify with bisexuality) although some of them I do.  The bisexual and pansexual communities are like a Venn diagram with different cultures and habits but a lot of overlap.  So when I say "bisexual" it is because so many of these I don't really see in pansexuals (although we have our own problems as well).
  1. "You see, we're actually more oppressed than gays and lesbians because..."

    Alright, hold it right there.  I'm all for calling out gays and lesbians for hogging the spotlight, pushing that asinine "no choice *sniff* I'm forced into this awful lifestyle" narrative, and several other things.  But saying that bisexuals are more oppressed than gays and lesbians because gays and lesbians are oppressing bisexuals is getting really obnoxious.

    I'm not saying "don't call out gays and lesbians who say ridiculous bullshit about bisexuals."  Go right on ahead.  Concepts like "gold star lesbians" and the assumption that all bisexuals are just closeted gays or that we uniquely spread HIV to straight people are crap.  Go ahead and shout that from the rooftops.

    But to insist that bisexuals are more oppressed than gays and lesbians because of this is a ludicrous inflation that assumes gays and lesbians--by virtue of being gays and lesbians--have the power to oppress us.  Some people use the phrase "monosexual privilege" to talk about this, and it really frustrates me because it makes it seem like there's some overarching scheme by gays, lesbians, and straights to repress bisexuals.  There isn't.  We are oppressed alongside gays and lesbians.  It's the oppression of gays and lesbians and the way they have been forced to describe themselves by homophobic society that causes biphobic gays and lesbians to lash out.

    What I mean is that the fabricated "I have literally no choice and none of us ever do, no siree" discourse you might hear from gays and lesbians is a product of internalized homophobia and the assumption that homosexuality is so undesirable nobody would ever choose it.  And this is something across-the-board when it comes to biphobic ridiculousness coming from gays and lesbians... it's rooted to internalized homophobia, it isn't gay oppression of bisexuals.
  2. "The fact that we can be with the opposite sex or get married isn't a privilege!"

    Um, yes it is.  No, seriously, it really is.  Quit saying it isn't.

    The thing that appalls me most is how many people who say this are actually in legal marriages.  The fact that a bisexual has the potential to get into an opposite-sex relationship is already a privilege, but getting married is a major one.  After all, while I may personally view marriage as an archaic institution that must be abolished, it and other institutions that cause a relationship to be culturally recognized are some of the root culprits for oppression based on sexual orientation.  Being married makes you legally advantaged over other couples.

    Being in an opposite-sex relationship doesn't erase all of the things nonmonosexuals experience--you can still be harassed, you can still be fired, you can still be assumed to be promiscuous or closeted--but it certainly mitigates it.  So I'm not saying you're an oppressor or super-privileged person by virtue of being bi, but believing that being in an opposite-sex relationship isn't conferring privilege upon you is serious denial.

    It ain't because I have some perception that bi people are automatically privileged over gays and lesbians, either.  People in same sex marriages and married trans people also have a privilege despite lack of privilege elsewhere.  The problem is insisting that it's not.  It absolutely is.
  3. "This trans issue is just so awful... it reminds me of being bi."

    Seriously, you need to just quit acting like turning every trans issue into a bi issue is acting in solidarity with trans people.  Bi activists have a really bad habit of assuming that inner community transphobia is concentrated in gay and lesbian communities, and furthermore it's the bi activists on my Facebook wall who are most likely to use a news item about trans people to make some point about bisexuality.  Making these connections is a great thing; it helps us be empathetic, for example.  But those connections should be used to facilitate your solidarity work, not as an underhanded attempt to get people to care more about your issues.  I have recently seen a well-respected bisexual activist post links on Facebook to things about transgender people only to put some plug about bisexual activism right after.

    Also, transphobia does exist in the bisexual community (and also... get this... the pansexual community.  True story!).  Bisexual activists have a tendency to assume that they are already doing well-enough on trans issues,.  While I personally have experienced bi communities to be more accepting and understanding about transgender issues, the idea that they are a universal haven of acceptance for us is simply not true.  "Better than your typical gay or lesbian" is a very low bar to reach.

    Just keep in mind that you likely have a lot of work to do, still.  All of us who are allies or solidarity workers do.
  4. Acting as though bisexuals are universally open to relationships with trans people and nonbinary-gendered people.

    One of the main critiques the pansexual community has about the bisexual community is the perception that bisexuals are binary-enforcers who are only interested in either men or women.  For the record, this is ludicrous.  Bisexuals are no more binary enforcers than male- and female-identified transgender people, gays, and lesbians but they seem to get a lot of ire. Bisexual identification does not inherently mean a person is not open to nonbinary-gendered people or trans people.  That's a mischaracterization that is unfortunately spread like a fucking virus by pansexual-identified people (speaking as a pansexual-identified person).

    But responding to these accusations by insisting that "bisexual" has always referred to people who are interested in both same- and other-sex relationships and not men and women is just not true.  While self-identification matters, so does common usage, and yes, common usage defines bisexuals as interested in men and women.  That doesn't mean all bisexual-identified people are, but there are straight and gay/lesbian identified people who are open to relationships with trans- and nonbinary people, too.
  5. "We can totes be monogamous!"

    This is one that I understand but it still grates on me.  It's done in response to peoples' dickish claims that bisexuals are promiscuous and desire threesomes and other stuff like that.

    Bisexuals can certainly be monogamous, for the same reason a straight or gay person who likes redheads and brunettes can still have the ability to stick with one person without getting frustrated and banging the next redhead he sees.  Should be a no-brainer but for quite a few biphobic bigots it isn't.

    The problem is that too many bisexuals make statements without recognizing that there are also bisexuals who are in consensual, wonderful romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners and that that's OK.  I've seen "informational" videos and pamphlets that dismissively debunk the idea that "bisexuals sleep around with anything that moves" without adequately explaining exactly what's wrong with that.

    As polyamory becomes more accepted in the queer community I see this less and less, but I thought I'd mention it anyway because it still comes up on a regular basis.