[TW]: dismissal of lived oppressions, marginalization, brief mention of racism, sexism, classism, and privilege
So after a rather long hiatus (winter break, life, etc.), I’m back with my first post as an official author at Considered Exclamations. I could not be more excited by or grateful for the opportunity, and for some reason, Andrew seems to have even more faith in my work than I do. You might remember my post on Rebecca Watson’s Skepticon talk, and my specific problems with its content and attitude. I just wanted to express my gratitude for your consideration and criticism, because there was some good skepticism in response, and for me, that’s the goal. I don’t need you subscribe to my point of view. I’d rather make you think.
This post starts as my work often does, not a direct response to issues in the news, or a general grievance with a greater ill. My work tends to go in that direction, but its origins are rather simple.
This post was inspired by someone who pissed me off. Someone who should have known better.
Here’s the scenario.
I’m taking an LGBTQA History class to fulfill a gen ed requirement, and I could not be more excited about it. Finally, the opportunity to learn about an aspect of my own history that is often glossed over, or in my K-12 experience, ignored altogether. On the first day, we introduced ourselves and stated which gender pronouns we prefer, the usual. We were also asked if there was anything we were hoping to learn from the course, something that may not be on the syllabus. Most people expressed interest in a subject that was already on the syllabus, but I was concerned about a particular sexual identity that seemed absent.
Me: “I was hoping we would pay some attention to bisexual issues, because prejudice within the LGBTQ community and general invisibility is a real problem.”
Response: *chuckle* “Well, sorry, but I’ll be contributing to that invisibility.”
There were a few other ways to respond to this:
“Sorry, but there’s only so much time.”
“There isn’t much flexibility in a ten-week quarter system.”
“The syllabus is set and preapproved by the department”
Instead, I essentially outed myself to the class, and was met with a dismissive chuckle.
Upon further examination of the syllabus, I saw that the class is technically about Gay, Lesbian, and Queer history. In my experience as an openly bisexual woman, I have found that bisexual people are often fall under the classification “queer” as an umbrella term that connotes some kind of fluidity of gender expression or sexual preference. I am uncomfortable with this practice because, though there is fluidity in sex and gender, this generality fails to address the specific problems individuals with specific identities experience.
As my professor knows, this is a common problem in the history of Gay and Lesbian movements in the 1960s-70s. Internal discord, as manifested in racism, sexism, and classism, hindered progress within the movement for sexual equality, because this exercise of privilege made activist groups inaccessible to marginalized groups. When their specific needs and identities are ignored or devalued, marginalized individuals form separatist groups, which decentralizes power. This was problematic then, and it is detrimental today, when a common, united front is the most effective way to combat majority oppression.
Despite the irony of my professor’s choice to minimize my individual concerns, I became more comfortable with the idea of studying bisexuality as part of queer history when our class took time to specifically study trans issues. We discussed how to respect individual self-identification and the right to express individual concerns. We also discussed how it is the right of the individual to choose whether to be “out” or not. This article also addressed a common concern among trans people, that the T in LGBTQA is simply tacked onto the cause without a full understanding of trans issues, namely the fundamental difference between sexual orientation and gender.
This reading seemed like a step in a more inclusive direction, but I was disappointed again when several articles we read only briefly mentioned the existence of bisexual people in history, usually to state that they had little visibility or power in the movement. The only detailed descriptions of bisexual people in the early movements for sexual equality depict them as a pariah, the lowest of the low, not straight or gay or queer enough for anyone’s comfort. There is a range of identity and expression among people who identify as bisexual, and the oversimplification in so-called LGBTQA studies is troubling. It feels more like erasure than inclusion, more like the facade of politically correct speech than empowering language.
A Note on Biphobia and Bisexual Privilege:
I have reached a frustrating point in this LGBTQA History course where few people have spoken up to dispel myths and assumptions about bisexuality, nor do they realize that these notions are harmful to the entire LGBTQA community. I have found Robyn Ochs’s explanation most fitting, that all people with non-normative sexual identities and/or people with non-binary gender identities are vulnerable to discrimination, because to those who are uninformed (or just plain hateful), anyone who is not like them is not straight, and therefore unacceptable. The struggle for sexual equality should be our common cause, not a point of contention.
I have personally spoken with those who subscribe to the notion of bisexual privilege. That is to say that bisexual people enjoy the benefits of passing as straight (avoiding prejudice) and participation in normative, “heterosexual relationships” (fitting into cultural norms). As a cisgender female with a partner who happens to be male, I enjoy this privilege to a degree, but situations like mine do not validate the erasure and invisibility bisexual people experience. It also does not justify my discomfort in both worlds as a result of dual prejudice, because many still perceive my sexuality as a stepping stone, a hiding place, or a fashion statement. I experience many of the same prejudices that people of non-normative sexual identities experience, i.e. lack of family acceptance, lack of positive representation in media, etc. Like other same-sex/gender couples hoping to marry, I carry the knowledge that if my life partner happened to be female, our relationship would not be considered valid. I am a second class citizen in my own country, and in some cases, my own community.
- The lack of representation of bisexual people in historical accounts of the early sexual equality movement is evidence of a greater ill, namely the erasure of marginalized groups. This is still evident in lack of positive media representation and prejudice in the LGBTQA community.
- Attempts to include bisexual people under the “queer” umbrella may seem inclusive, but it is inaccurate and insensitive to individual struggles. LGBTQA studies is equally guilty of doing this to trans and asexual people.
- Bisexual privilege exists, but it is matched with biphobia and social stigma. The existence of one factor does not negate or justify the existence of the other.
- This should be painfully obvious to those who study it, and hopefully those who don’t, but gender identity/expression and sexuality are two different things.
- There is a growing body of research on bisexuality as its own entity, and its continuation is important for the improvement of conditions for everyone in the LGBTQA community. Visibility and validity are the basic rights of all people affected by the struggle.
- Internal division is harmful to the greater movement for racial, gender, and sexual equality. It has been from the beginning, and we can do better than that.
Bazant, Micha. “Trans Respect/Ettiquette/Support 101″. TimTum: A Trans Jew Zine. 30 November 2006.
“Bisexuals and Straight Privilege.” 11 May 2007. http://freaksexual.wordpress.com/2007/05/11/bisexuals-and-straight-privilege/
Horacio N. Roque Ramirez. “‘That’s my Place!’: Negotiating Racial, Sexual, and Gender Politics in San Francisco’s Gay Latino Alliance, 1975-1983″. Journal of the History of Sexuality 12, 2 (April 2003): 224-258.
“Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.” ed. Robyn Ochs and Sarah E. Rowley. (Bisexual Resource Center, 2005), pp. 201-205.
Stein, Marc. “Gay and Lesbian Activism in the Era of Conservative Backlash, 1973-1981″ in Rethinking the Gay and Lesbian Movement.