Election Reflections

The world is a much brighter place for me right now than it was even a week ago. All of the tension I’ve been holding about the uncertainty of the future might finally have a chance to dissipate. There are two reasons for this, one personal and one shared:

1) I’m moved! Moving really is possibly my least favorite thing to do in the entire world. I just hate it. But I managed to get the packing done in time, and my friends showed up and carried and smiled and laughed and made the day itself a pleasure, and since Sunday I’ve been giving myself a break and slowly settling into my new place. Now that I’ve had a chance to recover a bit from draining myself so dry, and don’t have to spend every spare moment packing, I’m determined to follow the news more closely and blog more often. Also to put more time and care into my close friendships

2) President-Elect Barack Obama!! I can’t express how surprised I am that the democratic process actually worked (I was convinced this election would be stolen), and how thrilled at the idea of a regime change. The state of the world has been wearing on us all, I think. And while I don’t expect it all to turn around in an instant — and don’t even get me started on how this election is not the death knell of racism – I admit that I’m inspired and full of hope. The majority of voting Americans voted for a black man. A man who is, while not perfect, maybe as liberal as could possibly elected. A man who might be able to inspire people to do the things that must be done. Now I’m hoping that it’s not too late — for the economy, for the environment, for foreign relations — but I know that at least we will not be sitting back and watching the world go to hell, doing nothing and patting ourselves on the back for it.

As far as queer issues go, this election was not nearly so awesome. Obama himself seems fairly positive on LGBT issues, but has basically not mentioned us, and spoke out against Prop. 8 but has also said that he’s not for legalizing gay marriage. And Prop. 8 has almost certainly passed, and similar measures in Arizona and Florida have certainly passed. Which is disheartening, particularly in California, where it’s a definite step backward rather than a failure to step forward. (More on why I don’t prioritize same-sex marriage in another post, but if it’s going to be on the ballot I’d at least like it to pass. People voting against it is still bigoted and infuriating even if I think it’s a poor use of our community’s energy and resources.) Arkansas’s ban on unmarried couples adopting passed, and is horrendous, and clearly aimed at keeping queers from raising poor, innocent, impressionable children. Because it would be so much better for those children to grow up in orphanages! Finding enough foster homes is enough of a hardship without going around disqualifying people for ridiculous, hateful reasons that have nothing to do with children’s actual wellbeing. Ballot propositions on abortion went well, but as far as queer issues go, not a banner election.

But Girlfriend, Esq. pointed me in the direction of Kate Brown, today’s official Bisexual Politician Of The Day. She was just elected Oregon’s secretary of state (the second highest-ranking elected official in the state of Oregon), which makes her the first LGBT secretary of state in the country. Even before Tuesday’s election, as the Senate majority leader in Oregon (a post she’s held since 2004) she was the highest-ranked out bisexual elected official in the United States, and Oregon’s first female Senate majority leader. And she’s used that position to do all sorts of great things: she was involved in passing a domestic partnership bill, and the Bay Area Reporter quotes the Oregonian as also crediting her with pushing through “civil rights legislation for gays and lesbians, stronger ethics laws, solid budgets for schools and universities, and health care reform, including insurance coverage for contraceptives.” That’s, um, pretty awesome.

Of course, while I was googling her I came across this nonsense from Just Out, which suggests that none of that is as important as the fact that Ms. Brown is partnered with a man and no longer has short, dykey hair. Because whether she looks and acts like their conception of a queer woman is so much more important than whether she openly identifies as one. And hey, she may do a lot of LGBT advocacy, but any gay-friendly straight person could do that! (Yes, they said that.)
I’m infuriated. It would be one thing if Just Out was criticizing Ms. Brown for hiding her identity, or not fighting on behalf of the community when she’s in a position to do so, or anything like that. But they’re suggesting that all of that isn’t good enough, and if she wants to represent the community she needs to (I am not making this up) “please just butch it up a bit.” What is she doing representing herself as the bisexual candidate and taking money from LGBT donors if she’s not going to dress and act like a big ol’ dyke? That would help queer people identify with her so they’d want to vote for her. ‘Cause no queer women can identify with someone who chooses to have long hair. Would one little drag show really hurt her?
I’m offended by this as a bisexual and as a femme. I’ve spent enough time thinking I’m not good enough or queer enough because I don’t have the right haircut, I’m over hearing other people given grief over it. Come to think of it, I’m outraged as a woman as well; I can’t imagine a gay man being told to be a bit more nelly to get community support, and I think that’s all about a demonization of femininity and failure to take it seriously. And as far as getting on her case for having a husband and kids, when will people would stop questioning bisexuals for our partners’ genders when choosing those partners is totally consistent with the identity we’ve claimed all along? From what I can tell, they’re also taking out of context her statement about hoping her sexuality won’t be an issue in the campaign — from a longer quote (in the same Bay Area Reporter article) it seems she was hoping her opposition wouldn’t stoop to smearing her for it, which strikes me as a totally reasonable hope. I was already going to email Kate Brown to congratulate her on her victory, and let her know how awesome I think she is. Maybe while I’m at it I’ll leave a comment or email the man who wrote the article (stephen@justout.com) and let him know how offensive I find it that they’re judging a bisexual politician on her haircut and the gender of her partner rather than her openness about her sexuality, the ways she’s used her power as a state Senator, and her advocacy for the community.
I, for one, am proud to have Kate Brown representing bisexuality. No matter how she dresses.

17 Responses to “Election Reflections”

  1. 2 Max the Communist
    7 November 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Thank you for this information. Bi contributions and achievements are often overlooked in general queer media. You make a difference!

    As for the “you’re not queer enough” attitude from one les/gay dominated blog, I wish I could say that will disappear soon, but that has pretty much been the score since Stonewall. Why are they complaining about an open bisexual being gay-friendly? Obviously, the issue of heteroprivilege is being reacted to without being confronted directly.

    Bisexuals don’t advocate for queer rights because they want to be gay-friendly, like a straight person; we do it because we see a stake in it ourselves–and even receiving heteroprivilege in straight relationship doesn’t make us forget what would happen to us in a same-sex relationship. I’m sure that Kate Brown knows if her spouse were a woman, the hurdles she would face would be greater.

    Finally, I had a bi friends, a man and a woman, who married and our small bi community gave them shit for it, which I really wish we hadn’t. A few years later, the bi man was fired from his teaching job for coming out at work. And he was married! So heteroprivilege does come to bis, but it won’t save us from discrimination all the time. And who knows when that axe will fall? Better to fight back.

  2. 8 November 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Hi, I just discovered your blog and wanted to say how much I like this post. In fact, I’m planning a response to it next week, so stop by and visit me at Sublimefemme Unbound!


  3. 4 Aviva
    8 November 2008 at 4:08 pm

    sublimefemme, you keep finding all of my blogs! I wondered when I wrote the word “femme”here whether you’d see it.

  4. 8 November 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Yes, that’s my finely tuned femmedar!

    I’m genuinely flattered that you thought of me, since I adore radical lefty bi girls! And just how many blogs do you have?!

    I’ll leave you a comment on your femme quiz critique over on my blog.


  5. 6 Aviva
    8 November 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Only the two. This one’s my blog, and that one’s my personal LJ.

  6. 7 teresa
    8 November 2008 at 10:37 pm

    i agree with all of these sentiments…and there’s no way i could have said this better, aviva! xoxo your fellow queer femme–and eternally goth sister in crime–teresa t.

  7. 8 liza-lou
    9 November 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Thanks for the great post Aviva and yahay bi-ness!!! I am currently doing research on the performance of bisexual identity with the aim of deconstructing that troubling binary that reinforces heteronormativity.

    On not being queer enough… I pass in heteronormative ways yet transgress those boundaries often. I am queer through and through (yet identify strategically as bi) yet I do not perform that queerness in any conforming/conceivable/perceptible way… therefore I am always suspect in the queer world.

    My fem/sub/bi/male/trans lover (depending on the time of day…) is anxious to be seen with me in a queer environment least he be conceived as heterosexual, as un-queer, as ‘other’… yet I am always ‘other’ there, my identity always in question, always suspect because of the way I look. Odd and troubling.

    Anyways… just a few brief thoughts… I will be visiting your blog often and look forward to future posts!


  8. 9 vj
    11 November 2008 at 12:59 am

    I am loving your blog. Just Out has a huge problem with bisexuals. It comes from the editor, unfortunately. Her name is Marty Davis, and you can contact her at marty@justout.com. There are a number of lesbians on the staff that are very bi positive, but they tend to get drowned out there.

  9. 10 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 1:47 am

    liza-lou, wlcome! And I totally hear you about your queerness being suspect. I sometimes catch myself not wanting to be seen with male-type people in queer contexts, even though everyone knows I’m bi. It’s an impulse I’m trying to curb in myself.

    May I ask what you mean about identifying strategically as bi?

  10. 11 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 2:10 am

    vj – thanks! And that’s really unfortunate about Just Out. And not, sadly, very rare.

  11. 11 November 2008 at 3:23 am

    umm . . shouldn’t this nonsense from Just Out go onto Bialogue and out to the community to do something about?

  12. 13 liza-lou
    11 November 2008 at 5:54 am

    Hey Aviva! Thank you for the welcome!

    What do I mean by identifying strategically as bi..? Well, if we could just be whatever and it didn’t matter what our sexuality was based on, if we could even get beyond sexuality and queerness being based on gender, then I wouldn’t identify as anything… but we are far from there yet. And so because I live in a society that still practices exclusion and violence even within marginalized populations I choose to identify as bi even though I am more than just bi. I think that bi can be used strategically to trouble the sexual dichotomy and static categories of sexuality.

    Within the context of my research:

    The concept of identity itself is a complex issue. The limits of identity politics revolve around thinking that identity is a unitary or essential phenomenon which produces exclusion/ marginalization. In using the category “bisexual” as an identity I am cautious because I do not wish to essentialize it; nonetheless, identity categories, however unstable and provisional, are politically necessary and can be taken up strategically. Although I am approaching my research from a queer perspective in order to deconstruct and trouble the gender binary and categories of identity I will still specifically and for political purpose use bisexual identity as a tool with which to do this. While queer theory endeavors to deconstruct and expose the incoherencies between apparently stable categories of sex, gender, and sexual orientation and destabilize heterosexuality as the norm when these practices are abstracted from institutional contexts they become politically weak.

    While using identity as a tool, it is important to remain attentive and cautious of the potential of it becoming over-determining and reifying it. Attending to the contingency and complexity of constructed categories should not cause the material consequences of identity categories to be seen as any less real. Identity constructions may be disciplining and regulatory; however, they are also enabling of social collectives and political agency. Bisexual identity is liminal; although it belongs to both hetero- and homo-sexual categories, it also belongs to neither – it is qualitatively different. Despite being dependent on the binary, it also has the potential to disrupt the binary.

    Your feedback on this would be appreciated. What do you think? Anyone else?


  13. 11 November 2008 at 1:41 pm


    “Attending to the contingency and complexity of constructed categories should not cause the material consequences of identity categories to be seen as any less real.”

    I think this is exactly right. To me, the focus on such material effects are crucial, and they all too often disappear from critical/theoretical discussions of this kind–at least in part because the cultural is made to stand in for the social. So I appreciate your attention to the collective and the social in theorizing identity and agency.

    It also sounds like you’ve been reading a lot of Judith Butler!

  14. 15 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 5:22 pm

    umm . . shouldn’t this nonsense from Just Out go onto Bialogue and out to the community to do something about?

    Well, you’re Bialogue. You tell me. Should it?
    I’m fixing the link now because the column has been replaced, because it’s a month old. But that’s not too late, and getting it out to the community is exactly what I thought I was doing.

  15. 16 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Wow, l-l, you said a mouthful! My theory vocabulary brain is a little out of practice, but all of that sounds much like what I mean when I say I identify as bi even though the term is incomplete and imperfect. I always like to know other people’s reasons for choosing the word.

    And your research sounds fascinating! I’d love to hear more about it as it happens.

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