Friday, March 21, 2003

War of Another Sort

For the record, I am a predominantly lesbian bisexual person (with an opposite-gender partner; funnier things have happened) who is out, is monogamous, socializes with mostly queer people, belongs to a queer church, works in GLBT media, is a veteran GLBT-rights activist and same-gender marriage advocate, sings that she's glad to be gay along with Tom Robinson (another out bisexual), is perfectly comfortable with being labeled gay or lesbian, and is HORRIFIED that columnist Paul Varnell would even suggest what he does in the following op-ed.
Do Bs really fit in 'GLBT'?

Most bisexuals aren't out, they socialize mostly with heterosexuals, and form longer relationships with opposite-sex partners. So are they gay?

By Paul Varnell

GAY MEN AND lesbians are far more likely to disclose their sexual orientation to their personal physicians than are bisexuals,
according to an online survey conducted late last year by Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communications.

The survey found that 55 percent of lesbians and 67 percent of gay men said they had come out to their physician. But only 23 percent of the self-described bisexuals said they had done so.

But the headline on the survey press release, repeated in many gay newspapers, was to the effect that fewer than half of all "GLBT" people had disclosed their sexuality to their physician.

That was extremely misleading. It obscured the fact that a majority of the lesbians and (especially) gay men were taking proactive
responsibility for their health by dealing openly with their physician, and it equally obscured the important fact that bisexuals were not dealing well with disclosure that would help them obtain better health care and more accurate medical advice.

That leads to the conclusion that for some purposes, it can be important to disaggregate gays, lesbians and bisexuals (to say
nothing of transsexuals) and not talk of them as if they were a unitary "community" or have more in common than they actually do.

If we fail to separate them out, we will be unable to identify -- or even think to look for -- problems each group may uniquely be facing and solutions that may work better for one group than another. The amount of similarity and the degree of actual "community" depends on the issue.

AT THE POLITICAL level, grouping bisexuals with gay men and lesbians makes some sense. In almost every way, bisexuals face the same issues of discrimination and prejudice that gays face, and for exactly the same reasons:

Some of their sexual activity violates sodomy laws; they cannot marry if they fall in love with a person of the same sex; they cannot serve openly in the U.S. military; they may encounter problems with child custody and adoption, and so on.

In other words, bisexuals face discrimination only because they sometimes behave like homosexuals.

Beyond that, gay activists have always sought to include bisexuals as part of a broader gay community because it helps increase the number of gays to politically relevant -- and more recently economically relevant -- levels. That familiar 10 percent figure for the gay population includes a substantial number of functional, if not self-defined, bisexuals.

But despite the identity of interests, there are important differences at the psychological and personal identity level. It seems clear from survey research that bisexuals understand their sexuality far differently from lesbians and gay men, and handle disclosure and relationship issues far differently, as the medical survey mentioned earlier suggests.

In interviews conducted for the extremely interesting 1994 book
Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality by former Kinsey Institute associates Martin Weinberg and Colin Williams, most bisexuals reported that they "were predominantly heterosexual in their sexual feelings, sexual behaviors, and romantic feelings" and socialized more with heterosexuals than with gays. So it was not so surprising that, for instance, only one-third of the bisexual men were out to their social acquaintances and fellow employees at work, whereas two-thirds of the gay men were.

THE QUESTION GAYS may then ask is how seriously these self-described bisexuals take their same-sex tricks, dates and relationships, or more fundamentally, how seriously they take the homosexual component of their sexuality.

No doubt there are vast individual differences. But the bisexuals Weinberg and Williams talked to "often said that the nature of
bisexuality had a negative effect on the stability of relationships over time. Some -- both men and women -- mentioned being unable to focus exclusively on one sex."

When bisexuals did form committed relationships, Weinberg and Williams found that those were "overwhelmingly" with opposite sex partners, and they were much more likely to be non-monogamous "because open multiple relationships are an important part
of their lifestyle."

Such findings suggest troubling obstacles for gay activists on a range of issues, from efforts to reach bisexual men with HIV
information to attempts to solicit bisexual support for same-sex marriage. They also remind us that in many ways the recently
coined "GLBT community" is more a semantic artifact or political term-of-art than anything like an actual community.

Paul Varnell is a Chicago-based syndicated writer and can be reached at pvarnell@aol.com.


I suppose there are bisexuals who fit Varnell's template. But not all. PLEASE if you believe in the integrity of each human being, our community as a whole, and about justice for all -- or if you, like I do, find Varnell's anti-bi prejudices shocking and disgusting and insulting -- participate in the following action, which comes from temenos.net.
Paul Varnell is a twit. The fact that he describes the acronym 'GLBT' as "a recently coined expression" shows how hopelessly out of touch he is with our community. The only reason I'm forwarding this is to encourage you to SPEAK OUT and voice your opposition.

Here's what you can do.

1. Send your letters to the editor about this article to: action@temenos.net and I will publish it on www.temenos.net.

3. This is a syndicated column, so look for this article in your local gay paper send your letter to them.

4. If at all possible, include the phrase "Paul Varnell is a twit." in your letter. (Ok, that last one is just for me, but it would make me terribly happy)
For the record, I won't call Paul a twit. As we often disagree, if I were to do such a thing it would be at least an every-week occurrence. But if you feel the need, feel free.

The saddest thing about this is that once again, we turn against each other and ourselves. That has to stop. The stereotyping, the identity politics -- they have to stop. Anti-bi and anti-trans gays and lesbians have to stop. Oppression is so ugly, so tired -- particularly when practiced by people who themselves are oppressed. Paul Varnell ought to know better.

Bottom line: I am keeping the toaster oven. I am a part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community regardless of with whom I am sleeping (even if that person is no one, sigh). Deal with it.

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