The Bisexual Is The Political

Two years ago I finally decided to identify as bisexual out loud.

Finding a label that helped me understand my sexual orientation was both exciting and scary. It was exciting because I felt a lot more at peace with my internal struggle of understanding who I am, as I have always been deeply in touch with my sexuality and feelings. It was scary, though, because I had to deal with my own internalised biphobia, social expectations and, well, the judgemental people and voices in my head.

Since then, I have talked more openly about my bisexuality with my partner, friends, family and my feminist online community. And with this – and a whole lot of reading – I’ve found myself tired of hearing the accusation that  bisexual individuals are cissexists because they supposedly reinforce the gender binary.

Drawing from Julia Serano‘s wonderful insights in her latest book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive and Shiri Eisner’s amazing blog Radical Bi, I will explain the importance of the label bisexual, as opposed to “more inclusive terms” such as pansexual or omnisexual, within the queer movement because of the uniqueness of our struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure.

Before we continue, I’d like to clarify that I am not against people identifying with the labels BMNOPPQ (bisexual, multisexual, no label, omnisexual, pansexual, polysexual, queer). Everyone has the right to identify as they want. I am just advocating for the use of bisexual* as an umbrella term to create a strong bisexual* community against our unique struggles. 

Bisexual and transgender with the asterisk (*) at the end signify umbrella terms. 

Is Bisexuality Cissexist? Or Is Pansexuality Biphobic?

There are many different definitions of the word bisexual. These definitions vary from person to person and their individual experiences. However, the traditional definition of bisexual denotes a person that feels sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of both the same and different genders. So, there is the implication of being only two genders by using ‘attraction towards both genders’.Other traditional definitions replace ‘same and different genders’ with men and women, making it more explicit. These definitions are assumed to reinforce the gender binary and; as a result, are accused of being cissexist

But, there are other definitions of bisexuality that are gaining momentum. Julia Serano defines bisexual in her book as “people who do not limit their sexual experiences to members of a single sex or gender”. What is the dichotomy being used in here? She makes the case that being heterosexual, gay or lesbian reinforces the gender binary just as much as the traditional definition of bisexual since they are exclusively attracted to the opposite or the same genders. Same/Opposite dichotomy, anyone? And they are not even using the words men and/or women!

The Bisexual Index enlightens us by saying that the definition of heterosexual, gay and lesbian have changed over time because now people recognise the existence of more than two genders. For this reason, heterosexual, gay and lesbian are now defined as people that feel sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of a broadly different or similar gender, respectively. Gender is a norm and so, it kind of exists like a rigid box (take, for example, men and women), but actually, no gender performance (for lack of a better word) is ever the same. Your gender, my gender, his, her, zie gender might be similar in expression, but they are all unique!

The Bisexual Index defines bisexual as the possibility for romantic and/or sexual attraction for people of more than one gender. 

But regardless of these definitions that acknowledge all genders, there are individuals that advocate for the complete elimination of the word bisexual for its ‘inherent’ cissexism. Some individuals who claim that bisexual is only about attraction towards men and women, may choose to identify as pansexual, queer or less popular labels like omnisexual, polysexual, multisexual or no label at all.

The word pansexual denotes a person that can feel romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people of all gender identities and expressions. Or as it is often described, a pansexual individual feels romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

So, speaking from my point of view, the two are very similar. In fact, a lot of people use them interchangeably. If so, why do people keep fighting over the use of these terms? Is it to find who is the queerest of us all?!

While there are many similarities between bisexual and pansexual (and not just the fact that we feel attraction towards more than one gender), there is one crucial difference that provides the answer to the question asked above.

Activist Shiri Eisner explains in this blog post and Julia Serano explains in her book that bisexuality focuses on sexual identity while pansexuality focuses on gender identity and expression. This means that those two different identity labels are concerned with different oppressive binary structures: bisexual is concerned with the hetero/homo dichotomy that reproduces monosexism (we’ll get to that in a bit!) and pansexual is concerned with the sex/gender binary that reproduces cissexism. 

So, basically, when a person identifies as pansexual, they prioritise ending the oppression – in the form of cissexism and transphobia – that their possible partners might suffer because of their gender identity and expression. This means they are actively seeking to undermine the assumption that what’s between your legs determines if you feel like a man or woman (a.k.a. the sex/gender binary). In short, pansexual individuals focus on making explicit their attraction towards trans* and genderqueer people to end transphobia. 

But when a person identifies as bisexual, they prioritise ending the oppression they face – in the form of monosexism and biphobia – by feeling attraction towards more than one gender.  In a society that has conditioned us to think that people can only be attracted to the same or different gender (gay/straight), claiming a bisexual* identity is both revolutionary and radical since we are proving that we exist and that we are not invisible since our sexual orientations are always defined depending on who we are fucking. It is an act that aims to destroy monosexism and bisexual invisibility (if you aren’t sure of what these two mean, click here for my blog post about it!).

With this, I am not saying that bisexuals are fighting a different fight than pansexuals. Indeed, we have the same goal towards liberation. But just as much as there is transphobia within bisexual circles (sadly!!), there is biphobia in pansexual circles (also, very sad!). This is because of the fact that, regardless of the history behind the bisexual movement and our unique struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure, pansexual individuals choose to identify as such because they don’t want to reinforce the gender binary (and as we saw, bisexual individuals do not reinforce the gender binary any more than heterosexual, gay, lesbians and some trans* people supposedly do). That seems pretty biphobic to me. And frankly, it sounds like the start of the Queer Olympics.

Julia Serano quotes Shiri Eisner’s work in her book because both of them are two bisexual academics in the trans* spectrum that demand the bisexual* community to prioritise undermining their unique struggle against the hetero/homo binary and not the sex/gender one as this contributes to bisexual erasure. Shiri Eisner’s quote is as follows:

“A discussion focusing around bisexuality solely in relation to transgender politics performs structural bisexual erasure, as it prioritises transgender politics over bisexual politics in a discussion about bisexual identity”

For this reason, independently of how people choose to identify within the bisexual* umbrella of BMNOPPQ, it is important to retain the bisexual* umbrella term to fight against monosexism and biphobia. 

Regardless of the fact that many bisexual individuals (and other individuals within the queer and trans* community) want to reduce the meaning of bisexuality to that of attraction towards men and women, aiming to reinforce the gender binary, we need to remember that only we get to define what bisexual means (hopefully in the most inclusive light). As Julia Serano beautifully explains, bisexual is our word: “[it] is about our experiences with sexuality and sexuality-based oppression, and it makes no claims whatsoever about what other people are, or how they should be sexual or gendered”. 

We can’t pretend that the long history behind the word bisexual, as it is the first word bisexual* individuals used to fight for their inclusion within the queer community and their struggle for liberation. We can’t ignore the fact that the word bisexual is the most familiar term for everyone to understand BMNOPPQ identities and that creating new words to describe biphobia, bi-invisibility, bi-erasure, monosexism and so on would be problematic and would only further our invisibility within both straight and queer communities.

We shouldn’t abandon the bisexual* umbrella term because this would undermine any efforts made to create a bisexual community. Sadly, this bisexual community is not as strong, so creating new words would only weaken any attempt at forming it. I advocate for the creation of a bisexual* community to hold each other accountable, share and fight for our struggle and to move away from always trying to assimilate and navigate between gay, lesbian and straight circles. 


I want to remind that this post is not about belittling people within the bisexual* umbrella that choose to identify with any BMNOPPQ terminology; on the contrary, I fully support every individual’s right to self-determination. But I am encouraging us to hold on to the bisexual* umbrella term for political reasons. I did want to bring to light the problems of a weak bisexual community, the biphobia and transphobia within the community and debunk the myth that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary.

If you have any thoughts, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below 🙂

Addressing Our Global Crisis Of Disconnection

This blog post was originally written for and published in Akasha Innovation, a social enterprise that aims to prepare and empower young changemakers to become future sustainability leaders. Go check out their amazing work and be ready to become inspired!

While completing my social entrepreneurship minor at Hult IBS, I had the opportunity to take a class with Akasha’s Chief Innovation Officer Mike Edwards about the global environmental crisis and sustainability. With his open-ended assignments, he genuinely encouraged us to find our passions and seek ways to speak our truths. In one of the assignments, I decided to write for him about a realisation I had in that school term because of his class and my work as a facilitator (or teaching assistant, as it is called): our global crisis of disconnection.

But disconnection from what exactly? Most people argue this is the most connected we have ever been given the many ways (fastest methods of transportation, the Internet and other technologies) that we can connect to each other and to the world in this globalised era.

And perhaps, this is true. But I am talking about the global crisis of disconnection from nature and from each other that has reached its peak in the past few years. This disconnection has proven to be lethal, as it has worsened climate change, biodiversity loss and social inequality.

To radically transform our current state of disconnection, we need to get to the roots of the problem. What is causing this disconnection? How is this disconnection affecting us? And once we find those answers, we need to envision a viable solution.

Disconnection is one of the critical symptoms we suffer from by living in a system that alienates us from nature, our food and our communities. Marx and Engels tell us that alienation happens when individuals become estranged and detached from the world in which they live in. Consumers are alienated from the source of the products they buy because they rely on factories that abuse the land and other creatures to satisfy our needs. Businesses dehumanise people and exploit their labour in several countries of ‘the Global South’.

This alienation and the subsequent disconnection from nature and from each other has been furthered in our society by a history of uneven power relations and linear modes of production. Can you guess what I’m talking about by now?

Capitalism

That’s what we thought too. Credit: http://futureconomy.com

Our capitalist society and its never-ending need to consume has normalised the belief that everything is disposable. A thing that is disposable can be thrown away after use – similarly, a disposable person is considered to be owned and ready to be dismissed when the service is done. A culture of disposability enables linear modes of thought and action. Capitalism reproduces this linear model in two ways. Firstly, it promotes a society that likes to waste resources rather than preserving, recycling and reusing. Secondly, privileges a business model that dehumanises people and sees them as disposable and replaceable, rather than seeing them as whole persons with dignity and rights.

Not surprisingly though, this disposable culture that breeds disconnection from nature and each other has injected itself into every aspect of our lives – especially and most disturbingly, in the education system.

Over the decades, capitalism, has transformed the purpose of education and the ways we educate our children and youngsters. Henry Giroux explains that the purpose of education is to preserve our capitalist order by corporatising education. If individuals internalise corporate interests through the banking model of education, they will become subjects that fit within the mainstream cultural (corporate) norms of our society of economic growth and consumerism. This purpose is achieved by implementing pedagogical strategies such as the ‘the banking system’ of education.

Paulo Freire, considered one of the founding fathers of critical pedagogy, describes some of the features of this new ‘banking system’ of education in his book, ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’:

  • It reproduces dichotomies such as teacher/student, active/passive, literate/illiterate, domineering/submissive and so on because of the positionality and power dynamics between teacher and student.
  • The teachers, the ones that possess the knowledge that the students ‘need’ to know, assume the role of a narrator that explains the students about the world outside the classroom.
  • The students become passive recipients that are supposed to fill their “empty heads” with the knowledge provided by the teacher. They become listeners that are completely disengaged and disconnected from the reality the teacher is supposed to be teaching them about.
  • The teacher  is considered to be a powerful and knowledgeable authority while the students are considered to be completely ignorant. This dehumanises the students by deeming them incapable of providing any kind of knowledge to the classroom.
  • The students exist to memorise, repeat and accept the information being taught without questioning or challenging it. As a result, they are left without understanding how this imparted “knowledge” is useful for them.
  • The teachers are better teachers the more they fill the students’ empty brains with information that they will memorise and repeat in a test. The more the students agree to accept this information and repeat it in the test, the better students they are.

The banking system of education is preventing learners from becoming agents of environmental and social change because of its lack of inquiry of practices, discourses and identities that we consider ‘normal’. 

The current environmental education content being taught in schools suffers from the narration sickness inherent in the banking system of education. Not only do students not get to experience the environment they are learning about (which means they learn out of context); but also, environmental education has become descriptive and passive. It focuses mostly on the description of our ecosystem’s processes in isolation from one another, reflecting the way we try to address environmental crises and its causes.

This banking model of education perpetuates social oppression and inequality since it is favoured against a model that aims for the liberation of oppressed groups of people such as queer pedagogy and critical pedagogy. To quote Henry Giroux’s On Critical Pedagogy, the neoliberal education system “strips education of its public values, critical content, and civic responsibilities as part of its broader goal of creating new subjects wedded to the logic of privatisation, efficiency, flexibility, the accumulation of capital, and the destruction of the social state”. 

Since everyone can be a learner and an educator at the same time, how do you address our global crisis of disconnection? We need a revolutionary and vibrant form of education. By applying the principles of ecology (the language of nature) such as systems thinking, networks, cycles, interdependence and diversity to the way we teach and school curricula; we can achieve a truly sustainable change in education that will make us ‘see the world anew’. Fritjof Capra explains in ‘Ecological Literacy that in order to use resources and treat people in a way that does not compromise the ‘needs and aspirations’ of future generations, we need to imitate how sustainable natural ecosystems work.

Modeling the school curriculum and our pedagogical strategies on the principles of ecology allows us to understand the importance of connectedness, relationships, context and resilience. Education for sustainable communities teaches us to see environmental and social issues as a whole and not as isolated issues that have different causes and effects. It disrupts the teacher/student dichotomy by bringing equality to the classroom where everyone is both a learner and an educator. It teaches that when you get knocked down, you gotta get up again’ because that’s the essence of nature: rebirth, growth and transformation.

Current educators, leaders, business people, organisations, institutions and governments need to revolutionise education for it to challenge the environmental and social crises that are detrimental to the needs and aspirations of future generations.


If you want to support Akasha Innovation and its wonderful Young Pioneers Programme, please contribute to their kickstarter campaign here. It is of utmost important that we take steps towards a better future, and Akasha is doing just that by guiding young changemakers to become the change they wish to see in this world! Please contribute, these are the best people I know 🙂 ❤

Street Harassment: Not Asking For It

This post does not imply that harassment only happens between men and women. Everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, class, or race can experience harassment. Street harassment happens between all groups and all groups have different experiences with it depending on their intersecting identities. Even though men do experience harassment, women (both cis and trans) and other subordinate groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community are more vulnerable to it, which is why this post focuses on such experiences and my experiences on harassment by men.

One of the most vivid memories I have as a child is, sadly, a really bitter one. When I was around 9 or 10, I remember being at one of the many beautiful beaches of La Isla de Margarita, a wonderful small island in the north-east of my country, on a family vacation. My mum and I decided to take a walk along the beach. Because I normally went to these beaches with my grandparents while my parents worked, I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.

Every time I walked alone with my mum I felt uncomfortable, fearful and in danger. This time, my emotions were exacerbated by the fact that she was wearing a tiny bikini that accentuated her best attributes. My mum is and has always been very coqueta and this was something that bothered me a lot because I believed it was the reason behind the cat-calls she always got.

“Mami, tu si estás rica!”

*whistles*

*blowing kisses*

Mira ese _____ y esas ______*

*turns around*

*licks his lips*

Me blaming my mother for the behaviour of these men was my internalised sexism, a product of my socialisation growing up female in Latin America (among other things like religious education, machismo culture, and so on). This was almost like slut-shaming her indirectly. This was my 9 or 10 years old self perpetuating rape culture. I always got angry at her because I thought that she put herself in danger (and when I was with her, I was in danger too) because of the way she decided to dress. In my head, those men were sort of guilt-free.

Ugh. Silly me.

I always asked her if the street and sexual harassment she faced bothered her and her answer was always a fake “no”. I thought to myself, “if it doesn’t bother her, how come she never smiles or takes these comments as compliments, but instead she walks faster and her facial expression becomes inscrutable?”. 

Of course it bothered her, she was being harassed.

Credit: stopstreetharassment.org

Cat-calling is just one form of street harassment. The organisation Stop Street Harassment defines it as:

Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.

Street harassment is so diverse, it ranges from leering, assaulting, whistling, flashing, masturbating in public, stalking, groping, cat-calling and much more. It is very scary.

Street harassment, which is one form of sexual harassment, perpetuates rape culture. This is important to mention because a lot of people believe that street harassment is only about unwanted attention and compliments, but it actually is about reinforcing power dynamics and the status quo. And this is at the core of rape culture. The dominant group, through street harassment, sexual harassment or rape, reminds the subordinate group where they supposedly belong (in the private sphere) and how vulnerable they are (in the public sphere). The subordinate group suffers street harassment fuelled with sexism, racism, ableism, transmisogyny, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, classism, sizeism and more depending on their identity.

This dichotomy of the private/public = dominant/subordinate = normative/non-normative is constructed because of gender policingwhich functions to delegitimise and devalue the gender identity and/or expression of the individual being harassed. Spaces are policed because spaces are gendered. Historically, the public has been constructed as a masculine space and the private as a feminine one. So, when women are in the masculine public space, they are vulnerable to assault, violence and punishment because it is supposedly non-normative for them to be there.

If we translate this into a day-to-day and more up to date situation, we can understand how the dichotomies help explain power relations and how harassment works. In a society that values virginity over sexual liberation for women; where the gender binary, rigid gender roles and expressions and heteronormativity at the expense of queer and trans* folks; where being white is seen as more legitimate than being black, hispanic, asian or indigenous; where being wealthy means having more social advantages over people struggling with poverty; where people who are closer to unachievable beauty standards are considered more beautiful, smart, capable and much more than people that are fat, have stretch marks, small boobs, no thigh gaps and so on; where people with disabilities are somehow only worth the pity and awkwardness of those who do not have a disability – those that are on the receiving end of street harassment are considered non-normative identities and bodies that need to be policed and punished to not threaten the normative status quo.

This happens because we construct our identities based on what we are not: “I am what I am not”. And to define what we are not, we have to police the boundaries of what we are. “I am a man so I must not act like a woman” – BOOM! Gender policing at its finest.

Gender Policing Hurts Everyone and Contributes To Our Culture of Harassment. Credit: soul-gender.tumblr.com

Until I experienced street harassment myself, I kept blaming my mum and the way she dressed for the behaviour of these men. I noticed that even though I dressed differently, was younger and did not have my mum’s body, I got harassed too. That’s when I understood that it was not my mum’s or my fault to be objectified in this way – it is the cultural sickness of rape culture. And once I had that realisation, I felt helpless, vulnerable and sexually objectified.

Sexual objectification happens when a person is robbed of their desires, autonomy and dignity by being dehumanised, treated and seen merely as an object of sexual pleasure. This stems from the dichotomies of self/other, us/them, subject/object, mind/body. In our society, men are the sovereign subjects while women are the Other, the objects of men’s desires. As men represent the mind, women are reduced to their bodies which are often objectified, commodified and sexualised on a daily basis.

The feeling of helplessness, vulnerability, dehumanisation, indignity, filthiness, anger and fear that comes from the sexual objectification inherent in street harassment, while paralysing me, often feels like a call to action. Every time I face street harassment, I wish I could slap the attacker on the face for making me feel like less of a person than him. I wish I could ask him if he would like his mother, sisters or daughters to be reminded by strangers of the oppression and violence women have to face on a daily basis. I wish I could scream back at the harassers that my body is not for their entertainment and that it does not define my worth.

I wish I could simply walk on the streets – alone, at night, at daylight, with a short dress, a skirt, a ton of make-up and heels, cleavage, my belly showing, in a winter coat, in boots, in shorts, drunk, high, whatever the heck I want jeez even naked – and feel safe enough to do it. I remember in London walking late at night on my way back home from the library with the keys between my fingers just in case something would happen. I remember a guy trying to slap me on the face after I slapped his for grabbing my ass. I remember all the damn times a guy or older men asked me to smile at them because I look so cute and sweet and hot. I want everyone to be able to walk freely and safely on the streets without the fear of being harassed!

I have been harassed so many times and I am fucking angry about it. I want to scream back at the attackers and tell them that my body is mine and that I dress and walk and am out in the public sphere for myself and not for them to look at me or comment on my appearance. I am out in the public space just because I am just as entitled as anybody else to it because I am a person. I do not need anyone’s validation. People can keep it to themselves, I don’t want to hear it. Don’t approach me. Don’t touch me because I haven’t given you consent to do it. Don’t tell me to smile. Don’t force me to conversation. Don’t try to force eye contact with me. Don’t touch yourself looking at me. Don’t lick your lips. Don’t blow me kisses. Don’t whistle at me. Don’t stalk me. Don’t follow me on the streets. Don’t make a comment about how I look. Don’t objectify me. Just don’t.

street harassment

Credit: http://warblebee.tumblr.com She took the tagline “Women Are Not Outside For Your Entertainment” From Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile Campaign

Even though men are also vulnerable to street harassment (and sexual harassment in general), the #NotAllMen argument derails the conversation about how men perpetuate and benefit from rape culture (whether they want it or not). So, I understand a lot of guys get offended when the feminist community calls them out on raping or harassing women and trans women but, whether or #NotAllMen do it is completely irrelevant! Men need to check their privilege and how they benefit from our patriarchal/kyriarchal society and understand that #YesAllWomen are potential victims of or have experienced sexual and street harassment at some point in their lives.

My partner asked me what would happen if a guy approach a girl with good intentions (let’s say they are genuinely interested in the book the girl is reading at that time) and the girl would think the guy is harassing her. I answered that even though we know that #NotAllMen are harassers, #YesAllWomen have been conditioned to always be alert against possible predators. We grow up in this mentality of not walking home alone at night, not leaving our drinks unattended, not talking to strangers, always looking at our surroundings, try to take a self-defence class and so on. For this reason, in that hypothetical situation, I answered that the guy must not feel offended but should understand why women react in a certain way, like ignoring him, walking away or being defensive – we need to always be alert!

Credit; Tumblr

This post was originally going to be about the ways we can react when we are going through street harassment, but I personally feel very angry about this topic and have always wanted to express those feelings. However, I do want to share an article, organisations and projects that aim to empower victims of street harassment. Maybe I can write a blog post about those some other time 🙂

Have you experienced any form of street harassment? How did you react? Did you care? Did it make you mad? Would you give the cat-caller one of the cards? Why? Why not? Would you holla’d back? Would you say something back at the harasser? Are you usually afraid to do so?

Please share your stories with me in the comment section below! 🙂