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All posts for the month September, 2013

Bi Visibility Day – Celebrating Bisexuality

Published September 23, 2013 by Katy J Went
Today is Bi Visibility Day (celebrated since 1999), because everyone needs a day, right? Actually, bisexuals are in many respects one of the least visible members of the LGBTIQ alphabet soup and, yet, they may be the majority.

Bisexuality is common in hundreds of animal species, especially the giraffe! The anthropologist Margaret Mead noted, ironically, that Western culture imposed a “straight jacket” on bisexuality whilst other cultures embraced non-specific gendered attraction.

bisexual triangles
Attempts to reclaim people as bi rather than gay or lesbian are fraught with historical and contextual difficulties. The ancient Greek poet Sappho from Lesbos, if “turned” bi, would remove sapphic and lesbian from the “women-who-love only women” dictionary.

The ancient world was rife with bisexuality in cultures that were more about power, status, class and penetration, than sex or gender. When laws and religion criminalise and stigmatise homosexuality, coming out as gay or lesbian is likely to be from a position of heterosexual cover. Thus, many older gay people are historically and serially bisexual rather than “gold star” straight virgins. People of “bisexual history” one might say.

Today’s youth are far more likely to embrace bisexuality in open experimentation and disregard for society’s narrow binarism and heteronormativity. Whilst a third transition to gay and lesbian, they do so from a position of reduced fear and phobia than the generation that preceded them, meanwhile the majority of young bisexuals now remain that way.

Being a person of bisexual history myself and maintaining what I call bisexual appreciation rather than attraction/orientation I had no problem when reading Wolff’s Bisexuality: A Study in agreeing with her idea that the majority may be closet bisexuals. It is just that opportunity, cultural restraints, fear of judgement, exposure and stigma, and the course of attraction or love, prevent many acting on it. Indeed, along with Ancient Greece, the famous sexologist Krafft-Ebing suggested that bisexuality was our original and natural state when he first used the term in 1892.

Dr Charlotte Wolff was a Jewish lesbian feminist physician and psychotherapist who fled Germany during the 1930s when her non-Jewish female lover left her out of fear. Before this she had been detained by the Gestapo as a spy for being dressed as a man. Although born female and into a Jewish home she preferred male clothing and female partners – something that pre-Nazi liberal Germany and her Jewish family initially accepted.

Just after the War, in 1948, Alfred Kinsey had found that “46% of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or ‘reacted to’ persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives” (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949). And that was the 1940s! A 2007 survey in the US showed 10 times as many young people identifying as bi than the 18-44 age group.

Kinsey further noted that the term bisexual was unfortunate, given that in nature it referred to hermaphroditism rather than a bi or pan gendered attraction. Ambisexual – from Latin ambo “both” not “ambiguous”, may have been better or pansexual, for many bisexuals claim to be gender blind in attraction and would also consider relationships with trans and intersex people.

US surveys from 1993 to 2007 showed a declining figure for people comfortable with calling themselves bisexual whilst a growing number were confident to be gay or lesbian, until the latter now exceed the former. Both are beginning to be eclipsed by those that answer surveys as “other”.

UK Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index questionnaire in 2009 found that bisexuals were less happy than gay people to be “out” at work despite making up at least 4% of the workforce. Their experience of biphobia often came from gay colleagues telling them to “get off the fence”.

In the Sex and the City episode “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl” (2000) Carrie and Charlotte discuss bisexuality:

Carrie: “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists, it’s just a layover on the way to gaytown”

Charlotte: “I’m very into labels, gay, straight, pick a side and stay there” 

Kinsey again commented that sexuality was a continuum not a both, either/or situation.

“Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.” (Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949)

The American second-wave feminist and bisexual, Kate Millett, said that “Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.” (Flying, 1974).

Bisexuals have fought to defend themselves from the slur that they “sleep around”. That said, studies show that they do have a greater sex drive, increased biological masculinisation, higher levels of testosterone, sexual confidence and fewer insecurities.

The UK gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, has said of future sexuality that:

“[The] picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero and homo, so loved by straight moralists and – equally significantly – by many lesbians and gay men. If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality.” 

One thing we can thank television and media personalities for is that people say the more positive role models in characters or real life the more confident people are to come out themselves. True Blood, the deep South US vampire series has endless bisexual liaisons and its lead actress Anna Paquin who plays Sookie, despite being married to vampire Bill Compton in real life, came out as bisexual in 2010. British Dr Who spin-off series Torchwood was also famed for its positive portrayal of bisexuality and its lead actor John Barrowman being ogled by men and women alike. What we need is more positive bi visibility to combat both aspects of biphobia – fear of coming out and the prejudice that leads to bi erasure.

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist anti-capitalist nun and her political inspirations and aspirations

Published September 14, 2013 by Katy J Went

A Harvard-educated Catalan radical feminist Christian anti-capitalist nun – Sister Teresa Forcades, who is also a medical Doctor with a Master’s degree in theology, has a quasi-political campaign that is fast gaining momentum. Oh and she’s pro-openly LGBT people ministering in the Roman Catholic Church alongside her support for women to be priests. She’s pro-women in other ways too including abortion and a woman’s right to decide.

A Christian heroine of Sister Teresa is the 12th century German St Hildegard von Bingen, also a theological and medical polymath, though the “Sibyl of the Rhine” was, in addition, an artist, botanist, musician, playwright and poet. last year, Hildegard was made only the 4th female Doctor of the Church for her theological contributions. Forcades is unlikely to get similar approval given her open critique of the Roman Catholic church as “misogynist and patriarchal in its structure” and needing urgent transformation.

Hildegard was also critical of aspects of the Church, especially its Temple-moneymen-like selling of access to the Sacraments, something Jesus was infamous for combating when he drove them out of the Jerusalem Temple, whip in hand. She has also been regarded as something of an early feminist. Though willing to admit her “weaker vessel” sex status, much perhaps due to her sickly state of body, she, nonetheless, used that to her advantage in her attempts to gain political autonomy for her nuns. She invented a modified Latin alphabet, the lingua ignota and neologisms, perhaps for secrecy and community bonding with her nuns.

Like Hildegard, Sister Teresa says that “everything she does is born of deep Christian faith and devotion” but many question how a left-wing feminist can reconcile taking orders within the sexist homophobic institution that is the Roman Catholic Church. In 1971, when Mary Daly was the first woman asked to preach at Harvard Memorial Chapel she denounced Christianity as “irredeemable for women” and called for an exodus from the Church. Almost all those attending the service, men and women alike, joined her in walking out of the Chapel, so why is Teresa in it?

The Sister has, however, written on Christian feminism – La teologia feminista en la història (“Feminist theology in history”, Fragmenta Editorial, 2007) and just as with her famous opposition to Swine flu vaccine, which subsequently went viral, she researched for months before opposing its scientific basis – she has a PhD in Public Health – so too, she examined the Benedictine order before admitting herself to them. This she did by presenting to them a talk on a community of gay Catholics who celebrated their homosexuality as a divine gift – their positive reaction led her to put her doubts aside and take the sacrificial vows. She acknowledges that this has not stopped her falling in love three times.

The Second Vatican Council – The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 29) on human community, says that:

“with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion is to be overcome and irradicated as contrary to God’s intent.”

So the religious is political but do religion and politics mix well? Most people recoil at the expressions of faith from Parliament rather than pulpit of Bush or Blair. Most recently, the shock coming out of Gorbachev as Christian, shows that he was wise to keep his faith quite when President of Russia. Faith for politicians can be a millstone around their necks but the Church gets as much criticism for failing to be political and certainly for not keeping up with the evolution of society, sex and sexuality.

Forcades, though, doesn’t want to run for political office or start a Party – she already has a ministry and political leader in the Church and Jesus, though also cites Gandhi and Chávez as inspirations alongside the radical left wing Greek, Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party “alliance of leftists, greens, Marxists and Maoists” (Guardian). 

In like manner, Forcades has drawn political support – tens of thousands from a spectrum of political and religious beliefs, and has an agenda: one with with Marxist, socialist, green economic and social policies. As much liberation politics as liberation theology.

She also stands for the regional independence of Catalunya (a 2014 referendum is possible) and is a fierce nationalist in the sense of that region’s self-rule. Though she is no xenophobe of other peoples, regions, countries nor indeed of immigrants and would see immigration controls ended. A slight hypocrisy perhaps in that the Catalan region is Spain’s wealthiest and can afford to go it alone, isn’t Spanish unity, Christian generosity and the Benedictine-rule ascetic poverty better served by that region assisting the poorer ones amidst Spain’s current austerity climate that includes 30% unemployment, rising to 55% amongst the young.

Her blend of hard-left (as someone recently opined why is it “hard-left and far-right?), is more far-left but with a soft-heart and wise intelligent capable and captivating head, despite its nun’s coif and veil headdress. There appears to be no contradiction between her state-led re-nationalising socialism, anti-capitalism and more individualistic nationalist independence and strong democratic values that espouse every member representation and a transparent democratising takeover of utilities including public ownership of the Internet. Her vision and version of modern freedoms is more communitarian than either communism and capitalism.

Her political manifesto was co-authored with Spanish economist Arcadi Oliveres, and has 10 demands:

  • A government takeover of all banks and measures to curb financial speculation
  • An end to job cuts, fairer wages and pensions, shorter working hours and payments to parents who stay at home
  • Genuine “participatory democracy” and steps to curb political corruption
  • Decent housing for all, and an end to all foreclosures
  • A reversal of public spending cuts, and renationalisation of all public services
  • An individual’s right to control their own body, including a woman’s right to decide over abortion
  • “Green” economic policies and the nationalisation of energy companies
  • An end to xenophobia and repeal of immigration laws
  • Placing public media under democratic control, including the internet
  • International “solidarity”, leaving Nato, and the abolition of armed forces in a future free Catalonia

BBC World Service – Heart and Soul, Sister Teresa Forcades

https://www.facebook.com/Forcades