Why Don’t The Bi People Just Come Out Already? An Open Letter To Dan Savage.


Dear Dan Savage,

It pains me to say this. I like you. I don’t think you’re perfect, or have any obligation to be. I don’t think you have a responsibility to be an official representative of everyone with a smidge of queerness in the world. I don’t agree with everything you say- not a bit!- but overall you seem like a decent enough sort. That, and you’re clever, funny, and I think that, overall, you do a lot of good. Also, your podcast keeps me entertained long enough to get a bunch of housework done every week. Me and my laundry say thanks for that, by the way.

It pains me to say it, of course, because as someone with a tendency to run his mouth on things (something I can well identify with), when you get things wrong it can be.. shall we say spectacular? But I appreciate that you don’t silence dissent, that you acknowledge that you piss people off, and that most weeks you even run some of those pissed-off voices on your show. Good job with that, by the way.

Dan, if you’re reading this? I’ve got a bone to pick with you today. This is where I’ll become one of those hordes of angry bisexuals that you keep hearing from.

Find out why (oooh, clickbaitey!) over at the Tea Cosy’s new home.

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The Overwhelming Heteronormativity Of ‘Born This Way’


You’ve heard the phrase ‘born this way’. We all have. Even before Gaga turned it into an earworm that has been rattling around my brain for every single sentence of this post, it’s been a way that people explain queerness. And, for many of us, it’s something that makes sense in our own lives. We point to telltale signs in our childhoods that there was always something different about us. When people call us perverts and abominations, we respond by assuring them that no, this is who we are, and that this is how we were born.

I despise it. And I’d like to explain why. This is going to take a little work, though- we’ll be talking about heteronormativity, gender, and even the dreaded patriarchy along the way. So make yourself a nice big mug of something, because we’re going to start right at the heart of it all- wondering why on earth homophobes are.

Why on earth would anyone hate queer people?

It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here we all are, doing our thing in a world that has plenty real threats against us, and people pick who someone loves or what gender they are as reasons to despise them. On face value, it doesn’t make any sense. Queer people mainly go about our days like everyone else does, by-and-large minding our own business. Our existence doesn’t harm anyone. We don’t prevent anyone else from living their lives as they choose. Generally, we just want the same right to choose our own destinies and to have our families and identities respected the same way everyone else’s is.

On face value, it seems bizarre that that would be a big deal.

Why do people hate us so much, then? It’s easy to say “religion” or “ignorance”, but those answers don’t really tell us anything. While it’s true that some religions have taboos against entirely harmless things, it’s unusual to find something harmless that the majority will forbid. When you do, though? It’s often a sign that there is a threat lurking just below the surface. Something that is dangerous in ways that are not always obvious.

Reproductive rights aren’t dangerous unless you have a vested interest in controlling women. Diversity in gender and sexualities isn’t dangerous, either- unless, that is, you have a vested interest in maintaining a distinctly binary and patriarchal gender system. Which, if you’re given power by that system? You do.

We live in profoundly patriarchal (and kyriarchal) societies. It’s not just that men hold most positions of power and the vast majority of wealth in the world. It’s that the positions men tend to hold and the ways that men tend to do things are more valued themselves. And it is, of course, that we divide what people should do and how they should do it on binary gendered lines. Not necessarily on purpose, by the way. Patriarchy isn’t a shady cabal of men meeting in secret in darkened rooms to plot against equality. It doesn’t have to have leaders. It doesn’t even have to be something that people are obviously or consciously aware of. It’s just people doing what they do, groups working to their own advantage, and power entrenching itself in obvious and subtle ways over the decades.

Yes, by the way, I am going to get back to queer people. Trust me- it’s all connected, but for the moment we’ll have to talk a little more about gender.

Because the only way that this kind of large-scale social control and organisation can continue, of course, is if people buy into it. We need to feel like it’s a good thing. We need it to feel natural, like there’s an essential good to men doing one kind of work (largely paid and visible) and women doing other kinds of work, which are more likely to be unpaid and invisible. It has to satisfy us. We need to feel like we live in a world where this is not just inevitable, but preferable. Like it’s the only truly natural way to be. And if you’re a human, which I am almost certain that you are, then one of the ways you make sense of the world is through narrative. It’s through narrative that we create and pass on our ideas about what is good, what is bad, and what our happy ever after looks like.

When it comes to gender? We have narratives in spades. Think of family homes- warm, welcoming spaces filled with nurturing mothers, grannies and aunties. Think of good, decent men who work all day to provide for the families they love, before coming home to spend time with the kids they dote on. Think of the love they all have for each other and the ways they take care of each other.

I know you can, because we all can. We’ve all lived our lives in a world saturated with these stories. And stories.. stories get under your skin. Stories are how we make sense of the world.

Queerness as threat

These stories aren’t just about the family. They are situated in the family, but they’re about far bigger things. They’re about how we define ourselves as men and women, boys and girls. They’re tied both to aspects of our core identity, and to some of the largest-scale social divisions we have. Three and a half billion people on one side, three and a half billion on the other. And the thing that divides one 3.5 billion from the other? Is the same story that we tell them will keep them safe, loved and happy in their closest and most intimate relationships. It’s the story that we are all men or women, and that men and women are deeply, essentially distinct groups of people. It’s the story that, for all our differences, there is one thing that is an essential maleness, and another that is an essential femaleness, and that the complementarity between these differences is what brings us together.

In a world where the family- that space where we create our homes, our refuge from the world, where we love and nurture each other- is based on the idea that men and women are essentially different beings, queerness is scary. If two men, two women, or an entirely different configuration of people can come together and create a family? If little girls can grow up to be men, little boys to be women, and anyone to be neither men nor women? We are left without an anchor for some of our most treasured truths. We are left afraid in a world that makes even less sense than we thought it might.

People aren’t scared of queerness because there’s anything immediately wrong with one woman loving another, or with some people’s bodies being configured differently to others. They’re scared of queerness- and they lash out at us- because we challenge one of the biggest narratives our society has, one that stretches from large-scale division to the intimacy we share with people we love to our very sense of ourselves.

And for many of us? We are left without one of the few things that gives us some semblance (or a great deal) of power and authority.

By now, there’s likely no going back. Many of us queer people are no longer willing to hide. We have families and friends who love and support us. Our existence can’t be denied. The evidence that we are as capable as anyone of having meaningful lives and creating nurturing families continues to grow. To talk directly about how we challenge gendered narratives is to admit that those are stories that might themselves be challenged.

And so- without deliberate effort, but because it makes sense to us and helps us to feel safe- an overwhelming narrative arises. Instead of facing our stories head-on and challenging the truths they claim, we adapt them. Just a little bit, on the edges. We fit queerness into the cracks of our stories, moulding it to keep us feeling safe.

We say that we were born this way.

Born This Way as neutraliser

Before I go on, I want to make a point very clear. I am not stating for a second that everyone’s orientation or identity is chosen, malleable or fluid. From many LGBT people’s childhood stories to the overwhelming failure of ex-gay ‘therapy’ to do anything other than hurt the people it claims to help, it’s clear that sexuality is, for many people, something that revolves closely around a fixed point.

For others, though, it’s not. Sexual and gender expressions are gloriously diverse. Even if we’re born with particular inclinations, the choices that we make after those define us as much as that which we are born with. Additionally? Something that could be fixed for one person may be chosen for another.

I hope you’ll forgive me for mentioning myself for a moment- I live in my own mind, so I can’t speak for anyone else. I grew up with the potential to be attracted to people of a variety of genders. I chose to come out, to pursue non-hetero relationships with the people I felt drawn to. I learned about different ways of doing relationships. Currently, I choose to pursue nonmonogamous relationships, if I pursue romantic relationships at all, because they fit well with the values I’ve developed, the way I prefer to build family and community- and, if I’m honest, because I happened to meet some wonderful poly people along the way.

I’m willing to bet that, whatever your own orientation and preferred relationship configuration(s), you have similar stories. You were born or grew up with a certain innate potential. Then you met some people, learned some things, discovered different ways of doing relationships, and made some choices about what kind of things suit you. Some of these things are dealbreakers. Some are open to negotiation. And there is, over the decades of your life, change between which category a particular thing fits into.

In short? We have potential. We make choices. We change. We grow. Many of us have the potential to be different to what we are- and maybe someday we will. Or we won’t. Life is complicated, and it sends us in unexpected directions sometimes.

The idea of ‘born this way’ ignores all of that. ‘Born this way’ introduces the idea that we have no choice in who we are, who we love, and what we do.

On one hand, it encourages a horrible narrative in supporting equality- the idea that we simply can’t help who we are. Who, it asks, would ever choose such a terrible fate as to be queer? If we could be cishet we would, right? ‘Born this way’ doesn’t challenge heteronormative ideals of the superiority of particular relationship forms. It doesn’t celebrate anything about queerness- not the relationships we have, the cultures and families we create, and the things we have to teach cishet society. Instead, it asks for ‘normal’ people’s pity. Don’t be mean to us. We can’t help it. We were born this way.

That’s not the only way, though, in which the ‘born this way’ narrative- and it is a narrative, which emphasises certain aspects of queer experience while ignoring and erasing others- bolsters heteronormativity. You see, ‘born this way’ also reinforces the separation between straightness and queerness. If we are ‘born this way’, than, by extension, straight people are not. If we are born this way, then we are, and are destined to always remain, different from the norm. An exception, distinctly separate from the rule, made so by an accident of birth. If we are born this way, we pose no threat or challenge to gender norms or heteronormativity- we’re nothing more than abberations. A minority who will always stay that way, and always be slightly apart.

Why You Need To Quit Calling Homophobes Closet Cases.


A comment over at The Journal:

Homophobia is often a symptom of latent homosexuality. Homophobes need to be encouraged to accept their orientation.

I quote it because it’s so common. We hear this all the time. Someone expresses wildly homophobic views, and the response is that they must be closeted themselves. They’ve got some issues to deal with, amirite? Some personal stuff they need to work out. Wink. Nudge. Know what I mean?

Yeah. I know what you mean.

Sometimes you’re right. Lots of people do respond to internal conflicts by acting out. Loads of vehemently homophobic people are closeted. But I’ve got a few issues with ‘homophobes are all queers’ being our go-to explanation.

…and you can find them out over at the Tea Cosy’s new home!

Help Kate Stay Alive


kateb

I’m not American. I don’t tend to throw around words like ‘heroes’ when I speak about the people I admire- it’s a word that seems clunky and ill-fitting to me.

If I did, though, Kate Bornstein would be one of them. Not just for her writing and her work- although those are immensely valuable and important. For who she is. For the genuine interest she takes in the people around her. For her warmth, her openness, and the love and community she embodies. While we don’t agree on absolutely everything- on the other hand, who the hell agrees with someone on everything?- she is one of the most genuinely engaging people I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. I’m immensely privileged to call her a friend.

Kate needs your help.

She’s suffering from lung cancer. It’s treatable. Getting through the treatment and compensating for the money she won’t be earning is going to cost her about $100,000.

Nobody should ever have to look for money for medical treatment. Medicine is a right, damnit. The fact that someone I care about who has given so goddamn much to our community has to ask for help in accessing the  life-saving treatment she needs and keeping a roof over her head when she does it? It is wrong. This shouldn’t be happening. Everyone, whether famous or unknown, rich or poor, admirable or asshole, should be able to get the treatment and support they need without question.

This shouldn’t be happening, but it is.

If you can spare anything- anything, even a couple of eurodollarpounds- please go to her fundraiser and donate what you can. If you can’t spare money, please share and spread the word.

Kate has helped so many of us to stay alive. Please, right now, return the favour.

Stonewall messed up. Let’s fix it.


Stonewall have just released a new guide for parents who think their kids may be LGB. Called So you think your child is gay?, it’s chock-full of the same erasure of the right-hand-side of the LGBT acronym we’ve come to expect from Stonewall.

I’m not sure what I’m more angry about. Is it the fact that, a decade or so after the rest of us have moved on, Stonewall steadfastedly refuse to drag themselves into the late-20th century and update their acronym to LGBT? Or is it the fact that, despite grudgingly including the B, they insist on using the word ‘gay’ throughout this booklet, throwing in an “or lesbian” or an “or bisexual” just enough to remind the rest of us that they are veguely aware of our existence while still blithely ignoring any and all specific issues that LB people or our friends and families might have? It’s like intersectionality never happened. Then again, since intersectionality did happen, it’s perfectly okay to be angry about both kinds of erasure in distinct and special ways.

I want to do more than be angry, though. I think it’s time for the Ls, Bs, Ts, Qs and As among us to put our money where our great big loud mouths are. All LGBTQ kids and their families and friends deserve equal recognition of their needs, identities and the distinct issues that might come up for them.

I’d like to make an updated version of this booklet that’s inclusive of the rest of us. I’m even willing to give it to Stonewall- for free- to distribute, just as long as they let anyone else who wants to do the same.

But I can’t do this alone. I’m a big loudmouthed bi and queer activist. I can’t speak for trans* kids or ace kids or any of the rest of you. I can’t even speak for bi/pan guys and most genderqueer folks! But I know that you lot can.

Were you a kid or teen who came out, or wanted to come out, as something? Or a kid who didn’t know what the hell to come out as? Are or were you the parent of a kid who came out? Or the friend? What were the questions that you or your family/friends had?

Tell me! Either here in the comments or by email at considertheteacosy at gmail dot com, if you’re not comfortable sharing with everyone. Let’s fix Stonewall’s erasure and make sure that all LGBTQ kids and their families are heard.

The Tea Cosy’s nominated for a GALA! THIS IS EXTREMELY EXCITING!


Any of you who’ve been around me for the past few days may have noticed a certain.. increase in cheerfulness in my demeanour. Almost like I knew something absolutely brilliant that I had to sit on for a few days. Like there was something I was itching to tell you all.

There was! To my absolute incredulity, Consider the Tea Cosy has been shortlisted for this year’s GALA ONLINE Award for Website/Blogger of the Year. Some of you sneaky feckers went and nominated me behind my back, didn’t you?

For those of you who aren’t aware of the GALAs, it stands for the Gay And Lesbian Awards. They’re the annual awards of the Irish National Gay and Lesbian Federation, set up, as the NGLF say, “to honour lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people and organisations for their contributions to Irish society”.

Well.. shucks. I’ll be over here turning cherry-red, muttering something about how you shouldn’t have and hoping someone puts the kettle on before I go into full-on babble mode. To say I’m flattered, honoured, and utterly flabbergasted would be quite the understatement.

I’m in some pretty damn illustrious company- in my own category with GLEN (the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network) and my fellow Corkonians and one of my old haunts GayCork.com, and in the awards as a whole with, oh, absolutely everybody. I can think of far, far worse ways to spend your evening than by looking up every last one of ’em.

Don’t Call Me Bisexual: another oldie


This was originally posted back in 2010. I came across it as I was looking for my old civil partnerships video, and figured I’d give it an airing. Enjoy!

 

Don’t call me bisexual.

Seriously, don’t. Call me bi, call me queer, you can even call me by my name if you really want to. But I don’t like being called bisexual.

I’m happy to be open about my orientation. As long as I’m in a relatively safe situation- nobody going to actually harm me- my preference is to be out. It prevents some misunderstandings and misconceptions, it’s an important part of my self and my history, and it’s good for people to know that they know someone who’s queer. Being out is also a very handy asshole filtration system, sparing hours to months of wasted time spent with people to turn out to be small minded bigots. Not to mention the fact that, if I happen to be interested in meeting someone or getting to know them a little better, having the orientation thing worked out as early as possible makes things run a lot smoother than they otherwise would. I recommend it to practically everyone, really I do.

Sexuality ≠ sex

One of the profoundly irritating things about being open about one’s orientation, as I’m sure some of you know all too well, is the assumption that coming out involves a revelation about one’s sex life. That if I come out I’ve shared something personal, even intimate, and that coming out opens a window to all sorts of juicy conversations and details.

It really doesn’t. Think about it this way: if you and I are strangers, and then we meet, it is likely that you’ll* assume that I’m straight. We live in a heteronormative society. Most people assume that most other people are straight. So we’ve met, and you have, consciously or unconsciously, assumed that I am only interested in sexual or romantic relationships with men.

If I tell you that I’m bi, you know less about what (who?) I do than you did before. You’ve lost the only point of information you thought you had. I tell you that I’m bi, then you know absolutely nothing about my sex life*. And that is just fine by me.

You see, I don’t want to talk about my sex life in public. I really don’t. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind about this one, but right now it would feel highly unpleasant, a violation of something very personal and important, which I want to keep between me and Relevant Others**. I like to keep my private life private.

Being ‘out’ doesn’t tell you about my personal life. It doesn’t tell you about who I am or am not involved with, it doesn’t tell you anything about my likes or dislikes. It doesn’t tell you anything about kinks and turn-ons. It doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I like to be in. It doesn’t even tell you anything particularly meaningful about the type of people I’m attracted to. All it says anything about is that if you do find out about any of that stuff in the future, or even if I happen to mention someone I’m involved with, you can’t be guaranteed a ‘he’.

Language and homophobes

Have you ever noticed that whenever homophobes are talking about LGBT people, that can’t stop referring to us as ‘homosexuals’? You’d rarely hear an ‘LGBT people’, or even a ‘gay and lesbian’***. You might hear a ‘queer’, but you can bet it has nothing to do with queer theory. You might also have noticed that homophobic types tend to be rather preoccupied with queer people’s (feverishly) imagined sex lives. It’s always all ‘sodomy’ this and ‘lifestyle’ that.

This isn’t necessarily a coincidence. I read an article from the New York Times last week which touched on this topic. This article references a February CBS/New York Times news poll, where

half of the respondents were asked if they favored letting “gay men and lesbians” serve in the military (which is still more than 85 percent male), and the other half were asked if they favored letting “homosexuals” serve. Those who got the “homosexual” question favored it at a rate that was 11 percentage points lower than those who got the “gay men and lesbians” question.

Part of the difference may be that “homosexual” is a bigger, more clinical word freighted with a lot of historical baggage. But just as likely is that the inclusion of the root word “sex” still raises an aversive response to the idea of, how shall I say, the architectural issues between two men. It is the point at which support for basic human rights cleaves from endorsement of behavior.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Just like I don’t want everybody knowing details about my sex life, I don’t want to know the details of theirs. I’m quite profoundly lacking in attraction to the vast majority of people. While on a theoretical level I hope that everyone’s having a marvellous time with people who are having a marvellous time back at them, I really don’t want to know the details. If we don’t want to know about the sex lives of strangers- particularly strangers whose sex lives are personally unappealing to ourselves- then we are less likely to feel positively towards them if every time we refer to them, the word we use to do so is, quite literally, full of sex. I’d like to get away from that.

Would you like a stereotype?

All of this is, for me, closely related to prevailing stereotypes about those of us who are attracted to people of more than one gender. There’s the ones where you’re confused and can’t make up your mind, the ones where you’re flighty and immature. There’s the ones where you’ll sleep with anything that moves. The ones where you’re untrustworthy and bound to cheat on your partner with someone of another gender. Where you can’t be trusted.

A lot of this is about our sex lives- or, to be more specific, about the preconceptions that people have about our sex lives. It’s assumed (by some!) that any bi person in a relationship with another person will be tortured with desires and fantasies about people of another sex until we just can’t help ourselves. That, despite this, we don’t know our desires and that we’ll eventually settle down into one ‘side’ or the other. Even that our orientation as a whole can be determined from a quick glance at our most recent, or current, partner(s).

I know that no single word can completely eradicate biphobia and stereotyping. I also know that it is not my responsibility to single-handedly change the minds of every biphobe and homophobe out there- that’s up to them. And I know that I could be seen to be coming perilously close to blaming members of an oppressed group for the actions of oppressors. This is not what I mean to do. I do not blame anyone for choosing to identify themselves as ‘bisexual’. It’s a legitimate word, and identifying that way in no way absolves anyone from acting in a discriminatory way.

However, I do retain the right to want to make my life just that little bit more smoothly.

Back to me. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

So say ‘bi’, if you like. It’s not ideal- it implies that I have two sexualities, for one thing, which is a bit bizarre. But it gets the point across, it’s a word everyone knows the meaning of, and it’s far less likely to get you thinking about my sex life. Or you can say ‘queer’. I like ‘queer’, but I’m well aware that it’s quite the loaded term for many people, so I prefer to use it only when I’m sure people will understand my meaning, and not find it offensive or triggering. Or you can say that I’m not too picky when it comes to gender****. I don’t mind, I’m not fussy. Just don’t call me bisexual.

 

*Bar the fact that I most certainly hope that you are assuming that it includes consenting adults.

**And whoever I happen to be talking to after a few margaritas. Random drunk people are relevant, right? Right?

***Not that I’d know anything about that. Nothing to do with me, them Gays And Lesbians. Entirely different category over here. Although I do have quite a similar lifestyle to many of my gay friends, so it is possible that all of us, straight people included, are Living A Homosexual Lifestyle.

****I am, actually. In my own way. But if you want to find out more about that, you’d best start making up the margaritas.

 

What do you think? Do you think that the 2010 version of me was on the mark with this one? How’d you feel about the oversexualisation of queer identities? If you’re someone who fancies people of more than one gender (high five!), how do you prefer to identify and why?