Frangipani

Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

On Labels, Bi-Phobia, And The Importance Of Community – Part II January 31, 2011

This is Part II of an overlong post. Part I is here.

I recently had a conversation with a lesbian-identified bisexual who pretty much embodied the bi-phobia I’ve encountered in lesbian circles before. This woman chooses the label lesbian because, even though she has the occasional male partner, she is married to a woman and came into her own in the lesbian community. Based on her interactions with women on a dating website who called themselves ‘bisexual’, she announced to me – after declaring the existence of a bisexual community support group ridiculous – that (female) bisexuals were clearly only sex maniacs who were looking for a woman to add to threesomes with their boyfriends and that ‘bisexual’ just meant basically duplicitous and untrustworthy fakers.

I managed to stay calm during this exchange. It had been a pleasant conversation up until that point and the statements she made were said mildly – she was simply stating her position. For my part, at the end of her little speech, I pointed out that attitudes like that were precisely why we needed both bisexual activists and bisexual community support groups in the first place. She shut up. We moved on.

But the more I thought about it after the fact, the angrier I got.  Who the hell was this woman to define bisexuals like that in the first place and then tar us all with the same brush? Hell, if I used her method of data-collection (i.e., base my opinion purely on the lesbians I’ve spoken to online) I’d have to conclude that lesbians were all bi-phobic bigoted flakes who couldn’t spell. Here I was bending over backwards trying to understand the attitude I was getting and arguing that it was understandable even if it wasn’t fair, blah, blah, blah, while this horrible creature felt entitled to blithely shit all over what she knew to be my identity. Oh yes. This wasn’t a ‘just among us lesbians’ type of discussion. She knows I am bisexual and that I belong to a bisexual community. She just doesn’t think it’s ‘real’ enough to deserve any respect.

I think one of the things that irritated me most about the whole encounter was that, fundamentally, her sexuality and mine are so similar, ie, we both consider ourselves lesbians who are occasionally interested in men. I suppose I thought that should have served as common ground for the tentative friendship we’ve been thrown into (this is purely platonic. Various events in our lives have thrown us together, but I have no sexual interest in this woman.). But the difference between us is that I am married to a man and, when I came out, I found support and acceptance in the bisexual community. Not only that, but I was outright rejected by the lesbian community and only found the bisexual community because one of the bi-phobes posted a rant about how bisexuals should all fuck off to this bisexual community and leave the ‘proper’ lesbians alone. The only reason I have any contact with lesbians now is because the poly community functions as a sort of bridge.

I think I also realized, in the days that followed that conversation, why the  label ‘bisexual’ is one I want to hold on to despite how I feel about men and women.

She spoke of the lesbian community as hers in a way that I know it will never be mine, and that made me sad. But then I realized that the reason her attitude towards the bisexual community made me so angry was that it was MY community she was talking about – not just mine in the abstract but mine as in the way the lesbian community is hers. When I was struggling with my sexuality and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do about it, it was the bisexual community that took me in. It was the bisexual community that introduced me to the poly community and it was in the overlap between the bi and poly communities that I found my partners and my friends. Not all the polys are bi and not all the bis are poly, but I can move through both communities with equal confidence and without being questioned. I prefer women and I have a preference for long-term relationships over casual affairs or sex-only relationships, but not once has anybody in either community ever accused me of not being bisexual enough or poly enough. And not only are my personal interpretations of bisexuality and polyamory accepted, H, who is not bisexual nor actively polyamorous has been embraced by the community as well. That, I think, seals the deal. When a community is not only willing to take you as you are but also take in the people you love, no questions asked, you know you’ve struck gold.

Despite how my orientation develops, I cannot turn my back on the bisexual community and I cannot relinquish the label. Instead, to the extent possible, I want to support the community and work towards better bisexual visibility and representation. Every community comes complete with assholes and while the bisexual community is certainly not free of them, it took meeting one from the lesbian community to make me realize which I’d rather put up with.

 

On Labels, Bi-phobia, and the importance of community – part I

This post was getting ridiculously long so I decided to split it into two, slightly more reader-friendly posts. This is Part I. Part II is here.

When I started this blog, I called myself bisexual and basically figured I was as attracted to men as I was to women*. Over the years I have come to realize that my orientation isn’t as 50-50 as I thought. Today, I think a more accurate description of me would be that I am a lesbian who occasionally fancies men. Most of the time, however, men outright repulse me. Or rather, they’re lovely to be friends with, but the concept of having sex with them repulses me (except, of course, when it doesn’t). I don’t have an explanation for it. This is just where my sexuality seems to have settled, at least for the time being. I can’t say for sure that this is exactly where I’ll be in a couple of years, but as I get older I feel like these shifts signify a growing-into rather than the exploration of even a few years ago.

I am, however, still married to a man and I have no intention of changing that. What can I say? I picked a keeper.

Needless to say, this complicates my status. When I said earlier that I am more accurately described as a lesbian, I meant that my orientation for pretty much everything is primarily towards women. Life, love, sex – everything is just easier with women. And by easier, I don’t mean less complicated, but simply something I feel like giving my energy to. Whether I am at home or out in public with my girlfriend, I feel like I’ve just let go a long-held breath. When someone in the street obviously thinks I’m gay, I feel no need to correct them, unlike when they think I’m straight. Being assumed to be heterosexual feels like being backed into a corner and suffocated. Being assumed to be homosexual gives me this incredible sense of relief.

But then I run headlong into the minefield that is the lesbian community. To be fair, I should state up front that I have met and in some cases had relationships with polyamorous lesbians who didn’t have a problem with bisexuality, or at least with my being married to a man, so clearly they do exist. However, the overwhelming majority have been bi-phobic, and some very aggressively so.

Now, I do get that since being ‘bisexual’ was deemed cool by whoever it is who decides such things, lesbians have been repeatedly approached by women claiming to be bisexual who were in it only to get their boyfriends off, who were just fooling around or experimenting, who were only marking time till they could have a ‘real’ relationship with a man, and so on. Basically, lesbians have been jerked around and women calling themselves ‘bisexual’ have often been the cause. I understand how that can lead to a general wariness around women who purport to be bisexual – once bitten and all that.

But at the same time I have to wonder – do lesbians never jerk each other around? Has a lesbian never left a lesbian for another lesbian? Has a lesbian never entered into a just-for-now relationship that the other partner though was for keeps? Given the healthy balance of exes the lesbians I know seem to have, I’m going to assume that lesbians can and do do all of the above to each other. So why blame bisexuals?

I think the problem lies in heterosexual privilege. Out lesbians have committed to a lifetime of potential if not actual discrimination. In most countries, they can’t marry their partners, have little to no protection under the law, and have to deal with the social stigma attached to being gay. They don’t have a choice in the matter. I think the hostility towards bisexuals comes in part from the fact that we can, at any point, retreat into heterosexual privilege. I am married to a man. That affords me a certain amount of social protection, whether I like it or not. Even if I shouted my bisexuality from the rooftops, the fact that I am in a straight relationship means that my queerness can be ignored wholesale. I can ‘feel’ as lesbian as I like – socially, I have a kind of protection that no out, exclusively homosexual person does.  And even if I wasn’t married to a man, the fact of my bisexuality represents a sort of escape route if things get too dicey over in lesbian-land – an escape most lesbians do not have and could not access without denying who they are.

Part of me wants to give up the label ‘bisexual’ and embrace ‘lesbian’ for all of those reasons. That my marriage to H prevents me from doing so frustrates me no end and I wish there was a solution that did not involve divorce, because that ain’t happening.

But then I run into self-righteous, bi-phobic lesbians and I remember why my community means so much to me.

Continued here

*I am for the moment leaving aside the valid criticism of the assumption that there are only two sexes and that a bisexual person is one attracted to ‘both’ sexes. There are interesting discussions on that topic that I will write about later.

 

Greta on the Radio January 27, 2009

Filed under: Atheism,People,Sex,Sexuality — Araliya @ 9:51 am
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So I’m a fan of Greta Christina, as you might have gathered by now. Here she is in an internet radio interview on the Feast of Fools podcast titled Living Outside Religion. Not only did I enjoy the discussion, which ranges from talk of atheism within the queer community and atheism in general to how to interact with sex workers (hint: treat them like human beings) and Greta’s book on the topic, I really liked her voice. This is important for me because I seem to have finicky ears and people’s voices, particularly when recorded, can grate horribly even when I like their ideas and writing. There’s no way I’d be able to sit through some of my favorite podcasts if they were 55 minutes long. But the content of this interview was made all the more enjoyable because I could listen to it without fidgeting.

 

I’m still here November 23, 2008

I am indeed still here and still working much stuff out, but work, deadlines and life in general have been taking up all my time. I have quite a few bits and pieces so, as a way or sorting through them and getting myself organized and writing on topic, here are some of the things, in no particular order, that I want/plan to write about in the (near) future:

  • Further issues with ‘ordering’ in relationships – This time from the practical standpoint. Yes I loathe the terms ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ but I suppose they do have some practical application.
  • Living arrangements – What I’ve seen, what I like, what I think I want/could handle, what I couldn’t deal with.
  • The mandatory jealousy post – Just about every poly blog seems to have at least one post on jealousy and while I suppose it is something of a cliche, it’s also just plain useful when jealousy does strike to have all these different perspectives, accounts, and advice out there. Given how similar and yet how varied everyone’s experience of jealousy seems to be, I hope my account can in turn help someone else get through their own battle with this particular bugbear.
  • Partners’ partners – How close can metamours get? What if you can’t stand each other? Is it important to meet them at all? If so, when? Why? Why not? Does one particular policy tend to work better than another or should it be completely ad hoc? What do/can you expect? What should/shouldn’t you do when you meet? etc.
  • Forays into ‘kink’ – Honestly, I don’t know where kinky actually begins and I suspect it’s different for different people. I’m not very easily shocked and I don’t consider most things ‘weird’ anyway, so my world is more divided in to stuff I will do and stuff I won’t, and my willingness or otherwise is decided by how interesting or appealing I find something, not how extreme or challenging or strange it is. I also deliberately didn’t use the term BDSM because it feels far too big and clunky for someone who’s only just taking the tiniest of tiny baby steps into the wonderful world of sadism.
  • Sexuality – Specifically, how mine has evolved, how I’ve been growing into it and getting comfortable with expressing it personally, socially and in some instances politically. I’ve begun to see coming out not as the end point or arrival, but the announcement of one’s departure on a kind of expedition into completely uncharted territory. I’m not done exploring yet by any means, but I’ve certainly learnt a lot already.

I think that’s it so far. Hopefully I’ll get at least some of these written before I start adding to the list. Thanks to the people who’ve been stopping by regularly. With more efficient planning, I should be able to offer up some new stuff for you to read soon!

 

This is not really my issue October 28, 2008

Filed under: Politics of sexuality,Sexuality — Araliya @ 10:12 am
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In that I am not an American and do not live in the US, nor plan to, but I did spend a decent amount of time growing up there and I do read a lot of US-based blogs, so I’m not indifferent to it either. The issue in question is Proposition 8, which will be voted on come election day in the US and which, if successful, will effectively dissolve all the same-sex marriages that were made possible only a few months ago in California. In other words, it’s a huge steaming pile of shit that the Right wants to add to all the other shit already piled onto the LGBTQ community. Greta Christina has written about it already, as have others including the lovely, and recently married, Lizzie and Jade, and hippiemeg,  but this post at Gone Feral is my favorite so far because it points out just how ridiculous the whole anti-same-sex marriage argument is by pointing out how stupid the institution and the social assumptions that govern it are in the first place. It’s a refreshing read.

 

Coming Out Interview September 22, 2008

Filed under: Bisexuality,Coming out,Polyamory,Sexuality — Araliya @ 9:32 am
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In the comments on my last post, bentcrude asked me to do the interview on her site. I did it, though now I’d like to add a few things to the ‘other words that describe you’ section since Polyamory didn’t get much of a mention. I also don’t know why ‘What did you come out as?’ is repeated or why the second says ‘gay’ since I never said I was no longer interested in guys when I first came out – just that I’d also like to date women. Anyway, I’m sure that’ll get sorted. In the mean time, enjoy reading about all the different experiences on there.

 

Telling Friends July 8, 2008

I came out as bi and poly to a lovely friend of mine the other day who was great about it. Two things prompted my telling her. One was that it is becoming increasingly difficult not to mention A and M in conversation. They’re important to me and my relationships with them have become a big part of my life, to the extent that it is almost impossible to fill anyone in on what I’ve been ‘up to’ since the last time we met without mentioning them.

The second reason was that a mutual friend tends to frequent a place A and I are often in and around so it’s not impossible that she will see us together at some point. If that happens, I think she would probably get in touch with our friends to tell them or ask them about what was going on, and personally I’d rather my closer friends heard about it from me first. I’d rather short-circuit any gossipy stuff where it matters. I’m not terribly concerned about what she might say to anyone she knows – that’s her prerogative – but people we both know and who matter to me I’m a little more concerned about. Of course I could just tell her, but we’re not close enough and I don’t particularly want to. It’s an effort to bring up the whole poly thing because, in the heads of the majority of the people around us, H and I have been neatly filed away as straight and monogamous for years now and attempting to change that would draw more attention to our relationship with each other than I want. And more than the attention itself, it’s the type of attention that bugs me. It’s the way people ask questions that tells you whether they’re genuinely concerned and interested or just asking because they think you’re a freak – I’ve spent enough time getting the latter for other reasons to know the difference.

So that’s two local friends who know, and a third that I shall tell at the next opportunity. There are one or two other people in particular that I want to tell, but I don’t know when or how. Otherwise, I’m fairly open and visible when I’m out with either M or A in places where acquaintances might spot us. These are not people that I have any kind of investment in so I’m not concerned about what they might think or say, though I’m happy to talk about it if asked. I doubt I will be though.  I do still hesitate to refer to either A or M when talking to people I know through work or casually, but then I don’t really mention H either to people I don’t care about to some extent, so while I may feel a twinge or two when I let something particularly relevant slide, it’s not a huge deal.

What I am still worried about – and I’ve mentioned this is previous posts – is one of H’s friends seeing me with M or A as we’re not out to them. My own friends I can deal with. His, I’m not so sure about. I know I’d feel quite defensive and I’d probably be tempted to imply that he wasn’t monogamous either just to make myself look less ‘bad’. Also, I think that in some cases M might be easier for them to handle than the idea of me being with another man because, thanks to what folks have started calling the ‘hot bi babe syndrome’, my bisexuality could be read as being about pleasing H, thereby allowing it to still fit to some degree into the whole heterosexual-men-are-the-center-of-the-universe thing. But there’s no room within that trope for my relationship with A. They couldn’t stick with the idea that I’m doing it ‘for H’ because that would make them question his orientation, which is something most of them would probably prefer only slightly to chewing lightbulbs, so they’d have to consider that I was doing it for, well, me.

(Wow. I am honestly amazed at the chorus of ugly words that started howling through my head as I typed that. Talk about conditioning.)

Also, where H could be seen as gracious and tolerant for ‘letting’ me have my cute little relationship with another woman (not to mention ‘lucky’ by some definition because the idea that he wouldn’t have sexual access to my girlfriend is too bizarre to consider), it is unlikely that he would be seen as anything but weird and possibly insane for standing by while I got involved with another man. The way I see it, that is because, au fond, women still are considered property and men are considered owners. No matter how ‘equal’ and ‘modern’ your relationship or you yourself may be, no matter whose name you take or don’t take, who does the cooking or the cleaning, who earns more, who takes care of the kids, etc., when you get right down to it, the wife is still considered the husband’s property. Oh the husband may ‘belong’ to the wife too in some ways, but really it’s only because he allows it. If he really wanted to, he could put her right back in her place, and we all know where that is.

All these assumptions make it even more difficult to explain that some of us resist the trope right down to its roots. Yes H and I are married and yes that gives us certain benefits and perks that make our lives more comfortable, but outside of that, our relationship is ours. Before I got married, my father asked me why I would willingly enter into a relationship that was inherently unequal, and I replied that it was because I knew it wouldn’t be. He was skeptical and, to be honest, I was a lot more unsure than I let on, but hey, we did it. Our relationship is our own. Neither of us falls neatly into the category of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ other than legally, and H generally avoids using the terms when he talks about us – in fact, I tend to use the former far more than he does. And our relationship happens to have grown to the point where it can accommodate my involvement with other people without that involvement threatening my relationship with H.

But while I’m secure in my relationships and in what I’m doing, I hate the idea of H being thought of badly. I know, I know. It’s the people who would do that who have the problem, not me or H (or A or M, for that matter), but it’s still hard to stomach. I also know that it hasn’t happened yet and I am probably not giving his friends enough credit, either, painting them as some kind of knuckle-dragging medieval ogres (preemptive strike, anyone?).  And yet here I am tying myself up into knots over it just the same.