A Call For A Pro-Choice Movement on Sex and Gender
by Riki Wilchins
From my perspective, the national bisexual agenda has increasingly devolved down to prodding other groups actually doing national politics to "say the B-word." What we've tried so far is to continue loudly proclaiming bi-ness and hope it eventually "sticks." Unfortunately, this hasn't worked yet and looks unlikely to work in the future. In fact, it has had the unhappy side-effect of having less and less to say. This is not a political agenda so much as a Dilbert cartoon.
In the current debate on sexual orientation, there is only room for two positions: gay or straight. Within this framework "bisexuality" appears not as an identity, but as the absence of one. We are the excluded middle, the position of preferring nothing, we are a failure of sexual identity. And we end up ignored by both sides.
Another approach might be to recall that until very recently there were only homosexual acts, not homosexual people. The idea that one's social identity was tied irrevocably to where you parked your genitals at night originated in the 19th century medical discourse of people like Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis.
Thus one alternative to our current strategy might be to recognize that the problem with getting people to acknowledge bi identity lies not with a lack of effort on our part, but with the fact that the notion of sexed identities is dead on arrival, and always has been. We might instead consider turning our backs on the politics of sexuality in its entirety, in effect saying to both gay and straight: "a pox on both your houses."
What might emerge from this is a national movement based on being Pro-Choice on Sexuality and Gender -- which, instead of organizing around an identity of gay/straight/ bi/tri/quad, would organize itself around the goal of fighting oppression based on orientation and gender.
Nothing stops us from implementing these kinds of plans except vision and will. In fact, there are more "bi" people, more pro-choice people in this country than there are gays and lesbians. That excluded middle ground is also a powerful place. We are the balance of power, the bridge between gay and straight communities. For instance, we are the answer to politicians who loudly invoke "family values" to bash queers, without realizing that they also bash those of us who have "conventional" marriages and kids but also same-sex relationships. We are also the answer to gay activists who have built a national politics of sexuality around helplessness, "I can't help being gay, I can't help being gender-different." Well, I'm here to tell you: choice is a good thing. It's a human thing. It's a dignity thing. And those of us in this movement have that message to sell as well.
I recently held a workshop at the Fifth International Bisexual Conference entitled "Why the Bi Movement Has Missed Its Radical Potential -- A Dream Deferred." (For my purposes, I meant "bi movement" to refer very narrowly to a national political movement.) The title sounded negative (even though the execution wasn't) because, like you, I feel the growing frustration that this movement is missing the political edge to accomplish its goals. We're even lacking the visibility, clout, and political edge that other, much smaller movements seem to have captured in just the past few years, most notably those of the gender and intersexed communities, and now the leatherfolk.
Movements don't just run on numbers and money. They start with ideas and vision and implementation. They start because people feel they have something to say, and because they have the means, the will, and the savvy to carry it into the national arena. To date, the national bisexual movement has been lacking in these, and therefore lacking a viable national political movement as well.
If that sounds like the start of something to say, would we have the means to create such a movement? To date, we haven't developed them. In spite of admirable efforts, including BiNet USA, we still lack the critical mass of street-level politics, media visibility, and national presence to gain the political clout other groups have seized so quickly. Instead, we have spent decades developing the infrastructure to make it okay for people to come out and connect with others. But we have been left with an approach which mistakes the warmth of connection for political effectiveness, and leaves us lacking in fire, tools, and vision.
To cite one trivial example: there were about 1,000 of us at IBC5. Suppose that, instead of holding it in Boston, we had held it in D.C. Suppose we had made the final day a National Sexuality and Gender Pro-Choice Lobbying Day on the Hill. Do you think that 1,000 such pro-choice activists might have made the evening news? Do you think they would have made queer newspapers across the country? Do you think that wouldn't have sent shock-waves throughout the gay community, HRC, and queer people that this movement has arrived?
As usual, I had only meant to rouse some rabble at the workshop. But without my knowing it, someone had circulated a sign-up sheet for the new national organization they thought was being proclaimed. Over half the attendees signed up.
Which is to say, the desire, the numbers, and the frustration are all here. We've invested in the community-building. Now we face a different task -- harvesting it to take our place on the national landscape. The question is: will the next generation of leaders step forward and accept the challenge?
Riki Wilchins is a founding member of the street action groups Transsexual Menace and Hermaphrodites With Attitude, and the organizations National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and GenderPAC. S/he is the current Executive Director of GenderPAC and author of the best-selling book, Read My Lips - Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender from Firebrand. Hir eMale is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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