This text also appears in my book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. If you like it, please consider buying a copy.
Before I write – a disclaimer: this post contains criticism of the non-bisexual-identified transgender community and discourse. Please be aware that I am writing this criticism not as an outsider, but as a genderqueer person involved in transgender community, and activism. I hope this criticism is taken in the same spirit in which it was written – that of passion and solidarity.
This is a long post. But trust me, it is good. Take your time in reading in, it will be worth it ;)
A(n) (long) introduction
It appears increasingly acceptable of late, in transgender/genderqueer communities and activist discourses, to portray bisexuality as a binary identity, and thus intrinsically transphobic. As the claim classically goes – since the word “bisexuality” has “bi” (literally: two) in it, then it is inherently gender-binary, pointing to only two genders/sexes as its sources of reference – thus erasing non-binary sexes and genders out of existence. Those siding with this approach usually suggest the use of alternative identity categories, such as “pansexual”, “omnisexual”, “queer”, etc. (For the sake of fairness, I need to mention that I, too, once subscribed to these views, to the extent that they are now and forever recorded in a book and unchangeable. But – hey, we all make mistakes…)
On the other hand is the bisexual side of the debate, arguing to the contrary. I will say that I find these arguments to be nothing but a pile of apologetics, and so I’m going to be relatively brief with it, as they only matter to me here as background to the real core of the discussion:
- That, similar to “homosexuality” and “lesbianism”, “bisexuality” is a word reclaimed by the bisexual movement from the medical institution. The bi community itself had therefore little to no influence over formation and structure of the word, but has since reclaimed it to mean “potential attraction to more than one sex or gender”.
- That linguistically – the “two” in “bisexual” might refer to attraction to genders alike to our own (=homosexuality) + attraction to genders different from our own (=heterosexuality).
- That the bisexual movement has started gaining prime at around the same period as the transgender movement, and that, in its early stages, no language was available for the description of attraction to non-binary sexes and genders. However, throughout the history of the movement, the word has constantly been put to use in attempting to describe same, using terms such as “third gender(s)”, “androgynous people”, “those in between”, etc.
- That historically, bisexual communities have always been one of the most accepting places towards transgenders and genderqueers, and that the two communities have always shared a strong alliance.
- That a discussion focusing around bisexuality solely in relation to transgender politics performs structural bisexual erasure, as it prioritizes transgender politics over bisexual politics in a discussion about bisexual identity. Seeing as so far, I’ve only heard myself voicing this argument, I would give it a few more lines just to clarify my intention (quoting myself from a facebook discussion on the topic):
It often feels to me as if bisexuality is never really about our own sexual identity(ies), i.e. – our experiences, our desires, our lives as bisexuals, the oppression we experience as such, the cultural, social and political systems working to shape the experience of bisexual people, institutional oppression experienced by bisexuals, etc. etc. Instead, I feel that my sexual identity (i.e. whether I should identify as bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc.) is expected to be determined according to other people’s gender identity.
The question on whether bisexuality is more or less helpful in reducing gender binarism poses this quite clearly. It implies that bisexual people should determine their identification according to transgender politics as opposed to bisexual politics. Taken from that perspective, then of course the answer would be :”Yes, definitely pan/queer”. But lately I’ve been questioning this very outset as influenced by internalized biphobia. The fact that we (as a movement) have been focusing on this question as a central one implies a political hierarchy that prioritizes transgender issues over bisexual issues.
What I need to say around this point is that the great majority of this debate is being perpetuated and developed by bisexual-identified transgenders and genderqueers (Click the link! It’s Julia Serano!), and non-bi-identified transgenders and genderqueers. I need to draw attention to this, as the “binary” side of this debate often likes to frame it as a transgender-cisgender debate, thus locating the “bisexual” side not only as linguistically transphobic, but also as external to transgender community, identities and politics – i.e. privileged.
A painful example of this was a debate between one certain transgender blogger and myself in the responses section of one of his blog posts. Throughout the debate, my genderqueer identity and position was completely ignored and dismissed in light of my bisexual identification. Bauer even went as far as saying that, “If your concern for trans issues seemed to be equal to your concern that people be allowed to use a word that erases large categories of trans people, I would not have spoken like that” (i.e. addressed me as if I was cisgender), thus insinuating that bisexual identification and politics are inherently transphobic and therefore contradictory to genderqueer and trans identification and politics.
As implied through Bauer’s position – bisexuality is no longer critiqued simply as a term in certain transgender discourses, but is rather experiencing a slippage of meaning from the linguistic to the factual – if: bisexuality=transphobic, then: bisexual=transphobic as well. It’s not a huge jump, and I’m both unsurprised and broken-hearted to see it happening. I’ve once had someone argue to me that the “bad binary reputation” bisexuality is increasingly experiencing is due to bisexual people’s transphobia. And indeed, increasingly I’ve been noticing that, notwithstanding bisexual erasure, the only time in which bisexual people and the bisexual movement are mentioned in some transgender writings, is as oppressors of transgenders.
I’m currently reading Susan Stryker’s Transgender History, a book summarizing the history of the American transgender movement starting from the 1950’s and up to this day. I’ve recently reached the 90’s. Up until now, only one mention of bisexuality has been made in the book: one sentence at the introduction, explaining the meaning of the word (as “attraction to any gender”). From hereon and until the 90’s, bisexuality and bisexual people fade away from sight and historical attention, and this, despite the fact that gay and lesbian people are mentioned in abundance (both favourably and unfavourably). Just to make this really clear – bisexual people are being erased in the book even from where they were undoubtedly present – demonstrations, the Stonewall rebellion, pride marches, the gay liberation movement, etc. Mentions of the bisexual community resurface, however, when we come to the 90’s – solely in the context of transgender exclusion.
Another example is the acronym “LGB” that some transgender writers use in the same context of transgender exclusion. In his article, “Fighting to Win” from the wonderful anthology That’s Revolting!, transgender activist Dean Spade (who is otherwise awesome) constantly uses the form “LGBfakeT” – situating bisexual people not only as oppressors of transgender people, but also as benefactors of assimilationist gay privilege – wrongfully presuming that assimilationist gay campaigns include the needs and the agenda of bisexual people (and do not, in fact, trample all over us on their golden way to heteronormative white privilege).
So where is all this coming from?
I find this entire debate to be incredibly suspicious: if transphobia is truly the matter at hand, then why focus on bisexuality alone? If it’s words we’re concerned with, shouldn’t we first want to address the hetero-homo dichotomy – a far more prevalent and a far more oppressive binary structure? Or if it’s inner-community transphobic approaches that we want to address, shouldn’t we first see the white gay cismen? Or the lesbian movement, with its long-time and long-established exclusionary practices? Why the bisexual community, historically and currently the least transphobic of the three, as well as the one with the least resources from which to exclude transgender and genderqueer people?
To be fair – transphobia is indeed a problem in many bisexual communities, I have experienced this myself when attending BiCon this last August and have a mouthful not only about cissexism, but also about racism and classism within those communities (page 6). However, I feel that the scope given, within this debate, to addressing transphobia in bisexual communities is not only excessive in relation to actual amounts of transphobia (which says a lot, because transphobia is abound everywhere), but also that the content of the arguments fails to address any real problems existing within actual bisexual communities. Simply put, it feels less like community work and more like slander.
I think I know this song…
The argument claiming bisexuality to be binary situates bisexuality as an oppressive identity perpetuating hegemonic ideology. Less academically – to say that bisexuality is binary is to say that bisexuality is an oppressive identity contributing to dominant social order. Now, where have I heard that before?…
Apparently the first people to make this binary claim were not at all trans people, but one gay male and one straight female (gay-male-identified) academics. I mean, of course, Eve Kosofski-Sedgwick and Lee Edelman (separately). I could only find a quote of Edelman. Here is what he says in his 1994 book “Homographies”:
[…] the hetero/homo binarism (a binarism more effectively reinforced, than disrupted by the “third term” of bisexuality)
(I guess we’re not worth more than brackets, huh?)
Sedgwick said something, to the same extent, at around the same time.
So, apparently the transgender community didn’t make this up at all, but took this from the proverbial Academe. I don’t mention this to mock the transgender community, but rather to point out standpoints within this debate. To say that the stance on bisexuality as binary has been initiated, it appears, by an academic gay white cisman and an academic straight white ciswoman is to say that these people had a political and academic interest in the elimination of bisexuality from their theory and studies.
So what does this remind me of?
Claims of bisexuality as an oppressive/privileged identity are not new. As anyone who wanders the world as bisexual knows, we are often accused of bearing heterosexual privilege – especially by, but not limited to, lesbian communities. These accusations – classical by now – rely on the presumption that bisexual people are, in fact, straight, and that by refusing to relinquish our “attachment” to male-identified people we are accepting and perpetuating heteropatriarchal hegemony (in plain English: heterosexual and sexist oppression of women and queers).
Oh… wait… “perpetuating __________ hegemony”… rings a bell, huh? Let’s make an experiment:
- Bisexuals are a privileged group perpetuating heteropatriarchal hegemony and oppressing gay and lesbian people.
- Bisexuals are a privileged group perpetuating cisgender hegemony and oppressing transgender and genderqueer people.
OMG, I think I got it!!1
What else does this remind me of?
The same arguments were (and in some cases, still are) used against transgender people, too.
Here is what bisexual transgender activist and scholar Jillian Todd Weiss writes about transphobia in her Journal of Bisexuality essay “LG vs. BT”:
Although “male to constructed female” transsexuals claimed to be against the stereotyped gender system by virtue of their escape from stereotypical masculinity, they in fact added force to the binary system by merely escaping from one stereotype to another, or at most mixing together different stereotypes, rather than advocating true gender freedom. They were not political radicals, as they claimed, but reactionaries seeking to preserve a stereotypical gender system that was already dramatically changing due to the political action of 60s and 70s feminists and gays.
Similar claims, of course, have been made throughout the years against FTM transgenders as well, trying to paint them not only as perpetuating the oppressive gender binary, but also as opportunistic seekers of male privilege. And oh my! Doesn’t that sound familiar!
Why this? Why now?
For a brief explanation of this, I’m quoting myself from facebook, again:
Another thought regarding the origin of those allegations, is what Julia Serano calls the masculinism of the transgender movement, which I think comes into play on this issue as well. Serano says, and I agree, that the transgender movement consistently prefers masculine-spectrum viewpoints and ideas, while marginalizing those of feminine-spectrum transpeople and genderqueers. Specifically regarding the issue of increased criticism towards the bi community and relative lack of criticism towards the lesbian community about transphobia, I think this is heavily influenced by the fact that the transgender movement is mostly controlled by FTM’s who emerged and were influenced by lesbian communities (and who experience less transphobia by them by virtue of being “female-bodied”). That is, they don’t criticize lesbians since these are their home communities. However, criticizing bisexuals is very much in keeping with the often-present biphobia of many lesbian communities.
And of course – the transgender movement has a clear interest in the disownment of bisexuality: an acceptance of- alliance with- or association with- bisexuality would, doubtlessly, “drag” the transgender movement even further “down” along with it. Considering both widespread transphobia, and bisexuality’s lack of popularity and huge invisibility within both the GGGG movement and the heterosexual populace – everything is to be gained by a transgender movement dissociating itself from bisexuality, everything to be lost by alliance…
However, what makes it truly necessary for the transgender movement to will itself rid of connection to the bisexual movement is not to be found in any quality intrinsic to trans community or politics themselves. Instead, it seems that for the most part, the gay and lesbian movement makes it out as if there’s “only one spare place” at their proverbial table. Having only three imaginary chairs, where two are marked “gay” and “lesbian” creates the inevitable (and oh-so-convenient) consequence of pitting one invisible/suppressed group against the other, competing for that one extra spot. This is how those in privilege secure their own places, by having us step over each other rather than fighting the ‘real enemy’ together. In this way, the gay and lesbian movement can stop worrying about how to hinder our ways to threatening their positions of power – setting us against one another makes sure that we’ll do that job for them.
A short summary, and suggested solutions
So, to summarize:
- I’ve been writing this post for three hours now and I’m tired and want to sleep.
- The allegations of bisexuality being binary are a load of bullshit.
- The allegations draw not from actual transphobia within bisexual words, communities or bi-identified people, but from wide trends and long histories of biphobia within the gay and lesbian movements.
- Transgender people have historically (and currently) suffer(ed) from similar allegations by the same sources.
- The revolution
After a night’s sleep, and a day’s work: of solidarity
We are all we have. Isolated in a cruel world. We survive, separately and together – which is better? Which would you choose? We imagine ourselves in foreign worlds when we are surrounded by friends. Our friends – who surround us with comfort, love, solidarity and pride. Who pick us off the floor when we’ve forgotten our own footing. We go outside and we fight together, we bring down barriers and dismantle hierarchies. We tear apart their order while imagining and creating the world that is ours: from our communities and our families of choice and into the streets. We invade society. We disrupt order. Where society will kick us down, we will fight back, together.
What we need is to support each other. Understand me when I say this: we are all we have. To love, to struggle, to stand shoulder to shoulder with. We survive each other.
None of us are free until all of us are free.
Want to read more about this?
88 thoughts on “Words, binary and biphobia, or: why “bi” is binary but “FTM” is not”
I found the arguments you’ve outlined here persuasive and have changed my mind as a result. I’m happy to see them all in one place so that I can link others to them! Thank you for taking the time, both to talk with me about them and to write them up here.
Ooh. *Blushes* ^_^
I liked this article very much. Really pleased someone has said all this — needs to be said over and again.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for helping me (and others, no doubt) by explaining and arguing so well the reasons why I truly love you/them all, without having to be told what I am by others. I’m a lover, and you are a beautiful person. Again, thank you. You made my day/week/year/ life tonight.
And thank you for making my day with this comment ^_^
I am one of those people that is also infinitely thankful! I have close friends who disagree with the term bisexuality because they think it has the potential to be transphobic – i have always refused to agree with that as a bisexual myself and this article is exactly the thoughtful, well articulated reinforcement I needed!
I still disagree with you about the use of the word, but thank you for writing. For the record I don’t feel particularly oppressed by the word “bisexual”–I just find it an inaccurate descriptor for myself and choose not to use it. I think you and I may well identify the same way but call it different things; by choosing not to use the word “bisexual” I’m not trying to disown or dissociate myself from the community of people who DO choose to use it, and are likely “the same thing” I am–I just think “pansexual” better describes the attraction I feel toward other people, so that’s the label I choose to stick on it.
I’m usually not a stickler for language (I am SO sick and tired of the arguments against “freshman” and the like) and really, I think we all have bigger fish to fry before we get to quibbling about words. Yes, language is powerful, but first I’d like to have a bathroom I can use. Regardless, I think “pansexual” is just more accurate for what a lot of us feel, and now that there IS that word, I’m curious why more people don’t simply say, “Oh hey–really the same thing, same movement, same community, just a potentially more accurate/concise/clear word with no lingering binary connotations (deserved or not).” Then again, I’m probably too young for the generation that helped reclaim the word “bisexual,” which may explain why I feel so cavalier about swapping it for “pansexual.”
tl;dr version: I think we are on the same side and flying two different flags, which is fine ’cause they’re for the same team.
Also, thumbs up for solidarity. Part of the reason I like the word “queer” is that I get tired of all the squabbling about language and oppression and politics and erasure. “You know what? Fuck it. We’re all just queer.”
Not that everybody likes THAT word, either. Can’t win, can we? (:
Thanks for your reply. I really hear you on what you say regarding accuracy in terms. When it comes to terminology alone, I think “pansexual” might indeed be a more accurate word for me, not only in relation to the variety of genders, but also in an Annie Sprinkle kind of way – I get very passionate by flowers and trees and the sea and hippy things like that ;) The reason I decided to break up with pansexuality as an identity is that I don’t feel as connected to its politics as I do to bisexual politics (of the radical kind, of course).
I might not have been explicit about it in my post, but I’ve made a conscious point *not* to trash other identities such as pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, queer, etc. To be completely clear – I don’t oppose these identities or the use of these word. I think they’re beautiful and regard them highly. I also think that multiplicity is an enormous part of bisexual politics and would be reluctant to police people’s identity choices.
The way I like to think of bisexuality is not only as a specific identity, but also as a spectrum. Similar to “transgender”, which is both a specific identity and a spectrum including many other identities (including several of my own), I think “bisexuality” is both an identity and spectrum inclusive of all the other bi/bi-related identities. I consider all this spectrum as part of my community and think that we have alot to do together :)
My thoughts exactly, Samson! I won’t take up more space echoing them, except to say that I don’t feel the need to replace “bi” with “pan”. I’m going to continue flying both flags and many more :)
Thanks to the author for taking 3 hours out of their busy life to write this for all of us who have been musing on it recently.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! THANK YOU for writing this so I don’t have to! :-)
I got taken to task a few months ago by a genderqueer friend who said that every time she hears someone identify as bisexual, she wants to sit the person down and educate them about the gender spectrum. This STILL infuriates me — as though I haven’t spent the last 20+ years working in solidarity with trans/genderqueer folks, standing up as an ally before it was the “cool” thing to do, advocating for inclusive language and legislation, etc. The presumption is appalling.
What still gnaws at me, too, is exactly the notion that somehow the T should always get to trump the B — that my concerns and needs are expendable. As though *anyone* wins the Oppression Olympics.
In my experience, the bi community *has* been the most reliable trans/genderqueer ally. (I’m saddened and disappointed to hear of your negative experiences. :-( ) But your point that bisexuals have the fewest resources from which to exclude trans/genderqueer folk is INCREDIBLY important.
Brilliant, succinct analysis. Thank you again.
Thanks for the feedback :) I think I need to thank you as well, for your important work on the bi invisibility report (which I haven’t gotten to read yet but will very soon!).
I know what you mean about the T “trumping” the B. I think the gap is not only a “formal” one, but is also a gap in content: transgender issues are generally considered cutting-edge and radical, whereas bisexual issues are generally considered, well, a useless waste of time :/ And that troubles me alot, as I often experience problems qualifying as a “true radical” when identifying as bi (but then again, that might also be a dark skin thing, I can’t really separate one from the other in my experience).
Anyway, what I’d like to see is a solidarity movement in which no issue need “trump” over the other and where *all* issues concerning our lives as bisexuals and transgenders can be considered worthy of all of our utmost attention and respect.
None of us are free until all of us are free.
Absolutely agree — all forms of oppression reinforce each other. To dismantle the systems that perpetuate them (including those within ourselves), no one’s liberation can come at someone else’s expense. Otherwise, it won’t last.
(How did I not know about your blog before? LOL.)
Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been doing coalition activism between the bisexual/pansexual and transgender/genderqueer (and intersex and polyamorous etc.) communities for ten years now, and have suffered the same frustrations you speak of, and I’m glad to hear it analyzed in a fresh way.
Can I speak to something that seems to me to be an underlying cause of constant attack upon bisexual identification? Biphobia or fear of identities that express fluid sexuality. Even with a very academic mask, I think that fear of fluid sexuality struggling to express itself and become visible is the real, underlying emotion prompting lesbian, gay and now transgender efforts to discredit bisexual identification.
Bisexual is not an adequate term for many, but for many decades it was the only term that signified attraction to more than one gender or fluid sexuality. Unfortunately, biphobic lesbian, gay and transgendered activists have always found a way to discredit and erase bi-identified people and one of the tactics they’ve used for decades is denouncing bisexual identity as not political enough, not politically aware enough, not queer enough, or illegitimate because bisexuals do not exist.
It’s more than a little depressing to see these tendencies repeat themselves generation after generation. The truth is that biphobic transgendered people have learned, like their biphobic gay and lesbian counterparts, to project the worst stigma onto bisexuals as a group and cast them as an “other” that needs to be corrected, silenced or expelled from queer discourse.
We won’t put up with it. You can’t assume anything about a person who identifies as bisexual. They might have come out yesterday; they could have been out for decades in LGBTQ struggle; they might have a more pansexual or fluid experience of sexuality; they might actually only be attracted to two genders; they themselves may identify as genderqueer, queer, trans, lesbian or gay, since adapting multiple identities is often part of bisexual strategy for survival; and bisexuals may be republican, democrat, socialist, conservative, anarchist, libertarian, unafiliated–you name it. We span not only the sexual and gender spectrum, we span the political spectrum too. There are, no doubt, bisexual assimilationists among us–and there are radicals, too. Get to know us before you pass judgement.
I’m so relieved that you brought up the other binaries that dominate queer discourse and yet hardly meet with any challenge from the same people who attack bisexual identification for its binary.
Finally, as an old school bisexual activist, let me note that there’s an underlying sentiment in the bisexual community that identities are not the be-all and end-all of either defining a person or expressing all that they may wish to express about their sexuality, gender, or politics. Why are we acting like identification is the sum total of a person’s political views or personal expression? It’s not and it never can be.
Non-binary people who have a problem with people erasing them by using the word “bisexual” to mean something closer to “pansexual” obviously do not have a problem with non-monosexual people in general, especially since a significant amount of them are pan themselves.
Agreed. I think in many contexts, bisexual behaviour isn’t perceived as a threat. Rather, the threat (and biphobia) begin as response to bisexual identity and identification.
And Julia Serano, in the article you link to, does use bisexuality to erase nonbinary and intersex people by coercively placing people into essentialist “male” and “female” categories, regardless of their identity.
So that article does not really support the argument that a bisexual identity isn’t binarist. What it really does is prove that some very high profile bisexual transgender people are in fact binarist.
Sorry, but am I being held accountable for Serano’s article? Could you please clarify what you mean?
If you are going to reference it as though it is a positive thing, then yes, you are going to be held accountable for that.
Did you link her article without reading it or something?
Her argument is basically “there may be people who aren’t men and women, but they are still either male bodied or female bodied, and I get to shove them into those categories based on how I feel about them.”
Her definition of bisexuality is explicitly binarist, and thus the article disproves your assertion that the complaints about binarism are not based on the attitudes of actual bisexual people.
Your suggestion that I linked it without reading it is, quite honestly, insulting. The fact that I linked an article doesn’t mean I agree with its entire contents. Once Serano is done with the binary blabber, she makes some excellent points about bisexual community, biphobia and transphobia – such that massively outweigh her problematic arguments in the beginning.
Well, the fact that you link to a binarist article and then claim that accusations of binarism are unfounded is insulting.
The fact that you refer to her invalidation of my and many other people’s bodies as merely “problematic arguments” that are tangential to this discussion is insulting, because that invalidation is where nonbinary people get the idea that bisexuality is binarist, not from some gay propaganda machine.
I think it might have been a while since you’ve read my post. Here is what I had to say about this above:
“To be fair – transphobia is indeed a problem in many bisexual communities, I have experienced this myself when attending BiCon this last August and have a mouthful not only about cissexism, but also about racism and classism within those communities. However, I feel that the scope given, within this debate, to addressing transphobia in bisexual communities is not only excessive in relation to actual amounts of transphobia (which says a lot, because transphobia is abound everywhere), but also that the content of the arguments fails to address any real problems existing within actual bisexual communities. Simply put, it feels less like community work and more like slander.”
My next post here was going to be about transphobia and binarism in the American bi movement, by way of directly addressing the problem rather than leaving the debate on an intangible level of semantics. I’ve not had the time to write it yet and now I plan to incorporate it in a book that I intend to write about bisexual politics. However, in two sentences, my current stance is:
1. Looking at the American bisexual movement and its politics, I am constantly (and painfully) reminded of the reasons why people would want to disown the movement and take on a different identity.
2. I think the “bi is binarist” discourse isn’t only unconducive to addressing transphobia in the bi community, but is in fact hindering it – as the bisexual movement is too busy defending itself against baseless accusation to be able to tell apart between those accusations that are groundless, and those that have substance. In an atmosphere where speaking about transphobia in bisexual communities is perceived as an accusation about bisexuality and all bisexual people’s inherent transphobia, it’s pretty hard to talk about things without seemingly contributing to biphobic discourse (which is not to say that it shouldn’t be done – only that the terms need to change).
I get that you wrote this reply in 2011, but it still resonates in 2019
Thank you SO much for writing this! You have pinpointed nearly every objection I have to the ‘bisexual is binarist’ argument that I have never been brave enough to.
Thank you ^_^ I really appreciate that. Empowering other people was my primary goal here, and I’m glad to see it achieved :)
Thanks for this. I, too, resisted the word bisexual because I thought it reinforced the binary. I appreciate your thorough reframe. This, as simple as it is, really helped too: “That linguistically – the “two” in “bisexual” might refer to attraction to genders alike to our own (=homosexuality) + attraction to genders different from our own (=heterosexuality).”
And while I suspect not everyone has the same perspective on why they identify as bi as you do, I did appreciate you sharing that it is a function of different attractions that do, to a certain degree, rely on the gender of your partner. While that’s not my experience of my orientation (I identify whole-heartedly as “queer”) I think your definition adds a lot of juicy subtleties to the word bisexual and allows for it to be as expansive and interesting as many other “newer” identities that are coming forth.
Thank you :) I really enjoyed reading this. Also, I need to say that I recently realized that part of why I identify as bisexual is that I really am *bi*sexual – as in, overwhelmingly, most people I’m attracted to are either bi or on the bi spectrum ;)
No great love for Genderbitch, but at least some trans people ARE discussing the binarism imbedded in ALL of the sexuality terms as they currently stand. I think that’s important to note, though yes, bisexuality is discussed more often.
And, for the record, I’m a bi/pan/what-have-you trans person. I am not particularly bothered by the terms bi and bisexuality. I often identify as such in public and, especially, in a political/activist context. On a more personal level, I tend to go with pan or queer, as I’m partnered with a genderqueer person who faces a lot of daily erasure of hir gender identity and don’t want to contribute to that, even inadvertantly.
I’d like to see everyone, trans and non-trans alike, bi/pan and monosexual alike, move on from the language wars, but I think this post oversimplifies things quite a bit and assumes a lot of bad faith on the part of trans people who are trying to create language that’s more inclusive of non-binary genders.
I don’t identify as pan because I want to be trendy or hate the bi community or put trans issues above bi issues (really, I’m not sure I can–I’m BOTH, I can’t cut away my non-monosexual self or cut away my trans self), but because I am doing the best I can to treat people with respect. I believe most people are trying to do that, though they’ll have reached different decisions regarding how they can show that respect. And that’s okay. But telling trans people to shut up and sit down regarding talks about sexuality terminology is not the way to go–ESPECIALLY for those of us who ARE bi/pan/etc.
I’m bi/pan as much as I’m trans. This is my community, too, and I have a rightful place in this discussion.
Thanks for the comment.
I respect and certainly share people’s intentions to treat others with respect and create transgender-positive language. However, I think there’s a large gap between those intentions and their consequences. In many contexts, people who identify as bisexual are automatically considered transphobic, oppressive, etc.
I’d like to note that the word “pansexuality” appears only once in my post, and yet many of the commentators chose to mention this issue. This makes me wonder why defending bisexuality is perceived by many as an attack of pansexuality.
As to shutting up and sitting down – what it means is asking people to listen and understand when bisexual people speak about – and define – their own identity and their own politics. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Moreover, I think the fact that bisexuals often have to literally beg for this, shows that something here isn’t working right.
“Yeah, it’s okay” blog explains this in a very compelling way: http://yeahitsokay.tumblr.com/post/7257676159/do-i-really-need-to-say-this-again (I really like rage :))
I don’t perceive this as an attack on pansexuality, for what it’s worth. I was simply stating who I am, where I’m coming from, and where I see myself fitting into these communities and discussions. It seemed relevant. I apologize if I was incorrect.
I don’t think I want to discuss this further. I have identified myself as bisexual (and as pansexual, too, yes)–as part of the community–yet I’m being talked to as though I’m an outsider. I’m not. “Their own identity and their own politics”–that is MY identity and MY politics too.
The discussions I’ve seen re: bisexuality and the gender binary, which may be very separate from the discussion you’ve seen, have been taking place largely among bi/pan/etc. people, some trans, some non-trans. It’s not monosexual outsiders swooping in and making demands (again, that I’ve seen–I know there must be many discussions I HAVEN’T seen), it’s an intra-community discussion, among people with different identities and privileges and all that messy stuff.
Also, I’m not very big on rage these days. It’s not how I like to communicate. I do appreciate, though, your posting my comment and taking the time to reply. Thanks.
Sorry if you felt that I was alienating you, that was not my intention. Using “their” seemed appropriate for general speech. If I’d have used “ours” it might have come out even more alienating (because who’s “us” and who’s “them” or “you”?). Either way, by “shutting up” I was referring to non-bisexual people. One of the things that bothers me about dominant views in the pansexual community, is having the definition of pansexual rely on a ready-made (and false) definition of bisexuality as binary. This is what I was referring to, and the implications of this opinion is what my text is about.
I just want to say thank you for writing this comment. :) I agree that this is why the transgender community may seem biphobic; it’s not because we don’t like bisexuals, it’s because we want to have our community become more inclusive of all gender identities, and as such, do not want exclusive terms to be used. Especially for labels. That’s the only explanation I can see for those I know of in our community, and any who express disgust towards bisexuals because of their sexuality are pathetic.
I don’t see it as a “T needs to take over B” issue. I see it as transgender updating the rest of the Pride rainbow as to its entire community. And of course, wanting respect for that.
Could it be perhaps a miscommunication and misunderstanding between the two communities?
Respectfully, I beg to differ. Dismissing an actual reality of biphobia in trans communities as “miscommunication” or “misunderstand” means denying the experience of many bi people in trans communities, including myself.
Simply put, to suggest that I might have “misunderstood” a community that I belong to, that the biphobia that I experienced (and keep experiencing) there for many years is simply a wrong judgment on my part, is insulting.
If the trans community wants to be truly inclusive of all its members, it needs to account to that fact that many of us are bisexual. It needs to start taking biphobia seriously. Dismissing bi trans people’s concerns about this issue is a bad way to go about it.
My apologies if what I said was offensive. It was not meant as an insult at all. By miscommunication and misunderstanding, I meant the definition of the word. From your blog I can extrapolate that bisexual means to be attracted to all genders, but what of other transgenders who have not read your blog and take it to mean attraction to two genders? That was my original take on the word and guessing by many transgender people sitting other people down to discuss the multitude of genders, I feel it’s safe to assume they are feeling the same.
Furthering that, I think it’s fair to say the transgender community should have the word bisexual redefined to them. The definition is the only thing I can imagine sparking a conflict, and if any transgender person thinks transgender issues are more important than any other Pride issue, then they’re wrong. Everyone is equal and everyone should be treated equal.
I wasn’t calling your judgement of the matter incorrect or putting the blame on you. I was merely proposing that everyone might not be on the same page, and because of that, are causing discomfort.
I am bi male. And The word “bisexual” has been a problem but I also never adopted the word “queer” to readily. The issue is about dating really. If I use bisexual as I have for twenty years I have been perceived often inaccurately as “closet gay” or “hedonistic straight” but some actually get and in my twenties I had no problem getting dates (or sex either). However in LTRs in both gay and straight relationships there has been pressure to conform to a gay or straight label and to closet “half” of myself. In general I have looked for other bisexuals to date to avoid the crap. There are very few bi men out so I dated mainly biwomen and a few gay men who identified as “queer” and I knew I was not going to be hassled or told my hetero feelings and relationships were “not real or legit”. I am now dating another biwoman and bingo – instant acceptance. I for one would like to change all of this but it will not change for a very long time. “Straight” is the wierdest institution of all because “straight” people are often big time closet “queer”. The fact that the gay community does not understand that “straight” is often not “straight” seems to a convenient denial. I mainly hang with straight men and usually am not hassled for my love of men and women. The prejudice is usually with straight women and certain gay men (which seem to be large in numbers). They have dated me anyway but unless I fully renounce “gayness” or “straightness” I am eventually dumped no matter how much I proclaim commitment and monogomy etc. It generally sucks to be out and “bi” but I don’t know another way really except being in the closet which now after 20 years is impossible.
I hear you, and you have my solidarity. I think that despite the widespread stereotype of “having it easy”, bisexual men are one of the most oppressed groups of LGBT, with very little acceptance or space to identify as bisexual, not to mention lead a bisexual lifestyle.
Thanks, I think this year 20 years of stigma has caught up to me. I am lucky to have two bisexual female partners : ) who are very supportive and loving (Ironically no boys). I think one of the most difficult things is when people don’t believe me I must submit to them my sexual resume / curriculum vita which generally also reveals that I have been at times a polyamorous perv. I hate overly politicizing my sexual life. I have, but these days I would rather have a lot more privacy. Especially since like MOST of the bi guys I know I am very sensitive. I think really that is one of the hardest aspects of politicizing bisexual men – We are not a whimps but there is only so much stress we can take – and I personally have a lot more I wish to do with my life than get people to understand it, like focus on my career.
I am single again and now going on dates with bi men, bi women and trans bi men. I find the stories people tell me fascinating. Most of the bi men tell me the same they either thought they were gay or thought they were straight and had to figure it out in isolation. And the trans men often tell me much elaborate stories of identifying straight female, then gay female, then bi female, then essentally trans straight, then trans bi. Perhaps bi
Perhaps bi pan and Transphobia all have something similar. Complex gender and sexual identity challenges other people sense of solidity. Solid sexualidentities are a modern invention that help bring agency and power – without a gay or lesbian solid identity gay rights would probably not have advanced to the point it has. But it comes at a price neatly packaging gayness to a hetero normative culture. Bi Pan and trans can not be packaged very easily so it remains in the margins of the margins.
I’m both bisexual and identify as gender-queer and it is kind of a hard issue to weigh in on, but I really want to thank you for writing this. It’s more than frustrating to see the vast majority of my BI friends, almost all of whom are cis-gendered, taking full advantage of their gender conformity. Most of the time they aren’t even doing it on purpose, you just get so much crap for being BI that they’ll use any similarity to take some of that heat off. “See! I’m just like you after all.” While us queers are still stuck in the damn middle. We need some solidarity and we can’t forget that we can never gain more freedom at the expense of another’s. Let’s all keep working on bridge-building.
Excellent article! It’s great to see someone take the time to fully enumerate all of these points in a clear, non-combative manner. Now all I have to do is point people in this direction :D
Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns and point of view. I liked the definition of bisexuality being a wonderful mesh of ‘homosexuality (liking same gender) and heterosexuality (liking a different gender)’. But I must agree that I also find pansexuality to be a more accurate definition of what it is to love all people regardless of their body parts. Are the two communities truly not the same? I’ve always viewed them as very similar, if not identical. Perhaps it would be a wise idea to rally up both communities and merge them into one strong force? :)
Regardless of if they’re the same or not, and regardless of merging the two together, pronounce yourself whatever identity you feel is the most accurate! It’s your life, and it’s your identity. Only you can say what you truly are.
I’m very heartbroken to see an expressed experience of biphobia from the transgender community. I’ve always been one to stand up for bisexuals as they are as big an outcast as transgender in the rainbow. I’ve seen many bi friends suffer the same grieving as I have from people belonging to pride, and because of it, I’ve always been ready to stand up for their rights. We’re all children of the rainbow and we should all love and support each other. Equally.
I would never fight a group within Pride because I love them all. Naturally my interests are peaked higher by transgender issues, but I’m still willing to stand up for everyone else.
I have to say the last facebook quote you posted did not sit well with me, unfortunately. You said you agreed with Serano that the transgender community was being led strongly by FTMs who were a part of the lesbian community, etc etc. As a FTM who came out in 2007 I can tell you that’s not the case. Back in 2007 (and all the years before then as I’ve come to read over the history), MTFs have always outnumbered FTMs. Drastically so. It hasn’t been until the last year, maybe year and a half that FTMs have really begun to step up and expose themselves to the community. And we don’t do it because we come from the ‘lesbian community’; I never associated with it, and many of my transmen friends agree that the community always felt inaccurate for them. In fact, we are the first to be pushed away from the lesbian community because we are viewed as “traitors”. Equally the same for bisexuals, I’m sure.
My apologies if I read your comment wrong, and feel free to correct me if I did so. I just wanted to point out that FTMs are not the leaders of the transgender community, but rather MTFs are (still are even after the flooding of FTMs). FTMs come second, and thirdgender/bigender/agender come last.
One last thing I want to add is that I love fitting into my male gender role. There was a comment in the article that hinted to transgenders who fill their gender role are “cementing” the binary expectations, but I strongly disagree! While I love being a man (mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially) I strongly encourage and support my thirdgender/bigender/agender friends who are creating their own social expectations. Some of them like similar role ideas, some of them like their own complete unique individuality. Either way I strongly support them in their quest to express gender however they want. I think it’s possible to keep the stereotypical man and woman social roles while also including new roles for those that don’t fit them. I’m sad that anyone would think me a bigoted fool simply because I enjoy a role so easily available to me. Especially when I’m an aware and accepting person for everyone else.
I think they might be meaning that FTMs are more likely to criticize bisexuals for identifying as bi rather than pan. I certainly agree that MTFs have been more represented in the trans movement overall, likely because a) they’re more common (female is the default biologically, so XY individuals with female traits vastly outnumber XX individuals with male traits among both trans and intersex people) and b) feminine AMAB individuals are more severely oppressed than masculine AFAB people, at least since the 60s.
This is very interesting. Only over the last 12 months have I heard of ‘problems with pansexuality’. And I have in some ways come back to the Bi identity due to writings like yours, But yours has been the one to fully convince me to take it back. Thank you for that, it does in some ways feel like coming home.
Though while I agree completely that the Bi community on the whole is quite Trans inclusive and is usually very well informed about the gender spectrum and fluidity; I still feel that if you ask the general population what Bi indicates, the majority will say two (man and woman). And that doesn’t sit right with me. We need education to help society reframe the definition of Bisexual, because as it currently stands according to others, it is completely wrong for so many of us (I do worry though about individuals who are truly only attracted to 2 genders, are we not giving them word to describe themselves? I would hope they would feel comfortable with the word as we are defining it. I want a world where everyone knows all identities can mean different things to different people, but we aren’t there yet sadly.) So I still identify as Pansexual as well. I feel both are suitable words for me. However I do not feel one is an umbrella term for the other the way they sometimes are shown.
Both identities (as well as all other non monosexual identities) need to come together to ensure the general society knows what our identities mean (including about the gender spectrum).
All this is to say, thank you for being the only person to provide an adequate explanation as to how Bi can actually refer to more than 2, and for not demonizing people who identify as pansexual. Hopefully people like us will be able to move us towards a world where everyone’s identify is personal and not questioned.
Thank you very much! As to people using binary definitions of bisexuality – I wrote about this, too: Cissexism and transphobia in bisexual communities. You might be interested in reading :)
Lovely article, and here’s my two cents. I choose to identify as pansexual not because of the transphobia associated with bisexuality. I actually see bisexuality as an umbrella term for many other nonmonosexualities, pansexuality included. So while I am bisexual, I am more specifically pansexual because I feel the concept of being “gender blind” suits me better than simply the capacity for attraction to more than two, or all, sexes/genders. Sex and gender just aren’t a factor in my attraction. I also personally identify with the association of falling for a person’s personality rather than their looks specifically. I just think of sexuality and attraction differently, and I feel that my definition of pansexuality sits very well with that. I like to think of bisexuality as based on sexual identity while pansexuality is specifically focused on gender identity. It’s just a more specific way for me to identify myself, while not eliminating the term bisexual from my list of identifiers. I also like “queer” not only because it is SUCH a lovely umbrella term but because we as a community are now able to reclaim it.
I am curious to find out what blog platform you happen to be working
with? I’m having some small security issues with my latest website and I’d like to find something more safe.
Do you have any suggestions?
I’m working with WordPress, on the Twenty Eleven theme.
Thanks for you blog. I’ve just started reading though some of it and am enjoyed/finding it helpful to think through things myself.
One comment regarding Sedgwick: I’m not sure that she can be labeled a straight women just because she was married to a man for the latter half of her life. It would also go against her theoretical work and insights into identity.
Thanks! That’s good to hear.
Regarding Sedgwick – this is exactly why I wrote she was gay male identified. Note though, that while I do appreciate her theory and her enormous contributions to queer theory, I don’t think her straightness can be dismissed that easily. Some even argue that this gay male identification of hers is appropriation of queer identities and experiences (as I’ve seen argued on tumblr – can’t find right now). Alongside her contributions, I think we also need to remember and hold her accountable for more problematic aspects.
I would agree that critique before solidarity is important.
I’m interested in the idea that her identity may appropriate, but I also think it’s important to remember what she is doing in regard to identity paradigm as a whole, and how ‘straight’ may (and i say may) still not be the right term to use for her. Perhaps this needs to be a study in itself. :)
Hi! I don’t know if you still really want to reply to comments on this post (though it does seem you do, yay!) and I apologize if this comments comes off rambling, because I’ve read your post/article three times now and my head’s still swimming a bit/it’s not all quite clicking. But what is clicking, that I was hoping for more clarification on (since I don’t think I’ve seen it in the comments?) is:
“think “bisexuality” is both an identity and spectrum inclusive of all the other bi/bi-related identities. I consider all this spectrum as part of my community and think that we have alot to do together”
I think this makes sense to me. But I just kind of wanted to clarify that what I’m hearing is “bisexuality is the broad term on the spectrum that can also be an identity, with other sexualities [pansexuality, polysexuality, etc.] being underneath that umbrella”? Or would it be more accurate to say pan/poly/queer sexuality should be considered as separate but similar/compatible identities? Like in the same way we often (I hope that ‘we’ is okay; I identify as genderfluid [and pan, but that’s got a lot to do with experiencing biphobia in my teens that made me personally uncomfortable with the term] for transparency’s sake) use “non-binary/genderqueer” to be the broad umbrella that is an identity but also encompasses the spectrum of genderfluid/agender/bigender/etc.Because if that is what you meant/I was reading that right (I have an awful tendency to mix things up which is why I’m panicking and asking for clarification ahhhhhhhh), that makes… an incredible amount of sense to me and really helps me, personally, with kind of figuring out where all of these non-monosexual identities fit in together. (And if it’s not, welp, I’m messing up I’m so sorry omg help politely requested.)
Also here or in one of your other articles (I’ve been flipping tabs, I’m a little more jumbled than usual and I am often jumbled) you were talking about letting people define what bisexuality means for them–which definitely makes sense on an individual scale. But I guess it’s… hard for me to wrap my mind around talking about the bi community with no real sort of set definition to encompass everyone; like, would just “attraction to more than one gender” be an acceptable way to define bisexuality on a broad scale? Or is that bad too?
Many apologies for how rambling this comment seems to have ended up. I’m really bad with that and can’t quite figure out how to cut it down. Your thoughts/corrections/comments/etc. would be really, really appreciated, and if I’ve screwed up here it was totally not meant to happen so please let me know. ^^;;
Reblogged this on Anonymous Sociopath and commented:
I found this pertinent to recent discussions.
Reblogged this on Bykyries.
I just wanted to say this is my first time reading your work and I look forward to reading a lot more of it.