Friday, September 26, 2008

Another perspective on fence-sitting

In researching nineteenth century abolitionist movements, I found a story of an anti-slavery preacher receiving threats to be "ridden out of town on a rail." I had heard of this before but wasn't entirely certain what it meant. I thought of "riding the rail" which sounds like riding the railroad, but being "ridden" didn't seem to fit, and riding a train is hardly a threat. I found that riding the rail and being ridden out on a rail has a much less benign meaning. Wikipedia gives the following definition:
Riding the rail was a punishment of Colonial America in which a man was made to straddle a fence rail held on the shoulders of two men, with other men on either side to keep him upright on the rail. The victim was then paraded around town or taken to the city limits and dumped by the roadside. Injuries from the ride could, if the victim were stripped, result in a cut crotch that often made walking painful. The punishment was usually imposed in connection with tarring and feathering.
This photo, linked from the Wikipedia article, entitled "Rebs on a Fence," illustrates the punishment:

Of course this reminded me of "fence-sitters," a derogatory label for bisexual persons, and gives a whole new perspective of what it means to "sit on the fence." I wrote earlier about reclaiming the identity of fence-sitting, since the societal fence between straight and gay is a false barrier that bi/pan/omni-sexual folks seek to dismantle. What might it mean for patriarchal monosexual society's fence to be an instrument of torture through genital mutilation and mob justice enacted upon social miscreants?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lohan & Bi invisibility

Somehow I stumbled across gossip that Lindsay Lohan is bi. When I checked it out on Google, the suggested search terms that came up before I could get "bi" typed out were "Lohan gay." Over six and and a half million pages supposedly match these words. "Lohan bi" on the other hand, return just over one and a half million. The same trend is true with Drew Barrymore, who is well known as a bisexual woman. Barrymore's name and "bi" brings back less than 300,000 returns while her name and "gay" gives almost one and a half million. Yes, bi invisibility does exist, even online.

Fortunately, there are some places online who are paying attention to the bi side of Lohan. Interestingly enough, the best one I've been able to find is an article from Disney owned ABC News, that asks seriously why it's more acceptible for women to be bi in Hollywood than men, and gives a serious answer: women are sexualized much more than men in popular culture.

Yes, even Gay Street can go both ways!

The image comes from this site.

Are bisexual men feminists?

Even though Alfred Kinsey's research found that the majority of people (at least as far as Kinsey's research can be applied universally) fall somewhere within the range between completely straight and completely gay or lesbian, bisexuals have long been a sexual minority. (This was not always the case, with pederasty among males being predominant in antiquity and later, but since modern times, the sexual agenda has been set by those who are straight.) Numbers have nothing to do with minority status. Women outnumber men worldwide, and nonwhites outnumber whites, but neither of these groups have been able to enter wholly into the culture and privilege of those (straight white men) who determine how the rest of the world operates. Queer people in general are in the sexual minority, but even within that community, monosexual lesbian women and gay men continue to set the standard and hold the power. Those who are neither straight or gay/lesbian are left out of typical monosexual discourse, with bi people getting either lumped in with gays/lesbians or glossed over entirely (and either treatment can come from either monosexual community). For reasons not completely known, bi women tend to dominate the discourse within the bi community. Either bi men are less apt to speak from their experience, or it is more acceptable for women to be, or at least discuss being bi than it is for men. Bi women have found acceptance within feminist and lesbian communities (though they also find much resistance at certain times) and more acceptance by straight culture as well. I have not experienced or read much about how well bi men have been accepted by the gay male community, so I cannot speak to that. What I do know, however, is there is no movement as widespread as feminism in which men, straight or queer, work to dismantle patriarchy. It makes sense, for it is men who benefit from the system. Overall, bi men seem to be more alone and more ostracized from the queer community and from struggles to end monosexist patriarchy than bi women. If a bi woman is not accepted in the lesbian community, she still has much in common with women as victims of sexual oppression. For men, however, if they are not accepted among gay men, their relationship to patriarchy is more ambiguous. As men, they are part of the ruling majority, but as bisexuals, they are separate from this majority as well.

It is easy to understand why some bi men who have found homes in or near the feminist community, and that some bi men may even label themselves feminist. But is it really possible for men, even men of a sexual minority, to be feminist? Can feminism be defined broadly enough to include those beyond the female gender without stifling the voice of women themselves? Do bi men, or even queer men in general, share enough with women of any sexual identity to be included in the feminist milieu?

These questions and more, in the next post.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Coming up: Celebrate Bisexuality Day

Don't miss Celebrate Bisexuality Day this September 23!

The front page of BiNet USA says this day
puts our community on the map with its call to promote visibility and celebrate the wonderful diversity of our communities, families and lives with all sorts of great events from parties, to picnics, to discussions, dinner parties and dances.
Though I guess it wouldn't be cool to name it Ranger Day!

The View from the Fence: Bisexuals, Ominsexuals, Pansexuals on the Range

Defining bisexuality is not a simple endeavor. It involves more than sex, and in many cases, more than two genders. Many who do not fit within the monosexual mold of either straight or gay choose not to identify as bisexual. Those for whom the primary identifying factor is not sex have sometimes used the term bisensual, broadening the terminology to include emotional and romantic attraction. But this is not enough for those who relate emotionally, romantically and sexually to those of genders other than male and female--which is itself a patriarchally enforced dichotomy, and therefore not inclusive of all human experience. Some who fall into this second, beyond bi, category have taken monikers for themselves such as pansexual or omnisexual, pan- and omni- meaning all. And still others --bi, pan and omni sexual alike--choose the broadest identity, queer, which simply implies beyond the monosexual norm. Queer can mean gay and lesbian, bi, pan, and omni sexual. It can also include SM, transgender, gender queer, questioning, polyamorous, autosexual, and asexual.

The ambiguity of bisexual, bisensual, pansexual, omnisexual and queer leaves unresolved the lack of an identity that encompasses the full specturm of experiences among bisexuals, pansexuals and omnisexuals. I have read in some places, and discussed face to face in others, of the possibility of bi, pan and omni existing as a more or less unified identity. When I realized I was bisexual, the realization with the deepest impact was the possibility that I could be attracted to men in addition to women. My sexuality went beyond monosexual straightness, and in that I felt that I understood, in a still limited way yet more deeply than before, the identity of a close friend I'll call Z who, while she could be called omnisexual or pansexual, identifies as queer. We share the experiences of lives beyond monosexual norms. I have not felt attraction towards those beyond male or female as Z has, but I do not rule out the possibility. What matters most is the personality of the individual in question, not their gender. For this reason, I have considered identifying as queer--but then the ambiguity gets confusing. Further, queer and bi both don't mean very much. They're mostly labels, implying, in my mind very little action, or at least unclear action. Bisexual makes me feel like I'm just a sexual being, which is not the case. Bi, without the sexual, feels better, but it still implies the gender dichotomy established and enforced by monosexist patriarchy. Queer at least feels radical and world-changing--but in what way, precisely? The word inspires me only so far--to go beyond straight. But now that I'm there, what it my task? I find myself sitting on the fence.

Bisexuals have long been accused of fence sitting, unable to decide which "side" to belong to--either straight or gay. Fence sitting has gained a place of dishonor as a slur thrown around by monosexists. Perhaps straight and gay people believe that they can coerce us to jump down from the fence, but the truth of the matter is,
  1. we can choose no other place, for the liminal space between the two ends of the spectrum is the only place we can truly claim--anything else would be dishonest and ultimately destructive; and

  2. in reality, the fence was not built by us (bi, pan and omnisexuals), but by monosexuals, to do what fences do: contain all people like livestock, free to move only to a certain point. To cross the fence is to enter the turf of the fence-builder's competitor.
The only option we have is to dismantle the fence we sit atop, working toward the opening of the range. The range is the unfenced world. It is the space between limits. It is Kinsey's scale where 0=straight and 6=gay, with everything else in between is bisexual. The range will ultimately be open for all, with no restriction of travel or interaction based on gender. Bisexual, omnisexual and pansexual all will dwell in the range together, wandering in freedom and safety, the very same freedom and safety that we desire for gay and straight, which many of us once were or thought we were, but now are free to step into the unseen land that once was forbidden. We are fence sitters, tearing down the barriers. We are rangers, and we will forever walk the length and breadth of what is possible.