[The Advocate, 9 December, 2003]
Gays love hating bisexuals
By RICHARD MORGAN
Despite what you may have heard, Khyla Barnes does not want to have a three-way with you. And frankly, she's sick of having to say so.
Barnes, a 22-year-old senior at Indiana University in Bloomington, came out as lesbian in the summer of 2001. But in April 2003 she started identifying as bisexual. The shift was unpopular among the people she worked with in her role as treasurer of the university's queer alliance. In fact, it was so unpopular that Barnes left the alliance to form a bisexuals-only group, which she now co-leads.
"Whenever I said, 'I feel this way – bi,' people would say, 'That's cool. But you're still really a lesbian.' To gay people, I was just a lesbian who liked guys too," she says. "They told me it was selfish to be stealing all the kinky guys and girls."
The oppressed have become the oppressors, Barnes says. And this "biphobia" among students in the Indiana gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender group and others around the country is what has prompted her and other students nationwide to start their own bi-only groups. The problem, Barnes says, is that "in the [GLBT] alliances you can't just be lesbian or gay, you have to be a dyke or a fag. It's extreme. Something like bisexuality, in the middle, just doesn't fit."
That was the case for Francisco J. Araujo, a 21-year-old junior at Brown University in Providence, R.I., as well. After coming out as queer, Araujo formed BiTE, Bisexuals Talk and Eat, in 2002. The group of approximately a dozen students meets weekly and provides a space where bisexuals are treated as more than "just good for orgies," he says. And at the University of California, Los Angeles, a bi-only group provides refuge from what Lisa Concoff, a 22-year-old lesbian senior who dates a bisexual woman, calls the "one-drop rule." People assume that if you have one homosexual experience, you're automatically gay, she says. The bi-only groups, she adds, provide bisexuals, who are often "ignored or overlooked," the support they badly need.
The attitude toward bisexuality on campus is often "don't ask, don't tell," says Natalia Chilcote, a 22-year-old bisexual senior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which has no bi-only student group. Gay people purport to be more sensitive to and tolerant of sexual fluidity, she says, but most often she thinks it's a sham. "There is no rainbow," she says. "It's so cut-and-dried. There's no room for the grayness of bisexuality when gays try to fit into the black-and-white world of the straight mainstream."
But these new and emerging bi-only student groups aren't only a response to discrimination. They also have a more practical purpose: By splitting off from the larger GLBT groups, bisexual students say they have a better chance at taking leadership roles and taking on issues that are of more specific concern to them – like how to come out as bisexual and how to deal with the unique dating challenges bisexuality poses.
Still, bisexual students may have a long way to go before they change the minds of many of their fellow students. For example, Josh Ziel, a 20-year-old gay junior at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says he doesn't believe there is even such a thing as bisexuality. "Just because you say 'This is who I am' doesn't mean that it's scientifically, biologically, psychologically valid," Ziel says, adding that he believes identifying as bisexual is one way people "cover up a lifetime of latent homosexuality."
And even though the University of Michigan does not have a bi-only group, Ziel guesses bi-only groups would be more exclusionary than GLBT groups. "They're not tolerance organizations. They're get-in-your-face promotional equal rights kinds of groups," he says. "What's the bisexual agenda? There isn't one."
Notions such as Ziel's are exactly why bi-only student groups are necessary, says Ludo Plee, a 27-year-old graduate student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins who came out as gay after identifying as bisexual for three years. "Gays bash bisexuals the way straights bash gays," he says. "I'm ashamed of it. I want to say to gays, 'Have you learned nothing?'"
Plee, who says he still finds himself attracted to women, says biphobia is most often a reflection of an uncertainty gay people feel about their own sexual orientation. "It scares people who come out as gay to see that whatever happens, happens – that being gay can be confining," he says. "But you have to believe in bisexuality and respect it if you believe and respect that sexuality is fluid."
Morgan has also written for The Chronicle of Higher Education.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Liberation Publications, Inc.
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