So just before the Arctic deep-freeze ate the country, the New York Times (generally about as nastily biphobic as the straight media gets) published this piece about bisexuality in the Fashion and Style pages. Because, seriously, that's where LGBT stuff belongs, fashion and style. I mean, sure, we're fashionable and stylish, so any coverage of us has to be in the optional pages. Because obviously it can't be news, right?
This article actually seemed at first to be not half bad.
But that's because the bar is so damn low that something from the New York Times that even admits we exist at all is a giant leap forward. Of course, they had to dredge up Bailey 2005 again, and the shocking news that in 2011 the verdict of non-existence was reversed -- no mention of the idea that in the 21st century the very idea that a significant segment of the population requires scientific validation in the form of pressure cuffs on our penis, monitoring our reaction to specific kinds of pornography before we can be deemed to exist is offensive and ontologically violent.
Yeah, the bar is low.
Low enough that an article featuring a couple sound bites from illustrious members of the community (who I am certain had much more to say than they were given time for) which are vastly outweighed by people who not only don't use the label bisexual but in a couple cases repudiate it altogether, and some paragraphs rehashing the Northwestern studies and apologizing for Dan Savage, and quoting people who continue to think we don't exist, seems like improved and balanced coverage.
An article about bisexuality that basically tells the community that not using a label is a virtue.
Here's the thing: If you are straight and say, "Labels don't matter", well, that's because your label is no-label, "Normal". If you are gay and say, "I don't believe in labels" then I'm sorry, but you are so far in the closet that you can see Sally Ride and Narnia from there, or you've adopted the assimilative mononormative ideal that erases everyone who doesn't fit into one of the two neatly circumscribed categories that, surprise surprise, are either straight or gay with no (dare I say) deviance permitted.
But as soon as someone says "Bisexual" it's a label-free free-for-all. Because it's only when bisexuality is on the table that people come from all corners to push the idea that it is the label that is the problem. That people wouldn't hate bisexuals so much if they'd just... quit calling attention to themselves.
Smell that? Yeah, me too. It's exactly the same line that the homophobe standing on the sidewalk last time I was involved in a pride-style march tried to hand me: "Why don't you freaks keep it in the bedroom?"
Now, I looked at everyone who was in the march with me, and you know what? Not one single person was doing anything that would be better kept to a bedroom. No one was having sex in the street. No, we were walking along waving a rainbow flag and signs that said "Love is love," and maybe at most a couple of people holding hands. Well, there was that one person dancing around with a vial of glitter and sprinkling it in our path. Personally that's one I prefer to keep out of the bedroom as glitter chafes something awful.
No, it's only bisexuals who are expected to not use a label.
The people quoted in the New York Times article include the new First Lady of New York City. She was a proud (and proudly labeled) Lesbian with a capital L, but now that she's married to Hizzonner teh Mayor, she says "Labels put people in boxes, and those boxes are shaped like coffins." Because labeling as gay or lesbian means solidarity and community and support and change and justice, but labeling as bisexual means... what?
It means, as Nixon notes, "Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals."
But I don't know how I can be more clear here.
IT'S NOT THE LABEL THAT PEOPLE HATE YOU FOR.
So what is the problem, if it's not the label?
It's not fitting into the boxes. Not fulfilling your assigned role. Being too queer. Refusing to toe the proverbial line. That's what they hate. And it doesn't matter what word you use, or no words at all, because they are still going to hate you just the same...
Unless they can make you disappear. Unless they can erase you and deny you the support of the community of fellow queer people (in general) and fellow bisexuals (in particular). Because if they can get you to manage the trick of self-erasure, by telling you that "Labels are coffins unless of course the label is gay or lesbian," or by convincing you that "Bisexual reinforces the gender binary and therefore people who use it are bad people" or by simply saying that "You should wait until you're sure before you label", then the bastards win.
They win by killing the community, and when they kill the community they are literally killing bisexuals. Bisexual youth who have no place to turn where they will be believed when they say "I dig Dave, but I also think that Joanna is hot." Bisexual adults who find themselves being told that the needs of Straight Allies are more important than the needs of actual Queer people, as long as those people are Bisexual, because of course *wink wink* those people can just stay in the closet where they belong, and aren't really Queer or they'd just follow the Cass Model of Gay Development and put all that fake heterosexual business behind them and come out as All The Way Gay instead of perching on that fence.
A community cannot exist without a word to call itself. That's just the pure and simple truth. Show me any community that has no name. You can't do it.
No label is no community. To quote Estraven, a friend of mine who nailed it perfectly:
"If you are unlabeled, how do you defend yourself? Whose rights are you fighting for? Why should you fight for the rights of a ________, when _________ are not oppressed?"
If these tactics had been as successful with the lesbian and gay communities as they have been in recent years with the bisexual community, there would not now be an LGBT Rights movement. A movement that owes its very existence to the transgressive, the nonconforming, the people who would not allow themselves to be quietly papered over and dismissed as inconsequential.
Here's a line from the article, near the end: "People who have grown up in a more assimilated world may not see the value in labels like "gay" or "bisexual," when the communities they describe are no longer as marginalized."
Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I had no idea that we were no longer marginalized to the point that we no longer needed to be able to identify our community. That we were fully accepted by society at large as well as by the GGGG community. That it was time to relax and rest on our laurels, because our work here is done. It's not like the piece quotes a high-profile gay blogger who says that of course bisexuality isn't real because he posed as one too, to "ease the transition".
Oh, wait, it does. Because no mainstream article about bisexuality is complete unless it spends most of the column inches on people who either don't believe we exist at all or who think it would be nice if we would just quietly go away. On gay people who think it's OK to tell bisexuals the same tired old hateful things that they get told by people like that duck dude.
To quote Larry Finklestein (At about 6:10):
I. Will. Not. Calm. Down.
Happy New Year.
(Previously published in slightly different form at Eponymous Fliponymous)