Report from the United Kingdom:
Bisexuality and Transgenderismby Kevin Lano
In contrast to Ellen DeGeneres' comment that "I could have sex with a man again, but obviously he'd have to be a fairly feminine man," many bisexuals still seem attracted to the polarized opposites of gender. They maintain a dual attraction for both traditional male and female ideals of appearance and behavior -- for conventional masculinity and femininity solely. This isolates the many people who don't fit into these categories, in particular, transgendered (and other) individuals who don't want to identify as either male or female.
I see the radical aspects of bisexuality as including a rejection of the traditional extremes of masculinity and femininity: the domineering, aggressive, macho man focused on power and material success and emotionally dependent on women, and the passive, appearance-obsessed woman. I don't want relationships with such stereotyped identities, or in such a framework, no matter what their professed sexuality is. I would hope that the bi community could provide a space for alternatives for mainstream gender models and a diversity of attraction to be supported.
However, in the UK bi community, discussion of gender and gender politics -- let alone action -- has in recent years been very limited. Mixed workshops on feminism at the main bi conferences always seemed to generate a lot of animosity and argument, with women and some progressive men trying to contest ignorant or straightforwardly bigoted attitudes from other men. Such workshops ceased to be held several years ago for this reason.
The bi community has also confronted the issues around transsexuality and transgenderism in a rather haphazard way. From the earliest years of the bi community, significant numbers of TV/TS and transgender people have always been involved in it. The bi community served as a kind of refuge for people who felt excluded from the established lesbian and gay communities. But at conferences, a recurrent issue which caused strong feelings was whether ex-male TS or TG people could share women's space, particularly crash sleeping space. Many women felt unsafe around these individuals, and demanded separate space be kept for women born as women. Current conference policy is to allow TS people who have lived in their new gender for at least six months to use spaces set aside for that gender. At the same time, the London bi women's group has been very accepting of the several ex-male TS women who have joined it.
Do the bisexual and TG/TS communities belong together, or should they now separate? Clearly they do need separate organizations and social spaces, but they could also benefit from more significant links and discussions of joint issues than has occurred so far. Bisexuals need to question how their attractions to conventional male and female images may be supporting the system of gender polarity that oppresses many TG and TS people. Bisexual organizations also need to have a consistent policy towards TS and TG people, one which doesn't exclude and isolate the increasing number of people who don't want to 'pass' as either male or female in (what should be) radical and progressive spaces.
On a positive note, the bi and transgender working groups for UK Pride '98 are intending to work together to coordinate their tents and events for this festival to produce a more effective overall presence. Hopefully this can be built on in years to come. Perhaps, given the dropping of the terms "bisexual" and "transgender" from the mission statement of "Lesbian and Gay" Pride, the groups could even coordinate a separate "Bisexual and Transgendered" Pride?
Kevin Lano is a UK gay and bisexual activist, involved in the bi community including organisation for UK Pride and in safer-sex education. He is a co-editor of Breaking the Barriers to Desire (Five Leaves Press, 1995) and Bisexual Horizons (Lawrence and Wishart, 1995), and has had short stories published in several magazines.
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