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Bisexuality

Bureaucracy and Bi-exclusion in the LGBT+ Community

Author:
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By Pip Williams

Content note: biphobia, mentions of rape, stalking, and intimate partner violence

A tweet by bisexual women’s magazine Biscuit came to my attention earlier today, sharing parts of an email exchange between editor Libby, and organiser Patrick of London LGBT Pride.

Libby’s email politely points out Pride’s glaring omission; a bisexual marching group, and goes on to ask for the opportunity to register for this opportunity to be reopened. The part of Patrick’s response essentially dismisses Libby’s “demands”, suggesting that they will “tire [the] long-suffering Parade volunteers.”

Following my discovery of this tweet, I, and in turn many of my LGBT+ friends, engaged with London LGBT Pride’s Twitter account over the course of several hours.

Our exchange was, for the most part, unproductive. London LGBT Pride insisted that the responsibility for this oversight lies with the bisexual groups who failed to register before the event’s deadline, and refused to acknowledge that an exception ought to be made to allow at least one bisexual group to register, maintaining that this would constitute “special treatment”.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but first I’d like to address London LGBT Pride’s reliance on the excuse of bureaucracy to excuse their bi-exclusion. When the system is put in place by you, there’s no excuse for not modifying it when it’s shown to be ineffective or exclusionary.

It’s not unreasonable for LGBT Pride attendees to expect to see all groups mentioned in the acronym represented. An event that markets itself as LGBT pride is falsely advertising if it fails to deliver on this representation – L, G, B, and T. Something tells me that were only bisexual groups to have registered, the first-come-first-served policy might have been modified somewhat.

In a situation like this, where there is a complete absence of applications from a specific group, organisers would do well to consider the circumstances in which this has occurred. Applications to march at pride are not happening in a vacuum, and there are plenty of reasons why bisexuals might feel less than welcome.

Bisexual people, and particularly those in relationships read as heterosexual, are often regarded with suspicion on entry to explicitly queer spaces. This suspicion – which can often progress to outright hostility – is a major barrier to bisexual inclusion in community events. The validity of bisexual queerness is determined in relationship to a bisexual’s current partner. If they are in a relationship that does not appear visibly queer, they are immediately excluded.

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If entering into a “heterosexual” partnership truly absolved bisexual people of all the disadvantages and marginalisation of a queer identity, the vitriol might be easier to understand. Alas, this is not the case. A 2010 study revealed that 61.1% of bisexual women, for example, have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. 89.5% of this violence was conducted by male partners. This means that 54.7% of bisexual women in the study had experienced violence at the hands of a male partner, compared to 35.0% of straight women.

It’s true that the marginalisation bisexual people face differs from that experienced by other members of the LGBT+ community, but that doesn’t make it any less real or important. The experiences of gay men and lesbians are not the benchmark by which the validity of LGBT+ experiences should be measured, and should not determine whether or not we are welcome within the community. After all, there’s a B in the acronym for a reason.

This lack of inclusion on a community level is probably a major factor in why no bisexual groups applied to march at London LGBT Pride. Conveniently, it also means that London LGBT Pride are unlikely to be held accountable for failing to rectify this, when what they ought to be doing is working to counter it. Outreach projects and a commitment to education of lesbian and gay groups to prevent bisexual exclusion would be a great place to start. Trying to pin the blame on the bisexual community is not an appropriate response. If bisexual people don’t feel welcome at your LGBT event, that’s a sign that something has gone very wrong indeed.

Bi Community

Author:
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By Fee Grabow

It took me a really long time to come into my bisexuality. This will sound strange to anyone who knows me because I love being bisexual. But I didn’t always.

And it wasn’t even the usual qualms about the word, how it evokes an extremely sexualized image and stereotypes about greedy, privileged traitors, but also the fact that I didn’t want to be attracted to more than one gender. It was confusing, scary and felt… deviant. It felt dirty to want so much. I felt wrong to want in the way that I did. I didn’t care so much about being called bisexual, I just didn’t want to be bisexual. Even though I have always very casually and freely expressed my desire for people of all genders, there were times and moments when I hated it. I hated my desire.
When I asked myself what I actually wanted, I always came away with an intense yearning for community. And there was no community for someone like me. There were no bisexual parties or book clubs, no bi positive banners at my small town Pride, no use of the word when I was around other queer people. The way I felt about people meant that I was isolated from a community I needed. So when I first entered queer spaces I told someone I was a lesbian, though I didn’t like that word on my tongue; I quickly exchanged it for queer, hoping no one would ask me about boys.

I don’t remember when I started to call myself bisexual. But I remember realizing fairly quickly that it meant more than I thought it would. People do think I am dirty and greedy and unimaginable. They think I’m the weakest link. They think I don’t belong, that I have it easy, I’m a joke, a problem. They reduce me to how I relate to men. They reduce me to who I sleep with. (In their imagination. Despite what I say and do. As if all bisexuals desire men. As if all bisexuals have binary genders.) They throw queer baseline understandings of sexuality and gender out of the window in the name of protecting this community. When I started learning about queerness, I was ecstatic to find out that we believed gender to be a constructed, fluid, expansive, deeply personal thing that may or may not say something about our desires, bodies or lives. And that we embrace how intricate and complicated desires, bodies and lives are. I was probably even more ecstatic to hear that sexuality, while a root cause of the oppression we experience, was also something to be proud of and excited about. Apparently, that doesn’t seem to apply to bisexual people. But it has changed nothing. I’m still bisexual.

Some days, I hate it. It makes me feel unsafe in the larger queer community. I can’t just assume that people are okay with me. It’s complicated; my mother still doesn’t understand and I had to do this bi thing where you come out 7 times because your parents latch onto the possibility of heterosexuality. It’s painful and I work through it by being loud and obnoxious and so damn bisexual.

And I did find community. Mainly on tumblr but also elsewhere. After I moved to Berlin, I even found community in real life.  I came across small things, like bi-characters, a blog dedicated to bisexual (head)canons. I found The Bi Women Support Network, a survivor-led resource to support bi, pan, and queer women, the organisation Bisexual Woman of Colour and the Bisexual Organizing Project. I learned about BiCon and EuroBiCon. I followed Black non-binary bisexual hero Jacq Applebee on twitter. I started listening to The BiCast, a bisexual podcast. I read Shiri Eisners book “Bi: Notes for a Bisexual revolution”. (Read it. Now.) I realised that there is stuff out there that I can look for, as well as accidentally find when I start somewhere.
And that is what I want everyone else who is struggling with the fact that they like more than one gender to know: you can have community. It’s out there. It’s not as readily available, it’s not as well funded, it’s mostly online, sometimes inaccessible, but it’s there. (How to create bisexual activist spaces off and online might be something to write about later!) And whether you chose the word bisexual or any other one under that umbrella (pan, poly, queer), whether you are attracted to (cis) men or not, whether you are asexual but bi+ romantic, you are really very welcome. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t care about trans people, that we don’t care about ace people, we don’t know what non-binary means (hi, hello, I’m a bisexual non-binary trans person), we prioritise cis men (we don’t; bisexual women, cis and trans, are the leaders of our community), we don’t have a history (we do), we haven’t done anything for this community (we have), we have no actual problems that warrant a bisexual movement (oh, damn, do we) – all of that is bullshit.
We battle the same issues other queer communities face. We deal with transphobia, classism and racism. I refuse to let that be used to discredit us, because those are widespread issues in all queer movements. But we do have a history and a present of facing those issues with dedication and love. Thanks to tumblr and twitter, to young queers, and some fucking resilience.

You have a community. You have a community. You have a community.

You don’t have to dedicate your life to the bisexual revolution; we are here regardless. You don’t have to love anything about yourself. You don’t have to tell anyone. We are here and we are trying really hard to make things as okay as possible for you. It’s all very confusing, loving people and not loving people and figuring out who those people are and what that means about you, but please know that there is a place for your wholeness, for your desire and pain and love. You don’t have to give up anything about yourself. You have so much time and space to fully understand your desire or just leave it be. You are so amazing.

Fractured Families: A Review of The Green Road

Author:
the green road

By Anna Hill

Content note – brief mention of: death, bi erasure, aids, white saviourism, physical abuse and childhood neglect and abuse

If The Green Road by Anne Enright had not been shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction I wouldn’t have picked it up. The novel is set in the west of Ireland and follows Rosaleen Madigan and her grown and growing up children. The four children: Emmett, Dan, Hanna and Constance start the narrative in various places and states of growing up (Hanna is 8 in the first chapter) – from Dan in New York during the aids crisis to Constance in a hospital in Limerick in 1997.

The Green Road is also about the way families work; the way that we misunderstand and create images of our relatives in our heads. It’s about the gaps between people, between recognition, the space between cliffs and words and darkness of waiting – for say a play to start, or for people to die or be cured. There is so much expecting that everyone is disappointed. The novel is also about what being a mother means; what having children does to you and your life and how that might negatively and positively affect your perspective. Enright offers us some different versions of motherhood, from Rosaleen who is dramatic and difficult to Constance who finds her children comforting and safe, to Hanna who is erratic and messy.

As an opening Hanna’s chapter is beautifully crafted and unlike the messy whirlwind that she epitomizes, or the “dirty protest” of her behavior and life – it is intricate and detailed. The observations Hanna makes as an eight year old girl learning about death and growth are captivating. The rest of the family tease Hanna sometimes cruelly, saying that her “bladder is very close to [her] eyes” and, as every crybaby will have heard (me included) “here come the waterworks”! Hanna’s connection with fluids is interesting because she is associated with them throughout the novel – not just tears, but also blood and alcohol which lends her to a very traditionally emotional feminine body vocabulary and voice.

Dan’s introductory chapter was the most heartbreaking – it follows the melancholic sweetness of queer men loving each other and dying. Unfortunately though Dan experiences biphobia from both the characters and Enright’s vision for him – Dan expresses how he loves his partner, isabelle and also says “I’m not actually gay you know”. I’m sure to some extent that Dan’s reluctance could be pegged to internalized homophobia, but it might also be because he’s not gay – because he really does love Isabelle, but he also loves and is sexually attracted to men. Bisexual men will have lost their partners to aids, they will have had aids too and simply because they are not gay doesn’t make them straight, doesn’t mean they aren’t intrinsically linked to the pain in the 1990s. I think you can read Dan’s love for Isabelle as proof of his bisexuality and this chapter contributes to the rampant Bi erasure in queer history.

Other than the lack of awareness of polysexual identities, I think the way the chapter approaches queer issues was sensitive and appropriate. One of the moments that has stayed with me the most is when a character’s mother finally comes to visit him in his last days; after staring into the eyes of her lovely son, Enright writes “he became human again. He became pure.”.

Out of all four siblings, I enjoyed Constance’s perspective best. Never prioritizing herself, Constance devotedly looks after her children and her well meaning but inept husband Dessie who “goes peculiar” when she is sick. Constance and her body are one and the same so when her body has stopped working in the way it should it’s a blip in her life – she thinks she can’t get sick because she has too much to do! Whilst waiting for the test results though there are some delicious sensory descriptions; the beauty of the mammogram with “the map of light that was her left breast” and this wonderful visceral passage on giving birth: “she remembered the undoing of her own bones as the children were born. Her pelvis opening – there was a pleasure in it, like the top of a yawn – as the baby twisted out of her. It was all so simply done. And the baby was such a force, each time.”

Even after she has given birth Constance still sees her body as a “fabulous object” for the enjoyment “for all the family”. And Dessie, clueless, once asks “How is all that?” mystified by women’s bodies.

The one character I really couldn’t stand was Emmett – I found his voice violent and misogynistic and his positioning racist and insensitive. He is living as an aid worker in Segou, Mali, but the whole chapter positions him as the white savior to Africa, which he often refers to as a monolithic, singular entity rather than the nuanced varied continent it is. His misogyny comes out in his approach to his girlfriend Alice, who he undermines and sometimes thinks about hurting physically. He treats her pain in a way that dehumanizes her seeing it as something that makes her “sweet and wild” even suggesting that her abusive and neglectful childhood was worth it because she “turned it all to good”!

The representation of childhood and the long standing affects our pasts have on us is a key thread. And that all comes to head in the childhood home the Madigan’s shared, which, unlike their family relations, is never complicated or harmful, but rather exists soaking up their lives. Here is one of my favourite passages about the house: “It was a question of texture, Dan thought, a whiff of your former self in a twist of fabric, a loose board. It was the reassuring madness of patterned wallpaper under the daily shift of light…. The house made sense in a way that nothing else did.”

Overall I think The Green Road is a delicate and dynamic novel but its structure is where it falls down. The sections can be jarring and in some cases leave too many gaps – for example we meet Hanna as a child and only again at age 37, so her life is not explored in the same way as the other siblings. Family focused novels can offer engaging ideas about growing up and relationships and I definitely think Enright succeeded here – I wouldn’t say I was blown away, but I enjoyed the fragility of the words and the subtlety of the settings.

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