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.