Finding the Good in #GoodBi
By Faith Cheltenham
Faith Cheltenham. Photo Credit: Faith Cheltenham.
A few weeks ago, Boy George, a gay singer appearing on the Donald Trump executive produced NBC TV show “The New Celebrity Apprentice,” spent an extraordinary amount of time tweeting negative things at bisexual people, bisexual organizations like the Bisexual Resource Center, and bi communities at large.
With over 31 tweets of biphobia including hostility, denial/dismissal, and unintelligibility, it was almost as if Boy George had studied the work of Dr. Wendy Bostwick on bisexual microaggressions in the most untoward way.
Image Caption: Boy George’s initial tweet “Ok. ‘My computer got hacked’ is like ‘I’m bisexual’ or ‘I’m sniffing because I have allergies!” along with another tweet. Biscuit, a beloved online outlet for bisexual women based out of the UK, broke the news for many of Boy George’s initial (and subsequently) deleted tweet. Image credit: Wicked.Online
Much has been written about the fears of gay, lesbian, and transgender communities during the Trump administration, with marriage equality champion Ted Olson even attempting to mollify those communities during recent confirmation hearings into Trump cabinet pick for Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions. In a letter that should be just as big a part of bisexual erasure history, as Cliff Arnesen’s erasure from the fight to repeal DADT should have been, Olson wrote:
“As a lawyer who has devoted years of effort to litigating and vindicating the civil rights of our fellow gay, lesbian and transgender citizens, I recognize that people of good faith can disagree on legal issues,” he wrote. “Such honest disagreements should not disqualify them from holding public office. In particular, I have no reservations about Senator Sessions’ ability to handle these issues fairly, and in accordance with the law and to protect the civil rights of these and all of our citizens.”
Per usual, the bisexual community has once again stayed ahead of the curve, preemptively erased by straight “allies” and openly attacked by gays.
The rise in attacks on bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer (bi+) people by straight and gay people mirror the experiences of many others who have difficulty finding safe quarter amidst the muddy waters of trumpism. In just the last month BiNet USA has heard reports of a bi advocate in a medically induced coma following an assault, from bi youth working to escape conversion therapy attempts, and from multiple bi+ community members recovering from sexual assaults by other “leaders” in the LGBTQIA movement. And, of course, we’re still receiving dozens of harm stories from bi+ people everywhere with the #bistories project, who all over the country are experiencing grief just based on who they love, how they were born, and their capacity to change over time.
Image caption: Image of iconic, Black biracial singer Mariah Carey from PopCrush that says “I Don’t Hear You. I Don’t See You. You Don’t Exist To Me.
Bisexuals are not the “I don’t know hers” of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community, but despite the bisexual community being an active participant in creating PRIDE, in establishing the GSA concept, or self funding some of the earliest outreach materials for HIV prevention, we once again find ourselves redefining what it means to be “queer”, what it means to be invisibly marginalized, and have our diverse history, culture, and OUR VERY NAME, colonized, decolonized, and colonized again.
When Boy George tweets back to bisexuals that they shouldn’t be upset he’s made a joke about them, he’s just keeping firm what NYU Law Professor Kenji Yoshino once called “the epistemic contract of bisexual erasure” that gay folks make with straights to shackle all of us into “choosing sides.”
“Intraviolence,” as I term the emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse that members of one community can visit upon each other while still remaining deeply vulnerable to violence external to the same community, is a constant. In fact, Black bisexual researcher Tangela Roberts found that even though bisexuals experience far more instances of discrimination from straight communities, we feel much worse about the discrimination we experience in the LGBTQIA community. According to a Daily Beast piece in 2016, “Roberts, Flanders, and other LGBT scholars have begun to label this ‘double stigma’ as ‘monosexism,’ a specific form of prejudice against those who are attracted to more than one gender.”
I believe this seesaw of oppression many bisexuals experience within the LGBT community relates to something I’m calling (for now) a “faith fallacy,” meaning that because bisexual people believe they have something in common with gay, lesbian, and non-bi+ trans people, they instinctively believe those same lesbian, gay and non-bi+ trans community members also believe in that commonality. Long story short, they don’t.
Instead, it may be more appropriate to consider LGBT communities all in the same boat, but struggling toward different shores. In the end, our work has often brought us together because the threat of homophobia or the fear and hatred of same sex lovin’ has been at the forefront of the work we shared together. As the time passes, and decades of bisexual erasure, biphobia, and bisexual stigma become institutionalized, I must ask how best served bisexuals will be to work with progressive leaders, whether gay or straight, who feel the same way about bisexuals as Boy George.
Like Boy George’s tweets, the rise in erasure, hostility, and discrimination against bisexual people by straight, lesbian, gay, and non bi+ identified transgender community members is real; it is quantifiable and it is killing us. At best, intraviolence keeps our most vulnerable far from the safe places they desperately need, at worst, bi kids keep getting their wings. Our loss of life is such that BiNet USA has regularly raised money for burials, for hospice and chemo, because that’s what being a bisexual activist has meant.
A further hardship? As Boy George intimated so well, no one gives a shit. Not about our higher poverty rates, higher rape rates, or our insane level of domestic violence. Or did funding priorities change on that? Or did LGBT groups start doing bisexual specific outreach to bi, pan, and fluid communities to help us end bisexul rape, bisexual intimate partner violence, bisexual HIV infections, bisexual cancer, bisexual suicide, anything beyond consistently trying to strip us of our name?
As time goes by, it should become very important for bisexual communities to assess whether there is a good in #GoodBi. In the past 8 years, BiNet USA and the bisexual communities it calls home have come remarkably far, and the response in straight and mainstream media to Boy George’s biphobia and open attacks on bisexual people highlight that fact. However, if you take a look at the LGBT media response to Boy George, the same invalidation of our concerns remains, and in many cases even the attacks on our oldest and most venerable institution, the Bisexual Resource Center, went completely uncovered and unmentioned.
Ever notice how most LGBT publications feature an end of the year roundup of LGBT news that never includes bisexual news like a bi actress successfully getting a $7 million divorce settlement from the man she named as her abuser? I have.
Until bisexuals stop being the unmentionables of the LGBTQIA community we will continue to be the punching bags of both gay and straight, with respite nowhere to be found. If bisexuals believe there are circles of influence that they are systematically prevented from accessing to their detriment, they believe correctly. Until bisexuals find equitable representations of their organizations in litigator roundtables, national and state policy roundtables, legal policy teams, national and state transgender policy roundtables, rapid response communications groups or faith working groups, we should protest our exclusion.
It’s up to all of us to stop waiting for scraps at tables that see bi survival as secondary to their own, and whether it’s the right wing turning a Bisexual Awareness Week event into a demon hunting party or a gay icon like Boy George attacking the concept of biphobia, the response should be overwhelming the same, #GOODBI.
A bi advocate asked me recently, “you know, you can love your abuser from afar, right?” and I shuddered to think that in the bisexual quest to break into spaces that should represent us, we also willingly entered into institutions uniquely experienced in erasing, diminishing, or discriminating against us. Whether it’s been the curious tradition of calling bi women lesbians to increase funding for LGBT women, or the habit of calling bisexual men MSM instead of MSMW to increase funding for HIV prevention and treatment, for too long there has also been an unspoken financial interest on behalf of gay, lesbian, and transgender organizations in excluding bisexual organizations and our organizers from conversations where we might find funding, support, or common allies.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that if you break into one gay space, you’ll quickly find a false bottom leading to another gay space no one in the bisexual leadership community was ever aware existed. Meanwhile bisexual employees seem to be hired by LGBT organizations in part because their bisexual identity protects their organization from allegations of bisexual exclusion, no matter how many internal documents I am provided indicating their direct involvement in erasing bisexual communities.
In a few cases, the actual budgets of LGBT organizations are directed by closeted bisexuals who keep confidential their bisexuality in hopes of doing more for the B in LGBT as an “invisible bisexual” than as a proudly out one. These “invisible bisexuals” do more for the B in LGBT than we'll ever know, with many of them passing from our world without ever having their contributions recognized.
Every time you see the word “LGBT” instead of “lesbian, gay, and transgender,” there was most likely a bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer (bi+) staffer that helped make it so. I salute their efforts and say to those bisexual staffers, I see you. I also say to them, see yourself. To publicly deny the basics of how you were born bisexual, for the sole effort helping “both sides,” is to deny what makes us uniquely our own. It’s another form of intraviolence, one we visit upon ourselves, to deny our own history of “bisexual intersectionality” at the behest of gay, lesbian, and monosexual transgender leaders in our community, even if it’s a violence we are used to.
You do not need to be a “binary based bisexual,” or solely identify as bi, but if you cannot stand with us in pride, at least know why. Know that I believe biphobia is a killer, because I know the closet to be a killer that almost claimed me. I, Faith Cheltenham, say to you bisexuals who remain unknown: come fully out to those you trust and those who love you, and at least to them, be your full self and your whole self. Take a step, just one step, towards your own good ending before you’re one of our statistics, because minority stress doesn’t rest.
Every time you see the words “gay and transgender,” “queer and transgender,” or “gay, lesbian, and transgender,” there was most likely the silencing of a bisexual staffer (or the firing) that made it so. In other cases, you will find a bisexually behaving person who co-signs their own erasure while benefitting in the process, and again and again, the story is the same, many folks stand to make money off bi pain. While also denying our claims to those high suicide rates, our high levels of poverty, our bisexual likelihood to identify as women of color like myself or BiNet USA co-founder Lani Ka’ahumanu, or anything about the actual reality of bisexual lives. And what a blow that is; when the shortlist for best bisexual icon is a tie between Billie Holliday, Freddie Mercury, and David Bowie, and that's just in bisexual musicians, never mind every other categorization, achievement, or mark we have made on the world for seeing things as different as with one eye black and the other blue.
Every time you see the words “bisexual pride,” “bisexual community,” “bisexual erasure,” “monosexism,” “ABB,” “GGGG,” “non-monosexual,” “gender binary,” or “genderism,” recognize the next level shit that bisexual thinkers are constantly up to while you’re not looking but you always end up appreciating anyways, whether it’s the way bisexuals pray, YouTube, or Slutwalk (Amber Rose, have you SEEN R.J. Aguiar? Get it right honey, get it right!)
Photo Caption: Image of RJ Aguiar, a bi Latino advocate, writer, and popular YouTube personality licking a rainbow lollipop and looking into the camera with a bit of scruff and an interesting technical t-shirt on. Image has written across it “RJ Aguiar is probably the hottest man I’ve ever set eyes on” and was found online.
And, every time you see the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “transgender,” “intersex,” or “asexual,” know that there is a bisexual in there someplace too. Whether it was the earliest adoption of the term “queer” back when the NY Times reported more in-depth on such bisexual things, a bisexual student like Sara Beth Brooks founding Asexual Awareness Week, an intersex icon like GG Raven Wilbur helping to create bisexual pride day itself, “lesbian” being appropriated to mean exclusive same-sex behavior, when Sappho, the poet who lived and wrote on the isle of Lesbos thousands of years ago was actually bisexual, or any number of erasures in between.
Take my class with Writing the Other on creating bisexual characters and I’ll teach you more about bi+ culture. Otherwise, follow me at facebook.com/thefayth or twitter.com/thefayth because I recently decided to follow my own advice and say #GoodBi to bi advocacy and LGBT advocacy. In the immortal words of Dave Chappelle via Guillermo Diaz, I’m out.
After serving as a volunteer, non-salaried President of BiNet USA for over 6 years, on January 17th, 2017, I resigned from the presidency of BiNet USA to help make way for a new generation of bi fighters. As I told the board in my resignation,
Personally, I would like to focus 2017 on being completely behind the scenes of BiNet USA and generally refocused publicly on my own personal media, whether it be comedy, writing, books, tv, film, or songwriting. I’d like to think of myself remaining completely available to the board, including incoming board members, but not as available to the direct service, support and connective tissue of BiNet USA and the bisexual community. Still a big part of the family tho!
“Ooh Child, Ooh Child (Things are Gonna Get Easier)” by The Five Stairsteps
As The Five Stairsteps sang “someday, we will get it all done.” For now, I tip my tea to you and will watch the BiNet USA blog for the announcement of the next BiNet USA President and an updated board of directors (with several hundred years of collective bisexual experience). I look forward to remaining part of the BiNet USA family and a proud member of Team Bi, exploring new territory, or even familiar ones in new ways (perhaps helping to launch a digitally based national conference for bisexual organizers?).
I am overjoyed with #bipride in our community, and have found my life immensely blessed by the brilliance and beauty of our deeply diverse bisexual+ community. I cannot wait for what the future holds.
BiNet USA President 2010-2017
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