Bi Furious in a Gay World: Part I

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Discussions of biphobia often hinge on the fact that people on the bi/pan spectrum experience double-exclusion – both from the heteronormative world and from the gay and lesbian-focussed LGBTQIA+ world. As these two sets of cultural standards exist on different plains, those who find themselves straddling both worlds because of their orientation face a double challenge.

Rejection from LGBTQIA+ spaces is painful for bi/pan people because although these spaces claim to be inclusive, biphobia can be perpetuated within them. The first part of our Bi Week series will consider how this affects bi/pan participation in LGBTQIA+ communities.

*A note on terminology: This post will not discuss definitions of non-monosexual identifiers (including bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, and queer), but use ‘bi’ or ‘bi/pan’ frequently to describe those attracted to multiple genders, for the sake of shortness. Similarly, ‘queer’ will sometimes be used to refer to everything under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. For specific definitions, click here.

The spectre of straightness

Interviewing bi/pan people, I first asked whether or not they have ever felt excluded from an LGBTQIA+ space because of their orientation, and most had incidents and anger to share.

The common theme emerged of biphobia in queer spaces as a reaction to perceived straightness. People can be perceived as straight because of their gender expression and sense of style, because of the partner they are with or their romantic and sexual history, or because they don’t explicitly and repeatedly name their queerness (this erasure can happen to anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum). They are then treated with suspicion by people in the community.

One bisexual woman who has a long-term male partner says:

“I sometimes feel like I’m not gay enough, ostentatiously queer or butch enough, angry enough to be part of these spaces… I’ve found some LGBTQIA+ and particularly LGBTQIA+ adjacent spaces (e.g. feminist spaces, human rights-y spaces, PFLAG type groups) safe and welcoming but have found myself pretty much disengaging from LGBTQIA+ exclusive spaces due to how uncomfortable I feel in them.”

Amy, who identifies as bi and pan interchangeably, describes a disenchanting experience she had at a popular gay bar in Glasgow:

“I was talking to two girls outside, and told them I was bisexual.  Straight away they told me I was ‘definitely straight’ and that if I wanted to fit in more in the club I would have to ‘look more like a lesbian’.”

One bi man struggles with the assumptions made about him and his long-term girlfriend at certain queer events:

“The thing that bothered me most about hearing [biphobic] things at events is that I would end up not feeling comfortable going with my girlfriend and acting like a couple with her, to the point where we would both avoid holding hands, kissing or flirting with each other so that we could prevent looking like a straight couple who had invaded this space dedicated to people JUST LIKE US. More often than not, we will just avoid these mainstream events all together because we can’t be bothered with the hassle of worrying what people are thinking. Why wouldn’t I want to go and enjoy these spaces with my girlfriend when we are both bisexual?”

Being seen with a different-gender partner is not the only way bi identities can be erased. Charlotte finds that having her trans identity recognised comes at the cost of her bi identity:

“I am trans so I think the common assumption is that I am accessing the space for that reason.  There seems to be a perception that each person is just one of the “letters” when in fact we can be several.”

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Passing as a privilege?

The fact that passing as straight can be a type of privilege arises as a matter of contention in bisexual discourse. The argument goes that bi people in mixed-gender relationships may not experience the fear of backlash that they do in same-gender relationships because their sexuality is inconspicuous and possibly unspoken. However this attitude assumes that bisexuals solely benefit from passing, when often the erasure of their queerness is detrimental to their sense of identity, relationships, and mental health.

One bi woman describes how much effort it takes to assert her bi identity when the world assumes she is straight:

“I find myself becoming accidentally closeted again and that’s really uncomfortable, and when I out myself some people don’t seem to get why it’s important to me because I ‘have a man’. My boss the other day said something about ‘the LGBT agenda’ to me, assuming I was straight – do I have that conversation in that moment, or in a few weeks’ time? If I wait, will he feel I misled him because I disclosed my romantic relationship status but not my sexuality? They know my boyfriend – will they ask him inappropriate questions because of my sexuality?”

My own experience of passing is mixed as a bi woman who is occasionally perceived as male. When your gender is ambiguous to others, the notion of passing as straight loses all logic. The absurdity of other people’s perceptions was highlighted for me when I was in public with a male partner and someone yelled ‘gayboys!’ from a passing car. Even mixed gender relationships can’t always help us avoid discrimination.

Rob articulates the problem with judging sexuality based on appearances:

“I think this [idea of straight-passing privilege] presupposes that any one in a heterosexual relationship will ‘pass’ purely because they are in said relationship, however I feel that in many cases as a less traditionally masculine cis man I would struggle to pass if at any point separated from my hypothetical partner solely because of the shallow stereotypes people tend to use to identify queer people from outward appearance.”

Seb agrees that it’s unhelpful to put weight on appearance alone when discussing the visibility of sexuality:

“While different-gender couples may seem conspicuous in LGBTQIA+ environments for appearing (relatively) straight, the same cannot be said for their appearance on the street or other public spaces, where they may still seem noticeably queer in comparison to the wider public.”

‘Passing’ arguments are often used as a way of silencing complex LGBTQIA+ experiences as opposed to helping people understand their nuanced privileges.

Tomorrow’s post will consider further difficulties faced by bi/pan people and ways in which things could be improved.

Words by Ellen MacAskill

Why Free Pride Matters: Community over Corporations

march 2015

In June 2015 I walk through Toronto’s gay village, alone in the rain trying to find friends who are on the opposite side of the street from me, separated by crowds of people, gates and a parade of corporate floats that cannot easily be crossed. I’ve looked forward to this day, specifically planned travels around it, and I wear dark lipstick, a bisexual badge and a sticker reading ‘genderqueer’ tentatively under my jacket. I find friends eventually and we wave flags and cheer at the small number of community groups when they pass. But after all the police blocs, all the loud music and grinding and advertising slogans, all the rainbow-rinsed company symbols, I feel cold. ‘Love Wins!’ cry the headlines as everyone applauds the passing of the same-sex marriage bill in the USA, while violence persists all around us.

Later in the square at the end of the march, I see a girl with a bruise on her forehead passed out on the concrete, watched over by a friend. A passing man takes out his camera and starts filming her so I go over and tell him to stop until he walks away smirking. The rain has soaked through to my skin. Across the street outside the mall a preacher stands on a box telling us about our inevitable fate in Homosexual Hell, as angry teenagers argue with him to channel their rage. An event intended to be safe and empowering leaves a bitter taste.

Two months later I attend the first Free Pride in Glasgow. When I walk into the hall at the Art School, full of people of all genders and ages and hair colours, I feel a rush of relief – it is a day for catching up with old friends and making new ones, education, and celebration. People with all kinds of knowledge and experience come together under the Free Pride umbrella to give talks and have conversations that the Gay Scene™ often does not facilitate. As the first big social event I attended in Glasgow after some time away, it felt like exactly the kind of ‘Welcome Home’ party I needed.

If you find entering new queer spaces intimidating (naturally, we all want to be accepted by our peers so a lot hinges on meeting community), I urge you to come along to Free Pride with an open mind. When it comes to radical LGBTQ+ politics, living in Scotland it can feel like everything is happening elsewhere, in bigger cities globally. Free Pride dispels this myth, as attendees are not spectators but an integral part of the event.

Creating safer spaces for protest and parties is an ongoing, deliberative, sometimes stressful and laborious effort. That’s why Free Pride will continue to evolve year on year, and cannot get complacent about its role in LGBTQIA+ culture like mainstream Pride movements have. It’s the light of queer stars in the darkness of a cis-heteronormative year. Join us tomorrow!

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– Ellen MacAskill

Q & A: Beth Maiden of Little Red Tarot

Beth Maiden is a tarot reader, writer, and web designer, currently based on the Isle of Skye. She regularly contributes to Autostraddle.com. She will be giving tarot readings on a pay-what-you-can basis at our daytime event, 2 to 7pm, 20th August in the Art School.

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What initially drew you to Free Pride as an organisation and event?

I love celebrating with my queer peers, celebrating our resilience, inspiring each other to keep on living and keep on fighting. The queer community is so huge and diverse and Pride is at its roots a political festival – yet I don’t see that reflected in most mainstream parades, which seem mostly about drinking and corporate sponsorship. I recently moved to Scotland and was googling for queer pride alternatives – I was so happy to find Free Pride Glasgow!

What can attendees expect from your pay-what-you-can tarot readings on the day?

I’ll be offering short, three-card tarot readings at Free Pride. Folks can come alone or with a friend and ask what they wish, or let the cards do the talking. I ask each querent (the person asking the question) to hold the cards and shuffle them, then lay out three cards. I’ll explain what I’m seeing in these cards and how their messages and energies are playing out in the querent’s life and situation. Typically, the cards will illustrate a challenge the person is facing and offer a positive route forward, or show resources and sources of strength. Sometimes the cards will bring up something that the querent is avoiding.

The foundation of my tarot practice is the belief that we all have within us the answers we seek and the resources we need – often we are struggling to connect to that deep wisdom, or we’re choosing not to see it, for any number of reasons. My aim is always to provide new perspectives, alternative paths for the querent, though most often, I find that the cards serve to confirm what they already know, deep inside. It’s a warm, encouraging process that can sometimes be a little challenging, too – though when I do these short readings at events, I tend not to go too deep.

Why do you think many LGBTQ+ women and people are attracted to the cultures of tarot, astrology, and witchcraft?

In part, it has to do with history and liminality. Witchy practices like these have always existed on the margins of society. Much like ‘queer’, ‘witch’ is a loaded word with a painful history – to claim this identity is a political act. Historically, to have the label ‘witch’ given to you meant ostracisation and death for huge numbers of women.

Tarot, astrology, ritual, herbalism and DIY healthcare – these are tools for self-empowerment, for self-actualisation, for working through our own shit in our own ways. In a world that tells queer people that they are different, that they are less, that their love is worth less, and that punishes those who want to challenge structures, these liminal tools provide a way to take hold of our own wellbeing and work with our beautiful, messy lives and loves in our own ways.

Queer people and women inherit generations of oppression, pain and misunderstanding, but many are finding ways to connect to ancestral wisdom and energies bigger than the restrictive worlds around us. It is empowering and political to grab hold of these tools and find our own ways to use them – but that’s what queer people do. We look for alternatives, we see what’s growing at the edges, we refuse to conform and we create beautiful community, safety and culture in the places where the mainstream fears to tread. (Until it becomes cool and marketable, that is.)

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What are your experiences of connecting with queer community while living in rural places like the Isle of Skye?

It’s not so hot. I’ve only knowingly met one other queer person since January, though my gaydar has been beeping quietly at a couple of others. When I asked one new friend if they knew of any gay folks nearby, they asked why I can’t just be happy hanging out with normal people. Another person thought I was taking the piss when I expressed excitement when they told me there was a lesbian couple living nearby. Meh.

That’s partly why I value events like Free Pride and will travel such a distance to get there, and run an online business where I can connect with my peers on the regular. If I stay on Skye (unlikely, as it’s so expensive here) then my partner and I will try to start something up. We’re always talking about the queer festival we’d love to organise.

Do you have any other creative projects in the pipeline that you’d like to share with us?

Ah man, I’ve always got a load of creative projects on the go, I’m terrible for starting things and not finishing them. Right now, I’m working with Rowan trees, learning about their mythology. I made myself a magic wand from a rowan branch on the summer solstice this year and am now trying to make a few more for my friends. And experimenting with recipes using their beautiful red berries. I’m also trying to paint them, though I’m not very good! I love how the process of drawing and painting plants makes me look really, really closely and notice their intricate and unique details.

I’m also writing a follow-up to my online tarot course. I actually just booked myself a week in a bothy on the Isle of Eigg so as to hammer it out and get it wrapped up. I prefer to work in obsessive bursts rather than ‘a little every day’.

My partner and I are building our first home – a tiny house on a chassis. She’s a builder and this will be the first major project we’ve done together. It’s exciting!

 

Interview by Ellen MacAskill