Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Fallacy of Bisexual Heteroprivilege

This first appeared, in a slightly different version, in my column The BiAngle in the August issue of The Gayly.

Bisexual heteroprivilege — the notion that bisexuals can easily pass as straight, and therefore do not suffer the same level of discrimination as gays — is overly simplistic and ignores multiple realities.

Many bisexuals are in same-sex relationships, many look and act in ways that people associate with homosexuality, and — though this is rarely spoken about — a great many bisexuals actually pass as gay. For these bisexuals, straight-privilege is no more attainable than it is for any LGT person.

Okay admittedly, a bisexual passing as gay can choose to go through the trauma of breaking up with the same-sex person they are in love with, in hopes that the next person they love will be of a different-gender, so that they can go from being in a closet labeled gay, to being in a closet labeled straight.

Bisexuals who do fall in love with different-gender partners, can choose the wonderful experience of denying their identity so that they can have the privilege of appearing to be something that’s alien to themselves, yet more palatable to society.

Indeed, the idea of bisexual hetero-privilege implies that it is a privilege to be seen as someone who you are not, that it is a privilege to have your identity erased. Nearly every gay and lesbian has known the horrible price of secrecy and self-abdication. It is short-sighted then, to think it’s any different for bisexuals.

Most bisexuals – once they’ve come out to themselves – will tell you that they love being bisexual. Why? Because that’s who they are. It’s a basic human desire, to be seen, loved, and appreciated for ourselves. Which is exactly why so many LGBT people are out of the closet.

Yes, the logistics of being closeted — hiding as gay or straight —can be relatively easy for bisexuals, especially for those in committed relationships. It’s also especially difficult to come out — since many gays and straights shove us back in the closet with the insistence that we in fact “play” for one of their “teams.” Further, there is extra incentive for bisexuals to stay closeted, since when coming out we faces not only homophobia, but also biphobia.

It’s no wonder then, that one of my most popular blog posts is, “Why Bother Coming Out as Bisexual?” The answer is, for our own mental health, because using either gay or straight “monosexual privilege” denies us our truths. This is why the words “erasure” and “invisibility” come up constantly in bi-activism. Passing privilege requires we embrace erasing ourselves, while watching the entire bi community face relentless erasure from the press, mass media, mainstream culture, and the gay community. Being erased is no privilege; it’s a problem bisexuals constantly struggle to overcome. 

The “advantages” some bisexuals have for being more likely to be mistaken as heterosexual also often include, being ostracized by many in the LG community, being called homophobic, being ousted from inclusion in supposed LGBT events, and being referred to as allies. These reactions often come in the form of putting blame on bisexuals for the realities of a heteronormative world, as if bisexuals are responsible for our society’s homophobic tendencies. What’s being overlooked is that, not only did bisexuals not make the rules, but we don’t like them any more than gays do. While bisexuals reject hetero-normativity, many gays embrace and promote the monosexual-normativity that oppresses bisexuals.

For many bisexuals, the price for being in different-gender relationships does not end with the negative effects of passing, and animosity from gays. Bisexuals with straight partners often face difficulties inside the relationship due to the partner’s biphobia, which can include: insistence that they are now straight because of the relationship; expectations for threesomes; demands that they be closeted about being bi; and accusations of cheating with, or wanting to cheat with, someone of the same sex. We could call this bisexual hetero-disadvantage – except that bisexuals face many similar problems within same-sex relationships.

In summary, while some bisexuals do sometimes experienced some advantages for appearing heterosexual, for many of us there is no such reality, and for most others the “privilege” is unasked for, unwelcomed, and comes with way too high of price tag to be properly defined as “privilege.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Choosing Where to Live as an LGBT Person

This is my article published, in a slightly different form, in the fall Issue of Bi Women Quarterly

Perhaps the most important current issue for bisexuals is overcoming invisibility. This battle requires more out people, which ironically requires more out people — to provide a community for support, information, and camaraderie. It’s important then, that those of us who feel most safe take the lead.

When I look at what steered me to becoming a person who feels secure enough to not only be out but also out loud, I know much of it started before I was born, started with the family I was born into and the community I grew up in. I know too, that when I hit adulthood and began making decisions for my life, my sexual identity always figured into the choices I made – who I associated with, who I got close to, where I went to college, and where I chose to live.

So when I considered the question posed for this issue of Bi Women Quarterly, “How has your geographic location effected your experience of your sexual orientation?” I realized, for me, largely, it’s more of a matter of how being an LGBT person has effected what geographical locations I have chosen to call home.

Growing up with liberal open-minded parents in a diverse community in the Virgin Islands with — what at the time (1960’s) — was a relatively large out population, helped shape me into a teen who had no problem accepting my sexual identity.

Perhaps having this strong foundation helped me understand that I wouldn't be able to tolerate living anywhere that wouldn’t tolerate who I am. Every time I've moved, I've chosen places that were LGBT friendly, and had large out LGBT communities.

Not only did this help make me feel welcome and accepted by the community at large, but also safe enough to not have to be closeted. Additionally, as a bisexual who was in an opposite-sex relationship for a long time, and often assumed to be straight, living in areas with large LGBT populations, also helped make me feel less disconnected from my queerness.

I realize that not everyone always has the luxury to be able to live where they choose. However, I also realize that there were sacrifices that came with the choices I've made. In my mid-twenties, I moved from San Francisco to central Florida to be near family. I’d lived so far from parents and siblings for many years, and missed the connection. But I couldn't stay. I’m sure I could have found an LGBT community in the area if I looked for it, but the fact that I would have had to look for it is enough to explain why I did not feel at home there, even amongst my family. I returned to San Francisco in less than a year.

I currently live deep inside the Bible Belt, in the south, in a state tarnished by its historical intolerance. However, the town I live in is an oasis of respite from all the above. In 2007, Eureka Springs became the first city in Arkansas to offer civil unions for same sex couples, and in 2011 the first to provide health care coverage for the domestic partners of municipal workers. This year, the first same-sex couples to be married in the South and in the Bible Belt, were married in this little Ozark village. Our tiny town of approximately 2,000 celebrates three Diversity Weekends a year.

Currently, this area is having a crisis in regards to an environmental issue. At a hearing on the matter, many talked of the sacrifices they made to live here, having taken major cuts in income, and upward mobility, to be near natural beauty and serenity. On a personal level, living in this small, isolated, town is severely impacting my income and career prospects. Logistically speaking, at this point in my life, it would be incredibly easy for me to move some place where there would be many more opportunities. Ultimately though, it comes down to the fact that this is where I want to be – because here I have tolerance and diversity, nature and community. These are the things that are most important to me.

When choosing where to live, we all weigh the pluses against the minuses. Can I earn a living? Can I maintain sanity? Can I build community? How important is nature? How important is nightlife? How important is being accepted for who I am? What is the housing situation? Etcetera, etcetera. When I do life coaching with bisexuals who want to be out, but feel that where they live, where they work, or whom they rely on, would make this untenable, I help them explore the possibilities of changing these things. Though unfortunately, sometimes there’s limited prospects to alter one’s geographic location, more often people can change where they live to make being out safer and easier; it all comes down to a matter of priorities.