Bi Women Face More Relationship Abuse. Let’s Talk About Why.

Did you know that tomorrow is bisexual visibility day? (Of course you didn’t. Now get your bifocals on.)

This year, I hope we can take the conversation a bit further than “bisexuals exist,” and discuss some overlooked health and violence risks that bisexuals experience. On that list is the glaring fact that bisexual women experience significantly higher rates* of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to both lesbians and heterosexual women (this violence is largely perpetrated by men).

*(This data is from CDC survey, and thus focuses on the US. I’d guess that the numbers are worse in places where the legal outlook for being openly queer and for reporting sexual/relationship abuse are bleaker.) 

So far, there’s not as much data on why. While we wait for (and encourage) researchers to dig deeper into this issue, I want to anecdotally highlight some relationship patterns that are part of this picture.

Below are some common ways in which bisexual identity is targeted or weaponized by abusive partners (including some behaviors used against bisexual people in general, and others coming specifically from heterosexual men dating bisexual women). While I can’t draw a one-to-one link between any of these behaviors and violence-related statistics, we can at least consider some of the real-life reasons behind the numbers.


Threatening to ‘out’ a partner:

  • “I’ll tell everyone you’re bi if you leave.”
  • If you don’t listen to me, I can tell your family.”

Being out as bisexual can be wonderful, but in some circumstances it can be can be dangerous, socially isolating, or just too much to handle emotionally. Therefore, threatening to out someone without consent can be a potent power move for abusive partners.

Identity policing/forcing a partner to stay closeted:

  • “You don’t need to go around sharing the details of your sex fantasies.”
  • “If you’re serious about this relationship, that shouldn’t even matter.”
  • “People will think this marriage is a joke if they hear you’re bisexual!”

In a healthy relationship, each partner should respect the other’s autonomy in defining and disclosing their sexual identity. Treating a bi partner’s sexuality as a dirty little secret can prevent them from fully accepting their sexual identity or finding a supportive queer community. It can also limit the closeness of their relationships with friends or family, as they are unable to share their full range of feelings and experiences.

Leveraging internalized and cultural biphobia to manipulate bi partners into staying:

  • “If you leave, everyone’s gonna think it’s because you cheated.”
  • “If you leave, everyone’s gonna know you were gay[/straight] all along.”
  • “Of course you want out. I knew someone like you couldn’t commit to one person.”
  • “Every bi girl I’ve been with has left me to date dudes. Guess you’re no different.”
  • “You’re lucky I was so accepting of the bi thing. Other people out there won’t want that baggage.”

These statements hit hard for bisexuals who already fear being seen as cheaters, liars, incapable of commitment, or less-desirable romantic partners. This fear of fulfilling stereotypes can motivate some to remain in an unhealthy or unhappy relationships.

Treating bisexual identity as universal sexual consent:

  • “She’ll fuck anything that moves–of course she’s down.”
  • “You said you liked girls–so make out with that friend of yours for me now.”

Of course no one, regardless of gender or orientation, should assume sexual consent without asking. However the combination of bisexual stereotypes (“bi women are sluts”) and misogynistic victim blaming (“sluts are asking for it”), means that bi women are more likely to be forced or coerced into sexual situations by men who view them as universally sexually available. This can also include the expectation for bi women to “perform” their same-sex attraction under any circumstances, as desired by a male partners.


So what can you take away from this?

  • If you’re a bi person or dating one: Pay attention to these red flags! Have you heard or said anything similar in your relationship? While one comment does not equal abuse, it is important notice any patterns of policing or shaming bi identity. When biphobia is normalized, it can be hard to recognize that full acceptance and respect of bisexuality can be your relationship standard.
  • If you’re involved in LGBTQ activism or community organizing: don’t ignore or exclude bi women in relationships with men! Doing so overlooks a large portion of queerphobic abuse and violence that occurs within those relationships.
  • If you’re involved in anti-sexual violence movements: this is your issue too! Among other points of intersectionality, the #metoo movement would benefit from discussion of how sexual orientation impacts risk for sexual harassment, abuse, and assault (for instance, Harvey Weinstein’s abuses involved trying to coerce openly bi women into threesomes).
  • If you’re involved in medical, psychological, or public health research: bisexual people are a distinct population worth studying! Research that focuses on the lives and well-being of bisexuals (beyond just questioning or verifying our bisexuality) is just catching on, and these stats are only the beginning of the picture. While anecdotal scenarios can help us understand where the troubling stats are coming from, further research could identify more specific risk and preventative factors for relationship violence among bi women. 
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Best of the Reject Pile (Rejected Satire Pitches–Part 2)

  • “Why I Gave up Casual Sex and Started Having Business-Casual Sex”
  • “What He Means by ‘Friends with Benefits,’ and Does It Include Health Insurance?”
  • “Teenage Girl Completely Eviscerated Racism in One Tweet Last Week, so Why is There Still Racism?”
  • “I’m Not Like the Other Girls: I Have an Extra Kidney”
  • “Eggplant Emoji Ruined for Vegetable Enthusiasts”
  • “Handmade Cat Collar Enthusiast Unsure What Everyone is so Upset About”
  • “6 Health-Boosting Superfoods Proven to Extend This Meaningless Void You Call ‘Life'”
  • “Ditch the Pilates Reformer: Real Change Will Only Come Through The Pilates Revolution”
  • “Help: I Tried Leaning in, But No One Was There to Catch Me”
  • “Six Types of People you Probably Won’t Date in Your Twenties Because You Have Pretty Decent Judgement”
  • “Woman Finds Herself in her Twenties, Then Realizes She Doesn’t Really Like it”

Best of the Reject Pile (Rejected Satire Pitches–Part 1)

  • “5 Things I Learned When I Cut ‘Sorry’ From my Vocabulary, Then Immediately Spilled my Kombucha Jug all Over the Subway”
  • “How I Learned to Accept my Imperfections and Hate Yours Instead”
  • “I’m Definitely Straight–I Just Like Kissing Girls for Attention When Nobody is Watching”
  • “You Can’t Fight Hate with Hate, but you can Totally Gloss over it with Passive-Aggressive Sarcasm”
  • “I Used to be a Basic Bitch, until my Dietician Helped me Lower my pH Levels to the Appropriate Range”
  • “Feminism Gone Astray: I Took ‘Fuck the Patriarchy’ Too Literally and Slept With all the Republican Congressmen”
  • “I Don’t Know Much About Woodworking, but I’m Going to Assume That Millennials are Ruining That Too”
  • “DIY Tutorial: How to Take a Compliment and Turn it into a Brand New Opportunity for Self-Deprecation”
  • “Nipple Overwhelmed With Newfound Freedom, Wants to Come Back Inside”
  • “I Took Clean Eating One Step Further and Only Consume Dish Soap”
  • “Can We Guess Your Education Level Based on Your Favorite Gifs? No, But We Can Guess Based on the Large Collection of Your Personal Data We Sell to Advertisers.”

Swimster The Tree-Climbing Fish

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
— allegedly Einstein; probably someone else who was no Einstein

Once upon a time there was a fish named Swimster. He had wide, fluttering fins that could push him far through the water with every stroke. He had a narrow body covered in slippery fins that could glide effortlessly through the gaps in the seaweed. He had strong gills to power him along. And more than anything, he dreamed of climbing the highest tree on the beach.

Now Swimster was under no delusions. He knew that most of the successful tree-climbers on the island had hands and claws and lungs. But he had heard stories of hard work and evolution, and had faith that with the right conditions, you can become what you’re not.

funny-evolution-of-man-comic-pics

So he decided to kick his evolution into gear by enrolling in a class at Ozzie the Orangoutang’s School of Tree-Climbing. As he paddled himself onto the shore for the first days of class, edging into the crowd of primates and amphibians, he tried not to notice their judging gazes fixating on his fins.

He flopped his way across the crowd to introduce himself to Ozzie, who greeted him with raised eyebrow-ridges. “Maybe this isn’t the right place for you,” she said, holding back her laughter behind an air of gentle concern. “Have you ever thought of trying a different hobby–perhaps, the swim team?”

The worst part was that she was right. Swimster knew he would make a better swimmer–he could swim fast and far without loosing a single gill-powered breath. But swimming was something he could do in his sleep, and he was looking for a different type of thrill. He wanted to move up, and not just around. He wanted to feel the roughness of the bark and the pull of gravity, and know that he could overcome them. He wanted to reach new heights and find himself in places he never dreamed possible.

So Swimster looked Ozzie in the eye (with his left eye) and declared, “I can do anything I put my mind to!” he said. She forced an uneasy smile. She wouldn’t say he was right, but she didn’t tell him to leave either.

She didn’t tell him much at all from that point on, but he showed up every day for drills regardless. And over and over, he would dig in his fins into the palm bark to power his way up the first few inches, before sliding down to rest in a nearby puddle.

With time, the inches slowly turned into feet, even if his fins never did. He trained without paying attention to the ambient snickers of his classmates above him. Or rather, he pretended not to pay attention, as he made it his mission to prove each of them wrong. They thought that they could take one look at his fins and determine his destiny? Well he would show them what it looked like at the top of a tree.

One day, he decided, it was the day that he would make the full climb. His now-calloused fins could pull him solidly half-way up the tree before even noticed the lack of oxygen. He prayed that evolution would kick in sometime soon to take care of the non-aquatic respiration thing. In the mean time, he clenched his gills soldiered on.

He was two thirds of the way up the tree, high enough to feel the hot sun and the dry air on his scales. As the surface of his fins got drier and drier, he just gritted his nonexistent teeth and told himself that dryness makes for a firmer grip. He did his best to quiet his quivering gills, and keep both of his side-facing eyes towards the highest branches as he declared with unflinching commitment, “I’m gonna make it to the top if it kills me.”

 

 

Opinion: Inclusivity officially went too far when it started fixating on people who are not me

I have long considered myself a champion of equal rights, and I understand why it’s important to be accepting of different people. There was a time when people like me were not treated as full human beings, and I stand by the activists throughout history who fought to break beyond narrow definitions of personhood and citizenship and move us forward as a society.

Yet any positive idea can be distorted beyond its original intentions, and I fear that this has happened with progressive social justice movements in recent years. Things officially went too far when we started bickering over the interests of groups so insignificant, they consist only of people who are not me.

Social equality isn’t something that I see as a pollitical or partisan issue: I simply want to be accepted for who I am as a person. Yet some people have decided to politicize this message of basic respect and inclusion by bringing up divisive identities that don’t even include me or describe any relevant aspect of my life.

I absolutely believe in equality. But I’m not overly nitpicky about math–I also believe in doing the type of equations where you get to round off a bit the edges. It just so happens that I consider the edges of legitimate society to lie a few steps outside the scope of my experience.

If we want to move forward together, we need to stop getting caught up in the frivolities of identity politics, and focus on the interests of humanity in general, especially the most general form of humanity, which is me.


This is satire. I label my satire because real stuff can be equally weird.
I promise I will write something earnest and non-satirical in the near future.

A Practical Guide for Talking to People You Disagree With

Particularly since the election, there have been increasing calls for people to spend more time talking to those they disagree with politically. Some of these demands have been pretty generalized (e.g. Everyone should get out of their echo chambers and reach across the aisle), and others directed at more specific groups (e.g. White liberal allies have the most responsibility to talk to Trump supporters about racial issues).

But there is less talk about how to actually go about conducting such discussions in a way that results in something more than extreme frustration.

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This particular post isn’t a statement about whether you should engage in these types of conversations or the relative effectiveness of conversation as a tool for change (Given that the word “disagree” can refer to everything from liking different TV shows to denying someone’s value as a person, that wormhole deserves it’s own post.)

But given that you have chosen to have a substantive conversation with someone who has different beliefs about a meaningful issue (pollitical or otherwise), here are some practical suggestions for making it as productive as possible:

1. Listen to understand.

People often respond to ideas that they don’t accept with the statement “I can’t understand why someone would think that.” But given that someone does think that, it’s important to understand why and how they do.

Why does this person think what they think? What logical premises would you have to accept to agree with what they think? Why might this person’s experiences have lead them to have a different set of beliefs than you do?

Understanding a belief system doesn’t necessarily mean accepting it as true or valid. In fact, especially when it comes to hateful or damaging belief systems, understanding precisely how they operate is crucial in determining how to break them down.

2. Find some common ground of agreement.

As you listen, see if you can identify any premises, values, or goals–however small or basic–that you can use as a point of departure. For instance, “I agree that X is a problem, but I don’t think that Y will solve it.” This shows the other person that you are listening to their ideas fairly and thoughtfully, if also critically. It also helps to focus the discussion by specifying what the fundamental points of disagreement really are.

3. Speak a common language.

It’s hard to get on the same page when you are using completely different sets of terminology. Try to avoid using language that is highly specific to particular academic field, pollitical movement, or other community that the other person is not a part of. If you really think a specialized term would be useful, explain what you mean by it first.

Jargon and canned phrases can be useful shortcuts when talking to people with a similar background and understanding of the issue. But outside of that sphere, restricting yourself to the plainest language possible is also useful in forcing you to explain your logic from scratch, with fewer unspoken assumptions.

4. Argue about opinions, judgements, interpretations, and values, but just look up the facts.

If you have internet access, there’s no reason to let an opinionated discussion turn into a heated competition of egos over who’s better at remembering easily verifiable historical events or statistics. Save the heat for stuff that matters.

5. Pick your battles. 

You have limited time and limited emotional energy, and these types of conversations often demand a lot of both. You simply can’t, won’t, and don’t have to talk to all the people about all of the things.

To get the most effect out of your personal resources,  consider talking to people who are reasonably likely to change their opinions, and starting by presenting the aspects of your beliefs that they are relatively more likely to accept.

6. But also plant seeds.

On the other hand, there can also be value in exposing people to ideas that they are unlikely to accept right now–but just might resonate later on or leave them with some questions that take root over time.

You won’t walk away from seed-planting conversations feeling great–like you “won” or even came to a mutual understanding–but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you had no impact.

This is obviously non-comprehensive list, so please feel free to comment with your own suggestions!