2018 – a year that we can only hope to be better than the trash fire of 2017.
For a lot of us, it’ll be a year of activism – writing emails to our representatives, attending rallies and protests, and doing whatever we can to be advocates for our problems as well as the problems of others. Intersectionality has become key (as if it ever wasn’t) and in all honesty, if you aren’t advocating for everyone in your community, you’re just being selfish.
Part of intersectionality means putting your prejudices aside and actually fighting with your bisexual siblings by advocating for more inclusion – linguistically and otherwise. In 2017, the Bisexual community had quite the eruption of visibility; movie and television stars, artists, and other celebrities came out in force to bring visibility to bisexuality. GLAAD continued to spearhead bisexual initiatives with BiNet USA alongside campaigns for trans and intersex visibility, and more and more bisexual writers began telling our stories on platforms like HuffPost, PinkNews, and The Advocate.
Yet with the advancements in positive visibility, came another kind of visibility – biphobia and bi-erasure. It seems like an oxymoron, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The more stars that came out, the more studies that were published, the more testimonials that were heard, the more obvious biphobia and bi-erasure became. Unsurprisingly, some of biphobia and erasure came largely from the LGBTQIAP+ community.
That isn’t surprising because bisexuals and other MGA identities often have to fight waves of biphobia from within our community. We hate it, but we’ve gotten used to a lot of it by now. What caught so many bisexual advocates off guard were the gay and lesbian individuals and outlets that meant well and had every intention of being an advocate for bisexuals and their issues, but refused to change their language to effectively do so.
Those that seemed to have made changes to be more bi-positive, simply continued to perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions.
What do I mean by that? Simply put, if you do not update your language and check your views regarding the bisexual community, even the most well-meaning advocate will fail those they are advocating for. This statement isn’t limited to advocating for bisexuals, either. It applies to any group you are not a part of but want to advocate for – trans people, nonbinaries, Indigenous Americans, black individuals, non-black people of color, etc..
More specifically, acknowledging the privileges you hold over another group, no matter how slight those privileges may seem and no matter how uncomfortable you feel in acknowledging them, confronting prejudices, then doing what you can to use the correct language and your privilege to advocate for others is the only way you will ever effectively be an advocate. Checking yourself in the way you approach bisexuals, whether that be through a lense of stereotypes or misconceptions is a must.
I love bisexual advocates, truly, but I love an advocate that knows how to advocate, rather than just putting my community down in their Activist Resume. I want my advocates to succeed, I want them to be able to actually do well, instead of just be well meaning.
I want my LGBTQIAP+ advocates to actually advocate, instead of half-assing bisexual acceptance with restrictions and biphobic language. I personally want nothing more than to march side by side with all the letters of the LGBTQIAP+, but something has to change.
In order to help, I’ve created a short 5 step Advocacy Checklist that, while written to help advocates of the bisexual community, can be adapted for advocacy of all kinds. However, it’s up to the advocate to look into what they need to do to advocate for other communities. I mean REALLY look. Don’t ask a white advocate how to properly advocate for Indigenous Americans, or black people, or non-black POC. Ask someone from within that community.
Step One- Acknowledging Privileges
Do you have privilege over the group you’re advocating for? In regards to bisexuality, are you monosexual? Do you know what that term means? If not, I suggest reading my article (found here) taking a deep look into monosexuality and monosexism. TLDR; it’s real and has a very negative impact on non-monosexual communities. Being monosexual doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, not in the slightest. It does mean that you cannot relate to the struggles of non-monosexuals, and it does mean you hold the privilege of not being associated with the least funded, most mentally ill, and most violence-stricken sexual orientation demographic.
If you’re straight, your orientation gives you the most power to be a force for advocacy, you’ve got a direct line of access to the power structures that bisexuals cannot access, but if you’re LG, you’ve got immense power within the LGBTQIAP+ community. LG advocates are the most visible part of LGBTQIAP+ sexualities, they dominate queer spaces with longstanding public pages, groups, and websites like LezBeHonest, Have a Gay Day, PinkNews, and LGBTQ Nation. LG public figures have larger followings than BTQIAP+ public figures like George Takei (despite the admitted sexual misconduct), Lizzy the Lezzy, Ellen, and Anderson Cooper. LG-centric nonprofits even rake in the most money, GLAAD and the HRC being the two most notable, allowing them to push more funding into lobbying, campaigning, and visibility depending on the type of nonprofit they are. Yet the issue of visibility and funding will be addressed a little later.
Monosexual privilege may seem minor, but it has consequences, and it’s something that must be acknowledged. Until you do so, you won’t be able to be a successful advocate for bisexuals and other non-monosexuals.
Step Two- Changing Language
Something that seems so minor as language use can have large impacts. Getting language wrong can skew the purpose and intent of your message, making even the most well-meaning show of support something that needs to be critiqued and the most well-meaning advocate an individual that needs to be educated. While this may be listed as a single step, there are multiple parts involved in updating, adapting, and properly using bi-inclusive language to effectively advocate for the bi community.
Part 1: Learn our ACTUAL Definition
Bisexuality is the attraction to more than one gender. (Definition taken straight from BiNet USA’s blog)
Pansexuality is the attraction to all genders, or regardless of gender
Poly/Multi/Omnisexuality is the attraction to more than two genders
Part 2: Use Bi-Inclusive Language
Instead of saying GAY marriage, try SAME GENDER marriage
Instead of saying GAY rights when you mean LGTBQ+/LGBTQIAP+ rights, just say LGBTQIAP+ rights
Basically, stop saying gay/lesbian when you are trying to talk about more than just gays and lesbians. Honestly. It’s tiring.
Step 3 – Confront the Stereotypes and Misconceptions You Hold and the Biphobia that Comes With it
It would be a lie for anyone, even the most decorated advocate/activist, to claim that they have never had to challenge themselves and the way in which they view those around them. It’s one of the longest, most personal steps in becoming a good advocate.
When specifically looking at bisexuality and advocacy, that means the advocate needs to learn to accept bisexuality and all of its forms; polyamorous, monogamous, sexually open, sexually closed, between people of the same gender and even between people of different genders (I will dive more into these ideas in Step 5). If a bisexual is “slutty”, deal with your own prejudices regarding sexual openness and freedom rather than shaming them for their sexual habits.
This can be hard, because a lot of gay and lesbian individuals have built their entire idea of bisexuality based on the negative stereotypes surrounding our label, and have created pejorative terms to refer to us by as a result. Being a bisexual advocate requires you to take a hard look at the use of that language, and stomp out their use.
We aren’t hasbians, we’re bisexuals. We aren’t “Gay Today,” we’re bisexuals. Confront your own use of those terms, why you’ve used them, how your friends talk about bisexuality, and the biphobia from around ad within you, or you won’t be able to see bisexuals and bisexuality as anything other than an “other”.
Step 4 – Actively Fight Bierasure in all Forms
Fighting bierasure means reminding people we exist, and demanding that our lives and stories are told. It also means putting yourself to the side and respecting that fighting bierasure might mean appearing like you’re working against your own community.
Bisexuals have been erased in scientific/social studies, pop culture, and history. We have long-standing histories of leading the fight for equality, we’ve been movers and shakers. We’ve even been your favorite characters on T.V shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Brooklyn 99.
With our long history, with our expanding list of characters and figures that loudly announce their sexuality, why insist on erasing it purely for your own benefit/visibility.
More importantly, do not pick and choose what aspects of bisexuality that you want to absorb. Do not use our statistical findings to bump up your numbers (*cough* LGBTQ Nation), and do not rob us of our historical figures just because their bisexuality makes you uncomfortable. Freddy Mercury is bisexual, Y’all. Get used to it.
Step 5 – Stop Hiding Behind “Unless”
Often, the acceptance of bisexuals into queer spaces hinges on the word “unless”.
Unless we are dating someone of the same gender
Unless we identify as another queer label
Unless we take a position of ally rather than community member
And, to put it bluntly, those are all bullshit positions. Bisexuals ARE queer enough, REGARDLESS of who we are dating, or other labels we identify as, and we should not have to put our issues in the back seat.
Advocates for bisexuality, especially gay and lesbian advocates, need to understand that simple fact. We too often don’t have our own spaces, our own platforms to express our anger and our struggles. This is largely an issue of erasure and resources, and because of this, we have to sit in the spaces of gays and lesbians in order to find our support. Enforcing this idea of unless keeps us out of the only spaces many bisexuals can
It also has another negative side effect: erasure.
The enforcement of unless forces bisexuals into erasure from both sides. We suddenly become straight when we have the attraction to or are currently involved with, people of another gender. When we aren’t in relationships with people of another gender, we become the labels most popularly placed upon same-gender relationships; gay and lesbian.
Fighting against unless will not only give us our identities back but will also allow bisexuals the visibility we need to gain more resources to create our own spaces.
These steps are just a small collection of ways that advocates can become better regarding the bisexual community, and how well-meaning gay and lesbian activists can support their bisexual partners and siblings in a universal fight for acceptance and equality.
Yet even these steps are not enough.
Remember to also be aware of the sites you’re supporting as an advocate, be conscious of the ideas that you are sharing and the activists whose voices you are giving attention to. Donate to bisexual organizations, support bisexual writers and creators, and always remember to let bisexuals take the stage during discussions of the issues that specifically affect us.
And remember, the bisexual community needs our gay and lesbian advocates, but we also need them to do better.