Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues
This is the first in an ongoing conversation between two bisexual activists. A.J. Walkley and Sarah Smith* are both monogamous, bisexual, cisgender females who are in long-term relationships. A.J. is in a relationship with a cisgender male, and Sarah is in a relationship with a cisgender female. Both A.J. and Sarah are committed to remaining visible as bisexuals in spite of society's tendency to want to label A.J. as heterosexual and Sarah as a lesbian. Together they came up with the idea for "Bi the Bi: Two Bi Writers on Big Bi Issues" as a way to help eliminate stereotypes and bias against people in the bisexual community.
Question: Should bisexual people in the United States who are in opposite-sex relationships forego marriage until all people have the right to marry the person they love?
A.J.: I have thought long and hard about this question as the relationship I am currently in has gotten more serious and long-term. I am in an opposite-sex relationship with a cisgender male going on four years now. Marriage is a subject that is never far from our minds, nor my mother's, for that matter. For many it seems like the next logical step for us to take. I live in Arizona, and I keep thinking about what that would mean if, instead of my boyfriend, I was in a same-sex relationship. If marriage was something we both wanted, it wouldn't matter: We couldn't get married, period. I am a staunch supporter of marriage equality for all, and no matter who I am with at a given point, a large part of me feels like I should not enter into the institution of marriage until everyone is allowed. I don't intend to speak for all bisexual people, but for me personally, I think I would feel a little guilty if I were to get married right now.
Sarah: My partner Shannon and I have been together for seven years. We got engaged in 2010. We're waiting to get married until there's full marriage equality. Last week she and I were at a fundraiser for Equality Ohio, a local LGBT rights organization, and Mary Jo Hudson, our first openly lesbian city council member, asked us about our wedding plans. She said that she and her partner had thought about waiting for equality before they got married. She said she was so glad they didn't wait. She urged us to get married soon. If Shannon was a man and we could get legally married, I don't know if we would wait. As a bisexual woman, I wouldn't want to take advantage of heterosexual privilege that others like me were denied access to based on the sex of the person they loved. On the other hand, I would have a hard time waiting to formalize our relationship and to receive all the tangible and intangible benefits that come from marriage.
I love that you're thinking about this issue so deeply, A.J. I think there's no easy answer. If you waited to marry your male partner until marriage equality, what do you think you'd be accomplishing by doing that? Do you think it would help bring about marriage equality?
A.J.: I definitely don't think anything would be accomplished by waiting to get married to my boyfriend, if that is ultimately what we want to do. We are just two people, after all, and not two people with the potential to impact a movement like marriage equality. After all, celebrities with much more influence (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard) have pledged not to wed until everyone can, and no change has happened has a result. No, for me it's much more personal. I worry that I will feel a sense of guilt for taking advantage of the so-called "heterosexual privilege" that so many within the LGBT community look down upon. I don't want to be "that bisexual" that continues to be stigmatized and discriminated against within the community, but a bisexual who fights for equality for all on all fronts, including my own decision to not get married, if that makes any sense at all.
Sarah: This issue is crystallizing for me as we talk about it. For me, your fear of feeling guilty if you marry your partner is one more manifestation of how biphobia negatively impacts the lives of bisexuals. It would be one thing if waiting to get married was a way to actually advance marriage equality. However, because we don't have evidence that it is an effective protest method, the risks outweigh any potential benefits. When couples can't get married, they lack important legal protections. If you got married, you would be taking care of yourself. When you take good care of yourself, you can do more good in the world.
My friend Paul Feeney, the board president for Equality Ohio, brought up a good point when I was talking about this issue on my Facebook wall. He said that opposite-sex couples who want to bring attention and support to same-sex couples' quest for equal rights can use their wedding to advance the cause. He said that couples are naming organizations like Equality Ohio as a charity for their wedding gifts. I think that if you named an organization that focuses on helping the bisexual community, that could be an important way to make sure that your values are fully integrated into your wedding. What do you think of that idea?
A.J.: I think you've really hit the nail on the head here about internalized biphobia -- and you're absolutely right. I would want all of the perks and benefits and rights that come with a state- and federally recognized marriage, but I don't want others to view me as a "traitor" in some way to the LGBT community by doing so. The fact that that type of thought is even crossing my mind proves that I have taken the biphobia that I've experienced to heart, which is difficult to admit.
I do love the idea of benefiting a bisexual or LGBT organization if I do end up getting married, though. I saw that actress Anne Hathaway did exactly that and was so proud of her for doing so. That spoke volumes and definitely helped advance the movement towards marriage equality much more so than her not getting married likely would have. You make a great point!
Sarah: So, when are you getting married?
A.J.: [Laughs.] I don't think I'm quite ready for that just yet! The fact remains that, even if that was the next step my boyfriend and I want to take, I still have that hangup. What about you? If you were currently in a relationship with a cisgender male, would you feel the way I do?
Sarah: If Shannon were male, I would take advantage of our right to marry. After the clarity this conversation provided, I wouldn't give in to the biphobia. I would take good care of myself and use the energy to continue working for equality.
One benefit to you being married and being an out bisexual is that it would counteract people's stereotypes even further. Some would assume that if you got married to a man, you would stop identifying as bisexual. However, you would continue to be an out bisexual and be an outspoken advocate for bisexual rights. I think that's a beautiful thing.
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Readers, it's your turn: How would you answer this question?
If you have any questions that you'd like A.J. and Sarah to discuss as part of this series, please email them to email@example.com.