Putting the “B” in LGBT

I’ve spent the past…oh…6 hours of my weekly writing date (it’s not usually that long, but work was canceled today due to lack of work) chatting with my friends, eating two meals, discussing linguistics and how stupid men who believe women aren’t really funny are, reading comics, joining Twitter, and generally doing everything but writing. Maybe I should try to actually get some work done before I give up and go home? No, never mind, it sounds like my friend’s new gentleman friend is coming by and I’ll get to meet him. You all don’t care if I never post again because I have the attention span of a gnat, do you?

Right. Um. Trying again on Thursday. I’m on a train to Philadelphia (Yay Trans Health Conference!) so there’s no internet and really very little to distract me. [Aaaand now the PTHC is in the past, and I failed to give you all a heads up that I’d be there so anyone else who would be could say hello. Oops. Next year.]

I spent Saturday May 30th at the Bi Writers’ Association and NYC’s LGBT Community Center‘s Putting the “B” in LGBT Summit. It was an interesting day. The organizers clearly tried to pack a weekend conference into one day, and the experience suffered for it — everything ran over and got increasingly behind schedule, and all of the panels had too many people in too short a time slot to effectively have a conversation. Nevertheless, there was lots of good networking, and some very interesting things were said. And while the opening plenary was made up entirely of people of the same race and within the same age range, that did change somewhat as the day went on — not as much as I’d have liked, but some. It was clear someone was trying.

Robyn Ochs gave the keynote. I’d never seen her speak before, and I was very impressed. She’s smart and engaging and funny and seems to have good queer, gender, etc. politics. I’m happy to have her representing my movement — which is good, because, um, she does. There are very few bigger names in bi activism out there. So I’m delighted she’s so on the ball.

For example, she made me very happy by acknowledging that the LGBT movement has lots of inclusion problems, and that we’d be focusing on the way bisexuals are often marginalized because it was the topic of this particular summit, not because it was the only or most important marginalization happening within the community. Yay.

She talked about how the ways to be visible (to most people) as bisexual at all mirror the most common stereotypes about bisexuals, thus reinforcing them, and how that and the way the existing language supports binaries leads to a lack of positive images of bi folk. She talked about the importance of choosing a wide range of messages and spokespeople, rather than only “easily digestible” ones. And I got a moment of being quite pleased with myself when she suggested that we think about the kind of resources we want to see out there and then go out and make them.

The first panel was “Bisexuality: Exploding the Myths,” and the only thing I really remember about it at this point is that Ignacio Rivera was on it and as brilliant as always. My notes remind me that I’m always amused when people say things like “You can’t have it both ways” in contexts like this. On the “Bi Community Panel: Telling Our Stories,” people talked about the ways DADT, job discrimination, immigration, etc. impacted their lives. We’ve all heard these stories before, and they’re touching and enraging every time.

During “Crafting the Message: Putting the ‘B’ in LGBT,” people talked about news stories about queer issues, and how important it us to quote bisexuals as well as just teh gays about how they’re affected. Particularly of note was Joshua Lynsen of the Washington Blade saying that he makes a point of contacting bisexuals for comments. He gave out his card so anyone present who wanted to could add hirself to his contact list. (Although now that I actually look up what’s he’s written for the Blade, I’m not so sure I want to plug him…”Black Opposition to Gay Marriage Remains Strong?” I’m so over that meme. And what ever happened to not calling it “gay” marriage, anyway?)

The closing plenary discussion was less a panel and more a whole bunch of people each getting to speak once — that’s what you get when you put something like two dozen people on a panel. Someone made the irritating assertion that the trans community is pulling ahead of the bi community in the race to our rights, which is problematic on any number of levels. (Can we just agree never to ever say again that anything is the last acceptable prejudice? Please? And “bi inclusion is the unnoticed stepchild of trans inclusion?” For fuck’s sake. I wish I’d written down who actually said that.) I don’t remember most of what was said but bisexual and New York State Assembly Member Micah Kellner was there, and seemed pretty decent for a politician. And you know, he was open about his bisexuality during the campaign, and that’s pretty awesome.

Things I was less thrilled with: It always strikes me as unfortunate when people say things like “In this movement, bisexual men and woman fall through the cracks.” So many people fall through the cracks of that statement. And a surprising number of people who did talk about gender in non-binary terms and even spoke explicitly about bisexuals and trans folks as allies to each other then turned around and used phrases like “opposite sex.” But all in all, I’m very glad I went. If they have it again next year I’ll go again.

Next up: That night’s Bi Lines II performance! (Or at least my favorite segment of it.) Tomorrow’s writing date day again…

8 Responses to “Putting the “B” in LGBT”

  1. 1 jess
    17 June 2009 at 10:01 am


    Thanks so much for this!

    Hope you’re great,


  2. 2 Morne
    19 June 2009 at 3:43 am

    That sounds like it would have been a very interesting conference.

    I have to say though, I am still struggling a bit to understand how gender is not a binary. I know that there are people who are transsexuals and hermaphrodites and things like that, but I still can’t help but feel that people are basically male or female. If not physically, than mentally or something. But obviously that’s not true for some people. And I really find that hard to understand! I don’t know why exactly – I guess it’s just kind of a mental block I have.

    I dunno, maybe I have to hear someone who doesn’t consider themselves male or female to explain it to me, from their perspective. Can anyone recommend a good article or blog or something on issues like this?

  3. 3 Morne
    19 June 2009 at 3:45 am

    (Sorry, I meant it sounds like it was a very interesting conference)

  4. 4 Jen
    19 June 2009 at 7:48 am

    Your country is not my country, your continent is not my continent even, so the shapes and evolutions of the LGBT equality movements in each are not the same, but I’m curious as to what was troubling you about “bi inclusion is the unnoticed stepchild of trans inclusion?”

    • 5 Aviva
      22 June 2009 at 5:52 pm

      I’m just totally over the idea that any one thing is the last acceptable prejudice, that there are only a limited amount of civil rights to go around and we all have to grab everything we can. We all get more when we work together. And the issues faced by trans people and bi people (to the extent that those are two distinct groups, obviously, since many folks are both) are similar in many ways, but also vastly different. Trans people may be getting talked about more in the news lately, and even arguably have more momentum and more of a movement, but they also have far fewer legal protections, while bi people tend to be included with G&L protections; they’re more likely to face violence, including from the state; they’re not as absent from the media as bi people, but the media there is is similarly dismissive and stereotypical, and additionally more overtly demeaning and dehumanizing. How is it meaningful to compare these two situations to decide which is worse, or to claim that one movement is riding on the other’s coattails or is the other’s unnoticed stepchild? I’m tired of everything that statement is shorthand for.

  5. 6 Daomadan
    20 June 2009 at 11:26 am

    Great post. I still get angry when I’m reading blog threads about LGBT stuff and then the poster or commenters immediately start saying “gays and lesbians” and “trans people.” As if the B is…I don’t know. An afterthought? There are times I’ve started to not say anything because people try to silence me through “Well, we said LGBT up there didn’t we?” Or “I’ve never heard of this happening to a bisexual before.” Excuses.

  6. 7 Marcia
    23 June 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Glad to hear a summary of this. I recently left NYC for SF, and was very sad to miss the conference. Thanks for your update.

  7. 4 August 2009 at 9:07 am

    FYI, we had no control over who sponsoring organizations sent as representatives. And the main themes of the Summit were the very hot button issues of Marriage Equality, Dont Ask Dont Tell and job discrimination/ENDA because we were trying to show how these issues affect bisexual people and why we should be included in press releases, press coverage and policy papers/political speeches on these subjects.

    We couldnt just order up a politically correct assortment of bisexual married people, veterans and job discriminees (I wish!)…we had to find bisexual people who happened to be married or veterans etc who were willing to be public speakers on those topics (and who could do a good job of speaking to the topic) and we were also limited by the amount of funding we were able to obtain to bring people in. Do you really think we looked at a group of people available and decided we’d rather have the white ones? You really have no idea what we went through just to get the people we had. Another thing we tried hard to do was to have as many bi men on the panels as possible because of the stereotype that bi men dont exist. I tried like crazy to get Chance Nally, for example (the bisexual teacher who married his partner (who also happened to be a male and multi-racial) who was in the NY Times and on 365Gay News on Logo, but he didnt answer any of my emails.

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