Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bisexual Debate

My queer sister, who identifies as bisexual, sent me the below article from Dan Savage at THE STRANGER. The premise of Dan's column, "Savage Love", is that a reader writes in their concern about a sex issue and Dan, who is gay, writes back with his advice and insight.

In today's column the writer discusses her disappointment in the LGBT community for dismissing bisexuals. His response really upset my sister (although I found Dan's comment about Tila Tequila quite amusing).

So I'm opening it up for debate. What do you think about Dan's response? And what how do you feel about bisexual's treatment in the LGBT community?

On the SLOG today:
Savage Love

Here is the letter:

I'm a 21-year-old bisexual woman, writing to air a few grievances with the ever-tolerant GLBT community. Question number one... What does the B in GLBT stand for? Because I was under the impression that it stood for bisexual, but apparently I was incorrect. I constantly feel forced to identify myself sexually based on who I am dating at the time, as though bisexuality is a child's sexuality for people who are "confused," "experimenting," or "attention-seeking." If I'm dating a woman, I'm just not being honest about my sexuality, and if I'm dating a man (or single, more often than not) it's assumed that I'm just using physical attraction to women to get attention from men, an idea that in practice I think is disgusting and demeaning.

Frankly, these assumptions come just as frequently (if not more frequently) from the GLBT comunity than even from the straight community. Everyone is constantly shocked that I've never been in a threesome, and think that it is constantly okay to pressure me to be in one, despite my assertion that threesomes may be great, but they just don't do it for me. This attitude permeates through my friend group, my family, my partners, and the world at large. It is a kind of ignorance no one seems to care to stop.

My anger boiled over, strangely enough, when I was watching the first episode of The Real World this season. The transgendered woman on the show, while speaking to her mother, said that the woman who spent the majority of her life dating women, and who is now dating a man "used to be" a part of the GLBT comunity. Wait, wait, wait. Because she's dating a man now, it means that she is no longer attracted to women? Her membership to the club is revoked? Strangely enough, I don't particularly think that the transgendered woman is mean, or intolerant. I just think that this is an attitude so engrained in everyone's minds, that it is just utterly socially acceptable.

For the record? I like eating pussy as much as I like sucking cock. Equally, assuming that they are quality pussy and cock. This does not make me a slut, confused, attention seeking, or experimental. I also like being in monogamous relationships. And I'm tired of suffering constantly against undefended assumptions that for some reason, all those things can't be true.

Help a sister out.

Strong Bisexual Woman


Let me guess: "B" stands for bellyaching?

Look, SBW, it seems to me that a strong bisexual woman wouldn't be so devastated by some offhand remark made by one of the idiot housemates on The Real World. Everyone on that show is a moron—gay, straight, bi, whatever—and has been for the last decade at least. You pretty much have to fail some sort of personality test to even be considered for The Real World. Isn't that part of the premise? Don't we know that going in? If you don't want to listen to dumb-but-good-looking people saying dumb-but-good-looking things then watch The Real World like I do: with the sound off.

And if everyone in your life is pressuring you about having threeways—your friends, your lovers, your family members (your family members?)—then there's something wrong with your friends and lovers and family members (your family members?). I don't think it's fair for you to project the attitudes of those you chose to hang out with, sleep with, and, um, be related to onto the entire TGIF community. Don't like their attitudes of your friends, lovers, and relations? Find better friends, fuck better lovers, and, um, get better relations.

Finally, SBW, while I don't doubt for a moment that your bisexuality will stand the test of time, you have to accept the fact that for many gays and lesbians bisexual identity was a phase, a label they clung to at a time in their lives when they were "confused" and/or "experimenting." The fact that many gays and lesbians identified as bisexual once—or lied and claimed to be bisexual—can induce a bit skepticism on our part when meet an honest-to-God bisexual, particularly a young one, once we're all grown up and completely out. Not entirely fair, SBW, but entirely understandable.

Think of it as your cross to bear. And what cross do we gays and lesbians have to bear? Well, how about watching our bisexual friends who are lucky enough to fall in love with opposite-sex partners—and it's spooky how lucky our bisexual friends tend to be—run off and get legally married while we get fucked over and over again at the ballot box.

As for the "attention-seeking" stereotype, well... you can blame Tila Tequila, one of your own, for that.



mccutcheon said...

aaaaaaah! I'm so mad right now! And here I thought biphobia was only this strong in the Austrian community. Because frankly, the Austrian queer community sucks majorly, so them treating me like shit is little to no surprise for me. But I'm beginning to realise that this is, apparently, a universal problem.

And every time it happens I'm thinking: 'You gotta be kidding me?' I can still not grasp why and how a community that knows discrimination doesn't think twice about discriminating against one of their own! And I am, one of their own... though I'm growing more and more reluctant.
Incidentally, straight people rarely discriminate against me...

Natazzz said...

Uhoh these debates tend to turn ugly pretty fast...

I didn't think Dan's response was that bad, although it was a little one sided.

I thought the girl was right on with her complaint, but did she have to bring up TRW and share with us how much she likes oral? WTF?

Personally I don't really care what someone's orientation is, but a lot of people do care.

Majorities tend to discriminate against minorities...and minorities (like the LGBT community) are often the worst of them all.

ForSerious said...

Frankly, I agree with Natazzz, I don't really think the response was so bad. It wasn't particularly sympathetic but it wasn't callused either. I'm not sure what the woman's goal was when writing her letter other than to air her grievance and when people do that, there is never a really good way to respond.

Sure, it sucks that bisexuals have to constantly come out as bisexual and then defend their sexuality. But, there are many Gays and Lesbians who have to come out again and again also.

I think her fatal flaw was using The Real World as her tipping point...note-to-self: if you want to be taken seriously, do not use an MTV reality show as your soap box. After that and that threesome/relative thing (which also skeeved me out) it was hard to take the rest of her complaints seriously as valid as they may be.

Intolerance sucks from any angle but I think if you are lucky enough to be in a loving, healthy relationship then maybe you should just be and let all the jerks who want to label you label you.

ForSerious said...

Also, and I mean this quite sincerely: I would love for someone to explain exactly what in that letter was so offensive. I really don't know and perhaps this is because i'm not bisexual and so am not attuned to the especially angering arguments.

Dan Savage's responses are typically funny and his tone is usually the way found here. I know if I needed really sympathetic advice I'm not sure if he's who I'd turn to. But I do love his snark!

pyewacket said...

Well both bring up valid points on both sides.

But I do find it a shame (and maybe it is just part of human nature) that one group has such a need to fear and put down another group.

Within the gay community, I see bisexuals and transgenders as the ones with the bull's eye on their backs...and when it comes to bisexuality, I hear gays and lesbians say things that remind me of a few precious quotes from Rick Warren.

Like for example, Rick Warren has said that he knows many gay men and they have told him (insert eye roll here) that they decided to be gay so they could have multiple sexual partners.

I have heard (and read) similar things from within the gay community about their bisexual brothers and sisters.

It all comes down to Gandhi, paraphrase...we first must be the change we want to see in the world.

If the gay community wants acceptance from the straight community...then there first needs to be some serious acceptance within the gay community.

rachelef said...

I just think Dan's comment was pretty flippant. This is a real issue in the LGBT community and should be dealt with openly, intelligently, and honestly. I think SBW was right to bring up the issue (though, perhaps, she overshared a bit). And, while I also love Dan's snark, I think it was just a touch on the flippantly rude side.

fourth wave said...

If you've spent any time reading Dan Savage's column or listening to his podcast (which is hilarious, by the way), you have to know that he's kind of an ass. That's part of his shtick and, in a way, part of his charm. So if you ask him for advice and you're expecting him to be super friendly, you're asking the wrong person. Actually, this was a pretty nice response coming from Dan, flippant though it may be.

Nevertheless, I think the main issue here is SBW's problem, which is a very real issue in the LGBT community, and I think Dan's response was fine (and very honest, if a bit brutally so), I do completely understand your sister's annoyance, Bridget, with the issue at large. I'm a lesbian, but I have several bisexual friends (one of whom is married to man) who have expressed their frustration numerous times over how bisexuals are treated by both the straight and the gay community. It's no wonder that people give bisexuals a hard time, considering the way bisexuality is portrayed in pop culture, from opportunistically-bisexual women on reality shows who are really only performing for men to the way gay men are sometimes depicted in films and tv as "hiding their true selves" by marrying women. Almost everything in American popular culture says bisexuals are just lying or fooling themselves, that they need to choose.

So, yes, I agree that the way bisexuals are treated in the LGBT community is problematic. Is it more problematic than the treatment of people who are transgender or the LGBT community's conflicts over racial and class diference? Probably not. I'm honestly not sure how Dan could have responded differently without being completely disingenuous.

Lastly, on a personal note, I think people should be allowed to label themselves however they wish and others shouldn't question them on it. Whether you end up with a man, a woman or in a polyamorous relationship, how you identify your sexuality is really your business. Of course, that's what's so great about the term "queer"--it encompasses a spectrum of sexual identities and doesn't leave any room for argument or contestation.

A. said...

A true bisexual is one for whom gender is irrelevant.

I suspect that the bi-bashing gays are subconsciously envious of bisexuals. Being gay, after all, can be tough, and some gay people envy that a bisexual person can simply "switch" when it gets too hard. A gay person can't switch.

I remember some lesbian friends upset that a self-identified bisexual was had dated only women for years, but did not identify as lesbian. Does identification ever expire? I don't think so.

Of course, complicating all this is that: (1) bisexuals are portrayed as promiscuous little things who go gay for fun but eventually settle down and straight marry and (2) because it is easier to identify as bi, some gays will use the less scary label for a while.

For those who have no clue - gay? bi? - isn't the Q of GLBTQ there for them? (as in queer).

Just my thoughts. Could be wrong.


mccutcheon said...

"Being gay, after all, can be tough, and some gay people envy that a bisexual person can simply "switch" when it gets too hard. A gay person can't switch."

The point is, I can NOT switch. It's not something I can turn off. If being with the woman I love get's too hard because of all the harassment there's no lever that I can pull to make me want to go be with a man just like there isn't a lever to make me want to be with another woman. There is no switch. It is not a choice, just like being gay or lesbian isn't a choice. I'll fall in love with whomever I'll fall in love with. And if the relationship I end up in happens to be of the socially less accepted kind - tough luck. I have no way of making my life "easier". And I wish lesbians and gays would finally get that. Some do get it, and more power to them, but unfortunately most don't.

A. said...

Mccutcheon -

Yes, I certainly understand that bisexual cannot switch :) What I meant was that I think that the general public (including gays and lesbians) believe on some level that bisexuals *can* switch.


purple_moogle said...

"A true bisexual is one for whom gender is irrelevant."

Okay so you may not even have meant this but I many people have this idea that bisexuals 'fall in love with the person and not a gender' or whatever people say but I don't think that's true at all. Or not in every case anyways.
Often there are features in women which are not attractive in men etc, vice versa or someone might like to be looked after by guys but when with girls they are the more typically 'guyish' role. Basically what I mean is they do see the gender but they just like both. I just see it as someone who is like both gay and straight sexually (although I know thats a contradiction but i think you get what I mean.) Its not a separate way of 'liking' somebody, you just like both.

Also, does bisexual have to mean someone likes guys and girls equally? Ahh its so confusing, the 'not so straight' label i associate with Missy Higgins now is much simpler!

Claire said...

Regarding bisexuality in women: Women's bisexuality an 'identity,' not phaseThe iTunes podcast, 60-Second Psych, has an episode from 1/17/08 "Bisexuality is a Distinct Sexuality" that discusses the same study.

Dan says:
"The fact that many gays and lesbians identified as bisexual once—or lied and claimed to be bisexual—can induce a bit skepticism on our part when meet an honest-to-God bisexual, particularly a young one, once we're all grown up and completely out."

So if a woman is bi and out, she's somehow less out than a lesbian? I don't buy it.