Category Archives: QUILTBAG

[Elsewhere] Scrap the Kinsey Scale!

[CN: CSA mention in first paragraph]

As a young and impressionable undergrad, the first academic book on bisexuality I came across in my university library (I have carefully blanked both the author and the title from my mind) argued that being abused as a child led to women becoming bisexual as adults. Even as recently as 2011, researchers at Northwestern University in the US felt the need to “validate” the existence of bisexual men – a move which prompted much snark from said bisexual men.

The outputs of research on bisexuality are often questionable largely because the assumptions and methods behind them tend to be flawed. As an academic in a related field, I occasionally get a glimpse at how the sausage is made: Researchers often circulate their questionnaires on various scholarly LGBT mailing lists in the hope of attracting more respondents, and I have got into the habit of vetting them before inflicting them on my unsuspecting queer friends and acquaintances. Surveys ostensibly aimed at the LGBT community almost invariably will contain a question along the lines of “When did you realise you were gay?” (I tend to return essay-length responses on why I am not “gay” and bin the link.)

Read more at Bi Community News.

[Elsewhere] LGBT+ History Month: Identity and the Problem of (Evolving) Language

During the 2014 Winter Olympics (the ones that Russia hosted right after implementing Section 28′s bigger, meaner evil twin), I played something called the Tchaikovsky Drinking Game. It went a bit like this:

  • Non-Russians use music by gay Russian composer: take a drink.
  • Russians use music by gay Russian composer who is also a national treasure: take two drinks.
  • Entire Russian national team walks into stadium to the sound of t.A.T.u: down the bottle.

Read more over at Rainbow Teaching.

[Elsewhere] Arrows and Aros

There were two things I absolutely loved about the Hunger Games books. The way they just kept getting bleaker with no light at the end of the tunnel was the first. The second was that Katniss Everdeen was a kickass female character who didn’t have a romantic bone in her body. Or… that’s how I read her. Imagine my surprise when Anita Sarkeesian of the Feminist Frequency (for whom I have all the respect in the world) complained about the romance content and love triangle, especially in the second and third books. Of course different people see different things in works of art and popular culture, so let’s look at how an aro-ace reading of Katniss can be constructed from the text.

When we first meet Katniss, she is sixteen years old. She has a network of acquaintances in the District that she occasionally does business with to ensure the survival of her family, but she only has a handful of truly close relationships: her sister, her friend Gale, her mother, and Madge (the mayor’s daughter) are the important people in her life, probably in that order. We see very little of her friendship with Madge, though it’s worth noting that there have been some readings of a more sexual or romantic relationship there. Personally, I feel there isn’t quite enough there in the text, especially compared to the evidence for aro-ace Katniss.

Because the books are narrated by Katniss in the first person, we get a very in-depth view of how she sees the world, though not necessarily a fair reflection of how the other characters may see it. From Katniss’s point of view, her relationship with Gale at the start of the trilogy looks like a very solid and very much platonic friendship. There are some clues in Gale’s actions and words that he harbours more romantic feelings towards Katniss, but it’s pretty clear in the first book that they have no sexual or romantic history together.

I think it’s fair to say that many 16-year-olds would consider the exploration of their sexuality a fairly central part of their life. And yes, you could argue that ensuring the survival of her family is Katniss’s main priority to the exclusion of all else, but most of the characters around her are shown or at least implied to be sexual or have romantic feelings in some way. Gale with his crush on Katniss, especially in the later books; Peeta who falls for her hopelessly even in the middle of the horrors of the arena; Finnick using his sexuality to keep himself and Annie safe; Johanna Mason’s provocative strip in the elevator. Additionally, Katniss is extremely frank about many things, including graphic violence and her own mental state – there is no reason to believe she wouldn’t be just as frank about sexuality if that was something that was important to her.

Let’s have a closer look at how Katniss thinks about three key elements of romantic feelings and sexuality: kissing, desire, and romance itself.

This is Katniss and Peeta’s first kiss:

“No Peeta, I don’t even want to discuss it,” I say, placing my fingers on his lips to quiet him.

“But I – ” he insists.

Impulsively, I lean forward and kiss him, stopping his words.

For context, Katniss has just treated his wounds in the cave and he is trying to talk about what happens if he doesn’t make it. They’re at this point playing up the love story for the audience in order to get more food and medicine from sponsors.

She kisses him to shut him up.

For the rest of their time in the cave, Katniss uses kissing as a tool to get Peeta to do things and to get the audience on their side.

“Getting the broth into Peeta takes about an hour of coaxing, begging, and yes, kissing…”

These do not sound like kisses that Katniss is particularly into. We get very little description of what they feel like for her. In fact, in Katniss’s mind they are simply tools. What we have to remember is that Katniss’s main strength as a character is using any and all available tools to ensure her own survival and that of the people she cares about.

Sister has been called up to be ritually sacrificed? Pretty much the only tool Katniss has is herself – so she volunteers. She has to kill Peeta or be killed? Have some poison berries to blackmail the system with. Need to convince the pampered audience in the Capitol to send her food and medicine? Play up the love story. Yes, Haymitch had to talk her into that one but only because she didn’t understand how the Capitol worked at first. Once she saw the tools, she used them. So if she needs Peeta to drink his broth she will kiss him if that’s what it takes.

Here are a couple more notable kisses. This is the kiss, in front of a live TV audience, that Katniss and Peeta share the first time they see each other after leaving the arena:

He’s kissing me and all the time I’m thinking, Do you know? Do you know how much danger we’re in? After about ten minutes of this, Caesar Flickerman taps on his shoulder to continue the show, and Peeta just pushes him aside without even glancing at him. The audience goes berserk. Whether he knows or not, Peeta is, as usual, playing the crowd exactly right.

Katniss is not focused on the actual kiss in the slightest. Unlike Peeta, who seems immersed in the kiss, Katniss is fully aware of her surroundings and the political situation they are in.

And here is Katniss being kissed by Gale in the second book. As descriptions of kisses go, it is neither full of romance nor desire.

Despite the fact that the sun was setting and my family would be worried, I sat by a tree next to the fence. I tried to decide how I felt about the kiss, if I had liked it or resented it, but all I really remembered was the pressure of Gale’s lips and the scent of the oranges that still lingered on his skin.

Katniss’s thoughts on desire are few and far between. This is maybe the only passage in the trilogy that deals with the subject in any sort of detail:

“I do,” I say. “I need you.” He looks upset, takes a deep breath as if to begin a long argument, and that’s no good, no good at all, because he’ll start going on about Prim and my mother and everything and I’ll just get confused. So before he can talk, I stop his lips with a kiss.

I feel that thing again. The thing I only felt once before. In the cave last year, when I was trying to get Haymitch to send us food. I kissed Peeta about a thousand times during those Games and after. But there was only one kiss that made me feel something stir deep inside. Only one that made me want more. But my head wound started bleeding and he made me lie down.

This time, there is nothing but us to interrupt us. And after a few attempts, Peeta gives up on talking. The sensation inside me grows warmer and spreads out from my chest, down through my body, out along my arms and legs, to the tips of my being. Instead of satisfying me, the kisses have the opposite effect, of making my need greater. I thought I was something of an expert on hunger, but this is an entirely new kind.

Note how Katniss is telling us that this is the second time ever that she’s experienced desire. Based on this, it is possible to construct a demisexual reading of Katniss – maybe it has simply taken her this long to develop romantic feelings for Peeta, and that now leads to desire and sexual attraction. Yet, this is also pretty much the last time Katniss talks about desire. As for romance, Katniss never uses the language of love in reference to either Gale or Peeta. Both in the passage above, and when she talks about making a choice between the two of then, the word she uses is “need”:

Peeta and I grow back together. There are still moments when he clutches the back of a chair and hangs on until the flashbacks are over. I wake screaming from nightmares of mutts and lost children. But his arms are there to comfort me. And eventually his lips. On the night I feel that thing again, the hunger that overtook me on the beach, I know this would have happened anyway. That what I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. So after, when he whispers, “You love me. Real or not real?” I tell him, “Real.”

Katniss is a survivor, and she will use all tools at her disposal. What she needs to survive is Peeta. She never even tells Peeta she loves him – she simply lets him put words in her mouth.

So what about that love triangle then? I genuinely believe Katniss cares deeply about certain people in her life. Prim and Gale are probably at the top of that list, Peeta makes it quite close to the top. Her mother (to an extent), Cinna, Haymitch. Rue, obviously. And the way Katniss cares is that she’s fiercely protective – you don’t volunteer as tribute if you don’t care or are not protective of someone. I think at some point she realises that both Gale and Peeta are smitten with her. And she knows she can’t really return those feelings in the same way, and that that will hurt them. So I think a lot of the “love triangle” is her coming to terms with hurting them in this way when all she wants to do is protect them, as well as figuring out what she needs for survival and how to get that.

I think given the themes of violence and PTSD that run through the trilogy, one of the best features of Katniss’s portrayal as aro-ace is that it is consistent throughout the books, and set against a backdrop of clearly sexual and romantic characters. It is impossible to argue that sexuality and romance are not important in the world the author has created, as we have seen clear examples of both. At the same time, Katniss doesn’t lose her capacity for romance or her sexuality through the trauma of the Hunger Games – this is simply who she is, both before and after the trauma she suffers.

[This post was originally published at Rainbow Teaching.]

Bi Visibility Day

It is Bi Visibility Day today, and I am delighted to see that even Stonewall are celebrating and acknowledging that we make up the largest part of the LGBT community. A few people have reacted to that piece of information with surprise – which is no wonder, given the systematic erasure of our identity that we experience on a daily basis.

The stat about LGBT people you are most likely to hear is that we as a combined community make up somewhere between 6 and 10% of the population. Data on this isn’t easy to come by, and you will get huge variation in results depending on how exactly you ask the question, but 6-10% is a commonly quoted figure. It’s also handy, in that it makes us as a community look big and significant – people can easily visualise one in ten. You go into a meeting, a classroom, a pub; you count 30 people and there you go: statistically, there’s three queer people there!

What you only rarely get – and generally only when you go digging – is a breakdown of the make-up of the LGBT community itself. I have some theories as to why this is the case and why, in particular, bisexual people making up the largest part of the community is such a surprise to many. It’s an effect of the interplay between hetero– and monosexism.
If, as heterosexism posits, being straight is better than being gay, and if, as monosexism effectively posits, some people have the “choice” to be straight or gay, then clearly those people can just choose to be straight and have no problems whatsoever[1]. These people are not oppressed, so we don’t have to deal with their issues in the same way as we have to deal with lesbian and gay people’s issues, because lesbian and gay people don’t have that “choice”.

From a very warped, monosexist point of view then, acknowledging the size of the bi community within the LGBT community gives our oppressors a tool to dismiss us, make us seem smaller and less significant. If a third or half of us are bi, then suddenly we’re not looking at one in ten anymore, we’re looking at 1 in 15 or 1 in 20. That’s a lot more difficult to visualise – it’s practically no one at all! Hetero- and monosexism combine to give a powerful incentive to both straight and gay people to systematically dismiss, diminish and erase the existence and importance of non-monosexual people and identities.

Of course, sweeping bisexual people under the rug is not a long-term viable strategy for resisting the oppression of queer people. Acknowledging, celebrating and working to meet the needs of all the different parts of our community is the only path to equality for all.

[1] Note also that there’s a hefty amount of gender binarism involved in this way of thinking.

The UKBA – protecting you from filthy, foreign bisexuals

Earlier this week I came across this post detailing questions asked by the UKBA of a bisexual asylum seeker in detention. The profound levels of ignorance, queerphobia and specifically biphobia displayed here should be shocking. What is perhaps more shocking is that they aren’t. [The rest of this post comes with trigger warnings for discussion of rape, torture, homophobia, biphobia, slut shaming and probably all sorts of other things. Sometimes my own writing scares me.]
I am going to attempt to answer some of the questions that I apparently would face should I find myself persecuted by my own country for who I am. I am in the extremely privileged position that I can choose which questions to answer and which ones to just leave as evidence of their own cruelty, I can be flippant, I can be didactic: my right to stay in this country and my very life do not depend on me navigating this maze, the love child of Orwell and Kafka, and trying to give whatever the UKBA deems to be the “right” answers to these questions. Do not be deceived by this: for far too many people this is a matter of life and death.
Can you explain to me in detail what you mean by bisexual?
Bisexuality is the potential to be sexually (and romantically) attracted to people of more than one gender. In my case, I have the potential to be attracted to people of any gender/all genders/regardless of gender.
Can you explain to me what you mean by man to man?
I don’t even. Also, I’m a woman so I’ll genderbend some of these questions.
Please explain?
What do you mean by “something”?
Obviously this question is out of context but I’m going to assume they are either fishing for sexual practices or for relationships. Imagine for a moment that the country you were born in makes it illegal for you to be you. Maybe you are short. Or tall. You wear glasses. You have blue eyes. Or brown. You have health condition, inherited or acquired or tunred up out of fucking nowhere like the really scary ones do. There is something about you that your country despises so much that they would throw you in prison or even kill you for it. So you leave. You ask another country to protect you. And what you get in return is “Well, can’t you wear heels? Slouch a bit? Don’t wear your glasses. Wear coloured contacts. Pretend to be healthy. Actually, how do we know you’re not pretending now? Are your eyes really blue? We should gouge them out to check.”
What does that mean to you?
How many boyfriends did you have in [country]?
Are you sure you’re really tall? Maybe you’re wearing heels. Maybe you’re walking on stilts. We should do a strip search, just to make sure.
What was the name of your friend?
What is his date of birth?
Do you know his date of birth?
How did you meet him?
Does he have any brothers or sisters?
What is her name?
Or maybe, if the problem is that you’re short, we can put you on a rack.
How old were you when you discovered you had an attraction for boys?
I was 12 or 13 when I realised I was attracted to women as well as men. I was significantly older, in my twenties, when I realised I was also attracted to people of other genders, because where I grew up the gender binary was pretty strictly enforced.
What about before you were 18?
Can you explain how you realised your sexuality?
I liked and admired women. Female actors, teachers, friends. Initially I thought I wanted to be them but then I realised that no, I actually wanted to bang them. I also wanted to bang men. (Note: some women; some men; not all men and women.) I misspent part of my youth reading trashy sci-fi novels because they were the only literature I could get my hands on that acknowledged that LGBT people – people like me – existed. By about age 17 I was okay applying the label bisexual to myself and started coming out, carefully, to partners and friends. Some time after that, I realised that there were people of other genders than men and women out there too, and that I wanted to bang some of them too.
What happened?
Tell me what you did?
What did you do with x?
Did you do anything other than kissing x?
What did you do?
Where did this happen?
How often did you have intercourse together?
Is that every day?
So that’s an epic set of TMI questions, all based on the assumption that bisexuality is about banging people. And whilst I have used the word “bang” liberally in my descriptions above, bisexuality as a sexual orientation is not necessarily about who you have banged/are banging, but about who you want to bang. Funnily enough, that’s precisely how other sexual orientations work too. Straight and gay people who’ve never banged anyone, or aren’t banging anyone right now don’t magically lose their sexual orientations, and they don’t become asexual. For that matter, asexual people who for one reason or another have sex with someone don’t magically lose their asexuality either.
Did you put your penis into x’s backside?
Oh look, it gets better! This preoccupation that many cishet people seem to have with how non-cishet people have sex is somewhat troubling. I mean, how do you have sex, Mr or Ms UKBA employee? And then there’s of course the implicit assumption that if it’s not penetrative it doesn’t count. We know how well that went for Bill Clinton, right? I guess if your understanding of sex it that flawed then it would be an act of charity to educate you about how we non-cishets do it. Shame I’m not feeling very charitable today.
When x was penetrating you did you have an erection?
Here’s a few possible ways this could go. It was the first time for both of us, it was awkward, we fumbled, it hurt. Or I can’t remember, we were both off our faces. Or yes, I came my brains out. Or turns out I don’t much like this particular sex act, but we found many other ways to have fun. The trouble with this question is that there are as many answers to it as there are occasions upon which the particular sex act being asked about has been performed in human history. But regardless of your experience, only one of those will get you the magic ticket that allows you to stay in a country that might not execute you for who you are.
[TW: rape for this paragraph] I am willing to bet that asylum seekers who have survived rape get asked the same kind of question. Did you enjoy it? Did you have an erection? An orgasm? Well it can’t have been rape then, can it?
Did you ejaculate?
Did x ejaculate inside you?
Are you taking notes so you can get off to them tonight?
Why did you use a condom?
Because I value my own and my partner’s sexual health. Because I grew up queer in the 80s and 90s. Because that happens to be the best contraceptive choice for me personally when having PiV intercourse with people in possession of a penis. Because when I don’t, I expose myself not only to the risk of serious STIs but also to the almost-certainty of a host of minor but highly unpleasant conditions like thrush and cystitis. (Yes, yes Mr or Ms UKBA employee, I am indeed judging you for asking this question, possibly more so than for some of the arguably worse questions, because this is one that even cishets should know.) And while we’re at it, have you heard of dental dams?
How did you feel when having sex?
By necessity, I can only give you a non-exhaustive list of emotions I’ve experienced during sex: insecure, amused, worried, confused as fuck, entertained, relieved, bored, elated, horny, angry, blank, scared, annoyed, overwhelmed, satisfied, surprised, close to my partner, tentative, slutty, powerful, needy, melting, impatient (often), loving, loved, happy, snarky, safe, unsafe, fascinated.
Did you have feelings for other boys?
I have all sorts of feelings for all sorts of people. Many of my feelings towards fellow human beings tend to be on the “annoyed” end of the spectrum.
Did you have physical relationships with other boys in [city]?
I wonder, how many people of which gender do I need to have fucked to demonstrate my credibility as a bisexual? And how many is too many? What number makes you think that I’m a disease-ridden slut who should not be allowed to stay in the country for public health reasons?
You think I’m joking about that last one? Parliament nearly voted on a proposed amendment to the Immigration Bill which would have banned HIV-positive immigrants from entering the country. Last week. Let’s be clear, this is something not even Russia, everyone’s current number one enemy, does anymore. (ETA: fact check says I’m wrong about that last bit.)
Did you love x?
Define love.
When was his birthday?
I have no intention of handing you that password.
Did you buy him presents?
Still do occasionally.
Did he buy you presents?
Still does occasionally.
How could you afford to buy him presents if you were studying?
One makes do.
In [city] did you have sex with other men?
See above.
What do you find attractive about men?
Often, I am shallow and go for physical features. But sometimes, I want to make out with people’s brains.
Tell me what you like about men that turns you on?
What is it about the way men walk that turns you on?
What is it about men’s backsides that attracts you?
How did you get found out?
I came out to people I thought I could trust. Most of them were awesome. Many were ignorant. Some were dicks.
In [country] how many relationships have you had with women?
We gouged one eye and it was blue. We’d better check the second one too though, maybe only one of them was really blue.
How did you meet y?
What did you find attractive about y?
On the night you met her what attracted you to her?
Did you have a sexual relationship with her?
How often did you see y?
How were your feelings for her different to x?
How are your feelings for you ex different to those for your current partner?
Were you and x lovers at this time?
Ah, the greedy bisexuals.
Did you tell x about your affair with y?
The dishonest bisexuals.
What was x’s response when you told him about y?
Blast, maybe not dishonest anyway.
Did you tell y about x as well?
Gotcha, totally dishonest!
Why not?
Oh I wonder why a bisexual person wouldn’t out themselves immediately to a new partner. Let me think about that one…
What do you like about women?
Only one question on the attractiveness or otherwise of women? Not four probing questions on when I want fuck people in the arse? I am shocked!
How do you show your sexuality when you are in the UK?
How do you show yours, Mr or Ms UKBA employee? You don’t think you need to because you’re straight? Is that a wedding ring on your finger? A photo of your spouse and children on your desk? Now tell me again how you show your sexuality.
How does that display you are bisexual?
I have a permanent rainbow halo.
Where do you go when going out?
Which pub do you go to?
What is your religion?
What does the church say about homosexuality?
I don’t know. What does it say about heterosexuality? That’s about as relevant to this conversation about my bisexuality as anything else.
What is your view of same sex marriages?
Well documented.
What do you think of men marrying men?
Sure, but I’d advise them – or anyone getting married for that matter – to get a decent prenup.
Why do you think it is a good thing?
Would you marry a man?
Not even for the tax savings. I wouldn’t marry a not-man either.
Why have you got to behave as a bisexual in [country]?
So, we’ve gouged out both eyes. They were indeed both blue, for which you could have been persecuted in your own country. But you don’t have them anymore, we fixed it for you. You can totally go back.
That was with x only and he initiated the contact you claim. Why can’t you return and live a full life there?
I don’t know about you, but I’m on the verge of both tears and throwing up. For the record, the UKBA is part of the Home Office, and the Home Office came in joint 5th in this year’s Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.

[Trigger Warning: Transphobia] Transgender Day of Remembrance

Let me tell you about Sasha. Sasha is 18 and goes to high school in California. When Sasha was born, other people decided Sasha was male. Some time over the last 18 years, Sasha started identifying as agender – neither male nor female. Sasha uses “they” as their gender-neutral pronoun of choice. Sasha’s gender expression varies, and over the last year or so they have occasionally worn skirts. A couple of weeks ago, on November 4th, Sasha was on a bus on their way home. They had fallen asleep. They were wearing a skirt.
Sasha’s skirt was set on fire by a 16-year-old kid. Sasha was hospitalised with second- and third-degree burns and will require several surgeries to recover.
Let me tell you about Jane. Jane Doe (anonymised for safety) is a high school student in Colorado. Jane is transgender. As a young woman, she used the girls’ changing and toilet facilities in her school. Back in October, a so-called Christian organisation claimed that there had been complaints of harassment against Jane made by other girls in her school. The story was picked up by the Daily Mail (later taken down from their website) and Fox News. It turned out that the claims were entirely made up, but not before Jane was subjected to vicious and persistent bullying.
Jane has had to be put on suicide watch as a result of this bullying.
The tragedy here is that Jane and Sasha are the lucky ones. They are not among the 238 people, predominantly non-white, whom we know to have died violent deaths since November 20th 2012 just for the crime of being transgender. Sasha and Jane’s names will – luckily – not be among those read out at gatherings around the world tomorrow commemorating the trans* community’s dead of the last 12 months. Just skimming through the causes of death on the Transgender Day of Remembrance website makes for harrowing reading.
Six gunshots.
Beaten to death with stick.
Multiple stab wounds, tied with a rope to a block of concrete and thrown in pond.
Blugeoned to death with a hammer.
Tied up, beaten with fists and other objects, choked with a chain, had a bag taped over his head, shot, set on fire, and discarded into a dumpster.
As for the 15th year the trans* community mourns, I hope those of us who have the privilege of an identity that matches the gender we were assigned at birth can take a moment to consider what we can do to ease the suffering and to consign to history the need for more and more names to be read out every year on Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Edited to add:
Some amazing trans* voices speaking about this on Twitter last night and today. Here are a few:

And finally, Ariel Silvera, current curator of @TwkLGBTQ, talks about privilege and remembrance:

Some people are bi. You might have to admit it.

Stonewall today have launched a major campaign to combat homophobic language in schools. But with the focus on the word “gay”, it yet again leaves bisexuals on the sidelines.
In fairness to Stonewall, the original stat they shared was for LGB pupils.

Look how quickly the BBC managed to erase bisexuals:

Now, this stat is not technically incorrect. Lesbian and gay pupils are a subset of LGB pupils, and it’s safe to assume (within tolerance) that if 99% of lesbian, gay and bisexual kids hear “gay” used as an insult, then 99% of lesbian and gay kids hear “gay” used and an insult. But where did the bi kids go? Are they not worth mentioning? Or is it easier to throw them under the bus in favour of simplifying the message? After all, no one uses “That’s so bi!” as an insult.
But you know what? Hearing “That’s so bi!” used as an insult would actually be progress for us bisexuals. Because right now, most people don’t even seem to think we exist.
I continue to wait with bated breath for the day when a national self-styled LGB organisation runs a major campaign on bisexual issues. We do, after all, make up over half of the LGB community.
ETA: This post now also appears on BiBloggers.


Last week, I ran a QUILTBAG+ 101 workshop at an LGBT conference. In all three groups, participants raised a number of interesting questions, some of which I’d like to explore in more detail here.
QUILTwhat? you ask…
“Alphabet soup” is a common criticism of gender and sexual minority communities’ attempts at inclusion. LGBTQIBBQWTF is a much-used spoof of the ever-expanding series of letters used to denote different parts of what is, at best, a loose community formed around shared experiences of oppression and exclusion. Hence QUILTBAG+: It is relatively inclusive, a bit twee but also easy to remember. It is far from perfect. As someone who in some contexts identifies as pansexual, the fact that there’s no P in QUILTBAG does bother me, but that’s what the “+” is for: it stands for a certain openness to identities not explicitly covered in the acronym. It is – I hope – not the acronym to end all acronyms but it’s one of the better ones we have at the moment.
For the 101 of what each letter means and some first steps you can take in being an ally to QUILTBAG+ people, go to QUILTBAG101. No, really, do. It’s an excellent crowd-sourced site with input from across the QUILTBAG+ community and it’ll take you all of 10 minutes to read. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t learn at least one new thing from it, no matter who you are.
Isn’t this an acronym too far?
It’s a common argument. LGBT is short, punchy, established, people know what it stands for. Of course, so was “gay” as an umbrella term, except it mostly meant gay men, and “lesbians and gays” works quite well, doesn’t it now, if it was’t for those pesky bisexuals. I’ve sat in enough meetings trying to decide whether a group or organisation is LGB or LGBT to last me a lifetime.
Here’s the thing: If you’ve been excluded all your life, your default assumption when approaching any new situation or group becomes exclusion. Therefore the responsibilty falls on those with, relatively speaking, more privilege to proactively reach out and include those with less. While being lesbian or gay or bi may not often feel like a privileged position, in many cases it is. It may even be easier to exclude other groups and deliberately pursue assimilationist policies, seeking entry to more privileged groups by emphasising what we have in common with them and rejecting those less privileged than us. It doesn’t take much reflection, however, to realise that this is not a game we can win. It may work out very well for a small number of fortunate individuals but the majority of us are more likely to be the ones thrown under the bus in the process than the ones doing the throwing.
Adding a letter to an acronym is the first step towards giving someone the confidence that your space, your group, your organisation is one that welcomes them. Even if you know absolutely nothing about intersex, or genderqueer, or asexual issues, and don’t know how best to support people with these identities, I would argue this is a step worth taking. People will come forward, they will tell you what their needs are, you will learn from the experience, and the community will be stronger as a result. Of course, some people or groups may not want to be associated with the wider QUILTBAG+ community. That, too, is their prerogative. My strong preference continues to be to err on the side of inclusivity – people can still exclude themselves if they want to.
But surely the issues are all different?
QUILTBAG+ encompasses identities rooted in sexuality (gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual), gender (trans*, genderqueer), and biological sex (intersex). Of course the political, legal, social and economic issues different parts of the community face vary hugely. Where, as Stonewall keep pointing out, the legal fight for equality for lesbians and gay men in the UK has been won with the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, for intersex people it has barely begun, and other parts of the QUILTBAG+ community are at different stages of that legal journey.
There is, however, a very significant overlap on many issues, and we ignore that at our own peril. Let me give you some examples. Prior to the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, transgender people who were married or in a civil partnership had to obtain a divorce or dissolution, respectively, before they could get legal recognition of their gender. This is because marriage and civil partnership as institutions and legal constructs were defined based on the genders of the parties involved, and one party transitioning to a gender different to the one the law recognised them as did not fit within those definitions. As civil partnerships continue to only be available to same-gender couples, this continues to be an issue for some trans* people and their families even after legal equality for cisgender people in same-gender relationships has been achieved. To make matters worse, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act introduced a spousal veto for married trans* people seeking to transition.
Another example: Germany has recently introduced a legally recognised indeterminate gender, to be used for babies born intersex. In many ways this is great progress for the intersex community who continue to struggle against medical practices seeking to assign them physical characteristics of one sex or the other at a very young age, which can lead, among other things, to sterilisation. The removal of the legal obligation to assign a sex to a newborn can relieve some of the pressure on parents to agree to such surgery. This innovation in German law, however, comes without a wider review of legislation based on sex and gender. Marriage and civil partnership in Germany continue to be defined based on the legal gender of the partners, and so the rights of people who are legally recognised as of indeterminate gender with regards to these institutions are currently unclear. Comprehensive legal reform will be required over the next few years to deal with this, and that is highly likely to have side effects – intended or otherwise – for other parts of the QUILTBAG+ community.
We need to recognise that gender, bological sex, and sexuality are firmly linked in our culture, society and politics. A lot of negative attitudes towards all parts of the QUILTBAG+ community have their roots in the gender binary, and in deep-seated beliefs about gender roles and the respective value of people of different genders. Challenging these is no easy task, and we will continue to experience backlash as we poke and prod at what it means to be male or female, at whom we can love and how. Where the interests of different parts of the QUILTBAG+ community overlap we need to speak with one, strong voice. Where they do not, we need to be aware of the unforeseen consequences we still may cause for each other, and ensure we do not, accidentally or otherwise, throw parts of the community under the bus. The only way to achieve that is by forming inclusive communities, listening to each other, and remembering that we are both all different and all human.
There are so many identities I’d never heard of before! How do I make sure I don’t get it wrong and offend people?
Listen and seek to understand. Ask questions respectfully and accept that people are under no obligation to answer. Share your experiences, your needs, and your fears. Be human. For more ideas, see QUILTBAG101 and this post I wrote a while ago on being an ally.

Biphobia is not (only) an LGBT issue

I’ve been trying to explain biphobia to straight people. For some reason, some of them seem to have reached the conclusion that biphobia is purely an LGB community issue – bisexual people are excluded or erased by lesbians and gays, and this is in no way straight people’s problem.
It is true that bisexual people encounter biphobia from parts of the lesbian and gay (and sometimes wider QUILTBAG) community. I have had plenty of people at supposedly LGB(T) events talk of “lesbians and gays”, gay people tell me they don’t get how I can be “attracted to both”, and lesbians tell me I should stop sleeping with men. Having said that, there isn’t a single square on my biphobia bingo card that straight people haven’t manged to tick off, generally before lesbians and gays.
I’d even go as far as saying that, on a case-by-case basis, biphobia from within the QUILTBAG community can hurt more – simply because we would like to be able to assume that QUILTBAG spaces are safe for us, and being faced with exclusion, erasure and prejudice there is jarring and painful. This does not, however, absolve straight people from responsibility for biphobia.
The main reason biphobia can look like it’s mostly a “lesbian and gay” issue is that in predominantly straight environments you often have to get past the homophobia to get to the more subtle and nuanced biphobia. This puts bisexuals – in all kinds of relationships – in a very awkward position indeed. A bi person in a same-sex relationship may feel that they’re lucky to be “tolerated” as gay and therefore feel uncomfortable about rocking the boat further by coming out as bi. Equally, a bisexual in a different-sex relationship has the choice of either passing as straight (often the safest option) or challenging homophobic remarks and exposing themselves to homophobia and biphobia. This double trap often makes bisexuals the first buffer between heterosexism and homophobia on one side, and the QUILTBAG community on the other. It’s this combination of heterosexism and monosexism that hits bisexuals especially hard.
So if you’re a straight person who considers themselves an LGBT or QUILTBAG ally, do remember that there is more than just the L and the G to the community you’re trying to be an ally to. Don’t assume that the gender of someone’s current partner tells you anything about their sexuality. Don’t assume that bisexuals fighting for visibility and recognition is just infighting within the group that has nothing to do with you. Do not ask people why they are flaunting their sexuality, or tell them which of their experiences do or do not give them the right to define their own sexual orientation.
Do make sure you use inclusive language. “Lesbians and gays” is generally bad unless you really very specifically mean “lesbians and gays”. LGBT is better. In many contexts QUILTBAG is even better. Do recognise that different parts of the community sometimes face different different challenges; and try not to throw one part of the group under the bus in order to be an ally to another.

Biphobia Bingo

It’s Bi Visibility Day soon and I’ve been pulling together various “Bisexuality 101” bits and pieces for different contexts. In between all the fluffy, constructive, outreach work I needed an outlet for my snarky side, so I put together a biphobia bingo card.
Except I’m physically incapable of doing things like that entirely unconstructively, so here’s what I’m planning to do with it. I’ll print five copies, one each for the following contexts:

  • Work
  • Family & friends
  • Mainstream media
  • The Internet
  • LGBT spaces

I’ll then try to track how long it takes me to fill them up in each context or if particular squares are more/less prevalent in particular contexts. Feel free to play along and report your results.
Biphobia Bingo v2
(*) If these items are phrased in a transphobic/exclusive of non-binary genderqueer people way, you get the “Generic transphobia” square free.