Sunday, July 27, 2014

Collie McNeil’s Speech – Dyke and Trans March 2014

At the beginning of the summer, a friend of mine had witnessed a flood of tweets from people expressing anger, frustration, and contempt at those who they assumed to be faking bisexuality to garner attention. Aside from the fact that this sentiment expresses a grave misunderstanding of what it is like to be bisexual by assuming that the attention that we receive is such that heterosexuals would give up their straight status to receive it, it also worked up a handful of emotions that we wanted to share stemming from years and years of being invalidated. We took over the hashtag Bi For Attention and began to discuss a variety of ways that this line of thinking harms bisexuals, specifically bisexual women, who nearly all of the tweets were about.

In the most basic sense, the policing of bisexual identity and the gatekeeping that faces us within our own community is most definitely a cause for concern. The harm that is caused to bisexual people when they are treated like watered down homosexuals, devious heterosexuals, or a combination of the two is long-lasting, and it gets deeply internalized. There is a strong feeling of isolation that comes with not being accepted into straight communities for being queer, while also being denied access to queer communities on the grounds of being half-straight. There seems to be a lack of understanding that bisexuality is a separate, valid identity.

I am bisexual. This does not change depending on who I may or may not be sleeping with. I am bisexual when I wake up in the morning, I am bisexual when I eat breakfast, I am bisexual when I am doing homework, when I am watching television, when I am taking a nap – my bisexuality is part of me, of my identity, and it doesn’t disappear suddenly based on how valid other people may or may not think that it is at any given moment.

This idea that bisexual women are only identifying as bisexual as a ploy to receive attention from straight men is very much rooted in heteronormativity, in such that any woman who is known to experience attraction to men will be automatically stripped of her agency and presumed heterosexual, even when engaging in romantic or sexual activity with another woman, which is immediately invalidated or repackaged for male consumption. Heteronormativity and misogyny being so pervasive in our society makes it almost impossible to be viewed as an Authentic Bisexual Woman regardless of thoughts, feelings, or behaviours.

More so than that, the idea that bisexual women are only identifying as bisexual as a ploy to receive attention from straight men also plays into a much uglier and violent side of the bisexual experience. It ignores the fact that much of the attention that we do receive from straight men is unsolicited and inappropriate. There is an implication within the BiForAttention sentiment that we are constantly desperate or wanting for the attention of men as bisexual women, and therefore we must always be inherently consenting to the attention that we are receiving, even when that attention exists in the form of harassment, invalidation, misogyny, stalking, abuse, rape, or objectification, as it so often does.

This attention is also packaged in the form of medical discrimination that is a grave concern to me as a disabled bisexual woman, who has to navigate a trifecta of ableism, misogyny, and biphobia on a daily basis. Some of the most memorable incidents that I can recall from this year are the discovery of a book being published about borderline personality disorder listing bisexuality as a symptom of mental illness for being attention seeking or considered risky behaviour, and someone recounting their experience discussing sexuality with a gay male psychiatrist who blatantly admitted that he would accept a patient identifying as homosexual, but would immediately begin to treat bisexuality as part of the mental illness of a patient.

When looking at the impact that these ideas have on bisexual people, it is extremely important to note that the bisexual community is predominatly women and people of colour, that we are facing higher rates of mental illness, poor health, and poverty, that a large portion of the trans community identifies as bisexual, and that the intersection of these things strongly impacts the ways in which we are treated and the access that we have to the resources that we need.

It is also worth noting that, despite bisexuals comprising 40% of the LGBT community, in 2010 when LGBT organizations received almost 100 million dollars, not a penny was put into bisexual specific research, resources, or organizations. This was the second year in a row that excluded bisexuals from receiving any funding.

Instead there have been articles published in The New York Times titled The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists, rape apologism, misogyny, gatekeeping, exclusion, erasure, and people like Dan Savage, who are viewed as powerful voices in our community, who claim to tell people who identify as bisexual to come back to him in 10 years.

In fact, the most common answer that I received when discussing the opportunity to speak today with fellow bisexuals and asking what they feel needs to be conveyed was simply, “can you please explain that biphobia is real”, and other variations of validating bisexuality.

The fact that we still need to explain bisexual erasure, that we still need to explain bisexuality in general, is preventing a lot of necessary discussion from happening. There have been many, many important discussions happening amongst bisexuals, but those are being drowned out and ignored.
Social Media has given bisexuals a platform to use their voices, to gather and discuss amongst each other, and to find community. It is my hope that if we keep doing this and if we keep pushing campaigns and discussions like Bi For Attention on twitter, that we can bring attention to the dire situation facing our community and attempt to kickstart some kind of a change.
I thought it would be relevant to close with a short piece that I wrote earlier this year in response to having to defend my existance as a bisexual woman:

They say that we are either bisexual until proven gay,
or that we must be bisexual until proven straight.
But, why are we on trial for this?
We are forever placing our hands on a book of rules that digs into our skin.
We must take the stand to defend every kiss, every fuck, every potential feeling of love.
We must plead our case, only to always be found guilty.

Our mouths have gone dry from constantly licking our wounds.
We refuse to be interrogated by an assembly of those trying to disprove us,
By our own community trying to disprove us.
We will no longer take to a jury of our peers to be dissected like frogs.
We do not have to bleed for you to confirm our humanity.
Our humanity is not debatable.

We will no longer be pretending to tip our scales in an attempt to feel validation.
We will no longer crawl back into stuffy closets waiting for you to let us breathe.
We will no longer answer the invasive questions that you ask in your attempts to erase us.
We will no longer let you silence us.

We have voices like battle cries, echoing from the stains of war,
and we will use them to tell you:
“We exist,
but we do not exist for you.”