Within the umbrella “LGBT” community, it’s usually the Bs that get overlooked. I must admit, as a gold star lesbian, I don’t really understand the political agenda of bisexuals. I have plenty of friends, including one of my bestest friends (heyyyy T!), who identify as bi, but I honestly have yet to receive an articulate or persuasive definition of not the term but the political identity and agenda, especially the agenda in relation to the LGBT movement. I know this sounds ridiculous; it will sound even more ridiculous when I tell you that my mentor and boss for half a decade was Marjorie Garber, who penned the seminal tome Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (1995).
In this text Garber works toward an understanding of bisexuality as, essentially, sexuality, while at the same time dismantling notions of bisexuality as “sequential” and “situational”:
Garber’s focus, as she is a literary scholar, is on the concept, the language, of bisexuality, rather than its politics. For me, I very much do understand bisexuality as sexuality—that humans, as animals, are innately sexual creatures who have the potential to cachet or attach to any entity. In my estimation, we consciously delimit the range of potential via our experiences (which we bill as our “preferences”) and unconsciously delimit it via factors like our environment.
In terms of politics, however, I get confused, and, admittedly, sometimes frustrated when I perceive individuals “cherry-picking” privileges. And I do think cherry-picking privileges is a very real possibility when it comes to sexuality, which is illegible, or not readable, on a person’s body. Because sexuality is not readable, people (like myself included) spout accusations along the lines of what Garber terms as “sequential” and “situational” bisexuality. I will flat-out admit that I get bound up in the notion of bisexuality as sequential, especially when the situation involves white men—the raging lesbian feminist in me gets, well, angry, when a white man, who, let’s say, is hetero-married and has babies appropriates a marginal political identity like bisexuality. I’m certainly not saying this anger is justified or, really, even necessary… Why do I care how people identify? I am mentioning this emotion because I want to bring into discussion the very real tensions between Ls and Bs—a discussion which I hope you readers contribute to below in conscious and respectful ways. I realize I seem like an ass for revealing this emotion, but it’s critical that we move past the barriers of political correctness in order to talk about uncomfortable things so that we can move forward together.
In order to free myself from my confused understanding of bisexuality and its political agenda, I talked with Faith Cheltenham, bi activist and newly-minted AfterEllen contributor, who offered me some clarity about issues regarding bisexuality and its politics.
MB: Hi Faith! Before we dive into politics and my tendency towards abstract thinking, I want to ask you to introduce yourself, your identity, your intersections, etc. Pour some intersectionality on me!
MB: How would you relate your personal experience with bisexuality to the general notion of it? Or, perhaps I should rephrase this: if sexuality exists on a spectrum, how do you live or perceive your sexuality in relation to bisexuality?
MB: So, can you define bisexuality for me? How does it differ from sexuality—as in the notion that all humans are sexual and can desire anything?
MB: I think one linguistic problem for me is the term itself; in a weird way it needs to rely on fixed terms of heterosexual and homosexual in order to exist, no?
MB: Correlatively “bisexuality,” as it applies to an attraction to a range of genders, seems again to fix what hetero- and homo-sexuality looks like in terms of gender. I think what I mean is that the female sex encompasses a range of gender expressions (which we know as the butch- femme spectrum), but just because I like a range of female sexed genders doesn’t mean that I’m bi — am I making sense?! Please clarify!
FC: I often tell folks that being bi is as different from being gay as being straight is. That is to say, a bi person is not part gay or part straight, they’re all bi. Trying to understand bisexuality within the framework of straight or gay is just plain confusing, so you might find it easier to understand bisexuality in relation to you. As a lesbian you’re attracted to a range of female sexed genders and a gay man might say he’s attracted to a range of male sexed genders. A bisexual is more likely to be attracted to a range of all genders. It’s worth noting that misnomers are a-plenty when it comes to identifications, whether it’s “black” to mean skin tone instead of a color or “gay” to indicate same-sex attraction instead of merriment. Krishnamurti also said, “Truth is a pathless land” so why should sexuality labels end up more static than the folks they apply to?
MB: I want to now discuss bisexuality in terms of politics. I will shame-facedly admit that I don’t understand what bisexuals want (OMG—this could be the title of a new Mel Gibson flick!) What are the politics, or the political objectives, of the Bs within the LGBT movement? How, for instance, are the health care needs of bisexuals specifically different from the Ls and Gs?
Bisexuals need workplace harassment policies that include examples of anti-bi comments, bi specific resources developed for police and safety officers that highlight our increased risk of sexual violence, domestic partner benefits for different sex partners so we’re not channeled into “straight” relationships, federal tracking of the bi suicides wracking our country, and more bi specific data collection so advocates, allies and health professionals know how to better help save our lives.
MB: How would you differentiate the political needs and aims of bisexuals differently from other sexualities, specifically lesbians and gay men?
MB: What is monosexual privilege? How does the assertion of “cherry-picking” privilege point to a person’s monosexual privilege?
Whew! So monosexual privilege isn’t something bisexuals should blame on gay and lesbians, but like sexism, racism, or classism we have a responsibility to recognize its existence. We must all do our part to chip away at any monolithic structures that aren’t free and just for everyone. Bi identified people aren’t heterosexual but if we are perceived as heterosexual, many of us will experience greater levels of minority stress. Indeed these higher levels of minority stress correlate with higher levels of depression and anxiety than gay and lesbians. “Golly, how hard that must be!” some lesbian and gay folks sarcastically tell me which makes me think they’re modeling back to me their own internal homophobia when dialoging about bisexuality. If I have “a choice to pack away my rainbow flags, erase my queerness and fit right in, why don’t I?” That line of thinking would suggest there’s nothing wonderful about being queer, and I disagree. LGBTQ people have the opportunity to help our whole world redefine what love really means and looks like. Bisexuals have our place in this narrative and it just might be to remind us all that the path to truth is individual, unique, and beautiful; with the potential to be anything we want.
MB: Any final points or thoughts that you want to address specifically to AfterEllen’s lesbian audience? Any points or thoughts to its broader LBT audience?