Cathy Renna

Why I am a Bi Ally

Filed By Cathy Renna | March 11, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Anne Heche, bisexual, bisexual women, bisexuality, Ellen DeGeneres, LGBT community

One of the most interesting parts of being an ally--for me at least--is the reaction of other people. "I had no idea you were [fill in the blank]" has been said to me so many times I cannot count. I consider it a compliment, which always confuses people when I then say "Actually, I am not [fill in the blank], why do you think so?"

The two most common communities for whom I consider myself a strong ally and hear this about are the bisexual and leather communities. I often joke that the thrill of being thought of as bisexual or a leather dyke is well worth the flack I take for my outspokenness. More simply put, being a married, monogamous and vanilla (ok, maybe with a few chocolate chips), Kinsey 5.9 (big crush on Sting in high school), I need all the excitement I can get.

But seriously, this is the most frustrating thing I experience as an activist and as an active member of the LGBTQ community. Why we do not look at our own biases or internalized phobias about our sexual identity or behavior is truly beyond me. Oh right, phobias are irrational fears and people need to recognize that for themselves. Sigh.

I have stopped trying to explain that and now simply see myself as a truth teller who just takes every opportunity possible to confront biphobia (amongst others) when I see it. One of my friends jokingly says my business card should read "reality based activist." He seems to think we are a rare breed.

Sadly, this blatant prejudice and ignorance still happens in front of me, often in the company of people I do not expect it from. I was recently at the NGLTF Creating Change conference and even there, at a dinner with colleagues I consider friends, the comments were made that "I don't know any bisexuals," "I would not date a bisexual," and "I don't think anyone is really bisexual." If they made those comments and inserted the word gay or lesbian, I noted, what would their response be? Discussion ensued. I hear them say "I never thought about it that way." Then we had dessert. I hope I made a difference. Welcome to my world.

So here are my reasons for being an ally--which I duly trotted out at that dinner--which might help others in combating the ignorance around bisexuality:

  • Basic non-judgment and respect given our own personal experiences: who are we to judge or disbelieve someone when they tell their story? If I expect to be given the benefit of the doubt about my life how can you impose your own bias on a group of people and deny their truth or their existence.
  • Science: intrinsic human traits, like sexual orientation, gender identity or, for that matter, handedness, are complex, fluid and fall across a spectrum. There is no binary when it comes to things like sexual orientation, gender or whether or not you favor your left of your right. The handedness analogy is the one that people understand best; I use it all the time. I know people like simple, black and white, easy or hard. Too bad. Reality is complicated and frankly, more interesting.

Seems simple, no? Well, as someone whose life's work has been all about activism and education related to LGBTQ issues, the on-going denial and unwillingness to overcome one's fears, learn about bisexuality and not be inclusive in our thinking is not just irresponsible, it is dangerous. Consider the marriage equality debate, the on-going AIDS epidemic, the struggle for family equality and so many other issues. To not consider the needs and nuances of how the bisexual community plays a role in the bigger picture or is impacted by the legal and cultural implications of these issues is unconscionable.

I was once on Good Morning America, talking about Anne Heche and her new relationship with a man after her break-up with Ellen Degeneres. I spoke up strongly for her, in a non-judgmental way, in addition to educating the audience about the reality and existence of bisexuals. What I rarely tell people is that the producer loved me because I was honest and said I had dated and been in relationships with a number of out bisexual women.

So when the question was asked by host George Stephanopoulos "Does the lesbian community feel betrayed?" I answered as honestly as I could. "If they feel betrayed, they are being ignorant and disingenuous." I followed up with a message about how we should all wish Anne--and Ellen--the best and that the reality is that we don't really know them, but we do know that relationships are difficult and being left sucks no matter who someone leaves you for--which resulted in some not nice emails from lesbians and a good deal of fan mail. A few even started out with, "I didn't realize you were bisexual."

Guess how I replied to those.


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As a bisexual, it is heartwarming to hear allies speak out for us- particularly from within the LGBT community. It is sad to know that biphobia can come from our own community. Thank you for adding the "B" back into "LGBT".

I agree with you, completely. Finally we are free,
to make up our own opinion of ourselves. Thats good news.

Actually, I read alot of natural sciences and I have written some books. Its all lies of course, we come from the monkeys....

** here are the Norwegian monkeys ** In pictures.

Paige Listerud | March 11, 2009 2:48 PM

You make a difference.

Part of what made coming out bi in the eighties so hard was that not one gay man or lesbian spoke up for me as a bisexual when something biphobic--or just mistaken--was said. I often felt that I was talking to a brick wall when I defended my sexuality to a group of lesbians and gay men. I'm sure the thought in their heads, no matter what I said, was, "Bi now, gay later."

What a difference it would have made to have someone like you around then. Thank you.

Wow, thanks Cathy for such a great article.

We spoke years before when you were at the helm of GLAAD, I am now glad you are with Bilerico.

I too find it interesting that we as a group have yet to embrace our Bi culture. Just think? If we did and we asked them to 'come out', like Harvey Milk wanted to gays to...we come be an unmovable force...and we would be in the majority.

So, YES, I think we should rally and ask our bi-friends to take a stand on the Bi-ness and come out. I am one gay man who welcomes our Bi friends.

glenn shifflet | March 11, 2009 5:24 PM

Thanks, Cathy for a great article. Like you, one of my great peeves in life is the black and white 1/0 world.

I am an old bi guy - and try to speak out for the rainbow effect of what's goin' on whenever it seems like i can get away with it. And yes, I've heard lots of trash talk against bi folks from gay men. Thanks again. You just gave me a little more ammunition.

I don't think there is any difference between gay men and bisexual men. They are the same and we need to stop thinking of these things.

Regards,
Aaron Smith, HostGator Coupon Specialst

Gotta be allies to bi folks. I remember a while back I was having lunch with three friends: two gay males and one bi male. One of the gay men went on and on about how bisexuals don't exist, and I completely forgot that the bi man was bi. He didn't really speak up, and I regret not having said anything either in the moment.

Part of being a good ally is knowing enough to speak up. I had yet to do my homework at that point.

Cathy, you are such a goddess. I loved your article here and also in this month's Bi Women. You absolutely made my week.

Grateful for the support,
Jan

Jan Steckel
The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006)
and Mixing Tracks (forthcoming from Gertrude Press)

MadGastronomer | March 15, 2009 3:07 AM

A friend just sent me this link over IM. All I could say to her when I finished reading was, "Wow. I didn't know we HAD allies."

I came out as bi in high school. My first love was a girl, and I spent some very formative years in the queer community because of it (an experience a lot of my bi women friends now have not had). As a result, I'm very queer-identified. But I always made a point of stating very plainly that I was bi, not lesbian. I've encountered the gamut of responses, from, "Oh, yes, you're definitely one of us," to, "You're just a faker, a straight girl playing at it. You can always fall back on heterosexual privilege." (And to the latter, I say, I came out publicly in high school in a small, conservative town in central Florida. At a school that had Klan members as students, where I got death threats for being queer, I went to prom with my girlfriend. I came out to my father, who listens to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I came out to my very Catholic family. I have never hidden. Can you say the same?" It works pretty well.) But never before have I actually encountered someone who actually said she was a bi ally.
Thank you.
Pardon me, I seem to have something in my eye.

Thank you. I often say being bi in the gay community is like being a Palestinian in Israel - and you imagine the response I get. I like the "reality based activist". We definitely need more like you.

ur article touched me alot. i feel such comfort knowing that i have such an amazing bi ally out there [& one that would and has dated bisexuals...frakkin' awesome] anywayz, thanks. i truly appreciate ur support. xoxo.

Thank you for this article.

As an out bi women I get a lot of flak but the truth is I can't deny my various attractions to either gender.

And I also find myself liking people who are androgynous or who fall in-between on the gender identity spectrum.

I agreed with this, that as a bisexual, we need to open up and speak for ourselves. We are only accountable for our own actions thus we do not really need to care what others think about us. This is already the 21th century!


Dave, The Hostgator Coupon Guy

I don't think there is any difference between gay men and bisexual men. They are the same and we need to stop thinking of these things.
The Data Recovery Company

Hey Cathy thanks for the great insight on this..
Like you, one of my great peeves in life is the black and white 1/0 world. LOL..
Try to speak out for the rainbow effect of what's goin' on whenever it seems like i can get away with it.

Harlan Kilstein with love..

John Williams | May 20, 2010 5:44 PM

I think that as time goes on more and more people are going to be open about this type of stuff. The whole world is changing and it is becoming more accepted in our society.

Your San Diego Electricians Guy

my mother is gay and my homophobe straight male family is more tolerant than her... specifically because she thinks bisexuality ruins the born gay argument against the fundies and although that has no relevance to love and life to me and as an open bisexual gays and anti gays make the biggest deal out of nothing.

specifically because she thinks bisexuality ruins the born gay argument against the fundies and although that has no relevance to love and life to me and as an open bisexual gays and anti gays make the biggest deal out of nothing.

my mother is gay and my homophobe straight male family is more tolerant than her... specifically because she thinks bisexuality ruins the born gay argument against the fundies and although that has no relevance to refinance mortgage love and life to me and as an open bisexual gays and anti gays make the biggest deal out of nothing.

in my opinion if i have a relatives who are gay or bisexual i would rather accept that in my two open arms because i believe that each of us has a dependent decision to make in our life.For me sexuality is not excuse to do the good thing,.

my mother is gay and my homophobe straight male family is more tolerant than her... specifically because she thinks bisexuality ruins the born gay argument against the fundies and although that has no relevance to refinance mortgage love and life to me and as an open bisexual gays and anti gays make the biggest deal out of nothing.

I went to prom with my girlfriend. I came out to my father, who listens to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. I came out to my very Catholic family. I have never hidden. Can you say the same?" It works pretty well.) But never before have I actually encountered someone who actually said she was a bi ally. Thank (:

I have couple of gay friends and I am so happy that people do accept them and treat them better nowadays. Let's say 5 years ago they had more difficulties. Now they can be themselves and nobody is judging them.

jack hooper | May 9, 2011 5:03 AM

Pikalaina is right. Big cities are safer than villages and small cities for guys.

I live in Finland and have to say that it is so much easier to be gay here, if you live in a bigger city like Helsinki. It was really hard and frustrating for me when I lived with my parents in a small village.

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