Why the ‘b’ is in there
BiCon 2010 organiser Marcus Morgan was a guest speaker at the Unison LGBT Conference in November. Here is what he had to say to them…
Biphobia? What’s in it for me?
As one of the motions conference is considering this weekend notes; bisexuals don’t stand out in organisations, we work in them but either pass unnoticed as straight or join lgbt groups and pass unnoticed as assumed homosexuals.
We’re told that studies prove we don’t exist. We’re told that this month’s gay identifier shows what switch makes a person gay or straight, with no scope for a spectrum. We’re told we’re traitors for sleeping with the opposite sex by our gay brothers and sisters. We’re told we’re a high risk group, bringing AIDS into the straight community, as if sexual desire alone was the vector.
Now, I could tell you why we don’t like it when people pick on us and call us names. I could tell you why we don’t step up and proudly declaim our sexuality, instead preferring to continue unseen. I could give you stories of hateful things I’ve had said to me by straight people I thought were my friends, and equally vicious things said to me by gay men who I thought wouldn’t be bigoted. I could tell you that UNISON LGBT committee should advertise in Bi Community News, or could sponsor regional delegates to go to BiCon.
But I don’t think you need to be told “Group X says, please, be nice to group X”. You’ve heard it all before, from us, from others. And truth be told, you’ve listened – UNISON is good at listening, and has taken on board a bisexual caucus about which I’ve heard great things – in the very first issue of your newsletter I picked up today they’ve got an article in about bisexual myths.
But I think you do need to understand the “or else.” It’s something a lot of people don’t realise.
Biphobia is an attack on the breadth of the queer identity. We didn’t like the place society had for us, so we stood up, were counted and now narrow definitions are being used to keep us in our new place. We’re colourful, we’re flamboyant. We’re gay best friends and we’re sweet elderly couples who finally get commitment ceremonies after living through persecutions. We’re punks and rock stars and actresses.
And when a politician has a same-sex affair, it’s always described as a “gay fling”. He’s not bisexual – he’s a closeted gay man who has struggled with the truth. He’s oddly noble. His wife is standing by him.
And when someone does use the word ‘bisexual’, it seems to be stuck down with the lightest glue. The actress who claims to be bisexual. The footballer who flirts with metrosexuality. Alleged. Says that she is. Has described himself as.
Any minute now they’ll be either gay or straight again, in the eyes of the press. And suddenly the gay community is that bit clearer, easier to get a handle on again.
And this is the cost of biphobia – it makes it hard to spot bisexuals, it makes it hard to imagine alternatives, it makes it harder for people to come out as bisexual. The bisexual closet door faces uphill.
At my workplace there’s several thousand employees. And therefore, I’d estimate, several hundred queer ones. I’ve been there ten years, give or take, in a range of departments. I can name, hmmm, two out gay people I’ve met.
If you’re wondering where all the lgbt staff are in your organisations, why you can’t muster enough support to get issues taken seriously, I can tell you.
They aren’t cowards – but they don’t see why they have to be frontline examples of their sexuality in order to simply earn a wage. I’ve done it – I spent three years being the novelty employee after I came out at a previous workplace. It’s not the hatred that wears you down – it’s the perverse fascination and backward pride. “We’re awfully tolerant, doncha know – we’ve got one of them in our department.”
But when activists purely visualise their constituency as the people they can spot as gay from 100 yards they’re selling themselves short. They exclude people outside their own stereotypes and mislabelling those within.
We’re not hiding. We’re just standing to the side. BiPhobia is blinkers. It narrows your view.
Biphobia is the assumption that bisexuality doesn’t exist, and that gay and straight are discrete and separate. We might have it rough, say either, but at least we’re not them! Biphobia is an attack on the idea of a fluid sexuality, either that can change at any time just as Transphobia is an attack on the idea of a fluid gender.
Er, my next speech note says “Biphobia says that sexuality is a trumpet, not a trombone”. Not sure what that was meant to mean. *mimes trombone and shrugs*
Hmmm, well okay – look at this way – homophobia says there is one valid sexuality, biphobia says there’s only two. And that leads people into a trap, saying “sexuality isn’t just a matter of black and white, there’s a whole spectrum in between.” There isn’t a whole spectrum in between black and white – there’s grey. Grey is dull. Grey Areas are morally suspect.
Think of it this way: Sexuality isn’t just a matter of red and blue. Between red and blue is purple, sure, but if you go round the other way there’s orange, yellow and green between them too. That’s a spectrum.
But I think most of all, biphobia is an attack on lesbians and gay men – it says you are not as numerous as you think, the figures lie because not all the people who have same sex attraction are clear-cut self-identified homosexual. And as there’s no other option – you are alone.
Well, You are not alone.
We’ve been there all along, working in the gay organisations fighting against HIV fear, for equal rights, for marriages, for pensions, against homophobia, fighting for tolerance and respect.
These are not your fights that we’re helping out with. These are our fights together. And now it’s time for us to jointly stand up and recognise the breadth of our community, so that one day people won’t feel like they’re admitting a shameful secret when they tell you that they were bisexuals all along.
Homophobia isn’t dead. In the US the votes have been cast on proposition 8 in California. Homophobia has been greatly assisted in this by Biphobia – everywhere in the US it’s denounced as “gay marriage” and the pundits all know what gays look like. But same-sex marriage? For people who just happen to be, maybe not solely, attracted to the same-sex?
Homophobia and Biphobia at work. Gays are flamboyant, colourful, funny – so if they get married it’s a pastiche, a mockery, a sham. And that’s the only people who’d want it, and they’re easy to hate, in some minds.
Ladies and Gentlemen, and others, I truly believe that if we want to smash Homophobia we need to make people realise the breadth of the community. The law that oppresses the pissed-off woman on the telly also oppresses the shopkeeper next door to their gran. We need to tackle Biphobia because it’s one of the central planks of Homophobia – queers can be marginalised because we all exist on the margins.
Keep a broad your view of the community you serve, and you will continue to better serve that community. By fighting biphobia you are fighting for all.
This article originally appeared in BCN magazine issue 95, April 2009.