Bi, Trans, and Our Communities
As part of our Bisexual Awareness Week blogging, research committee chair, Alex Iantaffi shares thoughts about being bi, being trans, and our communities.
I was about 22 when I realized that heterosexuality was not the only option. I still remember the moment I saw two feminine people kissing on the street in London. I could not stop staring. Something clicked into place that day, yet it would take a couple more years before I found the courage to whisper that maybe I was bisexual. I will spare you the vicissitudes of coming to terms with my sexuality while married to an abusive partner. The brief version is that I eventually left him and came out. However, it did not take long for me to go back into the bi closet. Saying I was bi seemed to be a dirty word to many of the small town lesbians and feminist academics that were part of my community and dating pool. I opted for dyke as an identity. I am a feminist and I could get on board with being a dyke, it did not feel like a lie. It even worked for a while. At least until I fell in love with a guy 15 years ago, Chasing Amy style. I was not ready to give up my identity though, and kept saying I was a dyke dating a guy. That also worked for a while.
Luckily, my lovely new partner gently suggested we might want to attend an event called BiCon, just a few months after we started dating. This is where I realized that my unwillingness to identify as bi was due to bi erasure and internalized biphobia. This is also where I realized that I did not need to meet other people’s expectations to prove my queerness. I could be queer and present any way I wanted, and be attracted to any one I was in fact drawn to. This might seem simple to some of you, maybe, but it was a revelation for me. Throughout all this I was still identifying as cis, because I had not yet realized there were options that made even more pieces of my puzzle click into place. It was encountering bi community that opened up the possibility of being trans for me. This was the first queer community I had been part of, in the UK, where people of all genders were welcome. Trans and genderqueer folks were organizers and an integral part of the
community. Of course it was not utopia. I eventually realized that transphobia was not absent, and that those spaces were often less than safe and welcoming for some of my friends because of the pervasive nature of racism and white supremacy.
Nevertheless, it was coming into bi community that helped me make sense of my own gender identity and supported my coming out as a trans masculine, genderqueer person. Since then, I moved to the US and found both trans and bi communities that welcomed me. Sadly, though, I found less overlap between those communities than previously experienced. Despite the fact that we both face disbelief, invalidation and erasure in our larger movement, because of challenging the easy binaries of male/female and straight/gay, our solidarity seems, at times, somewhat tenuous. I have been reflecting on why this might be for the past six years of living here. This is what I have noticed. Bi community in the US does not always use the most inclusive of language for those of us who do not identify as men or women. I believe this is changing and that so are the definitions of bisexuality that people use. I also know that many bi folks are attracted to people of all genders, subject to their own personal preferences. For example, I am mostly attracted to masculine folks, cis and trans alike, but I am sometimes attracted to feminine folks too, cis and trans alike. Bi is an umbrella term, similar to the term trans, which it’s also often used as an umbrella term. Both terms are seen as not fully encompassing everyone in our communities. Language is imperfect and often limited.
I have seen opinion pieces and listened to many cis folks, and a few trans folks, complain about how the term bi reinforces the gender binary, and it is inherently exclusionary of trans folks, especially those of us who identify as non-binary or beyond/outside of the binary. The fact that gay, lesbian and straight imply the gender
binary just as much is never discussed. Many gay, lesbian and straight people do not see their identities as necessarily inclusive of trans people, especially less than binary identified people. All these terms are also based on assumptions around the gender binary, as well as gender essentialist notions. When I express those views, the counter argument is that bi means two. While this is true, I do not think this is enough to dismiss the implied gender binary in the terms gay, lesbian and straight. People often ask me why not just stick with queer, a less binary term and one I also identify with, both in relation to my gender identity and sexual orientation. My answer is bi erasure. When I identify as queer, people often make specific assumptions about my sexuality. Given that I am often read as a butch woman, rather than a trans guy, people are sometimes surprised when I turn up with a cis male partner. In fact, I have been told more than once on those occasions: “but I thought you were queer!” Queerness seems to have often become an easy shortcut to mean really gay or lesbian. The term queer is also not always viable. It triggers some of the elders in my communities and I am yet to find a translation for it in my mother tongue, Italian.
These are some of the reasons why I am a non-binary, genderqueer, trans masculine person who identifies as bi. This term makes sense in my native language and in my adopted one. This term has too often been vilified and used as an insult. My ancestors of spirit, those bi pioneers who dared to embrace queerness in unexpected ways and at impossible times, have been erased from our history for far too long. This community embraced me, all of me, at times when my other communities questioned my queerness, my identity and my gender expression. This community showed me that I did not need to earn or prove anything to be me, that I could love who I chose, in whatever relationship configuration I and my partners wanted. This community welcomed children and partners of all gender identities and sexual orientations. This community was there before and after my transition. This community still struggles with white supremacy, racism, classism and ableism, just like many other communities in our LGBTQ movement. This community is made up of humans who sometimes misgender me, just like many of my queer comrades still do. This community is still growing, needed and essential to our rainbow. This is why I celebrate bi visibility day and bi awareness week. I am happy to be part of a larger queer movement, but my identity will also and always be bi. It is part of my history, it is the path that led me to make sense of my trans identity and it is the sexual identity and community I claim and that welcomed me, no matter what.
October 7-9, 2022
St Paul, MN
We hope you will join us for the BECAUSE Conference as it's never been before: a hybrid event of in-person and online workshops, speakers, and social events. With Zoom producers and experienced programming staff, we are developing a new way of experiencing BECAUSE while keeping all the engagement, support, and community that has been at the core of the conference for the last 30 years.
Build, serve and advocate for an empowered bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi+) community to promote social justice.
Within the next five years grow Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP) into a successfully-run Upper Midwest nonprofit organization with annual funding of $100,000 that provides community building, education, and advocacy for the bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi+) community and our allies.