Boundaries, thresholds and love: why it’s time to take back ‘bi’

In what we call the bi+ or nonmonosexual communities, we have a problem with words. We have so many words to describe ourselves, not one of which keeps us all happy. We in-fight, we argue, and when we do, the word that takes the worst of the damage? Is ‘bisexual’.

I want to argue for ‘bisexual’. I want to say that bisexuality is nothing to do with men and women, nothing to do with binary gender or any of the accusations levelled against it. I want to say that it is, in fact, the single word that best describes the particularities of our experiences, and that has the potential to be incredibly politically powerful if we allow it to be. I want to argue that when we talk about nonmonosexuality, the most important thing isn’t the precise genders or gender presentations of the people we fancy. While that is really interesting to us all on personal levels, when it comes to representation and activism, it shouldn’t be our main focus. Instead, our focus should be on the ways in which society- including us, because we are part of society- behaves towards those of us who are attracted to and/or have (had) relationships with people of more than one gender.

This isn’t about relationships. It’s not about the people who you or I do or don’t fancy. It’s not about the precise nature of any of our own sexual/romantic orientations. It’s not about who you or I love, or about what that love feels like- although those are immensely valuable conversations to have within our communities, and I hope we keep having them for a long, long time.

This is about political reasons to use, or not to use, particular words. Continue reading “Boundaries, thresholds and love: why it’s time to take back ‘bi’”

Boundaries, thresholds and love: why it’s time to take back ‘bi’
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When My Nan Died: Religion, Closets and Love.

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My nan died three years ago this week.

I hesitate to describe any one moment as the worst. Grief is always different, and to say this one is the worst feels like a denial of all the rest of it. Like it implies that I loved the others less.

When my gran- my maternal grandmother- died, the loss was profound but we knew it was going to happen. Dementia is almost incomprehensibly cruel, but the one thing it does give you is a long time to say goodbye. A decade of being present as this woman I loved changed into someone I loved no less fiercely, but differently, time and again. And a few days I’ll be grateful for forever, when we knew this was the end, we gathered together, sat vigil by her side and said goodbye over and over. And when she was gone we all piled onto her bed and hugged her goodbye and talked for hours and slept and ate apple cake and made horrible jokes. And she stayed in her front room for the rest of the week while hundreds of people came to say goodbye. We ate more apple cake and my cousin said a mass in the kitchen and the Catholics passed around communion wine while the assorted nonbelievers sat on the floor behind the counter drinking Coronas.

It hurt like hell when my gran died. But these things helped. Continue reading “When My Nan Died: Religion, Closets and Love.”

When My Nan Died: Religion, Closets and Love.

Why Don’t The Bi People Just Come Out Already? An Open Letter To Dan Savage.

Dear Dan Savage,

It pains me to say this. I like you. I don’t think you’re perfect, or have any obligation to be. I don’t think you have a responsibility to be an official representative of everyone with a smidge of queerness in the world. I don’t agree with everything you say- not a bit!- but overall you seem like a decent enough sort. That, and you’re clever, funny, and I think that, overall, you do a lot of good. Also, your podcast keeps me entertained long enough to get a bunch of housework done every week. Me and my laundry say thanks for that, by the way.

It pains me to say it, of course, because as someone with a tendency to run his mouth on things (something I can well identify with), when you get things wrong it can be.. shall we say spectacular? But I appreciate that you don’t silence dissent, that you acknowledge that you piss people off, and that most weeks you even run some of those pissed-off voices on your show. Good job with that, by the way.

Dan, if you’re reading this? I’ve got a bone to pick with you today. This is where I’ll become one of those hordes of angry bisexuals that you keep hearing from. I’d appreciate if you hear me out, though, before dismissing me as just another carrier of the Angry Bisexualist Gene. I mean, after all the time I’ve spent hearing you out, it’s the least you can do. Also? Dude, you know how many SuperQueer™ Points I’ve just lost by admitting that I have your podcast queued up on my iTunes. And that I still use iTunes (I’m lazy, okay?). I’ll never hear the end of this one.

The other week, you were talking about bisexuality. As you do. By the way? Thanks for changing your mind on the whole business of the existence of male bisexuality. And thanks for having bi people of all sorts of genders on the show- both to talk about bi things and to discuss entirely different topics. Huzzah for being fully-rounded people who aren’t just showing up as tokens to talk about one small aspect of ourselves!

But while we do exist now, however, it seems that we- The Bisexuals- are still letting the side down. One of the arguments that you’ve been making lately is based on quoting stats that indicate that bi people are significantly less likely than lesbian or gay people to be fully out. I’m not sure what the exact numbers are (or where you got them), but I gather that it’s something along the lines of 4/5 of L and G people being out, as opposed to only 1/5 of the Bs.

According to you, this means that bi people have an increased responsibility, as a group and as individuals, to come out already. Lesbian and gay people are out, so why not us? If LG people can, as you would say, pussy up and deal with the consequences of coming out, then bi people need to get off our collective asses and do the same thing. I’ve heard you (briefly) acknowledge that bi people can be on the receiving end of hassle from LG as well as straight people. But the solution is the same- bi people need to come out, so that our voices can be heard and we can be represented.

Here’s where things get complicated. I don’t deny that coming out is one of the most powerful tools we have. I’ve been openly bi for almost half my life (a terrifying thought). I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I wasn’t out- I’d be missing many of the people I call family, I wouldn’t have had the chance to learn half as much as I have, and I wouldn’t have been able to do my bit for The Cause. That, and I’m quite frankly useless at lying, so I doubt I’d have managed to be closeted very long.

I also think that, when it comes to being out, bi people are in a unique position to challenge the idea that there’s anything even faintly superior about heterosexuality. If I fall in love with a woman, it’s not because of any lack of socially-more-acceptable options. It’s not that I can’t help it. It’s that love (and sex, and relationships, and all of it) is awesome, regardless of the gender(s) of the people involved. None of this “we can’t help it” crap. I could help it if I wanted to, and I wouldn’t change what I am for the world. I bet we can agree that that’s pretty damn powerful.

So yes. On one level, we do need more bi people to come out already. We need more queer people of all kinds to come out already.

Where you and I disagree is on how to make that happen.

Here’s the thing. When you say that bi people need to come out already, it feels like that statement comes with an underlying assumption that we’re some kind of monolith. Like we’re a united group of people who have made the decision to hide 4/5 of our orientations from the wider world.

Dan, you know better than that. You’ve said yourself that one of the things you appreciate so much about the LGBTQ community these days is how much we disagree with each other. We’re a big, diverse group of people from every background in the world with feck-all in common aside from a shared exclusion, and the more successful we are in fighting that the less we’ll feel like we need to put forward a united front.

Y’know what’s telling, though? That in one group within our umbrella, being out is no longer the preserve of hardheaded loudmouths like you and me with more stubbornness than sense. But in another? It seems like the vast majority of people simply aren’t taking that step.

You could say that that’s because us Bs prefer to retreat into comfortable assumed heterosexuality. I think that that’s a lazy answer, though. It’s based on a few stereotypes about bi people that, in all honesty, bug the hell out of me- the idea that bi people somehow choose who we love, and the idea that we’re duplicitous, dishonest people.

Dan, you’ve fallen in love. You even went and married someone you were in love with. And you listen to phone calls and read letters every day (or however often you do that- I ain’t policing your schedule) from people who do profoundly stupid-ass things for love. Or lust. Or infatuation. Do you really think that 4/5 of bi people are simply immune to the universal human tendency to be blithering idiots when we’re head over heels? Come on. Bi people are the same as anyone else. We fall in love, lust and infatuation with people, and we have precisely the same ability (or likelihood) as anyone else to deny or suppress that.

Instead of making this all about bi people, let’s see if there isn’t somewhere else we can go to see why bi people are a hell of a lot less likely than their lesbian and gay counterparts to be out.

There are more L&G people out these days than even a short few years ago. Is that because the gay and lesbian Borg decided collectively to come out? Or is it because many thousands of people worked their butts off to make spaces for them to come out to? We’ve been reaching out for years, building communities, creating visibility, letting people know that they’re not alone and that there are people who will love and appreciate them for who they are, and give them the support they need if they do end up turfed out of their homes, families and communities. Things aren’t perfect yet, but for many they’re a lot better than they were. Not because queer people are intrinsically stronger, as individuals, than we used to be. Because some of us were able to help make things just a little better for some of the rest of us, and we kept chipping away, bit by bit.

Come Out To Where?

Dan, when you talk to queer kids from crappy homophobic communities, there’s a thing that you always tell them to do: work your ass off to get out of there. Get thee to a college or a big city where you can find a community of people who’ll love and support you as you are. Make your own damn family. Because you know as well as I do that coming out isn’t something that can happen on its own. We need somewhere- some community, some people who love us- to come out into, especially if we are to stay out.

There’s a piece of research just out that’s important here, on attitudes to bisexuality among people of different orientations. Here’s some key quotes- emphasis is mine.:

[R]espondents were generally negative in terms of their attitudes toward bisexual men and women, with almost 15 percent of the sample in disagreement that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation… Of note, respondents who identified as gay or lesbian responded significantly less positively toward bisexuality than those identifying as bisexual, indicating that even within the sexual minority community, bisexuals face profound stigma. In addition, these findings indicate that male bisexuals likely suffer more stigma than female bisexuals.

Dr. Friedman explains that when a bisexual person perceives that his or her sexual orientation is not recognized by peers, it can cause the person to feel socially isolated and unable to talk openly with friends, family and school mates.

“Having hard data to back up why a bisexual person might feel the need to be secretive about sexual orientation, something that can lead to higher depression and many other negative health outcomes, is very useful to people trying to fight stigma and marginalization,” said Dr. Friedman.

And that’s not all. This factsheet from Rainbow Health Ontario has links to oodles of studies from the US and Canada showing that, while L&G people have worse mental health and are more likely to be victims of abuse then their straight counterparts, bi people fare even worse than L&G folks. And when it comes to what our communities could do about that? I’ll let them tell you- again, emphases are mine:

Research on LGBT populations has found that a sense of community belonging can
buffer the effects of minority stress… Due to biphobia and monosexism, bisexuals
may lack access to community support. Research in both Canada and the US has
found that bisexuals feel marginalized by heterosexual, lesbian, and gay
communities. Bisexual-specific support, which has been found to reduce the effects
of biphobia, is particularly lacking.

Owch.

And there, you see, is the problem. It’s one thing to tell people that they should, if it’s at all feasible, come out. It’s another thing entirely to do that when research shows clearly that the very communities that give lesbian and gay people a place to come out to and the support they need? Not only don’t do that for bi people- but can actively marginalise them. Speaking as someone who has been openly bi for half my life, and who has been facilitating bi safer spaces for several years now? The story I hear time and again- one of the many stories that breaks my heart every time I hear it, over and over again- is from people who, despite being part of queer communities, never had a space where they felt safe being themselves.

You could say that bi people should “just” go make our own communities. I’m sure you see as well why a minority within a minority reinventing the wheel feels a little.. Well, it feels a little People’s Front of Judea to me, if you know what I mean. There’s already a B in LGBT (and a T as well, but that’s a whole other conversation for a whole other day). And you know as well as I do that the lines between LG and B are not always clear-cut, often blurry, and occasionally subject to change without notice. Given that we live in a world that’s often hostile to all of us queers, the least that we can do is be a little kind to each other.

So yes, encourage bi people to come out. Let’s all do that! And in the meantime, let’s make sure that when bi people do come out, that our communities- which were built by bi (and trans) people as much as by lesbians and gay men- provide more than a literally half-hearted welcome to them.

And while we’re at it? When bi people come out, we need to believe them.

I know you are, but what are you really?

I know what you’re going to say. I’ve heard it many times before. You’re going to say that of course you accept that bi people exist. But that if someone comes out as bi at a younger age, there’s no way to know that they won’t be one of the many people who use the identity as a transitional one, and will come out as gay eventually.

On one level, you’re right. There’s no way to know that.

There’s also no way to know that the teenager coming out as gay won’t amend that to bi a few months or years down the line. Maybe that seems less common from a gay perspective, but as someone who spends a lot of time talking to bi people about their stories? It’s very common. And people do it for exactly the same reasons that people that they transition through a bi identity to gay- because they’re still working things out for themselves. Or because they feel like it’s a safer space to be. Or because for a while it seemed like the truth.

For me- because for a little while, I was one of those people- it felt like all of those reasons and more. I was a scared, confused kid (who isn’t?) who dearly wanted to feel secure about something (who doesn’t?). I came out as bi, then started calling myself gay. After a while, I realised that wasn’t right, returned to bi, and have been there (with a side order of queer) ever since. I could talk about my reasons and how it felt all day, but for the moment let’s just stick with this: I, and many bi people I know, stopped over in gayville on our ways to our identities. And before you ask, I’m talking about people of all sorts of genders here, not just women.

Like I said, though, that’s a topic that could go on all day, so let’s go back to the big topic: getting the bi people out already.

One of the profoundly annoying things about being out as a bi person, you see, is the way you keep on having to defend yourself. And not just in the ordinary way that all of us queer folks have to defend ourselves from the homophobes of the world who figure we’re all a bunch of filthy sinners (blah blah blah ad nauseum). As a bi person, you don’t just have to defend being queer and also a decent human being. You have to deal with the fact that, unless you give sufficient proof, nobody will believe you

Me, I have it easy. I can provide references for ex-partners of all sorts of genders who would be only too happy to verify that I did, in fact, fancy the pants off them. I also give talks, run workshops and write articles about bisexuality. Google my name, and it’s right there in the first couple of results. I still find it harder to be openly bi than openly queer. People stillwith the absolute best of intentions, assume I’m gay all the time. If I sometimes have a hard time being out, how much trickier must it be for people who don’t get to say things like “Sorry I can’t make it to [event], I’m just giving a talk on bi awareness this evening”?

This isn’t because anyone has something against bi people or is trying deliberately to erase us. It’s just that, in people’s minds, queer=gay and evidence to the contrary simply slides by. Remember last week, when Tom Daley and Maria Bello both came out as being in same-sex relationships? Remember how both of them mentioned things about different-sex attraction (crushes, partners), and both of them ended up reported as coming out as ‘gay’? If an article in the New York Times, or a YouTube video by an Olympic athlete, talking about fancying people of different genders isn’t enough for people to assume non-monsexuality, then what on Earth is?

Again, you don’t just have to believe me. A couple of Canadian researchers, Milaine Alarie & Stéphanie Gaudet, published a brilliant article this year. It’s called “I Don’t Know If She Is Bisexual or If She Just Wants to Get Attention”: Analyzing the Various Mechanisms Through Which Emerging Adults Invisibilize Bisexuality“. It’s worth reading the lot, but in short, there are four mechanisms they highlight: “(1) ignoring bisexuality, (2) depicting bisexuality as temporary, (3) making it almost impossible to be a ‘real’ bisexual, and (4) devaluing bisexuality”.

Dan, it’s not just that people aren’t taken seriously when they come out- which is, in itself, a major disincentive to going through the whole damn thing again and again. It’s that there are multiple ways in which coming out and being out is made more difficult for bi people than our lesbian and gay counterparts, how both the orientation itself and our right to it are questioned, and how even clear statements indicating attraction to multiple genders are sometimes ignored entirely.

Listen, you and me both agree that the world is a better place when people of all orientations (even straight people!) are able to be out and open about who they are and who they love and fancy. You’ve worked your ass off for decades making it easier for lesbian and gay people to take that step. All I’m really asking is that you understand that, just like for lesbian and gay folks, the reasons that bi people are able to come out are as much to do with everyone else- be they straight, gay, asexual, or even other bisexuals- as the person making that decision. All I’m asking is that, as well as encouraging bi people to come out already, you encourage gay people to lay off the biphobia in queer spaces, and everyone to quit questioning our right to exist.

It’s the least you can do.

Why Don’t The Bi People Just Come Out Already? An Open Letter To Dan Savage.

The Overwhelming Heteronormativity Of ‘Born This Way’

You’ve heard the phrase ‘born this way’. We all have. Even before Gaga turned it into an earworm that has been rattling around my brain for every single sentence of this post, it’s been a way that people explain queerness. And, for many of us, it’s something that makes sense in our own lives. We point to telltale signs in our childhoods that there was always something different about us. When people call us perverts and abominations, we respond by assuring them that no, this is who we are, and that this is how we were born.

I despise it. And I’d like to explain why. This is going to take a little work, though- we’ll be talking about heteronormativity, gender, and even the dreaded patriarchy along the way. So make yourself a nice big mug of something, because we’re going to start right at the heart of it all- wondering why on earth homophobes are.

Why on earth would anyone hate queer people?

It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here we all are, doing our thing in a world that has plenty real threats against us, and people pick who someone loves or what gender they are as reasons to despise them. On face value, it doesn’t make any sense. Queer people mainly go about our days like everyone else does, by-and-large minding our own business. Our existence doesn’t harm anyone. We don’t prevent anyone else from living their lives as they choose. Generally, we just want the same right to choose our own destinies and to have our families and identities respected the same way everyone else’s is.

On face value, it seems bizarre that that would be a big deal.

Why do people hate us so much, then? It’s easy to say “religion” or “ignorance”, but those answers don’t really tell us anything. While it’s true that some religions have taboos against entirely harmless things, it’s unusual to find something harmless that the majority will forbid. When you do, though? It’s often a sign that there is a threat lurking just below the surface. Something that is dangerous in ways that are not always obvious.

Reproductive rights aren’t dangerous unless you have a vested interest in controlling women. Diversity in gender and sexualities isn’t dangerous, either- unless, that is, you have a vested interest in maintaining a distinctly binary and patriarchal gender system. Which, if you’re given power by that system? You do.

We live in profoundly patriarchal (and kyriarchal) societies. It’s not just that men hold most positions of power and the vast majority of wealth in the world. It’s that the positions men tend to hold and the ways that men tend to do things are more valued themselves. And it is, of course, that we divide what people should do and how they should do it on binary gendered lines. Not necessarily on purpose, by the way. Patriarchy isn’t a shady cabal of men meeting in secret in darkened rooms to plot against equality. It doesn’t have to have leaders. It doesn’t even have to be something that people are obviously or consciously aware of. It’s just people doing what they do, groups working to their own advantage, and power entrenching itself in obvious and subtle ways over the decades.

Yes, by the way, I am going to get back to queer people. Trust me- it’s all connected, but for the moment we’ll have to talk a little more about gender.

Because the only way that this kind of large-scale social control and organisation can continue, of course, is if people buy into it. We need to feel like it’s a good thing. We need it to feel natural, like there’s an essential good to men doing one kind of work (largely paid and visible) and women doing other kinds of work, which are more likely to be unpaid and invisible. It has to satisfy us. We need to feel like we live in a world where this is not just inevitable, but preferable. Like it’s the only truly natural way to be. And if you’re a human, which I am almost certain that you are, then one of the ways you make sense of the world is through narrative. It’s through narrative that we create and pass on our ideas about what is good, what is bad, and what our happy ever after looks like.

When it comes to gender? We have narratives in spades. Think of family homes- warm, welcoming spaces filled with nurturing mothers, grannies and aunties. Think of good, decent men who work all day to provide for the families they love, before coming home to spend time with the kids they dote on. Think of the love they all have for each other and the ways they take care of each other.

I know you can, because we all can. We’ve all lived our lives in a world saturated with these stories. And stories.. stories get under your skin. Stories are how we make sense of the world.

Queerness as threat

These stories aren’t just about the family. They are situated in the family, but they’re about far bigger things. They’re about how we define ourselves as men and women, boys and girls. They’re tied both to aspects of our core identity, and to some of the largest-scale social divisions we have. Three and a half billion people on one side, three and a half billion on the other. And the thing that divides one 3.5 billion from the other? Is the same story that we tell them will keep them safe, loved and happy in their closest and most intimate relationships. It’s the story that we are all men or women, and that men and women are deeply, essentially distinct groups of people. It’s the story that, for all our differences, there is one thing that is an essential maleness, and another that is an essential femaleness, and that the complementarity between these differences is what brings us together.

In a world where the family- that space where we create our homes, our refuge from the world, where we love and nurture each other- is based on the idea that men and women are essentially different beings, queerness is scary. If two men, two women, or an entirely different configuration of people can come together and create a family? If little girls can grow up to be men, little boys to be women, and anyone to be neither men nor women? We are left without an anchor for some of our most treasured truths. We are left afraid in a world that makes even less sense than we thought it might.

People aren’t scared of queerness because there’s anything immediately wrong with one woman loving another, or with some people’s bodies being configured differently to others. They’re scared of queerness- and they lash out at us- because we challenge one of the biggest narratives our society has, one that stretches from large-scale division to the intimacy we share with people we love to our very sense of ourselves.

And for many of us? We are left without one of the few things that gives us some semblance (or a great deal) of power and authority.

By now, there’s likely no going back. Many of us queer people are no longer willing to hide. We have families and friends who love and support us. Our existence can’t be denied. The evidence that we are as capable as anyone of having meaningful lives and creating nurturing families continues to grow. To talk directly about how we challenge gendered narratives is to admit that those are stories that might themselves be challenged.

And so- without deliberate effort, but because it makes sense to us and helps us to feel safe- an overwhelming narrative arises. Instead of facing our stories head-on and challenging the truths they claim, we adapt them. Just a little bit, on the edges. We fit queerness into the cracks of our stories, moulding it to keep us feeling safe.

We say that we were born this way.

Born This Way as neutraliser

Before I go on, I want to make a point very clear. I am not stating for a second that everyone’s orientation or identity is chosen, malleable or fluid. From many LGBT people’s childhood stories to the overwhelming failure of ex-gay ‘therapy’ to do anything other than hurt the people it claims to help, it’s clear that sexuality is, for many people, something that revolves closely around a fixed point.

For others, though, it’s not. Sexual and gender expressions are gloriously diverse. Even if we’re born with particular inclinations, the choices that we make after those define us as much as that which we are born with. Additionally? Something that could be fixed for one person may be chosen for another.

I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning myself for a moment- I live in my own mind, so I can’t speak for anyone else. I grew up with the potential to be attracted to people of a variety of genders. I chose to come out, to pursue non-hetero relationships with the people I felt drawn to. I learned about different ways of doing relationships. Currently, I choose to pursue nonmonogamous relationships, if I pursue romantic relationships at all, because they fit well with the values I’ve developed, the way I prefer to build family and community- and, if I’m honest, because I happened to meet some wonderful poly people along the way.

I’m willing to bet that, whatever your own orientation and preferred relationship configuration(s), you have similar stories. You were born or grew up with a certain innate potential. Then you met some people, learned some things, discovered different ways of doing relationships, and made some choices about what kind of things suit you. Some of these things are dealbreakers. Some are open to negotiation. And there is, over the decades of your life, change between which category a particular thing fits into.

In short? We have potential. We make choices. We change. We grow. Many of us have the potential to be different to what we are- and maybe someday we will. Or we won’t. Life is complicated, and it sends us in unexpected directions sometimes.

The idea of ‘born this way’ ignores all of that. ‘Born this way’ introduces the idea that we have no choice in who we are, who we love, and what we do.

On one hand, it encourages a horrible narrative in supporting equality- the idea that we simply can’t help who we are. Who, it asks, would ever choose such a terrible fate as to be queer? If we could be cishet we would, right? ‘Born this way’ doesn’t challenge heteronormative ideals of the superiority of particular relationship forms. It doesn’t celebrate anything about queerness- not the relationships we have, the cultures and families we create, and the things we have to teach cishet society. Instead, it asks for ‘normal’ people’s pity. Don’t be mean to us. We can’t help it. We were born this way.

That’s not the only way, though, in which the ‘born this way’ narrative- and it is a narrative, which emphasises certain aspects of queer experience while ignoring and erasing others- bolsters heteronormativity. You see, ‘born this way’ also reinforces the separation between straightness and queerness. If we are ‘born this way’, than, by extension, straight people are not. If we are born this way, then we are, and are destined to always remain, different from the norm. An exception, distinctly separate from the rule, made so by an accident of birth. If we are born this way, we pose no threat or challenge to gender norms or heteronormativity- we’re nothing more than abberations. A minority who will always stay that way, and always be slightly apart.

The Overwhelming Heteronormativity Of ‘Born This Way’

Why You Need To Quit Calling Homophobes Closet Cases.

A comment over at The Journal:

Homophobia is often a symptom of latent homosexuality. Homophobes need to be encouraged to accept their orientation.

I quote it because it’s so common. We hear this all the time. Someone expresses wildly homophobic views, and the response is that they must be closeted themselves. They’ve got some issues to deal with, amirite? Some personal stuff they need to work out. Wink. Nudge. Know what I mean?

Yeah. I know what you mean.

Sometimes you’re right. Lots of people do respond to internal conflicts by acting out. Loads of vehemently homophobic people are closeted. But I’ve got a few issues with ‘homophobes are all queers’ being our go-to explanation.

It’s homophobic.

You’re a straight ally or a happy out queer. You don’t go around using homophobic slurs- except maybe with your BFFs in private, because that’s different. Until, that is, someone starts loudly proclaiming that queers are evil sodomites who’re bound to hell and should be kept far, far away from children. Against them, all bets are off, and you just know that the best way to get under their skin is to call them the thing that they hate the most. And y’know what?  I’ll bet you also do it because it’s fun. We don’t get many chances to make gleeful insinuations about someone’s orientation. That’s normally considered impolite, isn’t it? But when it comes to loud homophobes, we can gleefully let out our gossipy sides and speculate to our heart’s content.

It’s a pity that by doing that, we’re throwing queers under the bus. We’re perpetuating the idea that there’s something salacious about queerness. That it’s okay- even in very particular circumstances- to mock someone’s internal struggles with a homophobic society.

Closet cases’ orientations shouldn’t matter. You advocate homophobia? I’ll come down like a ton of bricks on your views. What goes on inside your head is irrelevant to me, in all but one instance.

You see, to be honest, homophobic closet cases are one of the few kinds of homophobes I’d have genuine sympathy for. I get that coming out is terrifying. I get that internalised homophobia can mess you up. Those things damage us all, and closeted homophobes have been damaged even more than most of them. I oppose their views utterly- and at the same time I wish them the best and hope that they’ll learn to accept and love who they are. But I know that’s one hell of a tough road.

Which brings me to straight people.

Straight people are off the hook.

A hell of a lot of the speculation about loud homophobes’ orientations seems to come, not from queers, but from straight people. The straight people who we know and love, who call themselves allies and love us right back. Lots of the time, it comes from straight folks who walk the ally walk as well as talking the talk- the people who march beside us, defend us even when we’re not around, listen when we tell t hem how it is, support us. I love you guys to pieces, by the way!

But when you say that the loudest homophobes are closeted LGBT folks, you erase the fact that the vast, vast majority of homophobia doesn’t come from closeted people. It comes from straight people. Casual, everyday homophobia overwhelmingly comes from straight people (and yes, by the way, I know that all of you aren’t like that). The vast majority of people who vote against marriage equality are straight. The vast majority of the people who draft gender recognition legislation that enshrines gatekeeping, divorce, diagnoses and compulsory surgery are cis. The people who think that knowing we even exist should be kept from kids, because we’re too ‘confusing’? Mostly straight and cis. The people who treat us ever-so-slightly differently, who tokenise us, who judge us by how closely we conform to stereotypes? Mostly straight and cis. And, yeah, most of the people who brainwash, reject and demonise us are straight and cis too.

But if we joke that homophobes are all homos, we let straight people rest easy. Homophobia becomes something that isn’t just targeted at LGBTQ people. It’s something perpetuated by us too. Homophobia stops being straight people’s problem.

It erases the structures that make closet cases into homophobes.

Do homophobic closeted queers exist? Hell yeah! Is it a disproportionate thing? I think it is! Do closeted homophobes come from nowhere? No.

Every closeted homophobe is themself a victim of decades of oppression. They’re not demons. They’re seriously, horribly damaged people who have been twisted into caricatures of the antithesis of what they should be. They’ve been so profoundly distorted by the communities they grew up and live in that  It’s gotta be horrible, and they didn’t start it. Our society is riddled with homophobic structures both overt and subtle. Homophobic queers are the crowning glory of a society that tells us that who we are is shameful and disgusting. If we want to fix that? We have to look a little deeper. We have to quit looking at the weeds and dig out the roots.

Isn’t that just letting closeted homophobes off the hook?

I hope not!

There’s a huge difference between the responses that we have to homophobes who’ve been outed, and the idea that every single homophobe gets tarred the the queer label. If we know that a particular person is a hypocritical, lying piece of shit who’s, say, using their massive public influence to turn people against LGBT folks while secretly messing around with people of a distinctly similar gender to their own? They’re fair game. Homophobes in general, though? Let’s remember that they’re far more likely to just be garden variety hetero bigots.

And just because I can, have some Roy Zimmerman:

Why You Need To Quit Calling Homophobes Closet Cases.

Help Kate Stay Alive

kateb

I’m not American. I don’t tend to throw around words like ‘heroes’ when I speak about the people I admire- it’s a word that seems clunky and ill-fitting to me.

If I did, though, Kate Bornstein would be one of them. Not just for her writing and her work- although those are immensely valuable and important. For who she is. For the genuine interest she takes in the people around her. For her warmth, her openness, and the love and community she embodies. While we don’t agree on absolutely everything- on the other hand, who the hell agrees with someone on everything?- she is one of the most genuinely engaging people I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. I’m immensely privileged to call her a friend.

Kate needs your help.

She’s suffering from lung cancer. It’s treatable. Getting through the treatment and compensating for the money she won’t be earning is going to cost her about $100,000.

Nobody should ever have to look for money for medical treatment. Medicine is a right, damnit. The fact that someone I care about who has given so goddamn much to our community has to ask for help in accessing the  life-saving treatment she needs and keeping a roof over her head when she does it? It is wrong. This shouldn’t be happening. Everyone, whether famous or unknown, rich or poor, admirable or asshole, should be able to get the treatment and support they need without question.

This shouldn’t be happening, but it is.

If you can spare anything- anything, even a couple of eurodollarpounds- please go to her fundraiser and donate what you can. If you can’t spare money, please share and spread the word.

Kate has helped so many of us to stay alive. Please, right now, return the favour.

Help Kate Stay Alive

The Tea Cosy’s nominated for a GALA! THIS IS EXTREMELY EXCITING!

Any of you who’ve been around me for the past few days may have noticed a certain.. increase in cheerfulness in my demeanour. Almost like I knew something absolutely brilliant that I had to sit on for a few days. Like there was something I was itching to tell you all.

There was! To my absolute incredulity, Consider the Tea Cosy has been shortlisted for this year’s GALA ONLINE Award for Website/Blogger of the Year. Some of you sneaky feckers went and nominated me behind my back, didn’t you?

For those of you who aren’t aware of the GALAs, it stands for the Gay And Lesbian Awards. They’re the annual awards of the Irish National Gay and Lesbian Federation, set up, as the NGLF say, “to honour lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people and organisations for their contributions to Irish society”.

Well.. shucks. I’ll be over here turning cherry-red, muttering something about how you shouldn’t have and hoping someone puts the kettle on before I go into full-on babble mode. To say I’m flattered, honoured, and utterly flabbergasted would be quite the understatement.

I’m in some pretty damn illustrious company- in my own category with GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) and my fellow Corkonians and one of my old haunts GayCork.com, and in the awards as a whole with, oh, absolutely everybody. I can think of far, far worse ways to spend your evening than by looking up every last one of ’em.

The Tea Cosy’s nominated for a GALA! THIS IS EXTREMELY EXCITING!

Don’t Call Me Bisexual: another oldie

This was originally posted back in 2010. I came across it as I was looking for my old civil partnerships video, and figured I’d give it an airing. Enjoy!

 

Don’t call me bisexual.

Seriously, don’t. Call me bi, call me queer, you can even call me by my name if you really want to. But I don’t like being called bisexual.

I’m happy to be open about my orientation. As long as I’m in a relatively safe situation- nobody going to actually harm me- my preference is to be out. It prevents some misunderstandings and misconceptions, it’s an important part of my self and my history, and it’s good for people to know that they know someone who’s queer. Being out is also a very handy asshole filtration system, sparing hours to months of wasted time spent with people to turn out to be small minded bigots. Not to mention the fact that, if I happen to be interested in meeting someone or getting to know them a little better, having the orientation thing worked out as early as possible makes things run a lot smoother than they otherwise would. I recommend it to practically everyone, really I do.

Sexuality ≠ sex

One of the profoundly irritating things about being open about one’s orientation, as I’m sure some of you know all too well, is the assumption that coming out involves a revelation about one’s sex life. That if I come out I’ve shared something personal, even intimate, and that coming out opens a window to all sorts of juicy conversations and details.

It really doesn’t. Think about it this way: if you and I are strangers, and then we meet, it is likely that you’ll* assume that I’m straight. We live in a heteronormative society. Most people assume that most other people are straight. So we’ve met, and you have, consciously or unconsciously, assumed that I am only interested in sexual or romantic relationships with men.

If I tell you that I’m bi, you know less about what (who?) I do than you did before. You’ve lost the only point of information you thought you had. I tell you that I’m bi, then you know absolutely nothing about my sex life*. And that is just fine by me.

You see, I don’t want to talk about my sex life in public. I really don’t. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind about this one, but right now it would feel highly unpleasant, a violation of something very personal and important, which I want to keep between me and Relevant Others**. I like to keep my private life private.

Being ‘out’ doesn’t tell you about my personal life. It doesn’t tell you about who I am or am not involved with, it doesn’t tell you anything about my likes or dislikes. It doesn’t tell you anything about kinks and turn-ons. It doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I like to be in. It doesn’t even tell you anything particularly meaningful about the type of people I’m attracted to. All it says anything about is that if you do find out about any of that stuff in the future, or even if I happen to mention someone I’m involved with, you can’t be guaranteed a ‘he’.

Language and homophobes

Have you ever noticed that whenever homophobes are talking about LGBT people, that can’t stop referring to us as ‘homosexuals’? You’d rarely hear an ‘LGBT people’, or even a ‘gay and lesbian’***. You might hear a ‘queer’, but you can bet it has nothing to do with queer theory. You might also have noticed that homophobic types tend to be rather preoccupied with queer people’s (feverishly) imagined sex lives. It’s always all ‘sodomy’ this and ‘lifestyle’ that.

This isn’t necessarily a coincidence. I read an article from the New York Times last week which touched on this topic. This article references a February CBS/New York Times news poll, where

half of the respondents were asked if they favored letting “gay men and lesbians” serve in the military (which is still more than 85 percent male), and the other half were asked if they favored letting “homosexuals” serve. Those who got the “homosexual” question favored it at a rate that was 11 percentage points lower than those who got the “gay men and lesbians” question.

Part of the difference may be that “homosexual” is a bigger, more clinical word freighted with a lot of historical baggage. But just as likely is that the inclusion of the root word “sex” still raises an aversive response to the idea of, how shall I say, the architectural issues between two men. It is the point at which support for basic human rights cleaves from endorsement of behavior.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Just like I don’t want everybody knowing details about my sex life, I don’t want to know the details of theirs. I’m quite profoundly lacking in attraction to the vast majority of people. While on a theoretical level I hope that everyone’s having a marvellous time with people who are having a marvellous time back at them, I really don’t want to know the details. If we don’t want to know about the sex lives of strangers- particularly strangers whose sex lives are personally unappealing to ourselves- then we are less likely to feel positively towards them if every time we refer to them, the word we use to do so is, quite literally, full of sex. I’d like to get away from that.

Would you like a stereotype?

All of this is, for me, closely related to prevailing stereotypes about those of us who are attracted to people of more than one gender. There’s the ones where you’re confused and can’t make up your mind, the ones where you’re flighty and immature. There’s the ones where you’ll sleep with anything that moves. The ones where you’re untrustworthy and bound to cheat on your partner with someone of another gender. Where you can’t be trusted.

A lot of this is about our sex lives- or, to be more specific, about the preconceptions that people have about our sex lives. It’s assumed (by some!) that any bi person in a relationship with another person will be tortured with desires and fantasies about people of another sex until we just can’t help ourselves. That, despite this, we don’t know our desires and that we’ll eventually settle down into one ‘side’ or the other. Even that our orientation as a whole can be determined from a quick glance at our most recent, or current, partner(s).

I know that no single word can completely eradicate biphobia and stereotyping. I also know that it is not my responsibility to single-handedly change the minds of every biphobe and homophobe out there- that’s up to them. And I know that I could be seen to be coming perilously close to blaming members of an oppressed group for the actions of oppressors. This is not what I mean to do. I do not blame anyone for choosing to identify themselves as ‘bisexual’. It’s a legitimate word, and identifying that way in no way absolves anyone from acting in a discriminatory way.

However, I do retain the right to want to make my life just that little bit more smoothly.

Back to me. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

So say ‘bi’, if you like. It’s not ideal- it implies that I have two sexualities, for one thing, which is a bit bizarre. But it gets the point across, it’s a word everyone knows the meaning of, and it’s far less likely to get you thinking about my sex life. Or you can say ‘queer’. I like ‘queer’, but I’m well aware that it’s quite the loaded term for many people, so I prefer to use it only when I’m sure people will understand my meaning, and not find it offensive or triggering. Or you can say that I’m not too picky when it comes to gender****. I don’t mind, I’m not fussy. Just don’t call me bisexual.

 

*Bar the fact that I most certainly hope that you are assuming that it includes consenting adults.

**And whoever I happen to be talking to after a few margaritas. Random drunk people are relevant, right? Right?

***Not that I’d know anything about that. Nothing to do with me, them Gays And Lesbians. Entirely different category over here. Although I do have quite a similar lifestyle to many of my gay friends, so it is possible that all of us, straight people included, are Living A Homosexual Lifestyle.

****I am, actually. In my own way. But if you want to find out more about that, you’d best start making up the margaritas.

 

What do you think? Do you think that the 2010 version of me was on the mark with this one? How’d you feel about the oversexualisation of queer identities? If you’re someone who fancies people of more than one gender (high five!), how do you prefer to identify and why?

Don’t Call Me Bisexual: another oldie

An oldie on civil partnerships

As you read this, I’m off learning how to drive bikes around Kildare for the day. If you’re in Kildare, you’ll be able to recognise me by the giant L plate on my jacket (classy!) and the look of sheer terror on my face every time my instructor makes me go past 40kph.

Since I’ve been talking about marriage a lot lately, and in recognition of the fact that the UK and France are both planning on bringing in equality while Ireland drags its feet and files its nails, here’s a video I made back when Ireland first brought in civil partnerships. You get to hear my thoughts on the matter AND see three-years-ago me. Bonus!

An oldie on civil partnerships

Marriage and the Homos: I get comments

I woke up this morning to the following comment in my mod queue:

A true cynic will criticize everyone, both the majority and the minority. I oppose homosexuality, and I blame heterosexuals for promoting it implicitly by their own increasingly pleasure-seeking sexual activity.

http://agalltyr.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/gay-marriage-is-bad-for-society-and-so-are-condoms-and-porn/

To have a meaningful life, do not seek pleasure. Instead seek meaning and purpose. Homosexuality, like many forms of heterosexuality, has no real purpose.

While this comment is ridiculous and the blog the commenter links to even more so, I would like to engage with some of the ideas he brings up

Seeking Pleasure and Meaning

Matthew’s accusation towards us queermos (and a lot of you straight people out there!) is that we get into relationships for no good reason other than pleasure.

Guilty as charged.

While my relationship with the Ladyfriend brings many wonderful things into my life, the primary reason that I’m with her? Happiness. She makes me smile the kind of smile that feels like it goes past my face and under my ribs all the way to my frickin’ toes. Everything else stems from that. I work on our relationship, through our differences, to be the best partner I can be because being around her makes me really, really happy.

And y’know what? That’s precisely the same reason that straight people do exactly the same thing. We make each other happy. Happiness and pleasure aren’t different to meaning- they’re part of meaning. Sharing pleasure, joy and fulfilment are a huge part of what makes our lives meaningful. Following the things which bring you most joy is, in my view, one of the best ways to figure out what your life should mean.

No real purpose?

Matthew would have us think that homosexuality is purposeless, as is, I assume, any hetero relationship that doesn’t involve children.

Take a moment. Think about the people you love. Think about the ways they enrich your life. How they encourage you to follow your dreams. How you are inspired to be a better person by their example and presence. How much learning is involved in sharing your life with others. The ways that you help each other through hard times and share your happinesses. All of the innumerable ways in which the people you love make your life a hell of a lot better than it otherwise could ever be.

That’s purpose. That’s what our relationships are for– they’re an end in themselves. The good things about relationships are, well, the good things about relationships. If Matthew has never had a loved one support him through a tough time, or phoned up someone to share good news, or kicked back with a friend to enjoy a hobby, then I feel sorry for him. If he has, though, then he knows full well that relationships are important just as they are.

Marriage and the Homos: I get comments