Note: This is joannadeadwinter’s excellent & thought-provoking response to me originally posted on her blog here as part of our ongoing back-and-forth conversation about bisexuality. Please read and join the discussion!
You don’t get to puff yourself up that you’re building the future, then crow about choice when people challenge you on the future you’re building.
I guess that’s as good a place to start as any. Saye Bennett wrote on her blog that she is “still skeptical” on the topic of bisexuality. Well, the post, and particularly the comments, sent my mind abuzz and one post will not adequately address it. But Lao Tzu said that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Here is my first, single step, and that is to make sure we are even discussing the right questions.
Thus far, we have discussed whether bisexuality exists, and if so…why does it *seem* that they are all straight? Those questions still matter, especially to those who dodge critical examination by hiding behind nature (“Don’t judge me you mean old lesbians! I was born bi! I don’t control if I love a man or not!”) Upon reading and writing comments, however, I realized that wasn’t the crux of the matter.
The real question is: What purpose does it serve to have the B lumped in with the LG? How does it add to, or undermine, gay activism and culture?
On a superficial level, it makes sense. Unlike gender, bisexuality is about sexual minority status, or being not-straight in a straight-and-narrow world. Anyone and everyone, whether they are really homosexual or not, needs legal protection and cultural acceptance in the event that a) they are caught engaging in same-sex relations and/or b) are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be homosexual. Laws that prevent discrimination don’t just protect oppressed classes, but also those perceived to be associated with oppressed classes. A good example is disability law: Just as an employer cannot deny reasonable accommodations on the job, they also cannot force you to use accommodations or alter your job descriptions and responsibilities because your boss *thinks* you have a disability that requires it. It’s the same with religion. If you are perceived to be Muslim and discriminated against because of that perception, the law protects you and employers cannot claim that the law doesn’t apply because it turns out you’re not really Muslim. I feel sexual orientation law can, and should, work in the same way.
Furthermore, I think the concept of bisexuality may have been helpful once upon a time when homosexual was scary, deviant, and criminal. The idea that even people straight as an arrow can and do have homoerotic desires and have same-sex encounters perhaps assisted society in seeing themselves in the gay/lesbian community and hence normalized same-sex attraction. Having more members of a minority in society, and having those minorities in the ranks of “normal” people, tends to have that effect.
Lastly, we may not have a choice as to whether L, G, and B are lumped together. Just as LG were lumped together by larger society during the AIDS crisis, aka the plague, the dying times (!), trans activism may well have the same effect on the LGB. Lesbians have been fighting transactivists for decades, as have gay men (although they have not been as viciously targeted). Bisexuals, though, are new to the fray. It has come to my attention in the past year that bisexuals are transphobic for defining their sexuality in terms of two (bi) biological sexes (sexual). At least one person in my circle calls herself queer and outright refuses the bisexual label because bisexual is “reductive” (“I love people, not body parts!”) and exclusionary (“Think of the trans!”) So I am forced to add bisexuals to the ever-growing list of people who aren’t allowed to say no to cross dressing creeps. If bisexuals ever got a clue and took a stand against this trend, LGB could work well together.
With that said, working well in a crisis involving a common enemy doesn’t necessary translate into working well as a matter of course. That brings us to today’s topic…the drawbacks of the B in LGB.
I don’t imagine that there’s much harm to lesbians when homo-leaning bisexuals (which I call violets) and homoflexible women align with the lesbian community (provided they’re honest) because these women have presumably committed themselves to women’s communities, women’s issues and also strongly prefer women sexually. I could be wrong on this, but they don’t seem to be the issue. Rather it’s hetero-leaning bisexuals (lavenders) who have a habit of crashing onto the shores of Lesbo Island, then leaving when the next male rescuer comes along, but leaving the remains of the shipwreck behind. In other words, they dominate lesbian time and space, marginalize lesbians, and yet don’t contribute to the movement or culture or accept the risks of being publicly visible as lesbian.
Saye and Dirt have talked at great length about straightbians and the damage they do to lesbian communities, as well as talking about what distinguishes later-in-life lesbians from straightbians. I will not belabor that here, in part because they do a better job and because I do not have the expertise in that area. I want to talk about lavenders (assuming that they really are bisexual-leaning-straight, and NOT straightbians) and their impact on lesbian communities. Here is where I question whether it makes sense to lump lesbians and bisexual women together.
Because let’s face it: Lavenders by definition are more straight in their romantic and sexual interest and relate far more to straight culture, and spend far more time in it, than lesbian culture. And lesbian IS a culture. Think of an ethnic group. They are ethnic in their genetics and their appearance, but also their language, their history, their traditions, their way of life. It’s a culture, an identity, and a biological link, all in one. Lesbian is the same way. Every time a lavender joins the lesbian community, then leaves it for a male partner, a marriage, children, and straight ambitions (aka the flat with the white picket fence and apple tree), she creates the impression that this is the proper trajectory for a lesbian. Lesbianism is a phase. Lesbians really want men, eventually, once they heal from whatever trauma or brainwashing they supposedly endured. Lesbians should aspire to get married, have children, or otherwise blend into the straight lifestyle. It normalizes straight culture and straight expectations in the ONE place it shouldn’t be happening.
When I came out, I knew I was different but didn’t know how. I never wanted to get pregnant or get married. I had fantasies early on of just magically creating a child or hatching a child. When I discovered adoption and fostering, I knew I found my place. I always wanted to work, to live independently, by my own rules. I never played at getting married, never really liked boys that much (and no, I wasn’t sexually abused as a child). Yet all I would ever hear was how “You never know, they all say that, you might change your mind!” (Curious how they never say that to little girls who dream of a princess wedding to a handsome prince and lots of little babies.) I have also heard, more than once, about so-and-so who was convinced she was a lesbian…until she met this amazing guy! When people who call themselves lesbians or bisexuals do this in large numbers, it leaves the rest of us in the dust, coerced, not believed. Where does it leave us? It leaves us in one of two places
The more time we spend focusing on the ways lesbians are Just Like Everyone Else, especially in family life and motherhood (a STRAIGHT priority, c’mon!), that is precious time and energy not spent on supporting lesbians who don’t fit the mold-childless lesbians, unmarried or domestically partnered lesbians, lesbians adopting or fostering, single lesbians, lesbians who want and NEED a safe, validating, and SEPARATE space to be lesbian their way…the way most lesbians were throughout most of history, both out of necessity and out of desire. How many people know that when adoption laws were first drawn up, not only were single parents allowed to adopt, they were among the first to adopt and many of these “single” parents were gay and lesbian parents going stealth. Gays and lesbians were instrumental in devising family structures outside of marriage and children and fighting for the rights of unmarried and non-straight people. How many people are aware of the fate of gay and lesbians teens in foster care or in religious cults (beyond the sensational Duggar headlines in tabloids of course?)
Note: Yes, lesbians and gays can get married now, and I feel they should enjoy the benefits available to any other couple. However, I don’t agree with legal rights being exclusive to married couples, straight or not. I hate the wedding industry and the wedding culture, which, like it or not, was built by and for heteropatriarchy, and no amount of “subversiveness” will change that to any significant degree. Get married if you like the symbolism, get married if you want, or need, the rights and privileges attached…but let’s not stop there. You shouldn’t have to get hitched to be set. It’s one step of many to get to our real goal.
But not many people know this, and even fewer people care. There is, however, a lot of buzz about all the different ways to get pregnant and the details involved in each method. There is plenty of buzz about fancy lesbian weddings with the white wedding dresses, the huge cake, and who takes which partner’s last name. We talk about our houses, our school involvement, our thoroughly assimilated lives. We talk about issues mostly related to heterosexual married mothers because of lesbian assimilation and lavender infiltration, even though there is a whole world devoted to these very issues, and precious little space for those that don’t conform. No, straight people and lavenders must have attention on them at all times. Any little space or time not available to glorify them is a horrible assault on their rights.
What is left out are those who cannot or don’t want to assimilate. Anyone that wants to discuss the alternatives, anyone who criticizes the dominant cultural forces that affect lesbians and, by extension, violets and celibate women, is accused of being exclusionary, of interfering with their right to choose, of judging, etc. How, exactly, little old me and my curmudgeon alter ego have the power to stop two multi-billion dollar industries (wedding and artificial baby industries) and overwhelming cultural forces is not explained.
But mark my words, something WILL be explained, over and over, forcefully as needed, by yours truly, until the day I die…artificial reproduction favors men and undermines women and lesbians. Certain forms of artificial reproduction, in particular artificial insemination, drastically favors male babies. We damage our health and spend larges sums of money bearing and raising these male children. We spend time making sure they don’t grow up to be toxic masculinity personified (which is men’s issue, something men should solve, not women), instead of protecting women from said toxic masculinity. Even if artificial reproduction equally distributed the sex of babies, or even favored female babies…guess what? We don’t need more babies. There are plenty of FEMALE babies, young children, older children, teenagers, young adults in foster care, in institutions, on the streets and in shelters, in abusive households, worldwide, who NEED us. Yet while REAL, ALREADY LIVING women and girls suffer, get abused, die, and are ignored, we pour our resources into creating designer babies, families, lives…and we pretend that this benefits women or advances the lesbian cause. It’s pop culture feminism at its finest. We buy the right media, wear the right clothes, make the right statements…and utterly fail to change the real, material conditions in which women as a class live. More perverse, those that DO try to critique and change material reality are silence by the choosy choice brigade. I’m not buying it. I’ve spent too much of my young life being bullied into silence and acquiescence. I refuse to let my space, my life, be co-opted and dominated for that purpose anymore.
Remember back in the day of King Henry and his many wives? How he killed them for failing to bear sons? Lesbians are being damaged and the soul of lesbian culture is being slaughtered to bear and raise male babies by heteropatriarchal standards. Yes, it’s history repeating itself. Wake up.
When you fail to honor lesbian and woman-centered culture, when you abandon us, leave your shipwreck on our island…you destroy lesbian culture and thus lesbian lives. When you leave us for straight culture, you drag us with you without our consent or leave us to get figuratively beat up by the dominant culture. And I just won’t go, and I won’t take the blows.
Lesbo Island doesn’t care much for passing visitors, but immigrants and displaced members of the lesbo diaspora are always welcome. Think hard about which category you fall into. Enjoy your stay.