Dear fellow white feminists,
We need to talk about Sandra Bland.
More specifically, we need to talk about why we aren't talking about Sandra Bland.
Bland was a 28-year-old black woman who died in a Texas county jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop for allegedly failing...
From Caitlyn Jenner to the hit Amazon show Transparent and Laverne Cox gracing the cover of TIME Magazine, transgender people have achieved an unprecedented level of visibility over the last year. However, this presence in the media hasn't addressed how to create more employment...
Indiana lawmakers have revised the Religious Freedom Restoration Act so that it won't allow businesses to deny services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers, but don't celebrate yet: As long as LGBTQ people remain an unprotected class in Indiana and 27 other states around the...
There's a seat reserved for Madonna next to Patricia Arquette.
Madge may be the high priestess of pop and an arbiter of pop culture, but the songstress proved no expert in intersectional feminism in an interview with Out Magazine about her new album, Rebel Heart.
In the story...
Remember when TLC was The Learning Channel?
With Sunday night's debut of My Husband's Not Gay, the channel that once aired programming intended to educate pre-schoolers, teach about outer space, and was originally founded by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and NASA...
When The Real World returned to MTV for it's 29th season in 2014, the show had evolved from a vehicle to explore race, sexuality and culture, to a bacchanalia of sex, fighting and bodily functions. Where Pedro Zamora elevated the national conversation on HIV/AIDS in the...
Today is Bisexual Visibility Day, a time for bisexual people and our allies around the world to celebrate our attraction to more than one gender. And, the word "visibility" is key. Bisexual people make up more than fifty percent of the LGBT community, yet are often invisible because...
When Ryley Pogensky logs into OkCupid, he's faced with a gender labeling conundrum. If he chooses the category male, he'll only get matched with straight women who might not understand that he's transgender. If he chooses the categories female and gay to access queer matches, he is forced...
Bisexuals are "slutty." They're "men in denial about their homosexuality." Most of us are closet cases. We're "not a legitimate sexual orientation," in the eyes of 15 percent of heterosexual people. We're undermined by the "mysterious" female sexuality. We're "something you simply do," devoid of any parallel to gay culture. Sometimes, we're even "en vogue" because, you know, bisexuality is "the new black."
At least this is what the mainstream media would have you believe about us.
Last week, the New York Times Magazine featured a story by Benoit Denizet-Lewis called 'The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists.' The story profiled the research of the American Institute of Bisexuality, which is responsible for funding much of the scientific research around our orientation. Though the piece didn't overtly question the very existence of bisexuality itself (the New York Times already did that in 2005), it focused largely on experiments that measure pupil dilation and genital arousal in search of concrete evidence of male bisexuality. Coupled with personal stories from mostly white, bisexual cis gender people (people whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth), the research presented by Denizet-Lewis served as a reminder of the ease in which bisexual lived experiences are reduced to the offensive -- and untrue -- platitudes listed above.
Yet, while The New York Times story was imperfect for its failure to present diverse bisexual identities, a response to the piece on Slate titled 'Is Bisexual Identity a Useful Fiction?' posited whether bisexuality is more than "something you simply do" in part because "it's nearly impossible to imagine a developed bisexual culture at this point in time," according to writer Mark Joseph Stern. Stern, for his part, ultimately affirms the existence of bisexuality in men and women, but condemns the modern bisexual movement for failing culturally "...to articulate a coherent platform beyond its initial goals of recognition."
Even if these writers concede -- with hesitation of course -- that us bisexuals exist, now we do so without a cultural identity?
This might as well be the same as questioning our very existence -- it certainly translates into real life experiences that do. At it's best, it's when I'm viewed as little more than sexual meat by couples propositioning me on OkCupid, or when I'm accused of being too afraid to come out as gay. At its worst, it's precious media space devoted to how I'm perceived as "dirty," instead of exploring why 45 percent of bisexual women have contemplated or attempted suicide, why we're twice as likely to have an eating disorder compared to our lesbian counterparts and why, compared with straight women and lesbians, we have the highest rates of alcohol abuse instead.
But, I don't have to look to Slate or any other online magazine to know that when I tell people I identify as bisexual, it holds less cultural currency than when I say I'm simply "queer." Given that the term has been recently reclaimed from its pejorative roots, the political undertones are more obvious. Remove the word "bisexual" from my vocabulary, and I'm instantly more accepted in the lesbian scene; considered more dateable, and trustworthy, even. So, when in October, bisexual writer and editor Anna Pulley gave some compelling reasons in Salon why we ought to consider putting "the word to bed," it was hard to look away.
After all, "bisexual" is marked by strong negative connotations that perhaps a new term would present a re-birth for those of us with fluid identities. "I think people's attitudes toward bisexuals comprise the bigger obstacle to acceptance....We're Girls Gone Wild or giving you HIV or closet-cases taking advantage of straight privilege or stealing your boyfriend. These are hard stereotypes to fight because they're so pervasive and culturally ingrained, even among bisexuals ourselves," Pulley wrote me in an email last year. Then, the term is criticized within the queer community for being too binary. Pulley wrote in an email that "If you're involved with a person who's genderqueer, trans, or intersex, for instance, "bisexual" doesn't really cut it."
Given that "bisexual" triggers the world's-worst-dirty sex taboo, I wonder: Has this connotation, perpetuated by places like the New York Times and Slate, become so unshakeable that it's time to replace the term?
Bisexuality should, for once and all, be publicly understood under activist Robyn Ochs' definition: "I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted -- romantically and/or sexually -- to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree." While this definition itself encompasses all the identities of the LGBTQ community, in Slate, Stern wonders if its one unto itself: "Is bisexuality even an identity, in the way that homosexuality is?"
My bisexual identity is one that is defined by proudly challenging assumptions about sexuality altogether. Outsiders frequently judge my sexuality based on the gender of the person I'm with; in coming out to them as bisexual, through my capacity to love, I immediately challenge their notion of what makes a person LGBT. Faith Cheltenham, president of BiNet USA, put it this way in a phone call this week, "People think one thing about bi people and the reality is different. That's what we talk about when we use bi-culture, how people see us being different than who we are." Equally as profound is the word's rich cultural and political legacy. Just look to last year's bisexual White House summit, which helped inspire Bisexual Health Awareness Month, and the many publications, musicians, manifestos and organizations dedicated to documenting the experiences of bisexual people. If these don't constitute a "coherent platform," what does?
Perhaps most proudly, bisexual culture represents intersectionality at its core. We are cis gender and trans people alike, among all of the other identities we intersect as 50 percent of the LGBT community. Cheltenham wrote me in an email last year that for her, "Bisexuality is not who I am, it is a component of my identity. As a black woman I have other aspects of my identity that will consistently affect my life. As a black American I am more likely to have poor health outcomes. As a woman I am more likely to be affected by sexism." So, when Stern insisted in Slate that it's time for the bisexual "movement to stop substantiating its own existence and start trying to give that existence the cultural substance it craves," it made me wish I could. In fact, I'd be more than happy to stop -- as soon as the media stops looking to scientific studies to prove we exist.
Correction: An earlier version of this blog stated that no people of color were interviewed for the New York Times piece. One person of color was quoted in the piece and and several were featured in the slideshow that accompanied the...
I don't count any transgender women among my close LGBTQ and feminist friends. I'm not proud of that. I'm also not alone.
As a bisexual woman, I frequent LGBTQ parties and events, hang out at lesbian and gay bars, and even produce LGBTQ news coverage for my job. Yet,...
A subreddit called "Gaybros" recently became a target of ire -- and support -- for creating a space for gay men with "traditionally male interests," as described by creator Alexander DeLuca on The Good Men Project. Many derided the group for elevating traditional masculine traits and thus perpetuating...
The expanding use of drones worldwide continues to rewrite the rules of military engagement, with some analysts declaring them the greatest threat to world peace since nuclear weapons. However, China’s relatively recent foray into unmanned aerial vehicle technology has the U.S. government concerned. A 2012 U.S. Department of...
Educational Neglect on Dipity.
Bevanjae Kelley's heart sank when she arrived at her East Harlem home after work one day in September of last year and saw the envelope from New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS). The letter inside informed her that a case had been opened on her, investigating her for the educational neglect of her 14-year-old granddaughter Ayanna. She wasn't surprised by its arrival, but she was frustrated.
Kelley, 60, knew all about educational neglect through her work with the Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP), an organization that promotes parental involvement in child welfare reform. She had worked as a community representative for three years and had been a board member for two. While working to raise her two granddaughters--she also has custody of 16-year-old Cyrè, Ayanna's older sister--she'd been involved in other families' tribulations. She'd counseled other parents who'd been through charges of ed neglect, a charge that ACS investigates if a child has missed too much school.
Despite Ayanna's truancy, Kelley was hardly a prime candidate for an educational neglect charge. She had always stressed the importance of education to her granddaughters and was involved in their lives. She'd even gone into Ayanna’s high school to discuss her absenteeism with her guidance counselor at Manhattan’s Legacy High School for Integrated Studies. "I actually initiated it, as far as getting in contact with the school," Kelley said. "And when I did express concern about my granddaughter, the guidance counselor said, 'Oh well you can always get ACS involved.' And I looked at her like, 'I can't believe this is the first thing out of your mouth and you're a counselor.' So I knew that's where their head was at."
Even with Kelley's involvement, Ayanna still cut class and showed up late. When Kelley lectured her, Ayanna told her that everyone cut class and that she hated the gossiping and bullying that took place at her school. The year had just begun and Kelley was dismayed to learn that the school had in fact reported her to ACS for educational neglect.
Kelley’s story is just one of many that illustrates the flaws with how the current system deals with teenagers; they're treated just like little kids even though there are vast differences in the reasons why a 16-year-old and why a six-year-old might miss school. Despite these differences, teenagers make up 61 percent of educational neglect reported to ACS.
ACS investigations are less likely to uncover or remedy the root issues that cause teenagers to miss class, than they are for a smaller child with less independence. In many instances, these investigations do not lead to cases where other forms of abuse are discovered and frequently ACS is not properly equipped to deal with teenage truancy. The Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization that focuses on justice research and policy, released a study in December 2009 examining the need to develop alternate resources for schools and communities to confront teenage school truancy before ACS gets involved. The Vera report recommends amending the law so that schools must take a number of steps to contact the parents before reporting the case, as well requiring that the person receiving the report from the school get specific information on the responsibility of the parents for the child's absence.
In New York City, children are required to go to school from the September after they turn six years old until they are 17. Educational neglect is a serious concern for both New York City schools and ACS because it can be a sign of much larger problems, especially in families with younger children. In those cases, it is frequently part of a cadre of charges, including physical abuse and medical neglect, or a result of an illness, depression or drug use on the part of the parent, according to Monica Drinane, the Supervising Judge of Bronx Family Court.
The number of educational neglect filings in New York City has ebbed and flowed over the last century, swayed at times by children who fell through the cracks. In 2006, Nixzmary Brown, then a seven-year-old living in Brooklyn, died at the hands of her mother and stepfather after they repeatedly beat her. ACS had received complaints in 2004 that Brown had bruises on her face, but no petition had been filed against her parents.
The media scrutiny after Brown's murder led schools to take a stronger stance against absenteeism. In an effort to prevent another tragedy, schools and ACS alike began filing significantly more cases, Drinane said.
Once the initial charge is reported, it starts the ball rolling in one long, messy process. If educational neglect is reported, ACS must open an investigation, which starts with an initial visit to assess the family's home life, followed by subsequent visits to the school and home. If the caseworker suspects neglect or abuse that endangers the children, he or she can send the case to court.
Although the case that triggered the increase in reports involved a seven-year-old, the majority of cases that are reported to ACS involve teenage absences. The Vera Institute found that in 2008 alone, 28,401 children had parents who were being investigated for ed neglect. Sixty-one percent of those children were over the age of 13. Many schools, like Ayanna's, have a policy of reporting educational neglect after 20 absences.
But a report of absence doesn't necessarily mean a student missed school. Children are often marked absent when they are late, said Monica Eskin, a lawyer who specializes in family court cases. Kelley also said that a large part of Ayanna's absences were not actually full missed days, but certain classes and repeated tardiness.
Younger kids can't get themselves to school on time so it is not unreasonable for parents to be held responsible. But teenagers have a far greater degree of independence and don't always use it well. Rather than manage their time, they may stroll into class 20 minutes late. Rather than deal with a hated subject, they might skip. Rather than face bullies or teasing, they may avoid campus altogether. Matt Malloy, principal of Aspirations Diploma Plus High School in Brooklyn, said that parents usually don’t know about the absences, not because of neglect, but because of the student's own design. “Very often what happens is the student has found a way to have the home not know what he or she is doing,” he said.
While parents aren't absolved from the responsibility of seeing that their children attend school simply because they are teenagers, schools should be taking some responsibility to fix problems that may be contribute to absenteeism. Yet many schools simply report absences to ACS and shift responsibility onto an already overworked and underequipped system. The State Central Registry, where teachers call to report parents, is used by schools to wash “their hands of these cases,” said Mike Arsham, the executive director of the Child Welfare Organizing Project and one of the advisers of the Vera report.
For many schools, it seems that the priority is not always to protect the child, but to ensure educators cannot be held legally responsible if there is some kind of neglect. While a report made to ACS is valid if there is suspicion of further neglect or abuse, the Vera Institute found that this is rarely the case. According to the report, educational neglect cases involving teenagers rarely lead to investigations of abuse.
In the case of Kelley and Ayanna, once the case was opened it soon became apparent that Kelley was not neglecting her granddaughters. She had worked hard to get Ayanna into counseling, was involved in her day-to-day life, and had already attempted to connect with the school to work out a solution. She had already made many attempts to impress upon Ayanna the importance of going to school. But like many teenagers, Ayanna was stubborn. She'd attend the classes she enjoyed--like English--and avoid the ones in subjects she detested. "I don't like math because I don't like math, period," she said by way of an explanation as to why she would miss a certain class. "And I don't like the [math] teacher," she added.
What was Ayanna doing when she was ditching class? Her answer will likely surprise (or exasperate) those familiar with teenage logic: "I'd just go to the computer lab. Read my emails and stuff."
Moreover, ACS's investigation coupled with the initial response she received didn't inspire Kelley to make any further attempts to reach out to the school. "It's intrusive and I just felt so hurt," she said. "I mean I'm doing everything I can possibly do, everything within my power."
ACS caseworkers interviewed for the study by the Vera Institute said that Kelley's feelings of alienation from both the school and the system are common among families. ACS investigators reported that they felt confined by the singular approach to investigations and thought that they could even lead to further problems in other cases. "They fear that conducting traditional educational neglect harms their perception in the community, making it harder to get cooperation in cases where there is a safety concern,” the report reads.
What's more, in a traumatic and telling example of the role that the school environment itself played in her absences, another student at school assaulted Ayanna last December, while the case was still ongoing, because she didn't like a friend of Ayanna's. Ayanna said she had never met the older student, a junior, but the girl “had an issue” with her friend. The girl cornered Ayanna in a stairwell at school and attacked her, knocking her down and kicking her repeatedly. Ayanna said that the bell had just rung so the stairwell was crowded and several students and teachers jumped in to break up the fight. The attack was long and severe enough to send Ayanna to the hospital with open wounds from the kicking and the other girl was arrested.
That girl is now back at school, and though Ayanna said she no longer cares about the incident, Kelley claimed it was terrifying for her granddaughter. Ultimately, it proved a point to the ACS caseworker; Ayanna's reasons for missing school were not due to neglect on Kelley's part. As it turned out, "she was in danger at school more so that anywhere else," Kelley said.
The ACS case has since been closed for Ayanna, though a preventative services case, which is provided by ACS to help prevent future investigations and issues from arising, is still open so that she can get access to services like mentoring and counseling. And Kelley is looking into transferring Ayanna to another school for her sophomore year.
Kelley and Ayanna were lucky because their case closed without being sent to court--an occurrence that former ACS worker Ruben Rivera said he tried his best to avoid when dealing with families, as long as there was no danger to the children. "I was never for removing the children," he said.
In court, officials assess the parent's responsibility for bringing the child to school. Parents with teenage children may be "stymied" because they simply cannot physically force their child to go school, Drinane said. "In one instance there was a child who was in the sixth grade for the fourth time. I could understand why he didn't want to come to school."
When it comes to defending parents facing charges, lawyers examine a number of different factors that might impede a child's ability to get to school. In cases with teenage children, a pattern of nonattendance may have developed from childhood. But it is not uncommon for other extenuating circumstances to stop teenagers--perfectly capable of getting to school on their own--from not going. Some teenagers are afraid to leave home because of domestic violence and may assume the role of a protector for their parents. They might experience some phobia or depression, or even be homeless, said Cara Chambers, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society.
Chambers said that when she crafts a defense, she first looks at the age of the child. The next step is to determine if the child received a comparable form of education--parochial school, private school or home school. Ultimately, each case is unique and must be addressed differently.
"Many ed neglect cases would be better handled by other social service agencies than by the family court system," Chambers said. "The family court system is not particularly appropriate or well-designed for addressing a lot of the needs that come up in an ed neglect case." Chambers also said that putting children into foster care is like taking a "bomb to an ant."
Instead of an educational neglect petition, parents can file a PINS (person in need of supervision) petition for teenagers. A parent would do this if they believe there is nothing they can do to get their child to school and are at risk of future cases due to that child's truancy. However, this means the child would go into a residence overseen by ACS or a detention center, Eskin said.
But a lot of these cases (and the money and manpower that goes with them) could be spared if only certain initiatives were taken to address teenage absenteeism, without the involvement of an investigation.
The Vera Institute recommends that laws should be put into place requiring schools to make a systematic effort to contact parents and try to resolve absenteeism before reporting it. While making a report,the school should have had at least two conversations with the parents and documentation of all the steps the school has made to deal with the issue themselves if there is any suspicion of abuse or neglect. Among other things, these steps would help fix issues that would likely need to be addressed sooner or later, but without the involvement of ACS resources.
Kelley still feels that Ayanna's school should have done more to confront her absenteeism head-on. "I think that in some cases the school can really have a dialogue with parents as much as possible," she said. Instead, Kelley felt as if the school failed to make the proper connection to either Ayanna or herself.
While Ayanna still maintains to this day that she “just doesn’t like school”, she said it’s the environment at Legacy that she really doesn’t care for. “I don’t like it; it’s always drama,” she said. “A lot of fights. A lot of girls don’t like each other. I just don’t like going to school.”
Alex Berg is currently a News21 fellow at Columbia University. Born and raised in Philly, she is a recent graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism where, among other things, she reported on early childhood education and educational neglect. Berg graduated from Cornell University in 2009.
Megan Gibson is a freelance journalist from western Canada. A recent graduate from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, she has also studied English literature and politics in Canada and South Africa. While at Columbia she also interned at The New York Times Syndicate. She has covered a range of topics, including education, human rights, health and culture. She lives in New York City.
Additional reporting by ENO ALFRED and PAIGE...