The Biphobia Just Outside

3/8/2017

If I’ve already seen them that day, sometimes I’ll take the long way.

I’ll go out the side door, all the way around the long city block. Deep in the winter of the midwest, the cold is better than hearing it one more time.

“Do you have a moment for gay rights?”

When you work on a college campus, you get accustomed to sidewalk staffers attempting to engage you. After a long, full day it can be heartening to see them out there after hours, gloves clasping clipboards. Passionate for the cause. But what happens when that cause is at odds with your humanity? What happens when they look to you, emboldened with the world of good they are doing, and erase your existence?

Over the years I’ve had many experiences with “LGBT rights” organizations reaching out with requests in one hand while erasing my community membership with the other. I’ve learned engagement is often rife with reminders that biphobia is deep and wide in the bones of what built these places. Even in attending small scale events, it takes energy to fortify myself, to protect myself, to get what I need and get out without getting knocked all the way down. I keep trying, hoping to find reflections of myself in others. But the isolation that breeds in the spaces between the places we are supposed to be safe and the reality of what we encounter can be stifling, suffocating, tangibly devastating to our well being.

As a way to engage with the queer community in a new city, I volunteered for an LGBT library. I worked my last shift shortly after I started dating a man. I was afraid to find out I no longer belonged, and there were no clear messages during the many months I volunteered there that told me differently.

Years ago, I was on a date with a fellow bi femme at a queer festival in that same big city. We stopped at the Human Rights Campaign booth so she could make one of her regular donations. As I stood by while she filled out the form, the HRC rep forcefully pointed at the categories, telling her “Here, here, here you can check for ‘ally.’”

And now, sometimes every day for weeks at a time, Human Rights Campaign canvassers stand outside of my workplace. They are full of the vigor and determination of youthful dedication. I hear their cheery chorus and my anxiety surfaces, tethered only by a sinking feeling. They span the wide walk and as my pedestrian commute approaches I steel myself, knowing what they are going to say.

Do I let myself turn inward for the moment, ignoring others and paying heed to the hurt these encounters bring to bear? Do I just barely acknowledge them as I hurry past, enabling their continued harm? Do I summon the energy it takes to confront them on their judgment, tell them not to erase me, us?

I’ve done all of these. By turning inward, I ignore the humanity in others. By hurrying by, I ignore it in myself. Engagement puts me in further harm’s way and requires others to be open to the message. All along I know when I walk by tomorrow they’ll be replaced by new faces spouting same old words.

“Do you have a moment for gay rights?”

A simple question that erases every queer person that doesn’t identify as gay. To this day, these organizations gather funding in our name as service providers for the entire LGBTQIA community—then enable work that erases us, evades us, harms us. Organizations need to not only train people to use inclusive language—they need to reveal and reinforce why using exclusive language is so harmful.

Bi people have been a driving force behind queer rights for always. We make up over half of the LGB population. But our calls for inclusion and support have gone unanswered, biphobia ignored, our part in communal queer history obfuscated and erased. As I struggle with the messages I’ve received that have harmed and stayed with me, as I’ve disengaged without the clear welcomes I needed and never recieved, barriers to community and services have been internalized. And sometimes, the very presence of an “LGBT rights” organization makes me want to stay inside. Sometimes when faced with an encounter with a place that is supposed to be a home to me, I choose to take the long way around.

The bi community has always had a moment for LGBT organizations. These are the places we reached out to when we were first exploring our queerness only to find our welcome came with caveats. The places we’ve given unpaid labor to because there weren’t any bi programs or designated funds, and no bi staff members that felt comfortable being visible. These are the places we’ve volunteered at, donated to, worn the badges of proudly. The same badges so often uncovered years later during a search for a pen at the back of a drawer, having gathered dust since learning one too many times LGBT didn’t mean all of us.

Do I have a moment for gay rights?

This question rolls to the front of my mind every time I see a large organization ignore biphobia for another calendar year, then make a rote statement on a day of awareness bi people founded and fought to bring attention to. There’s another question that should be asked, the question bi people have been asking as our community fights to thrive in the background. The question these organizations turn away from time and time again.

We’ve always had a moment for gay rights. When will “LGBT rights” organizations have more than a mere moment for ours?

Find community and resources in our series Self Care for Bi People: Acknowledging the Barriers and Self Care for Bi People: Taking the Care You Need.

SB Swartz

SB Swartz is an author covering inclusive wellness, queer family, and reflections of our world as seen on tv. She’s a proud member of the #StillBisexual campaign, working to dispel the myth that bisexuals don’t stay bisexual. Her home is filled with Battlestar Galactica posters, her husband, and their troublemaking cats. She adores them all.


Follow SB Swartz on Twitter @sbswrites and see more of her work @sbswartz on medium.