About a week ago, director Kyle Schickner, in cooperation with the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) released a new video under Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign. The video, I must admit, was deeply touching for me. As a bisexual person who feels the effects of biphobia, erasure and isolation every day, and as someone who spent many years of her life suffering from depression – this video struck a very deep chord in me. Undoubtedly, this video, and the activist work done by Schickner and by AIB is highly important, and I deeply appreciate it.
However, I would like to raise some doubts regarding the campaign, its viewpoints, and our response to it as a bisexual movement. Before I do, I need to say that I am making this criticism with the deepest respect and appreciation for the people involved as well as their work. However, I believe that in order to grow and develop as a movement, this kind of criticism is important and vital.
First things first: a note on racism
Jasbir Puar and many others have already mentioned: “It Gets Better” is a racist campaign. In the words of Diana Cage, Savage’s It Gets Better project “is beautiful and well-intended, and I’m thankful it exists. But seriously, we all know it gets better a lot sooner if you are white, cisgendered, and middle class.” To this, I would also add: it gets better sooner if you’re gay male, since as we all know, bisexuals and lesbians suffer additional barriers in society and are also excluded from the movement that so enjoys calling itself “LGBT” but is actually GGGG.
In terms of representation, Schickner was smart and well intended in using a black woman as one of the participants in the video. However, having a black woman echoing the words of privileged white gay males hardly subverts the implications of the message.
Youth as victims: what about empowerment?
The “It Gets Better” campaign (even to its very title) implicates that LGBT youth are passive victims. The videos in the campaign (including Schickner’s) also situate the viewer in this passive position. When watching it, it made me feel sad and weak – it also made me feel hope, it made me feel that there are other people to help me. But this is part of the problem. The videos of the “It Gets Better” campaign tell the youth that the adults (i.e. older people, with more social power) are out there to make things better for them – for how exactly does it “get better”? One is to assume that the grown ups are taking care of our needs for us. It leaves the youth powerless and feeds into the wide cultural denial of youth and young people’s agency and independence.
The bisexual movement or the GGGG movement?
In my years as a bisexual activist, I’ve often noticed a tendency within the American mainstream bisexual movement to run after the “LGBT” (i.e. the GGGG) movement screaming “Yeah, us too!”. Whether it’s the campaign for marriage equality, child surrogacy, adoption, the military, and many more, the bisexual community (or at least, the more mainstream parts of it) echoes the GGGG campaigner’s every call, as if these struggles were just as relevant to the bi community, and as if bisexual people had no conditions and struggles of our own to fight for. Not only does this locate the bisexual movement as a liberal, assimilationist one, but also performs bisexual erasure by ignoring the needs of our own community for the benefit of those of privileged groups who run the GGGG movement.
For example, it is statistically known that bisexual people are the sexual orientation group (of out gay males, lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals) most likely to suffer from poverty, depression and suicidality, low physical health, and a few more discouraging factors. Needless to say, these factors bar the way of many bisexual people from proper employment, housing, medical care, mental health care, etc. In addition, this viewpoints disregards the needs of other underprivileged groups of people (including bisexual people from these groups): people of color, women, transgenders and genderqueers, working class people, differently-abled people, and many more. Moreover, joining in assimilationist campaigns such as those mentioned above, positions the mainstream bisexual movement along with the very powers that oppress us: patriarchy, government, militarism, and many more. It seems, however, that the mainstream American bisexual movement is too often uninterested in addressing these issues or considering politics, intersecting factors and identities.
By the same token, Schickner and AIB’s bisexual “It Gets Better” video echoes Dan Savage’s campaign without addressing many of the issues mentioned above, thus minimizing the bisexual message to yet another incident of “Yeah, us too!”
Bisexual resistance, youth empowerment
What I’d like to tell our bisexual youth is that they are not the only ones – that biphobia is widespread and that it’s not them who are wrong, flawed, not good enough or any of these things that our biphobic culture convinces us we are. I want to tell them that many, many bisexuals feel the same: like we never fit in anywhere, that there’s something wrong with us, personally, that we’re not “queer enough” or that we have to “choose”. I want them to know that they are beautiful, that they are powerful and brave. It takes alot of courage to identify as bisexual, and by doing so, they are strong, and amazing. I want them to know that they don’t have to rely on grown ups to do anything for them: they can do anything themselves, be whatever they want, whenever they want. They can do so much and they are so much smarter than us grown ups. They know what to do, they know what they need, and they know it better than us. I want them to know that being a young bisexual in this world is no easy thing and that us, bisexual adults, are so fucking proud of them for having the courage to be who they are, whether they are out or whether in the closet. I want them to know that being in the closet is okay. It is not shameful and it does not make you less of a bisexual – it simply means that you’re defending yourself from danger. I want to say all of that from my vantage point as a bisexual genderqueer female person of color, and to tell them that even if they’re people of color, transgenders, genderqueers, females, working class or differently-abled people, and encounter more social barriers than others – that only makes them more beautiful, more powerful and more brave. I want to tell them that even if they’re transgender or genderqueer, they still have every right to identify as bisexual and that identifying as bi does not make you transphobic. And I want to tell them to rebel – against us grown ups, against this fucked up society we live in and against anything that stands in their way. Our youth is powerful. Our youth is beautiful, strong and brave, and they need to know that – with all our love.
This article was written about a week ago. Today a new video has been released, much closer to what I had in mind, and OMG-it-even-includes-bisexuals-and-genderqueers! Jump the bandwagon, NOW!