Transcending Boundaries 2002 Keynote Speech: binaries and community

Bi-phobia. What does that mean to you?

Does it mean the look on someone’s face when you tell them about your girlfriend and your boyfriend, and they pull away just a little, get just a little more distance between you and them? Is it when your mother asks you why, if you can bring yourself to sleep with girls, you bother to date boys too? Is it when someone turns you down because “you might leave me for one of Them”? And when you get dumped in this way, who do you call? What friends will help you through it? What bar or club or hangout can you go to where everyone there understands exactly what you’re going through? What, you mean there’s no Bisexual Community Center? Did you almost laugh when I said that? Why? Doesn’t it strike you as somehow wrong that this is just a funny joke?

And then there’s transphobia. If you’ve never experienced it, you don’t know how awful it is. And if you have experienced it, it probably haunts your nightmares. It’s not just when people won’t touch you because it might make them have to rethink their sexual preference….and have it come up, horror of horrors, bisexual! It’s the bottle thrown out of the truck window, the screamed insult, the gang carrying clubs with your name on them, the family who pretends you’re dead, the public who thinks that your genitals are their business, the bathroom that you get thrown out of, the interviewer who looks at you like you’re diseased, the job you won’t get, and the people who think that you must either be sexless or a sex toy, but never a human being.

The monogendered monosexuals tend to think of us in one breath, even if they don’t refer to us that way. We’re the weirdest of the weirdos in the Pride Parade. We’re the last two letters on the end of GLBT, the tacked-on ones. You can almost hear them: “Why don’t they just go away and date each other? Preferably where we don’t have to watch.”

So where, exactly, is bisexual culture? Or, rather, what exactly is bisexual culture? Do we even know? When we talk about gay male culture or lesbian culture, people have a fair idea of what we’re talking about, from music to style to politics. Certainly we’re surrounded by heterosexual culture, steeped in it even, until everything around us is saturated in it, including us. But bisexuality has been around for quite a while, and we still don’t know what the bi community looks like. In fact, most people don’t even think such a thing exists, because we’re so nebulous.

Some would say that bisexual culture has had such a hard time getting started because we’re too inclusive. We encompass people who live straight lives except for the odd boyfriend or girlfriend. We have people who live gay lives except for the occasional transgression. And we have polyamorous perverts who cluster in group relationships, people whose love lives need scorecards, people who look, on the surface anyway, like the reviled stereotype of the bisexual who’ll sleep with anything that moves. We have monogamous people who don’t want to be classed under the label of their current relationship. We have people who don’t feel right unless they have at least one of each.

We don’t guard our boundaries with the same zeal as the gay or straight communities. To stay in the good graces of the straight community, you can’t slip up even so much as once. In the gay community, you can slip up, but then you have to repent. This flexibility is the reason, we’re told, that we don’t have a unifying culture or set of values. If you let everyone in, it dissipates that sense of specialness, of Us Vs. Them. Culture, according to this model, can only be a product of xenophobia.

The transgendered community certainly has culture, though….in fact, it’s more like several small splintered cultures crammed under one crowded umbrella label. And the intersex community is so small and fledgling – and it’s drawn from a wide variety of desperate people who only share a medical diagnosis – that it has good reason to be cultureless. Yet here we have the Bi-Trans-Intersex Conference, as if we were nuts enough to think that we could just combine all three of these into one little community. Why on earth do we think we can manage something like that? Can we even pull it off? What do we think we have in common, anyway?

I’ll tell you what we have in common. We’re the binary-destroyers. Instead of saying either-or, we say yes, both. We know the real meaning of the wisdom “When They Force You To Choose, Always Choose Both”. We are the crossers of boundaries, the fence-sitters, the switch- hitters, the ones who know that two opposite forces or cultures or mental programs can exist in one person without tearing them apart…with a little help and work and patience. We take those boundaries and lines and move them all around, maybe even erase them completely.

And that’s why we often find those lines to be cavernous abysses yawning between our feet. That’s because far too many people use those lines to delineate who they are, and how they should live their lives, and if we just walk in and prove to them that those lines can be easily, cheerfully erased, we call into question the very ground beneath their feet. Gay or straight? Men or women? Male or female? Transgendered or intersex? We know the reality of the situation…..that every time you draw a line, it slices through someone’s tender flesh. Someone who’s spread-eagled over that gap, trying desperately to drag those two warring sides together, trying desperately not to fall in.

That’s one way to define bi-phobia: The Fear Of Having A Choice. Because if you have a choice, you have to think more about what you really want, what you just pretend that you want, what you want but don’t think you should want, and what you desperately fear wanting. And because most people are lazy and don’t like anything that makes them think more than is absolutely necessary to get a Coke out of a machine, they react violently to all the work implied in having choices. After all, it’s so much easier to just sit back and do what you’re told you should want to do.

Another way to define trans-phobia might be: The Fear Of Change. Because one follows the other like summer follows spring: Choice. Change. If you start letting people have free choice about who they want to fuck, the next thing you know they’ll be wanting free choice about who they get to be while they’re doing that fucking…..and for that matter, while they’re taking out the garbage. And then whatever would we do? We’d be constantly having to ask people questions about themselves instead of just being able to make comfortable assumptions. We’d have to think about it. Horrors.

Eventually, of course, the very word “bisexual”, the word we’re trying to hang a banner on, is going to have to go by the wayside. Why? Because “bi” means two, and implies that there are only two sexes or genders for one to fall in love or lust with. And we know that’s not true. I know that’s not true, from my own personal experience. There are plenty of sexes and genders. I know. I’ve personally done it with all of them. If you find someone who has a sex or gender you think I’ve missed, you send them my way, OK? It’s why I don’t call myself bisexual any more, except to people who don’t understand terms like pansexual or tranny-chaser or big ol’ pervert or ethical slut.

Of course, for us transpeople, the biggest issues aren’t around whether or not we get laid tonight. They’re about whether we can get hired at a job or keep our housing or get any medical care at all. They’re about whether or not we are battered to death in the streets. The trans community is where the gay community was during the 1960’s – although fatal gay-bashings have fallen statistically since then, transgendered murders are on the rise. Last year, approximately one of us a month was killed by incredibly brutal violence. This year, it’s even higher. That’s out of a population way smaller than the gay or lesbian or bisexual community. While you’re quibbling, we’re being killed in the streets. While you theorize, intersex children are being mutilated in hospitals. While you argue, people with anatomy that is not solely male or female for whatever reason are being turned away by medical professionals. I’m a transgendered intersex activist and I can’t find a gynecologist.

Are we bisexuals sure that we can afford to integrate us transgendered people, not to mention the intersexuals who are already leery of the whole queer thing to begin with? Can the proposed community inherent in the idea of this conference survive, made up as it is of all the outcasts, the ones that make people uncomfortable, the ones that have the most trouble getting laid? Let’s be honest: the price for transcending boundaries is to incur wrath. Do you have the guts to march with us freaks in the Pride Parade? Even if it forever destroys any hope you may have of convincing straight people that “we’re just like everybody else”?

Because some of us aren’t.

So I’ve got a mission that needs a few brave souls. Let’s have our community be the one that’s different. Let’s build a community where the kind of infighting that starts with, “You don’t belong here,” or “You’re not a real ____,” is conspicuous by its absence. Let’s prove that culture doesn’t have to come out of xenophobia.

Are we up to this? Well, we’d better be. Frankly, with everything we’ve got going for us in the diversity department already, if we aren’t up to this, then there’s no hope that the rest of the world will be. And I don’t want to believe that there’s no hope. And believe me, you do not want to disappoint me, do you?

Good. You get out there and make me proud.

Blessed be, y’all.