By Gina Siesing and her friend Jenn
I was in Northampton, in the campus center at Smith College, hanging out with a good friend from the martial arts world and talking in a far-ranging way about feminist and queer politics, organizations we’ve known and loved, personal growth journeys, etc. It was a rich, heart-warming, though-provoking conversation. At some point, Jenn pointed out that, once we feel empowered with the knowledge we can and will take care of ourselves, it’s our responsibility to stand up for others also. I agreed and mentioned that I occasionally have opportunities to speak up when people say ignorantly bi-phobic things, assuming or not caring that people in hearing range may identify as bi and/or care about bi people. These moments always pain me because the people I most often hear uttering bi-phobic jokes or comments purport to be feminist, queer, and politically aware. Yet they somehow consider maligning another group of people acceptable. It’s always shocking.
Jenn bravely admitted that she “still has trouble with this one,” meaning that she’s not comfortable with bisexuality. What a great opportunity! Here we had been agreeing about the wonderful inclusiveness of “queer” and “dyke” as labels for ourselves and our communities, and we’d been talking about the interconnectedness of various forms of oppressions, and yet! Jenn revealed a not-uncommon belief born of a particular experience and a particular interpretation of that experience: she had once dated a women who left her for a man in a painful way; she concluded from that experience that “bisexual” women were not to be trusted because they might hurt her in this way. And of course large portions of our culture, hetero and queer, reinforced this belief over the years.
Because I love my friend Jenn and know she’s a right-on woman, it was relatively simple to challenge her, to encourage her to acknowledge that a) people who identify under any label can be faithless or faithful, dishonest or honest, messy in their relationships or skillful and forthright; b) self-identified bisexuals are one of the original and most fabulous groups to refuse rigid boxes, “queers” par excellence, and in my experience one of the most likely communities of people to reflect deeply on personal journeys, to value integrity and clear communication, and to question inherited cultural beliefs and prejudices; and c) it just ain’t right to harbor prejudice against a group of people. I told her about the long history of the Boston Bi Women’s community, which impressed her since she has a deep appreciation for women’s history and community. I recommended the Bi Women newsletter and some books on bisexuality as a way to move through old beliefs and into a happier place, and Jenn was very open to getting past her “trouble with this one.”
I think of myself as an “internal ally” because I have identified as bi in my life and because I think we’re all potential allies for each other: it hurts me at least as much as it hurts my bi lover or friend when someone expresses biphobia in my presence. It especially hurts if I don’t find a creative or courageous way to speak up or to acknowledge the biphobia explicitly with the people I’m with. Every one of these moments is an opportunity for taking back our integrity and for healing ridiculous, but persistent, prejudices. Here’s to alliance, to finding our voices, and to a world of respect for the diverse and evolving humans we are. [I shared my reflections above with Jenn, and Jenn sent her wonderful reflections below back to me. We agreed to shape a shared piece for Bi Women….]
I have been thinking more about my “biphobia” and why it seems to be a difficult one to get over…, and I think, somewhere in there…, there is something to do with privilege, heteronormative privilege, the ability to walk in and out of that privilege. I have more sympathy/ understanding/admiration for those of our trans brothers and sisters who openly embrace that “trans” “label”: not one or the other, but something new and different that doesn’t fit into our binary gendered society. I have the same disdain for lesbian women whom I see “assimilating” to heteronormative standards. I think I am a counter-culture elitist!
As we discovered when we began talking more about your experiences with bi-folk, you have encountered people who are challenging that heteronormative view of the world, who are saying, “Hey, don’t make any assumptions about me; I may be a woman with a man right now, but I am not ‘straight.’” My experience with said girl who done me wrong and the bi-girls I met at Smith had been more, “After a few drinks I’ll fool around with a girl, but in the public eye I want to be on the arm of a guy, with all the privilege that goes with it in our society.”
I am excited to experience more of the politically minded bisexual community you’ve been a part of! Thank you for challenging me!