Why criticize?

I’ll call you on your shit,
PLEASE CALL ME ON MINE.
Then we can grow together and make this shit-hole planet better in time.

-Propagandhi

This blog oftentimes criticizes mainstream bisexual movements (especially US/UK/European ones). Before I begin to explain why, I need to say that first and foremost, I feel the utmost respect and appreciation towards the movement and the all the people within it. I consider the bisexual movement my political home. Without their writings, their thoughts, their language, perspectives, experiences and ideas, I could never have come to develop my own bisexual politics or to go on my own bisexual activism. For this, I am incredibly grateful.

However, I think that mainstream bisexual communities are heavily lacking in self-auditing. I have noticed a general discomfort with criticism within the bisexual movement (I’m not sure why, maybe someone can enlighten me?). This leads to a situation where things are static. Nothing is debated, everything is agreed. Things are being done in silence, with only the echo of approving nods to accompany. Nothing changes. Things die out.

I view criticism through an Israeli (read: Middle Eastern) perspective: in my community, it is not only acceptable and commonplace to put forth criticism to our friends and fellow activists (i.e. calling them out), but it’s also considered part of community support, development and discourse. As a half-insider and half-outsider to ‘western’ bisexual movements, it disturbs me to see how the lack of a culture of criticism impedes their development.

I believe that debate, dissent, dischord and conflict are the living fire of a community’s heart. Each of these things allows us to disagree, argue, learn, teach, form opinions, develop concepts and language, and ultimately grow and change. For me, to criticize the movement is to express solidarity with it, to contribute to it, and to help it expand.

10 thoughts on “Why criticize?

  1. I am so impressed with this why criticize piece. Now I’m going to dive into the rest of this blog. I am polyamorous, bisexual, and have lived for a long time outside the bisexual movement. I’m very interested in bisexual political thought. Please take a look at my blog, which is more focused on polyamory and sex-positivity, but there’s a lot of overlap. It’s alterpolymatic.wordpress.com.

  2. Hey, speaking of criticism, I wondered if you’re aware of the -phobia language criticism on the grounds of ableism? http://bigotryisnotamentalillness.tumblr.com/
    I just learned of it a short while ago, quit using the terms, and wrote a post on it asking readers to do the same on my blog. I think it’s really important.
    The reason I wanted to ask this here specifically is because I’m both bi and always movement-criticizing myself, and so your blog’s one of the more important ones to me. … dunno, I guess I just agree so much with the stuff here that I thought you’d surely agree to what I think, as well :D
    So, thanks especially for this piece.

    • Thanks, that was really interesting.

      I agree with a lot of their criticism. The part about the ableism in “-phobia” language is one I haven’t thought of before and it makes a really good point (and personally important to me as a disabled person). Another aspect which concerns me about “-phobia” language, and which they did not seem to emphasize, is the personalization and depolitization of social structures through use of that term. I think that our political language definitely needs to be more accurate in that regard, using “-ism” instead of “-phobia” where appropriate.

      However, “-phobia” is already quite established as a term, to the extent that replacing, for example, “biphobia” with “anti-bisexual” (or any other replacing term) would feel erasing of the weight, importance and centrality of this phenomenon in the lives of bisexual people as well as in society as a whole (and likewise for any other “-phobia” word – transphobia, lesbophobia, homophobia, etc).

      I try to approach this in two ways: One, the fact that I do not consider, nor do I speak about biphobia (or any other LGBT-phobia) as a personal, mental issue – and I think the context here can be detrimental to the meaning of the word, as the way a word is used defines it much more than its shape (in this case the suffix). Secondly, I try to be as accurate as I can with language, advising the use of “monosexism” when concerning the broad social structure, and using “biphobia” only when concerning specifically anti-bisexual views.

      I wrote a tiny bit about this here (and it’s also worth looking into the discussion).

  3. Pingback: Cissexism and transphobia in bisexual communities | Bi radical

  4. I just discovered your blog after reading Faith Cheltenham’s article about Google’s bisexual keyword block on HuffPo, and I am enjoying it very much. I love to see a quality debate. It’s a rare find; most “criticism” these days is really just inflammatory remarks and ad hominem attacks.

    I’ve been out as bisexual since 1992, when I was 15. In a way, I was lucky to grow up in NYC, because of such a large and active LGBT community. But at that time, it was really just an LG community, and if I had $5 for every ugly snippet of verbal abuse regarding fear & fence-sitting I’d be rich enough to buy an election. Like so many others, most of this abuse came from homosexuals.

    This site is important, it holds the feet of people from every community (including ours) to the fire and asks the questions that need asking, even if – especially if – some don’t want to hear them or answer them.

    Keep up the excellent work!

    (Also, “Less Talk, More Rock” is my favorite Propagandhi album!)

  5. I just found your page, and as a questioning 20-something, I find the points you make about the communities very interesting. I’m somewhere in the bi/pansexual spectrum, but I don’t know myself or the terms well enough to know what label is most appropriate for those times when a label is needed. Regardless, even just the little bit of reading I’ve done here has proved quite informative and made me think about everything in a new way.

  6. I just wished to leave my own thoughts as both a new fan of your blog and having just read this page. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to hear someone else making these points! I was actually having this same conversation with Lauren Beach recently, and we were both in agreement about how monumentally frustrating it is, this lack of willingness to criticize in the bisexual movement and the stagnation it produces as a result.

    I mean, I am all for pulling together and showing solidarity, sharing community etc, but have found myself increasingly exasperated by the same old arguments and workshops appearing at BiCons/Fests where everybody agrees on the problems; but seems unwilling to suggest and implement any positive or feasible steps to tackling them. There is very much the sense of the old comfortable woolly jumper, warm and familiar, but as you say; does nothing for growth and development.
    A prime example of this is a BiCon workshop my ex, a reasonably well-known bi activist here, likes to run which is called ‘Being Bi In A Gay & Straight World’ which amounts to rant space. Very cathartic some might think, but the same tired arguments are trotted out, the issues identified, and nothing is really resolved.

    While my initial experience of the Bi community and indeed Bi activism was framed by her, by far the worst part of this was being given the impression that as a newbie activist, I had no right to criticize. Her condescending attitude in regards my obvious lack of institutional knowledge, reputation, and history within the community (and it’s impact on any contribution I might make) was part of the abusive nature of our relationship; it made me feel naive for daring to have an opinion as if I should just ‘shut up while the grown-ups are talking’. As I touch on in the ‘Another Brick in the Wall?’ entry of my blog, it isn’t just her though. I’ve witnessed more than one activist/leader develop this strange attitude that it is simply longevity in the community that gives an idea merit, and that anything from newbies is to be instantly disregarded as naive presumption because ‘they haven’t been around long enough to know…’

    Well I say stuff that personally, I’d far rather have engaged newbies willing to challenge everything and ask questions, otherwise we’re back to stagnation! I truly enjoy your blog and look forward to when I can afford to order your book for my birthday next month. I hope I haven’t rambled too much ;)

  7. I wonder whether the lack of criticism is because bi people feel attacked by the general LGb(t) community as it is and so they are worried about criticising in case it brings about more biphobia or that biphobic people feel validated in their biphobia?
    I’ve just ordered your book and I’m so excited to get it! =D

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s