Allies & Community: Am I In or Out?

In a recent conversation about whether bisexuals considered supportive lesbians and gays to be “allies” there was a lot of talking past each other. It became clear to me that some of what that conversation was tripping on was this: the understanding of who is part of the community and who isn’t, as well as who has power and who doesn’t, changes when we are talking about what happens within the L, G & B community vs what happens in the wider world.

In the wider world, LGBT are all mushed together as “different” so when I speak up about a homophobic comment I am defending my own community. However, in LGBT spaces there are structural power differences between the letters so the monosexuals (L & G) who support B, are allies.

 If there wasn’t discrimination against bi’s in the gay and lesbian communities, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion because bi’s wouldn’t need allies just to function in our “own” LGBT community.

 Bisexuals have been moving along two community tracks for as long as I am aware of: being a part of the larger LGBT community and creating our own community. I used to think these were in opposition to each other, but a little historical education and perspective made me realize that this dual track has always been true of the gay and lesbian communities as well. To speak of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities is perhaps more accurate then to speak of us as a single community except for one thing: organizing to effect social and legal changes means we need to view ourselves as part of as large a community as possible in order to draw on as many resources as we can.

Umbrella organizations that truly represent the needs of, and acknowledge all parts of, our entire community are stronger and more able to effect change then if we each try to do it alone. B & T have historically been left in out in the cold of the larger LGBT organizations and today there is a lot of distrust by the bisexual and transgender communities toward these institutions. There are people doing very important work providing education and repairing relationships at the organizational level. Others of us focus on strengthening our own communities so we can provide the support we need within our community as well as come to the table with more strength when it is time to work together as a united LGBT community. These are both important things that need to happen and we are lucky we have people who are interested in both types of activism.

We waste a lot of time and energy convincing gay and lesbian institutions and leadership that we should be included in their work. Not as “allies” but in a way that our needs and concerns are taken into consideration when objectives and agendas are decided. We are a part of what is happening. Not including everyone voice can also lead to skewed agendas where the community becomes perceived as a single issue community (marriage equality, anyone?) when in fact our communities have many needs that should be being discussed and addressed.

It is important when thinking about allies within and outside of the LGBT movement to remember that we LGBTs have conversations with each other that are so far down in the weeds as to be a foreign language to the larger population. One of my friends calls it “inside baseball.” I might consider an individual lesbian to be a bisexual ally because of the support and understanding that person gives within LGBT spaces, but I would never agree that bisexuals are allies to L&G because we are part of the same larger movement that seeks social justice for all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Plus I don’t want to give anyone more excuses to leave us out! The bisexual community is not an ally in the LGBT movement, we are part of it.

As a bit of a post script, and to address something that is sure to occur to some of you: Yes, as a cisgendered person, I can be ally to the trans community, even though I maintain that we are all part of the aforementioned LGBT movement working for social justice regardless of sexual orientation of gender identity. This is because cis and trans describe different things. In considering myself a part of the LGBT movement I see that homosexual and bisexual both describe something different then heterosexual. I am not a part of the trans community, I am a part of the non-heterosexual community. I can be ally to the trans community but I’m a part of (not ally to) the non-heterosexual community. See how that works?

And if that has led to the question: why is trans a part of the LGBT community if their axis is trans-cis not hetero-bi-homo then you have headed off into another topic that many people have written about so well. Just trust me, they are, as are asexual people and everyone else that doesn’t fit into the heteronormative (binary) narrative that surrounds us. And I’ll keep watching their backs however I can, hoping they have mine in return.

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New Beginnings

I’ve blogged before that here in the north land I do not think of January as a time of new beginnings. However, Sunday was a pretty big beginning. I’ve been an active member of Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP) for a while now and Sunday I was elected to a two-year term as chair of the board of directors.

This is a pretty big deal. Sometimes I loose sight of how much because I’ve been hanging around, watching the sausage being made and loosing sight of the bigger picture. Nothing like an annual meeting presentation to put it in perspective.

The 2013 BOP board (including me) wrote a new Strategic Plan for 2014 – 2019 that will take us to the next level of being a resource for the bisexual community. Our revised vision statement is:

Build, serve and advocate for an empowered bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi*) community to promote social justice.

I have on good authority that we already have the largest budget of any 501(c)(3) in the country that is devoted primarily to serving the bisexual community.  We host the largest and longest running conference by, for and about bisexuals and our allies in the United States: the BECAUSE conference. Although our primary program focus is serving the Upper Midwest, BECAUSE and our work with other organizations gives us a national impact. We host a bi-annual, international conference for individuals researching bisexuality called BiReCon USA. Plus all the events we exhibit at, recurring social events we host and educational resources we provide. So BOP is kind of a big deal.

But here’s the secret. I love the idea of being chair because I want to empower our board and our committees to go out and make a difference. BOP has great programs, plans for more great programs and so many ways to connect bisexual folks with their community. We have lots of opportunities to get involved and I’m excited to connect people with what excites them. Leading, organizing, volunteering or attending, all of these things are important ways to be a part of our community. Community doesn’t just happen, it happens when people show up.

Last week I took part in a conversation on Fliponymous’ blog that started out about labels and ended with a discussion of community. You’ll find it in the comments of his most recent blog post. Sometimes it felt like Fliponymous and I were just not connecting with Saul. In the end I think we all saw where the breakdown of communication was. Saul has found his personal support among friends and family and that was enough for him. Fliponymous and I are working on the next layer out: community. Friends and family are really important and their support is invaluable. But when you want to change the world around you, you need to work with your community. That’s where BOP comes in: building community, educating allies and potential allies; researching bisexuals and our community so we can educate even more; being present and visible to combat bi-phobia and bi-erasure; being seen so that people struggling with their sexual identities can see that there are other people out there who feel the same way they do. Plus, BOP’s social events are great ways to expand your circle of supportive friends by providing a way to meet people who “get it” about being bi.

So come on down. Check out our Facebook page and get information about our recurring events. Wander over to meetup.com to see our member-driven events. Our website is under renovation right now due to some technical issues, but bookmark it, we’ll be back to our normal helpful, resource self soon.

Of course, I’ll be blogging about the journey I just started with my fellow board members. I’m still grinning like a fool when I think about what’s coming next.