British Bisexuality: Purple Prose out now!

Meg-John Barker reflects on the awesome new book on British Bisexuality…

Last week saw the launch of a book project that I’m very excited to be part of: Purple Prose.

pp

This collection, edited by Kate Harrad, brings together experiences from a diverse spectrum of bisexual folk in Britain today. It works as a how-to guide to British bi communities and identities, as well as providing a fascinating insight into the wide range of experiences under the bisexual umbrella.

A particular strength of the book is its focus on intersectionality. Most writing on bisexuality, including The Bisexuality Report which I was part of, focus on bisexual people as a fairly unified group: how they are represented, the challenges they face, bi-specific discrimination, etc. The problem with this approach is that bisexual experiences – like all experiences – are very different depending on other intersecting aspects of identity and experience such as gender, class, race, disability, geographical location, generation. Also, as Shiri Eisner points out, there are vital links between bisexual activism and feminist, trans and queer activism, anti-racism, and other anti-oppression movements, which are vital to attend to because a single-issue kind of activism can’t get us very far.

For these reasons it’s great to see a book in which at least half of the chapters are devoted to specific intersections (e.g. ‘Bisexual and disabled’, ‘Bisexual Black and Minority Ethic People‘, ‘Bisexuals and Faith’).

Even within these chapters there is a clear sense of the range of experiences that exist amongst any specific group, such as older bisexual people or non-monogamous bis, for example. In the chapter that I co-edited with Fred Langdridge, ‘The Gender Agenda’, we decided to foreground the experiences of non-binary bisexual people, given that there are already books about bisexual women and bisexual men, but none on this topic. While we included the voices of bisexual people of many genders, we gave specific attention to those who are non-binary in terms of both their sexuality and their gender. Even within that group we discovered many differences in relation to how they related to the term ‘bisexual’, how they experienced their gender and sexuality, whether these things changed over time or not, and how they were navigated in their close relationships and communities.

We still have a long way to go on bisexuality in Britain given that the biggest group under the LGBT umbrella still has the highest rate of mental health problems, and gets the least attention in policy and practice, both outside and within the LGBT sector. Purple Prose is definitely a step in the right direction.

Advertisements

Biphobia in the pansexual community

Sali Owen (twitter: @SaliWho) writes:

As awareness of non-binary gender identities has developed, some members of the queer community have chosen to identify as pansexual rather than bisexual. Pansexuality is sometimes defined as attraction to people of all genders, which is also the experience of many bisexual people. More often than not, however, people define their pansexuality in relation to bisexuality. In response to the question: “What does pansexual mean?” I’ve seen countless people reply: “I’m attracted to people of more than two genders. Not bisexual.” The implication is that bisexual means binary attraction: men and women only.

Since I came out in the late 90s, I haven’t seen one bi activist organisation define bisexuality as attraction solely to men and women. Bi and trans* issues began to grow in recognition at the same time. When I use ‘bi’ to refer to two types of attraction, I mean attraction to people of my gender and attraction to people of other genders.

I also frequently see cisgender pansexuals managing to be both transphobic and biphobic in their definitions. They say pansexuals are different to bisexuals because pansexuals are attracted to “men, women and transgender people,” as if binary trans people aren’t really men and women, and bisexuals couldn’t possibly be attracted to them anyway.

Despite the presence of bisexuals at every queer demonstration since Stonewall, we’ve always been told by the lesbian and gay community that we’re somehow not queer enough. This pushes many bi people who are active in the queer community to identify as lesbian, gay or just queer. Being forced to pick a closet by both the straight and gay communities results in bi people having significantly higher rates of mental health problems than straight and gay people. This is why it’s so upsetting to see internalised biphobia leading many pansexuals, most of whom until recently identified as bisexual, telling us we’re still not queer enough. Gay and straight people aren’t being pressurised into giving up the language they use to describe their attractions and neither should they be. As usual it’s only bisexuals being shamed into erasing our identities and our history.

The most frustrating thing to me about the current bi vs pan discourse is that it’s framed as a cisgender vs genderqueer debate. This has never been the case. In reality, many genderqueer people identify as bisexual. At least three of the most influential bi activists, researchers and academics are genderqueer. Meg John Barker, founder of BiUK; Jen Yockney, founder of ‘Bi Community News’; and Shiri Eisner, author of ‘Radical Bi: Notes For a Bisexual Revolution’, are all non-binary. They’ve spent years at the forefront of campaigns, lobbying for queer rights. To say bisexuality is binary erases the identities of these revolutionary bisexual genderqueer activists, and it erases the identity of every marginalised genderqueer bisexual they’re fighting for.

I have no problem embracing more labels to better describe our attractions and our gender politics. We all have every right to use the labels that fit us. Some people identify as both pan and bi depending on context, but I can’t consider doing this before the implicit and explicit biphobia within the pan community is rejected. If your definition of pansexuality relies on redefining my bisexuality and negating it, I can’t support that. If you need to prove your queer credentials by vehemently clarifying that you’re not bisexual, you’re doing to me exactly what the lesbian and gay community does to both of us.