Storify: Bisexuality and Transgender

Storify is shutting down in May and has informed users that we have to migrate our content elsewhere if we wish to save it. This is one of my old threads.

Okay, I am bisexual and nonbinary transgender and here is a thread about bisexuality.

Terms are defined by in-groups, not by outsiders, and words change meaning over time. "Lesbian" does not mean "from the isle of Lesbos" in current parlance. "Gay" does not mean "happy". "Queer" does not mean "odd". This is also true for prefixes like "bi". When we say a bill has "bipartisan" support, we usually mean -multiple- political parties, not just two.

We also need to establish that dictionaries do not capture modern use and often not even connotation. Some examples: Most dictionaries have insufficient, incomplete, incorrect, or no entry at all for asexual and aromantic identities. And there is social prejudice against "homosexual" that isn't attached to "gay", but few dictionaries capture this connotation.

We like to say that "words mean things". This is true! Broadly speaking: Words mean what the people who use them mean them to mean. In-group identities are defined BY THE GROUPS USING THEM, not by people outside the group. This is fundamental.

So how do most bisexual organizations define bisexuality?

Bisexual Resource Center: "people who recognize and honor their potential for sexual and emotional attraction to more than one gender."

Bisexual dot org: "capacity for romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender."

Bisexual Index UK: "A bisexual is someone who is attracted to more than one gender."

BiUK dot org: "attracted to more than one gender or being attracted to people regardless of gender."

BiNet:"A person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other people of various sexes and/or gender identities."

Toronto Bi Network: "potential to feel attracted to and to engage in sexual and/or romantic relationships with people of any sex or gender."

Human Rights Campaign: "A person emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to more than one sex and/or gender"

GLAAD: "people who have the capacity to be attracted to people of any gender"

These are not "Tumblr links", okay? These are major bisexual and queer organizations, not a few private individuals. But what about historically? Is there historical usage of the word "bisexual" in a way that excluded trans people? Let's talk about that!

"Bisexuality" is a term reclaimed from biphobic medical institutions. It was a word used to diagnose and hurt us. Here's what DIDN'T happen: A bunch of bisexuals sitting around saying "how can we be transphobic? I know! A 'bi-' prefix that will imply two genders!"

The word "bisexual" was foisted upon us and some (not all!) of us said, fine, you know what, we'll take that word and make it a GOOD thing. The "bi" in bisexual was probably (this is controversial and disputed, hence 'probably') meant to indicate both heterosexual and homosexual. Not 2 genders, 2 orientations. You see artifacts of this idea in the Kinsey scale, for example. (Which... I like the Kinsey scale, but it is imperfect like whoa.)

MOST BISEXUALS REJECT THIS DEFINITION, coz we're not "2 orientations". We're our own special orientation,not "half-gay" and "half-straight". So, to review: Bisexual was a word forced on us. Bisexual didn't mean 2 genders. It meant we were half-gay and half-straight. Which we're not, but we reclaimed the word anyway.

More history: The bisexual movement was closely intertwined with the transgender movement within the queer community. The term was consistently used with the understanding that it included "third gender" and "androgynous" and other early nonbinary terms.

The bisexual community had a strong alliance with the trans community, partly because many trans people ARE bi, but also because the gay and lesbian communities have (sometimes! not always!) been hostile to both bisexual and transgender people. Bisexuals and transgender people stuck together because we had overlap and because we were the "unwanted" queers in the community.

So, no, historically the bisexual community AT LARGE has not been hostile to the transgender community. Have some bisexual people been assholes to trans people? Sure. This is true of gay and lesbian people too. But we don't go around saying that lesbians are hostile to transgender people just because some lesbians were and are.

And saying that bisexuality as a label INHERENTLY excludes transgender people *erases* trans bisexuals AND their history. The idea that bisexuality inherently excludes trans people was apparently brought up in 1994... by two cis people. What we have here is two outsiders (non-bisexual, non-transgender) deciding for us that one group excludes the other because they say so. And they did so by assuming that the bi in bisexual meant "two genders" rather than the probably original meaning of two orientations.

So to recap:

(1) Bisexuals did not come up with this word on our own. It is a reclaimed medical term that was used to harm us.

(2) Bisexual never meant 2 genders. It meant 2 orientations, i.e, that we were half-homo and half-hetero.

(3) Every major bisexual orientation I know of uses the "2 or more genders" definition instead of the harmful "2 orientations" definition.

(4) The bisexual community has historically been closely aligned with the transgender community AND recognized nonbinary genders.

(5) Claims that bisexuality is trans-exclusionary came from two non-bisexual, non-transgender academics misunderstanding the bi prefix.

(6) Word definitions are defined by the in-group community, not dictionaries compiled by privileged outsiders.

(7) Saying that bisexuality excludes nonbinary transgender people erases nonbinary transgender bisexuals like myself.

(8) Or casts us as johnny-come-lately "tumblrinas" which is not cool. We've been here all along.

Now let's talk about pansexuality. Pansexuality is its own thing!! It's not "bisexual, but with trans people". I know bunches of pansexual people who are so damn tired of being co-opted to beat bisexuals. We are NOT in opposition to each other.

Ironically and annoyingly, pansexuality is OFTEN co-opted by trans-exclusionary people as being the ONLY sexuality that includes trans folk. Trans women are woman and included in the lesbian identity; trans men are men and included in the gay identity. Binary trans people are not a sort of vague "third gender" that only pansexuals like. That's suuuuuper misgendering bullshit.

Something that says "Pansexuality...unlike bisexuality...expands attraction to any person regardless of their trans identity" has red flags. Because there are 100% people who define pansexuality in opposition to bisexuality in this way BUT they're slyly misgendering trans people. Coz if binary trans people are a "third gender" (i.e., not men and women), then lesbians and gays don't have to include them in community. Which is rich because they're accusing bi people of trans-exclusion while themselves excluding trans people from everything BUT pan.

And, again, pansexuality is its own actual thing. It's not "bisexual, but better". Many pansexuals are sick of being positioned this way. I have many pansexual friends and I know I'm not pansexual; I'm bisexual. And that's okay. There's nothing wrong with EITHER identity.

Finally, please understand that bisexual people and transgender people have our sexuality policed like WHOA. Bisexual people are told we "must" identity as pan or we're excluding of trans people, but do you think that about lesbians and gays? I've had a lot of people tell me that "bisexual" excludes nonbinary people, but no one says that to me about lesbian or gay or straight. Which is kind of odd, because arguably lesbian and gay and straight "exclude" nonbinary people way more than bisexual does.

And this is itself an odd argument because we cannot change our sexual attraction to be "inclusive", nor should we feel pressured to. The idea that our sexualities can be changed at will for all of us (if we just try!) is a major root of queerphobia. We reject this. And yet bisexual people and transgender people face this within our own queer community!

I've known MULTIPLE transgender people who were told that they can't NOT be pansexual. That they canNOT be gay, lesbian, or straight. Because transgender people are supposed to be sexually "inclusive" in an individual level of all genders BECAUSE we are trans. And, of course, with an undercurrent that we can't afford to be "picky" and we should be grateful for whoever wants us.

So be aware that there's a LOT of baggage with transgender and bisexual (and both! hi! that's me!) people having our sexuality policed. And please be aware of the history of the bisexual term and our community. Trans nonbinary people have been here from the beginning. Don't erase us bisexual nonbinary folks.

Addendum: I cannot define pansexual because it's not my word to define, but I can share some things my pan buddies have shared with me.

Pansexual people CAN and sometimes DO have boundaries for body parts. It's very harmful to assume that pan = all bodies welcome. Understand bisexuality and pansexuality are about GENDER, not bodies. When you assume pan = all bodies, you're conflating body with gender. There are bisexual people AND pansexual people who don't ever want to, say, touch a [body part of choice here] and that's OKAY.

So please please please please please stop assuming that "bi" and "pan" tells you ANYTHING about what bodies they like and want. Bisexual means "two or more genders" and there are dozens, even hundreds, of genders. Not just the "big two" you know about. Bisexual people are also not necessarily attracted to their own gender. When you assume bisexual people are attracted to the "big two" and excluding nonbinary people, ironically YOU are doing the excluding.

My experiences as a nonbinary bisexual enby will not necessarily match any other bisexual person's or transgender person's experience. I've heard from so many enby bisexuals today and am now thinking about how logical it is that so many of us exist and always have. When you're not a man or a woman, the straight, gay, and lesbian boxes can feel self-misgendering to so many of us.

We often understand there's LOTS of genders, because we've had to think about them for ourselves. And not all of us are pan. So if you're a femby... and you're attracted to women and other fembies... but not men... bisexual can make a lot of damn sense. So, yeah. Remember that bisexuality has ALWAYS included nonbinary folks. We're not new and we've been here. No erasure.

So, hey, a couple of people have asked me about "poly" in response to this thread. *deep breath* This is one of those "define your term" things. Polyamory? Polysexual? Polygender? Polynesian? Poly is valid shorthand for all of these. If you mean polysexual, that's not the same thing as bisexual or pansexual. Those things are all different things. And you kinda need to spell it out because most people are gonna leap to "polyamory", which is a whole DIFFERENT thing. Polyamory is loving more than one person, which I am and do, but not all bisexuals are polyam and it's a harmful stereotype that we are.

Anyway, the simplest answer to "why not use poly instead of bi" is what Data told Doctor Pulaski: one is me, the other is not. Please be aware that when you're pressuring enbys to "just be pan!" you're subtly pressuring us to not have our own sexual boundaries. Stop.

Now I wish to talk about why I feel VERY UNCOMFORTABLE when cis people say "bisexual" excludes enby people. (I know this thread is getting long but it's a new day and I need cis people to listen to this part.) The genders are NOT Man, Woman, and Other. The genders are NOT Penis, Vagina, and Other. Those are both very wrong things some cis ppl do.

Nonbinary people are not an undifferentiated mass of Other. My gender as a demigirl is real. It's also VERY different from, say, maverique. Here's a list of just SOME nonbinary genders. It's a LONG list. A lot of cis people either don't know that we're different or don't care, calling us a bunch of special snowflake nonsense. The REAL issue, to them, is what's in our pants. And if a bisexual accepts penis and vagina, that ought to be everyone so why not pan!!?!

FIRST OF ALL, penis and vagina aren't a binary either. Set that here.

But SECOND OF ALL, bisexuals AREN'T all "penis and vagina welcome!" Bisexuality is not going to make sense to you unless you can accept that there are hundreds of genders and they aren't based on genitals. If you think bisexuals like all genitals, you're wrong. But you're also furthering the idea that genitals IS gender and there are 2 of each.

There are absolutely bisexuals who (a) accept all genitals and (b) aren't attracted to men (regardless of genitals! Genitals isn't gender!). There are absolutely bisexuals (and pansexuals!) who (a) are attracted to all genders, but (b) don't want to touch a vagina, thank you. Genitals isn't gender and honestly I don't think you can understand bisexuality--or transgender people like me--if you can't accept that.

So when you, a cis person, tell me that bisexuals don't include me even though they should it SOUNDS like you're assuming bisexuals should like me because of my genitals. Uncomfortable!! And that attitude can flow into the trans-exclusive idea that trans people can't be gay or straight or lesbian if their genitals aren't XYZ. Which, hey, feeds back into those red flags I mentioned above, about how some cis people act like ONLY pansexual people love trans folks.

Essentially, this attitude ropes trans people out of gay, straight, and lesbian, then expects bisexuals to pick up all the unwanted trans. And then y'all get pissy with US, the Bisexuals, when we're like "um, your understanding of gender is retrobadfuck." Bisexuals are not a dumping ground for trans people that needs to be rebranded "pan" for clarity. ALL THE ORIENTATIONS have trans people.

An excellent question from @Enceladosaurus on a complex issue:

@Enceladosaurus: I'm struggling with this bc I keep getting told genital preferences are inherently transphobic...

o, genital preferences aren't transphobic AS LONG AS you understand they aren't gender.

"I love [gender], therefore I don't like [body part]" is transphobic.
"I love [gender], but unrelatedly I don't like [body part]" isn't.

There are some trans people who disagree with me on this and I'm not the trans pope, but that's my answer for what it's worth.

An example from @ProjectNeg11 of what I mean when some cis people lump all nonbinary genders together. @ProjectNeg11: I believe in only 3 Genders at most, none of that 76 gender bullshit.

Don't pile on, but seriously this is what some cis people sound like in these bisexuality conversations. I hear this REGULARLY. Today is a good day to thank all the supportive cis people in my life, even if I don't always make sense to them.


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