Speaking Inclusively, Acting Divisively
The most frustrating and upsetting thing is an ally that reaches out with one hand while pushing away with the other. Sometimes this is out of ignorance or a misunderstanding, but often it’s out of a sense that they’re doing the right thing by pushing us away. The most allyish behaviour is including oneself with a group while excluding that same group elsewhere.
It’s easy to find in bisexual spaces: people who include themselves in the space but somehow end up also including themselves in spaces that exclude bi- or pansexuals. An irony. Usually, it’s the bisexuals that are being told to pick a side. Though it’s not so ironic that the bisexuals aren’t the ones that need to sort themselves out.
Sorting us out is often in a literal sense when it comes to groups, particularly online groups. Last week I encountered this exact thing: a lady advertised her group for lesbians in the UK - just a meet up space. Not for any particular issue or agenda. Scanning over the rules, I noticed that bisexuals and pansexuals weren’t allowed. And it was for binary identifying people only.
OK so having a group this exclusive is a thing I have a problem with, but I also believe we have a right to go ahead and organise ourselves how we want. The notion of gay purity is a thing to rant about for another time. It bothers me, but if that’s really how this woman wants her group be, well, I’ll just go and keep her at arm’s length in the future.
As I was considering the best way to take my leave (I had already introduced myself and I felt the need to at least say I wasn’t happy about the rules), I noticed a recommendation for another group. This was for the same purpose: meetup, chat, just generally be; but this one was bi, pan, and non binary inclusive. It was run by the same woman.
"IT REALLY FELT LIKE SHE WANTED HER GROUP OF GOLD STAR LESBIAN FOLKS, BUT STILL WANTED TO LET HER BI FRIENDS HAVE SOMEWHERE TO GO. "
At this point, the lady crossed from being a neutral-but-to-be avoided figure to an allyish one. The groups were founded near the same time; they were clearly designed alongside one another. It really felt like she wanted her group of gold star lesbian folks, but still wanted to let her bi friends have somewhere to go. Like she realised it might look bad, so she created a group for ‘everyone else’.
Internalised biphobia is a thing. Sometimes, acceptance has to start from a place like this. I understand that this woman probably set out to do this with the best of intentions. Most allyish behaviour is well meaning, even if it’s damaging to the movement. The end result is the lesbian folks who don’t get the gold star get a separate but equal space. We know how that ends.
Whatever the reasoning, a person can’t be inclusive when behaving in this way. We were literally being sorted into piles, and it wasn’t acceptable. Naturally, I said so and I went to the moderator of the group where I saw the link posted. The exchange that followed was unimpressive and the link was ultimately taken down.
What struck me was the person’s response. Her basic attitude was that she felt unsupported in her creation of a safe space for a class of people that, frankly, the rest of us didn’t see needed a safe space. It sounds harsh but binary identifying women who are almost completely lesbians are probably one of the least needy subsections of the LGBTQ+ movement. Again, if that’s what she wants then whatever. But she can’t call herself inclusive while she’s excluding people and actually, the rest of us were objecting on that basis. That she had this exclusive group was problematic in our minds, but we weren’t going to try to stop her either.
"THE SHORT OF IT IS A PERSON WHO FEELS THAT THEY BELONG TO AN EXCLUSIVE GROUP LIKE THAT HAS NO PLACE IN A BISEXUAL SAFE SPACE."
The short of it is a person who feels that they belong to an exclusive group like that has no place in a bisexual safe space. Her exclusionary attitude makes her presence in bisexual spaces unsafe. Maybe she needs to make this mistake to get past her own internalised biphobia. I hope so. But without the confrontation she can’t ever make that leap. She would just continue to extend one hand while taking away with the other.
We need better ways to challenge this kind of half acceptance. I’d like to think that the lady here was intelligent and thoughtful enough to examine our reaction. I’m probably also wrong in thinking that. Like the allyish ally that admits privilege but then states that they deserve it, the person that speaks inclusively but acts divisively feels perfectly justified in what they’re doing. Opposition here will probably only galvanise the awful by forcing people who might come around back into their echo chambers. I wish people weren’t like this and I know I’m the same if I don’t make an effort.
The saddest thing about this specific example is that it punctuates that bi- and pansexual folk do need safe spaces despite the fact that we’re likely to be the largest demographic on the planet. It’s a terrible irony to be in the vast majority (probably) yet we’re the ones that need places free of folks who consider themselves gold star lesbians (and gay men, for that matter) who consider themselves free of impure, bisexual thoughts. The whole notion of gay purity is just toxic and creates rifts where there needn’t be any.
I don’t think we should stop gay purists from organising any more than I think we should stop binary folk from making pure binary groups. I think they are morally wrong, but I think allowing people to make spaces for themselves is morally right. It’s a bit of a mess. But when someone does choose to create a space like that, we should pay attention and gauge how welcome they should be in mixed spaces, especially spaces created for safety’s sake.