Editor's Note: Guest blogger Dr. Herukhuti, founder of the Center for Culture, Sexuality, and Spirituality, is an educator, artist and activist who participated in the Bisexual Community Issues Roundtable at the White House in September 2013. He is a faculty member at Goddard College and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology RECOGNIZE: The Voices of Bisexual Men.
Recent coverage in the New York Times, Slate, Autostraddle, and Huffington Post have raised the profile of bisexuality in the minds of the mainstream, or at least the minds of people who go online to find all the news they can use. All this conversation about whether bisexuals exist, what they do when they see pornography, and how they contribute to society can make a living, breathing bisexual -- particularly those of us not represented in these conversations -- wonder at the timing of and motivations for all this newfound attention.
In September 2013, leaders from BiNet USA and Bisexual Resource Center successfully organized a meeting of 30 bisexual leaders, activists, and researchers with the Obama administration. BiNet USA also recently organized a meeting with GLAAD to discuss how the organization can be more inclusive and responsive in support of bisexuals. The Bisexual Resource Center launched a very successful Bisexual Health Awareness Month campaign for March 2014. The American Institute of Bisexuality successfully and appropriately highlighted itself as the premier funder of bisexual research in the United States through the NYT magazine cover article.
These successes are the outcome of decades of bisexual organizing in the United States in places like Boston; New York; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; Los Angeles; and the BECAUSE Conference in Minneapolis.
Yet with all of this forward momentum, bisexuals can fall victim to the same mistakes of the mainstream gay rights movement: sacrificing a revolutionary queer agenda for acceptance, tolerance and middle-class rewards; whitewashing the history and face of the movement to appear more like the mainstream; and embracing a simplistic identity politics rather than a radical and complex politics that disrupts sexual and gender rigidity and normalcy.
For some of us, bisexuality means a reaching beyond the belief in a fixed sexuality with which one is born -- the existence of which can be found in one's DNA or brain -- to sexualities that human beings produce, create, and perform in society. We regard sexual agency with the same legitimacy and validity that heterosexism and homonormativity have bestowed upon the born-this-way science and politics of sexual identity essentialism. And we also claim the right to live outside and between the boxes, categories, and borders created by identity politics because as Gloria Anzaldua, Xicana queer theorist, said, "only your labels split me."
That splitting and policing of sexual desire, relationship narrative, and life experience is at the heart of what makes bi erasure a psychic murder. By selecting which loved ones and sexual partners in someone's life are worthy of being recognized, bi erasure is a violent amputation of a person's chosen family and community.
The destructive impact of such psychic violence contributes to an environment hostile to bisexuality and bisexuals, evidenced by the existing disparities in poverty, suicide, domestic violence and health among bisexuals. Many bisexuals feel an intense betrayal when gays and lesbians, our brothers and sisters in sexual oppression, participate in bi erasure.
Bi erasure sets the stage for bi invisibility, the belief that bisexuality and bisexuals do not exist. Once the amputations of bi erasure have taken place, it is easy to believe that there are only straight and gay people -- no bisexuals in the family, workplace, organization or community, no bisexuals in the fight for sexual and gender justice.
Bisexuals become the disappeared of the movement. Nowhere is the impact of this dynamic felt more viscerally than in black and brown communities.
Historically, HIV research and prevention has had a problematic relationship with bisexuality in black communities, fluctuating from demonizing black bisexual men as vectors of HIV transmission to treating us as if we are exactly like black gay men -- lumping us into a single box of men who have sex with men along with them. It is, therefore, no wonder that HIV rates are disproportionately higher in black communities.
In Africa, the war between the religious right and gay activists from the United States is being waged on the bodies of African men and women with devastating effects. By bringing the straight and gay discourse largely from white middle-class sensibilities to Africa and ignoring the sexual histories of African people (which are more similar to bisexuality than heterosexuality or homosexuality), these modern-day sexual imperialists -- straight and gay -- have split Africans part from each other like their predecessors did at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85.
Corrupt African politicians have exploited the situation in their own personal interests like their corrupt predecessors. Black people, targeted, attacked, incarcerated, and/or murdered for the ways their sexualities have been categorized by the West are collateral damage of the war.
It's a war we didn't start. Black folks have had to resist the encroachment of Eurocentric agendas on our sexualities since slavery and colonialism. Even the most expressive among us have sought a protective shield against the invasion upon the most personal and private aspects of our lives. James Baldwin -- author, civil rights activist and a target of bi erasure -- once said, "My involvement with men and women, what can I say about them to the world? It's not to be talked about to the world."
As bisexuals move forward in this moment of increased visibility, we do well to confront the underlying causes of biphobia and bi-hatred -- the ways in which fluidity, hybridity, and ambiguities of bisexuality destabilize the safety in particular fictions of the world. Embracing the complexities within ourselves, while potentially an uncomfortable form of activism in the short term, will create the possibilities of a truly transformative sexual and gender justice movement rather than a cosmetic adjustment of the status quo.
That will be the contribution of bisexual culture to the movement; it always has been.