Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Necessity of Building Bisexual Community

   Over the past year I have spent an extraordinary amount of time thinking, reading, and talking about bisexuality. I have read books on the topic, watched documentaries exploring bisexuality, and even given a presentation at my university about bisexual issues. When I came out, I never considered identifying as a lesbian and have always acknowledged my attraction to men as well. Nonetheless, when I came out I came out into the gay community because there was no bisexual community to come out into. At first, this struck me as more or less unproblematic. I had spent much of my adolescence and young adulthood exploring and acknowledging my heterosexuality and so embracing my homosexuality and seeking out women to date became my first priority upon opening the closet doors. I was aware that on some level I was different in important ways from gays and lesbians but I also knew I shared important similarities with them, too. I wanted to be accepted as bisexual, but in the context of the gay and lesbian community.
   As John Lennon famously said "Life is what happens when you're making other plans." Although I casually dated a few women during this period of my life, nothing with these women really clicked. I was very much sexually attracted to some of them but for whatever reason these people were not the sort of individuals I was able to evolve a real relationship with. This had nothing to do with their sex or sexual orientation, at least as far as I can tell. It was probably due to a number of factors which were slightly different in the case of each of these women. However, I did recently meet someone I was interested in having a relationship with and who was equally interested in having a relationship with me. This person was a man. Although this person's sex did not give me any sort of pause about pursuing the relationship, it did cause me to reexamine some of the ways I had previously thought about my place in the LGBT community and the wider society as a bisexual person.
   Suddenly I realized that the shopworn critique of bisexual involvement in the larger queer community - that because many bisexual people will have heterosexual partnerships their interests are not identical to gays and lesbians - had some resonance. Unlike Dan Savage and his ilk, I do not see this as a good reason for those in the LGBT community to exclude bisexual people. However, I do believe that it means that there may be times that for bisexual people themselves, the gay and lesbian community may not be able to fulfill all of their needs. The project of promoting bisexual acceptance within the LGBT community is an important one, but it has caused bisexual people to neglect the difficult truth that we have needs and desires the gay and lesbian community will likely be unable or unwilling to meet. It is not realistic to think that bisexuals, who often spend much of their lives dating or pursuing members of the opposite sex, will always feel most at home in the gay and lesbian community. It is also unrealistic to believe that bisexuals are always going to be understood and accepted in mainstream heterosexual circles. What we need is a bisexual community that transcends sex and is willing to include our heterosexual as well as our homosexual partners.
   Organizing bisexuals politically and socially can be a challenge. Bisexuals' relationship status and lifestyle choices differ, as does their degree of identification with the LGBT community or mainstream heterosexual society. As it stands now, the most politically and socially active bisexuals qua bisexuals tend to be the most homosexual-identified ones. Many of them got their start in activism in the LGBT community. Most of their friends come from that community. They conceive of their political concerns largely in the language pioneered by gay rights. What's more, what exists of a bisexual community has expended a great amount of time and effort attempting to win the approval of gays and lesbians, seeking to prove that they're gay enough to join the club. This has created a generation of young bisexuals who are afraid to identify with other bisexuals and afraid to acknowledge the extent to which they are heterosexual in the company of queers. To some degree this makes sense because our heterosexual relationships receive a certain degree of legitimacy from society that our homosexual relationships do not. Nonetheless, this makes it difficult for bisexual people to be their whole selves in the gay and lesbian community. Similar pressures exist in the heterosexual mainstream, but because these pressures are quite similar to those experienced by gays and lesbians they are already remarked on a great deal. For bisexuals, acknowledging one's heterosexual attractions often involves the tragic negation of homosexual attractions and vice versa.
   There are several other practical reasons I can think of as to why building bisexual community is so important:
1.) Building bisexual community would allow bisexuals to know that they are always accepted somewhere regardless of the sex(es) of their current partner(s).
2.) Building bisexual community would allow bisexuals to know that, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, their current partners would be accepted within the bi community.
3.) Building bisexual community would allow bisexuals access to holistic services regarding sexual health, legal rights, psychological help, financial planning, and family issues that might change dramatically for a given individual depending on the sex(es) of his or her partner(s).
The increase in pride and self-respect as bisexuals came to see themselves as more than just second rate homosexuals would be an important reason to pursue bisexual community in its own right as well.
   Despite its challenges, building bisexual community is an important step we must take if we are to thrive collectively and individually. Strong bisexuals are unlikely to exist in a vacuum; they must be supported by an infrastructure that recognizes the importance of their identity, even in the context of long term monogamous relationships. We must begin to build a community of strong, proud bisexual-identified bisexuals who see themselves as a part of this community regardless of the sex(es) of their current partner(s).


  1. I have been thinking of what to add or what to say but it's spot on. We need to be associated not just with the gay community but with the straight community and all communities!

  2. Let's do it! Location is one of the most challenging aspects for me (midwest). I have been part of online "communities" but finding local bi-pan-fluid folks who are fed up enough with biphobia to meet separately as a bi/pan group when we are all fighting for LGT causes can be so difficult.

  3. I absolutely agree with this. However, as you can see from this:

    bisexuals have been trying to build a bi community since the 1970's. I became a bi activist around 2006, and this was my top priority. However, I was dismayed by things like marching in the Pride March in New York City, which was started by an out and proud bisexual woman, but yet we only get about 50 people marching in the bi section every year, of the many thousands of people marching. There are tons of bisexuals marching, but even some of the city's bi leaders march in other groups, such as the poly or nudist groups.

    This article points to the fact that a lot of bisexuals ID more strongly as other things than bi:

    They already have a community, and it is not the bi community. A recent Facebook post said that the most common political party for bisexuals is Libertarian. We can't even decide what to call ouselves, and despite my having tried to heal the breach years ago:

    there is still a lot of animosity between people who use different labels for being somewhere between straight and gay.

    The most common quote about trying to organize bisexuals is that it is like trying to herd cats. I have begun to wonder if conventional organizing simply is the wrong approach with bisexuals. There are too many burnt-out ex bi leaders. Or perhaps internalized biphobia is still too strong in the bi community? I'm not sure what it is, but I think new models of organizing are needed.